Chinaberry Sidewalks

Sheet Music

Phases & Stages

Chinaberry Sidewalks

by Rodney Crowell
Knopf, 272 pp., $24.95

As a one of Texas' songwriting greats, Rodney Crowell can tell a story. No surprises there. Few would surmise his ability to write a memoir like Chinaberry Sidewalks, however. His childhood memories of Jacinto City outside of Houston vary from uproarious to heartwarming, all told with a sharp wit and a Lone Star flair. Some of his early recollections evoke Jean Shepherd's A Christmas Story, characters exploding off the page. "Cut from the Jerry Lee Lewis mold, Brother Pemberton gives the impression that he might burst into flames at any moment," Crowell writes of one his mother's favored Pentecostal preachers. "With his greasy pompadour spilling down over his eyes, his necktie flying, his shirt hanging halfway out of his pants, his face turned to the heavens like a satellite dish awaiting God's direct signals." Color aside, the life he describes is hard. There's never enough money, home is often in disrepair, and his parents are nearly always at each other's throats. And yet there's more than enough love for Crowell's father, J.W., who took him to professional football and baseball games, carried him along to witness Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, and bought the youngster a drum set at age 11 so he could be in dad's honky-tonk band. His mother, Cauzette, whose lifelong epileptic fits and whippings with switches cut from chinaberry trees give way to her loving interactions with Crowell's daughters as Nana Zeke, balances the tale. While Crowell's marriage to Rosanne Cash is briefly mentioned, this memoir boils down to the singer's love and hate for his parents, a relationship that blossoms into profound appreciation over time, brought to life in a manner that's simple, eloquent, and endlessly entertaining. (Rodney Crowell is unbound at BookPeople Friday, Jan. 28, 7pm.)

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Rodney Crowell
Gulf Coast Jamboree
Gulf Coast Jamboree
OSMF vets Sarah Jarosz & Rodney Crowell talk Texas

Jim Caligiuri, April 15, 2016

The Long Journey Home
The Long Journey Home
Rodney Crowell moves forward through his past

Doug Freeman, April 18, 2014

More Music Reviews
Texas Platters
Bill Callahan
Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest (Record Review)

Abby Johnston, June 14, 2019

Texas Platters
Jackie Venson
Joy (Record Review)

Derek Udensi, June 14, 2019

More by Jim Caligiuri
Carrie Elkin’s Life-and-Death Folk
Carrie Elkin’s Life-and-Death Folk
Her father's death and daughter's birth upped the stakes of the singer's finest work

April 14, 2017

SXSW Music Live: Richard Barone Presents Greenwich Village in the Sixties
SXSW Music Live: Richard Barone Presents Greenwich Village in the Sixties
Soft Boys, Youngbloods, Moby Grape, Brian Jones’ grandson, etc.

March 18, 2017

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle