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Extended Audio Sample Chinaberry Sidewalks Audiobook, by Rodney Crowell Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (277 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Rodney Crowell Narrator: Rodney Crowell Publisher: Penguin Random House Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: January 2011 ISBN: 9780307912053
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From the acclaimed musician comes a tender, surprising, and often uproarious memoir about his dirt-poor southeast Texas boyhood.

The only child of a hard-drinking father and a Holy Roller mother, Rodney Crowell was no stranger to bombast from an early age, whether knock-down-drag-outs at a local dive bar or fire-and-brimstone sermons at Pentecostal tent revivals. He was an expert at reading his father’s mercurial moods and gauging exactly when his mother was likely to erupt, and even before he learned to ride a bike, he was often forced to take matters into his own hands. He broke up his parents’ raucous New Year’s Eve party with gunfire and ended their slugfest at the local drive-in (actual restaurants weren’t on the Crowells’ menu) by smashing a glass pop bottle over his own head.

Despite the violent undercurrents always threatening to burst to the surface, he fiercely loved his epilepsy-racked mother, who scorned boring preachers and improvised wildly when the bills went unpaid. And he idolized his blustering father, a honky-tonk man who took his boy to see Hank Williams, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash perform live, and bought him a drum set so he could join his band at age eleven. Shot through with raggedy friends and their neighborhood capers, hilariously awkward adolescent angst, and an indelible depiction of the bloodlines Crowell came from, Chinaberry Sidewalks also vividly re-creates Houston in the 1950s.

But at its heart this is Crowell’s tribute to his parents and an exploration of their troubled yet ultimately redeeming romance. Wry, clear-eyed, and generous, it is, like the very best memoirs, firmly rooted in time and place and station, never dismissive, and truly fulfilling.

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Quotes & Awards

  • Thoroughly readable, unblinkingly frank, laugh-out-loud funny and as profane as any Ship Channel longshoreman, it's a literary triumph that will rank along with Mary Karr’s The Liar's Club as one of the finest pieces of Gulf Coast nonfiction. William Michael Smith, Houston Press
     
  • [Crowell’s] childhood memories of Jacinto City outside of Houston vary from uproarious to heartwarming, all told with a sharp wit and a Lone Star flair [and] brought to life in a manner that's simple, eloquent, and endlessly entertaining. Jim Caligiuri, The Austin Chronicle
  • A loving, affectionate tribute…Crowell's parents remain his heroes not in spite of their flaws, but because of them, and because of their son's proud refusal to sugarcoat the truth.  Instead, this honest, forgiving, and self-assured memoir brings all the skeletons out of the closet and invites them to dance. Gina Webb, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
     
  • Mysterious and wonderful…a rare and unaccountable instance of transcendence. Barbara Fisher, The Boston Globe
     
  • A great read. Billy Heller, New York Post
     
  • Humid, heavily atmospheric and often raucous…both horrific and hilarious [with] some of the most tender passages I have ever read. Chet Flippo, CMT
     
  • Rodney Crowell’s memoir of his boyhood in southeast Texas is a wonder: wistful and profane, heartbreaking and hilarious, loving and angry, proud and self-lacerating. Best known as a composer and performer of country and folk music, he emerges here as a prose stylist of energy and distinctiveness, a gifted storyteller who has, as it happens, an uncommonly interesting and deeply American story to tell….It’s a measure of the subtlety that Crowell brings to his portrait of his parents that he simultaneously is appalled by them and deeply loves them….Love, in the end, is what Chinaberry Sidewalks is really about [but] there is much more to it, much of it uproarious or moving in different ways: boisterous small-town boys making mischief, Tom Sawyers and Huck Finns with cuss words added; seeing and hearing Hank Williams two weeks before his death; a spectacular show by Jerry Lee Lewis, followed immediately by an unforgettable one by Johnny Cash, who ‘spoke the language of common people with uncommon eloquence.’ That, of course, is exactly what Rodney Crowell has done in this splendid book. Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
  • This tribute to enduring love [is] rip-snorting...eloquent, movingly spiritual….[Crowell’s] hyperbole segues beautifully into the high-intensity details and events with which the book is studded, and the enthusiasm with which they are described. Janet Maslin, The New York Times
     
  • Crowell’s upbringing in Texas had all the prerequisite elements of a hardscrabble country music story…but [his] storytelling abilities and narrative flair elevate this book far above the average music memoir. Publishers Weekly, starred review
     
  • With this heartfelt memoir [Crowell] can now be called a writer of the first order…Unsparingly honest…Exceptional. Booklist, starred review
     
  • [A] touching, sometimes rough, and vivid chronicle of mid-20th-century Southern life…highly recommended. Library Journal, starred review
  • This is a wonderful memoir. Full of humor, honesty and true humility, and so well written I had to immediately re-read it to see if it was as good as I thought it was. It is. It is stunningly good. Maybe the best I ever read. Kris Kristofferson
  • That Rodney Crowell survived his childhood—the poverty, the beatings, the hurricanes, the loaded .22 in the bedroom closet—is a miracle. That he can recall it with such gentle humor, that he can evoke his volatile mother and father with so much love and forgiveness, makes his memoir a powerful lesson in grace. J.R. Moehringer
  • Some people can just flat write, and other people have a great story to tell, and every now and then it’s the same lucky fool.  Rodney Crowell proves one fried chicken gizzard, one Jax beer, and one awful heartache at a time that you can live with a crazy mama and a damaged daddy and love them both. Rick Bragg 
  • Long known as a poet among songwriters, Rodney Crowell brings his considerable lyric gifts and his innate Texas storytelling talent to the page. This childhood  is not one you'd  sign up for—hardscrabble, alcohol-sodden, violent enough to jar your eye teeth. Yet Crowell's love for his family finds humor and redemption in every riveting scene. By turns wild and tender, it kept me up all night in a straight-through read. Mary Karr

  • “Those who know what a shapely verse Mr. Crowell can turn out may be newly amazed at his way with words when he simply writes sentences.”

    New York Times 

  • “Rodney Crowell’s memoir of his boyhood in southeast Texas is a wonder: wistful and profane, heartbreaking and hilarious, loving and angry, proud and self-lacerating.”

    Washington Post

  • “It’s not music that’s at the heart of this book, however, but his loving and turbulent relationships with his parents and their often strained but deep love for one another.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “This touching, sometimes rough, and vivid chronicle of mid-twentieth-century Southern life is highly recommended.”

    Library Journal

  • “Personal and profound, an epic remembrance of his parents’ honky-tonk romance, delivered with the same hallmarks of Crowell's best songwriting: expert pacing, gritty detail, and humor by the bottle. Austin Powell, The Austin Chronicle
     

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Chuck | 2/17/2014

    " I really enjoyed this book and felt that I had a kinship with his growing up which was much more intense than I would have expected. I am not a "memoir" fan, but I have always had a country music genre that was entirely made up by me which includes the likes of Steve Goodman, John Prine, John Hiatt, Doc Watson and, of course, Sir Rodney, etc. So off I went to find out about Rodney Crowell. Rodney surprised me, however, and spent most of his time talking about his father, his mother and his upbringings in eastern Kentucky and Texas. He also surprised me with his few remarks about his marriage to Johnny Cash's daughter, Roseanne. There are many great lessons in this book. First, the family motto: "If you don't know what to do with it, fry it." Secondly, when asked about his favorite class in high school, he answered, "Sinus". {Science} I have never read a memoir that defined that one of the major family competitions that everyone endured was "passing gas". And lastly, although Rodney was never a boy scout, he had defined his own definitions of acceptable guidelines to obtain merit badges, which you will have to read the book to identify. This book is a very pleasant memory of a mischievous youth and of a boy growing up "Country". "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Chamie | 2/9/2014

    " I loved this book. It was actually pretty funny in parts soooo much better than his ex's book Roseanne Cash. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Dale Stonehouse | 2/4/2014

    " Expectations aside, this probably deserves a little higher rating. Crowell's tales of growing up with quirky parents, friends and neighbors are not unlike those many of us could tell, but his writing is a cut above average. Music fans will be disappointed, this book is about growing up in Texas in the 1950s and 60s, as well as his relationship with his parents. The switch late in the book to saying goodbye as his parents are dying is a bit abrupt, but again he writes with passion about finding peace with them. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Ginger Lipponer | 2/4/2014

    " Not entirely what I expected but it was an in-depth look at a young Rodney Crowell growing up. Let;s you understand where some of his songs stem from. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Marsha | 2/4/2014

    " Crowell is a pretty good writer, and the accounts of his childhood are alternately sobering and hilarious. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Kimberly | 2/1/2014

    " ok read- thought it would be more like GLASS CASTLE- "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Robyn Obermeyer | 1/25/2014

    " i liked the name of book and felt sorry for his childhood. Chinaberry branches to slap the shit out of him, a tree found in the southern states kind of invasive, hardwood, all that craziness must have been a klot to handle, even though he loved his parents. Not much about Roseanne Cash, at least he loves his girls! "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Mary couch | 1/21/2014

    " I love Rodney Crowell so this was an interesting read for me, but I was disappointed in it. I really felt this book was written as therapy for himself concerning the way his childhood was and especially the relationship between his parents, and his relationship with them. No doubt he came up rough and has done well for himself. I would have enjoyed information in the book concerning his rising to fame, and his adult life, but obviously that wasn't why this book was written. Still all in all I'm not sorry I took the time to read it. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jennifer | 1/17/2014

    " Enjoyed the stories of his childhood although not familiar with Rodney Crowell as an artist. Thought it was very well-written and a great example of how and why we love our family. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Craig | 12/2/2013

    " The Houston Kid brings The Houston Kid to life through beautifully revealing, heartwarming and heart-rending stories of his tumultuous life under his parents' leaky roof and, in the end, their love for one another. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Deadbeatgrandpajoe | 11/20/2013

    " Enjoyed it, but kind of slow at times "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Amy | 11/17/2013

    " Dynamite! This songwriter is also a wonderful memoirist! Don't miss this one. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Natalie | 10/24/2013

    " But I think I am not going to finish it...it seems like a bunch of disjointed short stories about dysfunctional people...some of it is charming, or sad...but it is to much the same.... "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Elizabeth Hester | 10/23/2013

    " This is one of my most favorite books of all time! I even downloaded some of his music. Wonderful literature. Rich with southern phrases I have never heard before. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cynthia | 10/7/2013

    " I had never heard of Rodney Crowell before I picked up his book. I still don't know what his music sounds like, but he tells an incredible story!! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Dave | 10/7/2013

    " An excellent account of wrong-side-of-the-tracks Houston in the 50's and 60's and and extraordinarily wild and woolly childhood. Mr. Crowell is poetic and confessional here, like so many of his great songs. The best descriptions of Houston's gritty underbelly this side of Sig Byrd. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Robin | 4/25/2013

    " Lovely tribute to imperfect parents. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Terry Gallagher | 4/7/2013

    " Certainly one of the most interesting, amusing, enriching books ever written by a great singer/songwriter since Bound for Glory by Woody Guthrie or Chronicles Part I by Bob Dylan. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Colleen | 12/2/2012

    " The writing is not great, but the stories told are interesting. If you're familiar with Rodney Crowell it reads like an explanation of a few of his albums. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Harry Lane | 12/2/2012

    " How is it that some people can grow up poor, in a dysfunctional family, surrounded by the poorest of role models and still manage to make a life for themselves? Crowell doesn't answer the question, but describes his circumstances with clarity, wit and charity. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Larry Berthold | 7/22/2012

    " truthful and full of smiles and light (even though his early life was often not)...very much enjoyed this as a compnion to Roseanne Cash's recent memoir and as a stand lone journey. Here's hoping there might be a sequel (or two) down the road... "

  • 1 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 51 out of 5 Rick Wilcox | 6/24/2012

    " Forced, too dark for it's own sake, too much salt and pepper for the amount of actual food on the table. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Martha Fry | 3/2/2012

    " His paragraphs are like little poems. Proof that a horrific childhood doesn't have to ruin your life and that forgiveness is possible. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Jenna | 1/2/2012

    " Wonderful writing - tells a crazy story with humor and teaches a wonderful lesson in forgiveness. I found myself laughing out loud constantly and found myself telling everyone about it when I was done. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Irene | 9/30/2011

    " Read by the author. I did not realize he was previously married to Roseann Cash, who also wrote (and read) a wonderful memoir. Definitely one of my favorite audio books. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Beth | 6/18/2011

    " 4.5 stars. This was a great memoir, along the lines of Rick Bragg's work--no prior knowledge of Rodney Crowell required. Sometimes the writing got a little too florid, but the dialogue was perfectly rendered and the book just had a lot of heart. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Martha | 5/11/2011

    " His paragraphs are like little poems. Proof that a horrific childhood doesn't have to ruin your life and that forgiveness is possible. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Harry | 5/10/2011

    " How is it that some people can grow up poor, in a dysfunctional family, surrounded by the poorest of role models and still manage to make a life for themselves? Crowell doesn't answer the question, but describes his circumstances with clarity, wit and charity. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Patrick | 4/27/2011

    " Hilarious, trenchant and compassionate stories about growing up in a violent household in Houston in the 50s and 60s. Great vivid prose. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Natalie | 4/3/2011

    " But I think I am not going to finish it...it seems like a bunch of disjointed short stories about dysfunctional people...some of it is charming, or sad...but it is to much the same.... "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Diana | 3/21/2011

    " Loved this book. Harsh, elegiaic and true "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Cynthia | 3/6/2011

    " I had never heard of Rodney Crowell before I picked up his book. I still don't know what his music sounds like, but he tells an incredible story!! "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Mary | 3/3/2011

    " A beautifully written memoir. I hope he writes another and details his life as a musician and a father. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Amy | 2/26/2011

    " Dynamite! This songwriter is also a wonderful memoirist! Don't miss this one. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Craig | 1/18/2011

    " The Houston Kid brings The Houston Kid to life through beautifully revealing, heartwarming and heart-rending stories of his tumultuous life under his parents' leaky roof and, in the end, their love for one another.

    "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Kim | 11/9/2010

    " The writing and the storytelling in this book are first rate! Rodney Crowell grew up in Houston, Tx in the 1950s. His life was difficult - mostly because of his parents. Despite all of his hardships, this ends up a love story - written to his parents. Hopeful and uplifting. Great read! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Beth | 10/27/2010

    " 4.5 stars. This was a great memoir, along the lines of Rick Bragg's work--no prior knowledge of Rodney Crowell required. Sometimes the writing got a little too florid, but the dialogue was perfectly rendered and the book just had a lot of heart. "

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About the Author
Born in Houston in 1950, Rodney Crowell has released nearly twenty albums in four decades, with five consecutive number-one hits, and has also worked widely as a songwriter and a producer. His honors include a Grammy, an ASCAP lifetime achievement award, and membership in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He lives in Nashville.