Great songwriters are said to reveal themselves through their work; their candor and transparency of soul is the key to the listener’s empathic heart and the culture’s admiration. But the lions of country songwriting, idolized and covered in magazines as they are, can sometimes feel like
statues carved in marble, not fleshy, visceral human beings who’ve been scared, scarred and small just like us. And that’s why Rodney Crowell, who completed an astonishing personal pilgrimage from great American songwriter to laudable author with his 2011 memoir “Chinaberry
Sidewalks,” stands apart.
We meet in those pages someone we thought we knew: the wiry and slender guitarist in Emmylou Harris’s first Hot Band, the young protégé of Guy Clark and Mickey Newbury, the icy cool Country star and Grammy winner of the 1980s, the longtime professional partner and husband of Rosanne Cash, the Cherry Bombs bandmate of Vince Gill and Tony Brown, the comeback kid of the 2000s whose incisive, quasi-autobiographical album cycle secured him a Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting from the Americana Music Association. But in “Chinaberry
Sidewalks,” his acclaimed book, we get a portrait of the artist as young man and boy, a story that’s more than incidental to the artist he’d become. We recognize the wrinkles and complexities and wounds that would make his lyrics so relatable and shaded. We discover why Crowell has said that in the genetic mingling of his articulate, word-loving mother and his country musician father, he believes he was born to write songs.
Crowell’s work and career sets a benchmark for commercial success and lifelong artistic ambition and integrity in country music. His compositions, including “Til I Gain Control Again,” “I Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This,” “Song For The Life” and “Ashes By Now” have been widely and successfully covered by legendary singers. But he led the way as a recording artist, achieving a dazzling run of radio hits in the 1980s, followed by a series of more personal albums in the 2000s that secured his place as much more than a chart topper. He’s had songs as an artist or writer in the top ten in every decade since the 1970s, including latter-day landmarks “Please Remember Me” and “Making Memories of Us.” He’s a Grammy Award winner, a member of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the recipient of the 2009 Lifetime Achievement Award for Songwriting from the Americana Music Association.