I read my ex-husband Rodney Crowell’s memoir, ‘Chinaberry Sidewalks’ and was very moved by it. I did approach it with some trepidation, as no matter how friendly a divorce there are always little stings and arrows that are remembered and exaggerated, but I had nothing to fear. The book is almost entirely about his childhood, and his upbringing near Houston, TX in a spectacularly dysfunctional and impoverished family. He has such a clear-eyed take on it, completely lacking in self-pity, and you can see how the experience seeded his future art and writing.
He is a vivid storyteller and so many scenes resonate in my mind still, full of detail and tone of voice and a good look into the inner life of a sensitive, but resilient child. There was one scene that I’ll never forget: Rodney was 8 yrs old when his parents took him to an outdoor concert of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and my father. My father was 26 years old. I would have been 3 yrs old. Rodney described my dad so well, his performance style, his charisma and the impact he made on the crowd in the midst of an epic rainstorm, that it felt like a personal gift to me to read it.
Here is a great review by Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post, in which Mr. Yardley also gives a nice nod to my own memoir.
The ITV’s ‘Downton Abbey’ is the best series (do they call them ‘mini-series’ anymore?) in years. It is nothing short of spectacular. Every note - in casting, dialogue, set decoration and costumes - is perfect. The series begins in April 1912, the day the Titanic sinks. On the Titanic is the heir to Downton Abbey, a grand English estate owned by Lord and Lady Grantham, the parents of three daughters, none of whom can inherit because the estate is entailed to a male heir. The next male heir is the third cousin of the Earl, a lawyer in Manchester. He brings the lawyer, Matthew, to Downton Abbey to immerse him in the village, and the lives of the family, since it appears nothing can be done to break the entail. The parallel story to the family takes place downstairs among the servants to the great house, and their lives, love interests, secrets and dreams are no less compelling than those going on upstairs. I have an admission to make: I bought the UK version of the series online, which apparently has a few more minutes of cut scenes than the American version, and I’ve watched the entirety four times. That’s how much I love it. I”m waiting impatiently for Part 2, which I hear has just begun filming.
One record has not left my player since it was released; The Decemberists ‘The King Is Dead’. This is a staggering record on all levels. The lyrics are enough to make a songwriter throw herself on the bed in utter frustration. Yeah, me. But they are also great enough to inspire me to be better. The arrangements, melodies, subject matter, roots-and-post-REM mashup— it all speaks to me deeply. This is one of those records I feel grateful to have discovered, and I have the deepest admiration for Colin Meloy as a writer and a voice.
I co-created an art poster with Steve Mockensturm, a great graphic designer/ artist in Toledo, Ohio. By ‘co-create’, I mean I gave him a line from my memoir and asked him to come up with a visual, and he more than rose to the occasion. The first 25 were donated to The Secret City, a fabulous organization for artists, and one in which I serve on on the board of directors. The remainder of the small edition are now available here. Take a look.
For other news from Mrs. L, check out her recent blog post here.