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Rodney Crowell: Singing From A Dark, Raucous Place
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Happy July Fourth. Today we feature
a performance by and interview with Rodney Crowell. When he was inducted
into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, the citation said
he revolutionized the sound of country music.
His songs have been hits for many singers, including Emmylou Harris,
Waylon Jennings and Tim McGraw. Crowell's album "Diamonds and Dirt" was
the first country album to have five consecutive number one singles.
They included "I Couldn't Leave You If I Tried" and "After All This
Crowell was married to singer/songwriter Roseanne Cash for over 10
years, during which time his father-in-law was Johnny Cash. Crowell's
recent memoir, "Chinaberry Sidewalks," is about growing up poor in East
Houston. His father drank too much. His mother dragged him to
Pentecostal church services, where she spoke in tongues. At age 11,
Crowell became the drummer in his father's honky-tonk band.
Crowell also has a new album, recorded on tour with Will Kimbrough and
Jenny Scheinman. It's available for download on his website. Let's start
with a song from it. This is "Earthbound."
(Soundbite of song, "Earthbound")
Mr. RODNEY CROWELL (Singer-Songwriter): (Singing) I could shed my skin,
and in the blink of an eye, I could fly, fly, fly, tie my dreams up in a
sack and lay my head down on the track and die, die, die. My life's been
so sweet I just can't stand it. Well, I must admit I've made out like a
Last night's conversation with a real good friend of mine drinking wine,
wine, wine said 50 years of living, and your worst mistakes forgiven
takes time, time, time. One man's lust for life brings world renown.
Yeah, the next guy can't get two feet off the ground, earthbound,
earthbound, hear the wind through the tops of the trees. Earthbound,
summer sun nearly 90 degrees. Earthbound, big old moon sinking down,
think I might stick around, earthbound.
GROSS: I spoke with Rodney Crowell in February, soon after the
publication of his memoir "Chinaberry Sidewalks." Rodney Crowell,
welcome to FRESH AIR. Thank you so much for bringing your guitar with
Before we talk about your new memoir, I'm going to ask you to play a
song from your latest album, and the album is called "Sex and Gasoline."
On the album, you do this as a duet with Joe Henry, who produced the
album, but I'm going to ask you to do the first part of the song and to
do it solo for us. It's called "I've Done Everything I Can."
Mr. CROWELL: Okay.
GROSS: And this is a song from a father's point of view, singing to a
Mr. CROWELL: It is. It is a father's advice, or it's actually a father's
regret, I think, most of all, and written to my second-oldest daughter.
(Soundbite of song, "I've Done Everything I Can")
Mr. CROWELL: (Singing) I'd love to hear you laughing, love to see you
smile, dance that little dance you danced when you were just a child.
The way the world came at you left you bitter and confused. The more I
tried to guide your path, the more you just felt used.
The sun comes up tomorrow, but there are no guarantees. It can rock you
like a baby. It can knock you to your knees. The path that lies between
us is a star-crossed avenue. I've done everything I can, or there's
nothing I can do.
GROSS: That's such a beautiful song. Thanks for performing an excerpt of
it. That's my guest, Rodney Crowell, and he has a new memoir. It's his
first book. It's called "Chinaberry Sidewalks."
You wrote this book largely about your parents and your relationship
with them when you were growing up. And you wrote the book after your
And, you know, I often think that after your parents die, there's this
need to re-examine the story of your life and to tell it to yourself in
a way that you don't have to worry about offending your parents with
certain memories. And I was wondering if you had that experience while
writing that book, that there was a certain honesty in the way that you
could tell the story to yourself or to others that you maybe couldn't
have done before.
Mr. CROWELL: That's very true, but I did know the arc of the narrative,
really, because my parents and I had redeemed all of the troubled times
that had gone on earlier in life. So I knew that - where I was going
with the story.
And my mother was a fearless woman, really, in the end, and I don't
think she would have flinched at all of anything that I would reveal
about the family.
But then again, you know, with them gone, you start to look back, and
you can tell the story completely, without any fear of hurting them.
GROSS: You realized at some point that with your music career, you were
living the life your father wanted to live. He had a band that never
made it beyond the neighborhood honky-tonks, J.W. Crowell and the
When you were 11, he made you the drummer in the band. You say that was
to save the expense of actually hiring a drummer. Did he do you a favor
by making you the drummer as an 11-year-old? Did that help start you on
the road to music, or was that a problem?
Mr. CROWELL: Well, I think it was a blessing in the long run because I
learned a lot from my father, sitting back there for the - about a year
that I played in that band.
And I don't think I ever really became an adequate musician, but, you
know, he didn't care. He treated every performance that he gave as if he
were on, you know, stage of the Grand Ole Opry.
And you mentioned earlier, you know, in the beginning your question was
about, you know, my career had become what my father was never able to
achieve. And honestly, I can say that it was my editor who actually
started pointing out to me - he said hey, the story here is that your
life actually became what your father dreamed of. And I hadn't really
contextualized it for myself in that way.
GROSS: So when you were 11 and playing the honky-tonks with your father,
what were they like?
Mr. CROWELL: Oh, you can imagine. They were seedy dives. The ice houses
in East Houston were basically beer joints with garage doors that -
sliding garage doors that you open upward, and then there's a jukebox in
there, and there's beer and tables. And they would generally - and a
cement floor. Generally they'd just move the tables out of the way, set
the band up in the corner, and we would play, and people would dance. It
was a dancing culture.
GROSS: Was it a fighting culture too?
Mr. CROWELL: Fighting culture, oh, fighting was a big part of it. It was
Saturday night sinning and Sunday morning redemption. That's basically
the story of the Scots-Irish in East Houston.
GROSS: So you were 11 playing drums, like, did you have any idea what
you were doing? You had no training.
Mr. CROWELL: I had no idea what I was doing. It was instinctive. And my
father, he set me down one day. He brought a set of very cheap, ragged,
pawn-shop drums home and set them up in the living room, and my mother
and I stood there.
I was an only child. We were standing there. What is he up to, you know?
And he kind of sat down and said here's how it's done. He got some phone
books and the kitchen chair and sat me down there and showed me what he
had just done, and that was on a Tuesday. And on Friday night I was
playing in a honky-tonk, or in actually a beer joint, and he was okay
with that. You know, he was in his element.
Now, I did see a lot of things going on that were, you know, that an 11-
year-old kid maybe shouldn't have been seeing, but I sort of understood
this is human nature. These people are poor and, you know, they don't
have much in the way of a future coming at them. So they get what they
can get what right now, and if it's drinking too much and fighting and
then falling in love the next day, then that's the culture.
GROSS: And your family was poor.
Mr. CROWELL: My family was very poor. Strangely, though, my father was
an enigma in that he was always working. He was not a ne'er-do-well. He
wasn't lazy. He just couldn't hold on to money. It just, it was an
enigma for him. He just, his pockets were always empty.
GROSS: Would you play a song that you love that you used to play when
you were 11 in your father's band?
Mr. CROWELL: Yeah, I learned this from my father, and I played it with
him, and I actually recorded this song when - on one of my early albums
when I started, just because, you know, it's something I learned from my
father back in the honky-tonks.
(Soundbite of song, "Old Pipeliner")
Mr. CROWELL: (Singing) I'm an old pipeliner, and I lay my line all day.
I'm an old pipeliner, and I lay my line all day. I got little, bitty
children just waitin' to draw my pay.
When you see me comin', better raise your window high. When you see me
comin', better raise those windows high. And when you see me leavin',
better hang your little head and cry.
I'm an old pipeliner. I'm an old pipeliner. I'm an old pipeliner. I'm an
old pipeliner. Well, I'm an old pipeliner just waiting to draw my pay.
GROSS: Who wrote that?
Mr. CROWELL: Moon Mullican. He's an old piano-playing songwriter from, I
think from somewhere around Houston. I may be wrong about that. But he's
a Texas songwriter and a character from the - maybe, you know, like a
Bob Wills' peer, and he wrote that.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Rodney Crowell. He's a
well-known songwriter and singer, and now he's an author as well. He's
written a memoir about his early life and his parents. It's called
Your parents fought all the time when you were young, and one of the
things they fought about is that your mother always accused your father
of having whipped her across her belly when she was eight months
pregnant with you, when she was standing naked in the bathtub.
And, you know, reading your memoir, I was thinking how disturbing it
must have been to hear your mother say that your father whipped her when
you were inside her, when you were a month away from being born.
Mr. CROWELL: It was. Whipping me.
GROSS: Yeah, like whipping your unborn self.
Mr. CROWELL: Yeah, well, you can imagine that was troubling to me as a
kid. And I must say that I chose to write about that again because my
father, in the course of his life, no - you know, I had no hand in this,
he redeemed himself over the long run. And as the book, you know, kind
of reaches the place that I wanted it to go, he has redeemed himself.
But then, you've got to understand that my mother and my father both
came from violent families, you know, sharecrop farm kids from Western
Kentucky, Western Tennessee. Violence was very much a part of my
mother's upbringing, a little less so to my father's, but my father was
an angry man when he was young. He was angry and frustrated, and he had
no idea how to channel anger.
And my mother, you know, the imprint that was - that she had about how
to be a woman and how to be a wife was that you accept this. That's what
happened to her mother. That's what happened to her grandmother.
And I think the beautiful thing about my mother and the reason I think
she should be an inspiration to young women, is that over the course of
her lifetime, she came to understand that no, those were bad directions
she was given. And she found her way out of that in her own inimitable
GROSS: Can I ask you to play a song that you wrote that comes out of
growing up with parents who fought a lot, and who not only argued, but
Mr. CROWELL: Yes, I can play this song that comes straight from that
experience. It's called "The Rock Of My Soul."
(Soundbite of song, "The Rock Of My Soul")
Mr. CROWELL: (Singing) The rock of my soul went to church on Sunday. The
rock of my soul went to work on Monday clean across the levy by the
railroad tracks, the other side of Houston in a two-room shack, sweeping
out confetti from a third-grade classroom, the rock of my soul pushed a
And he said: Do like I say and not like I do, and you might make me
proud, another Houston kid on a downhill skid for crying out loud.
I'm a firsthand witness to an age-old crime. A man who hits a woman
isn't worth a dime. Five, six, seven, eight, nine years old, that's what
I remember about the rock of my soul. I told him I would kill him if he
did not stop it, but the rock of my soul just would not drop it.
GROSS: That's great. That's my guest, Rodney Crowell, a song that he
wrote, and that one's on his album "The Houston Kid." And now Rodney
Crowell's written a new memoir called "Chinaberry Sidewalks."
I'm so glad you brought your guitar with you and that you're singing for
us. I really love your voice.
Mr. CROWELL: Thank you.
GROSS: You know, so we were talking about your parents and how they
fought a lot. You know, we were talking about that before you played
that song. But they stayed together. Did their relationship eventually
Mr. CROWELL: Yeah, I would say the story to be told is - and I've often
said this. If you and I were standing, and when my 18 and 19-year-old
mother and father walked out the door to live their lives, and we were
standing there as the adults we are now, we would look at each other and
say: They'll never make it.
And yet they did. And it's only by love that they've made it, because
they tried in every way to undo their bond, but it stayed, and they
lasted a lifetime together.
GROSS: My guest is Rodney Crowell. His memoir is called "Chinaberry
Sidewalks." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is country-music singer and songwriter Rodney Crowell.
He's written a memoir called "Chinaberry Sidewalks."
So you write about your parents in your memoir, "Chinaberry Sidewalks."
There's a passage I want you to read that's about your mother. It's on
Mr. CROWELL: Yeah, okay.
GROSS: And your mother was a Pentecostal, very religious woman, but she
also had a lot of physical problems, which you describe quite eloquently
Mr. CROWELL: I'll read that right now: Addie Cauzette arrived with the
right side of her body partially paralyzed, the result, according to an
old country doctor who didn't examine her until she was three, of a
stroke suffered in her mother's womb.
So from birth, a pattern was set by which polio, acute dyslexia,
epilepsy and the sudden death of an infant son and a subsequent case of
whacked-out nerves would join a lengthy list of maladies assaulting
young Cauzette well before her 20th birthday.
In the 74 years and nearly four months marking her time on what she
called this crooked old Earth, my mother rarely drew a healthy breath.
Still, to say that life wasn't fair for this awkwardly glib, yet deeply
religious woman, would fail to take into account her towering instinct
Thanks to this primal urge to thrive, she would leave this world at
peace with the knowledge that physical existence was something for which
she was born ill-equipped. And I honor my mother by saying that it
wasn't for lack of effort that an accommodation between her sensitive
soul and the poorly fitting body she wore was so very hard to come by.
GROSS: That's a beautiful passage. That's Rodney Crowell, reading a
passage from his memoir "Chinaberry Sidewalks." Do you think her
discomfort in her body and in the physical world related to the depth of
her faith - of her faith in a spiritual world?
Mr. CROWELL: Yeah, my mother's a very spiritual woman, and I think
Pentecostal religion, Bible religion, was very important to her because
it gave her a context for a very spiritual approach to life. And I think
with a bit more education she would have expanded upon that spirituality
in such a way that - she was a woman of great compassion and great love,
and at the same time she could be, you know, brittle.
She whipped me with a switch, you know. That was part of her
understanding of doing the right thing. She was taught when she was
young, you know, spare the rod and spoil the child. So she became an
artist at whipping me with chinaberry switches. And I write about it.
And I write about it with humor, I think, because I don't hold it
against her that she thought the way to make me into a good boy was to
whip me every time I got out of line a little bit.
GROSS: So you describe your mother as a first-class amen sister.
Describe what Pentecostal church services were like, with people
speaking in tongues. And it sounds like you were dragged there by your
mother, you didn't really want to go. So from your point of view, what
did they look like?
Mr. CROWELL: Oh, it was pretty dazzling, actually. It was very
emotionally powerful to be, in the mid-1950s, in an un-air-conditioned
church - Pentecostal church in East Houston. And when things really got
- as they say in the religion, you know, when the spirit's moving in the
house, and things really get going, you know, my mother was apt to fall
out on the floor and start speaking in tongues.
And actually, it was a great performance. And I write about it as a
performance to which, you know, these very charismatic preachers would
vault down from the pulpit and kneel over this fallen woman on the floor
who's speaking in this language that nobody understands.
Yet he holds his hand up to the heavens and starts to decode what she's
saying, and usually in the form of some form of Scripture or some kind
of moral story. You know, it was basically, you know, a come-uppance for
the congregation to, you know, hold everybody in line. But it was great
GROSS: Rodney Crowell will be back in the second half of the show. His
memoir is called "Chinaberry Sidewalks." I'm Terry Gross, and this is
(Soundbite of music)
TERRY GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Back with more of our
interview with country music singer and songwriter Rodney Crowell. He
brought his guitar to perform some of his songs. His recent memoir about
growing up poor in East Texas is called "Chinaberry Sidewalks." His
parents fought a lot, his father was a drinker, his mother was a devoted
Pentecostal churchgoer and spoke in tongues.
In your memoir, you reproduce a business card from one of your band
members in one of the first bands you ever played in when you were a
teenager. I think you're still in high school. And the band was called
The Arbitrators, and the business card said: The English sound, the surf
beat, rhythm and blues, country if you want it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. CROWELL: Right. Yeah.
GROSS: Why did the country have a little disclaimer there?
Mr. CROWELL: Well, you know, it's, you know, we've always been the
stepchild to it all, you know? There's a certain, you know, the hayseed,
oh, we're not as intelligent as the rest of mainstream and, you know,
all of the things that we've tried to live down. And, you know, that's
just proof that all the way back in a teenage rock and roll band that I
had, that we could play - we - I loved country music back then. I loved
Hank Williams. Hank Williams was my first idol. But, you know, we had
that little disclaimer that, well, we'll play it if you want it, you
know. And it's, you know, country music has come a long way since then.
GROSS: When you started performing professionally in Nashville, writing
country songs and, you know, recording them yourself, other people
recording them, did you know where you fit? Did you see yourself as
fitting in any particular genre of country music? You know, oh, I'm
going to be a country outlaw, or I'm going to be - I think it was before
the expression like alt-country, alternative country. Like, where did
you see yourself fitting in? Certainly not like the rhinestone nudie
Mr. CROWELL: I was lucky in that I arrived in Nashville with my college
roommate Donivan Cowart. We were both songwriters, and we were a singing
duo. And we fancied ourselves songwriters, but we didn't yet, we weren't
formed yet. When I arrived, I just was lucky in that I fell into a
musical scene that the great Guy Clark, great American songwriter, was
pretty much the curator of what was good. And Townes Van Zandt and
Mickey Newbury were Guy's good friends.
And Guy took a liking to me and just kind of took me under his arm. He
said something to me early on that has always stuck with me. He said, he
says, now, look. He says you can be a star, or you can be an artist. He
said you can be an artist and become a star, he says, but I don't think
that it works the other way around. He says, but they're both okay. Pick
one and get good at it.
Well, I knew he was an artist, you know, so I said, I want to be an
artist. I want to be an artist. So, he said, OK, you know. So, he sat me
down and started playing Dylan Thomas reading his poetry, some Dylan
Thomas recordings, and he says OK, listen to this. Listen to how good
this is. You've got to make your songs this good.
It had a profound effect on me. It took me a while to absorb the
information that was being given me. But eventually, it gave me the
intent that I wanted to try to write good songs and always strive for
timelessness, or museum-quality work. You know, I'm not saying that I've
achieved museum quality. But if you're not swinging for museum quality
or timeless, then why bother? That's been the driving force for me.
GROSS: I'm going to ask you to sing a song for us that you wrote early
in your career. You recorded this in the 1970s, in the late '70s, and I
think it's one of the first recordings that you made. And the song I'm
going to ask you to do is "'Til I Can Gain Control Again." Can you talk
a little bit about writing this, and if you thought of this as an
autobiographical song and what was going on in your life when you wrote
Mr. CROWELL: Well, this would continue from what I was just telling you
about, my relationship with Guy Clark, that Guy Clark...Townes Van Zandt
is widely known as one of the most beautiful poets of songwriting. You
know, his songwriting exists as just pure poetry - beautiful, beautiful
songwriter. Unfortunately, he died young. And I just wanted to write
something good enough for Guy to continue believing in me and also to
get Townes Van Zandt's acknowledgment. And because, you know, with
Townes, you weren't going to get it unless you earned it. And this song,
I think, you know, memory being revisionist, I think this was the one
where Townes sort of looked at me and said oh, OK. You can stick around
for a while.
(Soundbite of song, "'Til I Can Gain Control Again")
Mr. CROWELL: (Singing) Just like the sun over the mountaintops, you know
I'll always come again. You know I love to spend my morning time, like
sunlight dancing on your skin. I've never gone so wrong as for telling
lies to you. What you've seen is what I've been. There is nothing that I
could hide from you. Now you see me better than I can. Out on the road
that lies before me now, there are some turns where I will spin. I only
hope that you can hold me now, hold me now, 'til I can gain control
again, 'til I can gain control again.
GROSS: That's such a beautiful song. Thanks for playing that for us.
That's my guest, Rodney Crowell.
And how many people have recorded that song?
Mr. CROWELL: Oh, quite a few. I've lost track. You know, Johnny -
Crystal Gayle had the number one record of it, but Emmylou Harris
recorded it first - Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash. Oh,
gosh - This Mortal Coil, Van Morrison, Raul Malo. Gosh, there's just so
many. It's been recorded - I guess it's my - it's either that one or
"Ain't Living Long Like This" is my most covered song, I think. I'm
GROSS: You mentioned one of the people who recorded it was Johnny Cash,
who was your father-in-law for about 10 years when you were married to
Rosanne Cash in the '80s. And I just have one question about that. You
know, I'm sure he was so iconic to you when you were growing up. So,
like, what's it like to have someone who had been an icon in your life
suddenly be your, like, your father-in-law?
Mr. CROWELL: My relationship with John was, it was a blessing in my
life. First of all, he was the first superstar I was ever around. And
when I first showed up on the scene, you know, being just starting out,
you know, just getting some songs recorded and starting to go around and
play and, you know, making a little bit of money, I had a little bit of
self-respect. But when I first came into the family, into the entourage,
there were a lot - you had to - there was a gauntlet you had to get
through, a lot of sycophants; a lot of people were around who their
lives, or they thrive, you know, like a swarm of bees around that fame.
And so when I first came in, I was hell-bent to earn respect. And so
maybe I went over the top a little bit. You know, I was, I had a little
chip on my shoulder, and I thought: I'm trying to establish that, you
know, I'm not just some gold-digger coming around here. I'm actually a
real artist. And you know, and I think it sort of warmed John's heart.
And I think he understood what I was trying to do. I think it was
refreshing to him, and he opened up to me right away and he didn't try
to stop me kind of going overboard and kind of having this attitude
like, hey, you know, I'm cool. He just let me do it until I realized on
my own is, hey, he accepted me from day one.
GROSS: Did Johnny Cash get along with your father?
Mr. CROWELL: John met my father, I think, once or twice. Certainly, when
Rosanne and I got married in California, my father was there. And
actually, he and John got up and they both sang songs at the same time
together. And it was - of course, you can understand, for my father - it
was, you know, he was floating on air. He was dancing with Hollywood
starlets, and he was having the time of his life. It was good. It was
good to see. He had, his step was light that night.
GROSS: Wow. You know, at the end of your memoir, your new memoir,
"Chinaberry Sidewalks," you write that becoming a father helped spark a
reconciliation with your parents, because your children became so close
with, well, I guess with your mother. You know, your children became
very close with your mother.
Mr. CROWELL: Yeah, they did.
Mr. CROWELL: Yeah.
GROSS: So, did you start to see your childhood differently, too,
becoming a father?
Mr. CROWELL: Yeah. I started - when I became a father, I slowly began to
understand that I was making some of the same mistakes that they made.
It's, you know, it's part of parenthood. You just make mistakes. And I
learned, you know, it's like, it's one thing to be guilty, but, you
know, you can be guilty without really being to blame. It's like our
childhood, sometimes it's just the imprint that it gives us, it takes us
a long time to live our way out of it.
And I think by the time my children started arriving and I saw my
parents loving them and I saw them just drinking in that love, and I
started to realize, you know, the anger that I, you know, and the
distance and the coldness that I wanted to keep, that little protection
that I thought I needed to wear or to sort, you know, to wear like an
armor, I realized I didn't need it. I just needed to forgive.
And, you know, when you start, when forgiveness starts, you've got to
start with yourself, you know? And as a parent I had to learn to forgive
myself, because I was constantly making mistakes, and it would become
really obvious. Oh, okay. Learn to forgive myself and lo and behold, I'm
forgiving my beloved parents.
GROSS: My guess is Rodney Crowell. His memoir is called "Chinaberry
Sidewalks." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is songwriter and singer
Rodney Crowell. After making many albums, now he has a new memoir called
"Chinaberry Sidewalks." It's about growing up poor in East Houston. It's
about his early life. It's about his parents' tumultuous marriage. And
he's brought a guitar with him and he's been singing some of his songs
that relate to stories in the book.
And I'd like you to end with a song, if you wouldn't mind playing for us
"I Know Love Is All I Need." And maybe you could tell us about writing
it and introduce it for us.
Mr. CROWELL: I can tell you about it. I was making a record called "The
Houston Kid." And I started writing "The Houston Kid," and I really
started tinkering with the notion that I could write a memoir around the
same time I was writing the songs. And the songs, "The Houston Kid"
songs were basically musical memoir, although I took a lot of poetic
license and I kind of made the environment that I grew up, the part of
east Houston, a character in the songs.
But then one night, I had this really vivid dream from my parents. They
came to visit me and sat me down in this dream and said, hey, well, we
like this record you're making, but you're not telling the whole story.
And I said something sort of flip in my dream like - oh, yeah? Well,
enlighten me then. And they gave me this information. I don't know what
it was. It looked to me, you know, it looked like digital encoding. But
I woke up and wrote this down. And it came out like this.
(Soundbite of song, "I Know Love Is All I Need")
Mr. CROWELL: (Singing) So, I'm an orphan now, out here on my own, and
it's hard to know where I belong. It comes as no surprise. It happens to
us all. Just like the sun will rise and night will fall. Oh, I know love
is all I need. I know love is all I need. I know love is all I need.
That's all I know. An image I recall, a picture on the wall, of my
mother on her wedding day. Young and naive, nothing up her sleeve, but
the things that just got lost along the way.
Oh, I know love is all I need. I know love is all I need. I know love is
all I need. That's all I know. There's a voice I hear. It comes in loud
and clear. It's my father's voice teaching me. He says to be a man,
you've got to be true to your word. Then when you make a stand, you'll
Oh, I know love is all I need. Oh, I know love is all I need. I know
love is all I need. That's all I know. I can see it in my children. I
can feel it with my wife. And I know it with these friends I have who
are so important to my life. I had a dream last night. I saw my ma and
dad. Ah, they were happy now, and I was glad. They had this brand new
house that they'd just moved in, and when I awoke they were gone.
But I know love is all I need. I know love is all I need. I know love is
all I need. That's all I know.
GROSS: Rodney Crowell, thank you so much. This was really wonderful. I
really, really, really appreciate the singing and playing that you did
for us and talking about your life. Thank you.
Mr. CROWELL: Thank you.
GROSS: Rodney Crowell's memoir is called "Chinaberry Sidewalks." Our
interview was recorded last February soon after it was published. You
can read an excerpt of his book on our website, FreshAir.NPR.org.
Crowell is currently on tour. In his shows, he plays songs and reads
from his memoir. A new live album with his acoustic trio is available as
a download on his website. You'll find a link to it on our website,
which is, again, FreshAir.NPR.org.
*** TRANSCRIPTION COMPANY BOUNDARY ***
The 'Making Of The President' In The 1960s
TERRY GROSS, host:
On this July 4, 2011, the presidential campaign of 2012 is in full
swing. It didn't always start so early, as is clear in a new three-DVD
set, "The Making of the President: The 1960s." The set contains three
television documentaries from that time based on a series of books by
Theodore H. White.
Our critic-at-large John Powers has just watched the documentaries and
has these thoughts about how the race to the White House and how it's
covered by the media has changed over time.
JOHN POWERS: Our next presidential election is on November 6, 2012, 16
months from now. So you know what that means. We're already deep into
the campaign. I suspect we all know this timetable is crazy. Campaigning
now takes as much time and effort as governing. But the strange thing
is, most people I know just love it.
Not so long ago, campaigning was a bit saner. I was reminded of this
watching the three fascinating old documentaries in Athena's DVD set
"The Making of the President: The 1960s." They're based on the famous
series of bestsellers by Theodore "Teddy" White, who scripted these
docs. White's first book, "The Making of the President: 1960," became
such a critical and commercial smash that it helped spawn today's
industry in 24/7 campaign coverage.
The movies are as irresistible as fairy tales. For starters, they're
chock-a-block with terrific characters, from the doomed, charismatic
Kennedy brothers to Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson, two figures of
Shakespearean dimension. Moreover, all three shows have unforgettable
things. 1960 gives us the famous Kennedy-Nixon debate, which forever
made TV the central force in our elections. 1964 shows the
transformative moment at the GOP convention when pro-Goldwater delegates
shouted down the liberal Republican Nelson Rockefeller, marking that
party's turn toward the brand of conservatism that eventually led to
Ronald Reagan's presidency.
The most dramatic action, of course, takes place in the movie about the
1968 campaign. It had everything: the Vietnam War, Eugene McCarthy's
insurrection, LBJ's resignation, two assassinations, the police riot in
Chicago, the ascent of George Wallace, and the eventual winner, Richard
Nixon, radically retooling his image.
Here, riding around in a car in New Hampshire, he talks about the idea
of being a changed man.
(Soundbite of movie, "The Making of the President: The 1960s")
President RICHARD NIXON: I am really the most difficult man in the world
when it comes to a so-called public relations firm. Nobody's going to
package me. Nobody's going to make me put on an act for television. I'm
not going to engage in any gimmicks or any stunts, wear any silly hats,
do something for the purpose of getting a publicity picture or the rest.
I am not an actor, I'm not a good actor. I'm just going to be myself. If
there is anything I do have to offer to the American people and to
leadership as far as our view in the - our role in the world is
concerned, it's the fact that I believe deeply in what I say and that I
am myself. And I'm going to continue to play that role. If people
looking at me say that's a new Nixon, then all that I can say, well,
maybe you didn't know the old Nixon.
POWERS: Back then, as you can hear, it wasn't all soundbites.
Indeed, watching these three DVDs, you're struck by how much simpler
running for president used to be. For starters, you didn't have to
micromanage or orchestrate everything. Where Nixon looked washed out
because he wore a gray suit against a gray backdrop in that first
debate, candidates now don't just bring several suits, they bring their
Yet what's even more striking is how campaign coverage has changed. The
"Making of" series is narrated in the post-war era's official voice,
what we might call Middle American Olympian, which was largely accepted
as fair and balanced. These docs offer grand, almost heroic narratives,
and treat the candidates with decorous respect. Although White was
always a liberal in the Kennedys' pocket, he gave Nixon and Goldwater
their due as considerable men who actually stood for things.
These days, our news outlets don't dare aspire to the Olympian. The
mainstream media is terrified of appearing even remotely partisan, so it
fixates on safely non-ideological things like polls, gaffes and behind-
the-scenes gossip. That's why you heard as much about Michele Bachmann's
blunder in saying that John Wayne came from Waterloo, Iowa as you did
about the policies she's actually voted for. Teddy White would cringe at
such a lack of perspective.
Then again, many of today's political reporters would cringe at him. In
fact, one reason they talk about politicians so cynically is in reaction
to mythmaking reporters like White, who covered up unpleasant truths -
like JFK's health problems and irresponsible womanizing - and overlooked
things that didn't fit his grand heroic narratives about the run for the
White House. White didn't notice that Nixon's '68 campaign used TV in a
radically new way; it packaged Nixon like a product. That's why the book
on the 1968 campaign that mattered was the one that did notice this, Joe
McGinnis' "The Selling of the President." It made White's book look
naÃ¯ve, if not clueless.
There is, of course, a huge difference between a president being sold
and being made. While I wouldn't want to go back to the kind of coverage
we got from White, it's hard not to feel a bit nostalgic for the days
when running for the president was treated as something noble, not
grubby, and hustling reporters didn't feel themselves equal, if not
superior, to the hustling politicians they cover. Say what you will
about Teddy White, he would never have called a sitting president a
dirty name on national TV - not even Richard Nixon.
GROSS: John Powers is film critic for Vogue and Vogue.com. The DVD set,
"The Making of the President: The 1960s" will be released tomorrow.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.