Sing Me Back Home

By DANA JENNINGS

One of those eternal country-music staples is the song about going back to your old childhood home and taking a look around. Somtimes the view is warm and fuzzy (Merle Haggard?s ?Roots of My Raising?); sometimes the singer pines for the past (Willie Nelson?s ?I Just Drove By?); and sometimes he can?t haul ass out of there fast enough (Tom T. Hall?s ?Homecoming?). Novelist and New York Times writer Dana Jennings pens his own version of this tune in a masterful musical memoir that recalls growing up in rural New Hampshire (“a rogue northeastern extension of Appalachia?) and the country songs that provided a soundtrack to his hardscrabble childhood. It?s not a sentimental picture. ?All Grammy Jennings ever wanted was to fuck and drink,? he recalls. ?If you?re seeking flour-dappled cheeks and chocolate-chip cookies cooling on the kitchen table, you?ve got the wrong shack, Jack.? Jennings superbly chronicles the doings of a clan of orphans and alcoholics, cheating wives and battering husbands, boozing, laboring, and brawling down that lost highway, leavening their tales with anecdotes about the music of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. There are occasional clich‚s: he has no doubt that ?the golden age of country music? overlapped with his youth; nor does he find it hackneyed to put down feminists to prove his down-home credentials: ?The taint of their smoldering bras filled the air? (that?s some taint!) But his family portraits linger in the memory like a steel-guitar moan, especially his hard-living Auntie Helen, who sets him down and tells him, ?I got three men living in this g.d. house. And if you put ?em all together, you ain?t got one man.?

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