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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 054757746X
  • ASIN: B006CDFWE8
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,382,827 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Product Description
Late in 1959, the Brown siblings--Maxine, Bonnie, and Jim Ed--were enjoying unprecedented international success, rivaled only by their longtime friend Elvis Presley. They had a bona fide megahit on their hands, which topped both the country and pop charts and gave rise to the polished sound of the multibillion dollar country music industry we know today. Mesmerized by the Browns' haunting harmonies, the Beatles even tried to learn their secret. Their unique harmony, however, was only achievable through shared blood, and the trio's perfect pitch was honed by a childhood spent listening for the elusive pulse and tone of an impeccably tempered blade at their parent's Arkansas sawmill.

But the Browns' celebrity couldn't survive the world changing around them, and the bonds of family began to fray along with the fame. Heartbreakingly, the novel jumps between the Browns' promising past and the present, which finds Maxine--once supremely confident and ravenous in her pursuit of applause--ailing and alone. As her world increasingly narrows, her hunger for just one more chance to secure her legacy only grows, as does her need for human connection.

Lyrical and nuanced, Nashville Chrome hits all the right grace notes with its vivid evocation of an era in American music, while at its heart it is a wrenching meditation on the complexities of fame and of one family--forgotten yet utterly unforgettable when reclaimed by Bass--who experienced them firsthand.



Amazon Exclusive Essay from Rick Bass, Author of Nashville Chrome

A few years ago, when my daughters were a teen and a pre-teen, they were in love with the countryrockpop star Keith Urban, who would later go on to bend, but not break their, hearts by marrying actress Nicole Kidman. It was the beginning of that wonderful but bittersweet time when they were first starting to go out into the world on their own and were no longer always interested in me tagging along. A time when--in their minds if not mine--my relevance to their daily lives was dwindling. Maybe I can interview Keith Urban, I told them: fathercode for I am still a person of worth in your fast-growing-up lives.

I ran all the usual traps a journalist runs. I knew a bunch of fiction and environmental editors, but nobody at People magazine, and I can only imagine what those magazines thought when I began trying--unsuccessfully--to crack that beat. I contacted magazines, newspapers, editors, record companies, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends, and beyond. I was relentless. At some point, I'm sure I must have crossed over the line into stalking in the minds of Urban's managers, but over the years, the closest the girls ever came to him was receiving the archetypal mass mailing of a glossy 8" x 10" signed black-and-white photo, which--though they had far too much tact to point out to me--anybody's old father could have gotten. All their lives, I've preached to them the pleasures and satisfactions of following their hearts--that there are gifts in this world beyond the material--and that one of the benefits of living the penurious life of a freelance writer is the ability to pursue opportunities like this one, and to live with a schedule flexible enough to permit wild goose chases.

And so I kept trying. Eventually, I got hooked up with some movie people who were also angling for a meeting with Keith Urban. I went out to Nashville, where just by chance I bumped into the entirely unrelated but fascinating story of an old woman I'd never heard of, Maxine Brown, who had lived quite a life. I visited with her and her family for a couple of days and the more I listened, the larger the story got. I'd gone east looking for a modern celebrity and had instead found something infinitely rarer: an ancient, all-but-forgotten celebrity, the fast-fading dust of legend.

One can imagine the dismay of the girls.

Maxine and her family had grown up hardscrabble poor in the heart of the Great Depression and had been at the edge of the explosion of new country music: the quantum leap it made from the not-always-accessible high Appalachian sound into the multibillion dollar entertainment industry it would (for better or worse) soon become. Maxine and her sister, Bonnie, and brother, Jim Ed, possessed a haunting harmony that was perfect for the era--sophisticated and smooth, polished like chrome: a sound that allowed America to repress--for just a little longer--all the national troubles that were just beneath the surface at that time. The Browns were the first group to have a number one hit on both the country and the pop charts (and later on the folk charts--pioneers in the phenomenon of crossover hits) and were the number one selling group in England in 1957.

By the 1960s, however, they had practically vanished, and today, hardly anyone has heard of them or knows who they are--who they were. The novel quickly became an examination about the costs and nature of fame in America. I was particularly struck by how one sister, Bonnie, accepted the return of anonymity with grace and even what seemed to me like relief, while Maxine, the older sister, burned--and still burns, dreaming of fame's return. And I was fascinated, too, by the way the greatness of the era--Johnny Cash, Elvis, the Beatles, Chet Atkins, etc.--was drawn to the Browns, as if to a source or wellspring. What such springs exist today, and will they dry up, and if so, why?

Fires, floods, bars, and the heartbreak of betrayals--all the stuff of country music, then and now, was braided throughout the Browns' lives, occurring often and with great drama. It's a miracle they survived. In so many ways they were pioneers who blazed a way for the easy road, the silk road of wealth that would attend to talent in subsequent generations. Yet the burden of fame would become no easier--the Browns struggled with it then as entertainers of today still do.

Although I didn't get the story I initially went after (though I haven't given up; what kind of lesson would that be for the girls?), at least there was something that came out of the Keith Urban wild goose chase. A novel doesn’t just come along every day.

-Rick Bass

(Photo © Nicole Blaisdell)




--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In his grand return to fiction, Bass (Why I Came West) summons--with a lyrical style befitting his best nature writing--Arkansas and backwoods trio the Browns, the true-life country music trailblazers who pioneered the 1950s sound from which the novel takes its title. Now half-blind and living in obscurity in west Memphis, the group's oldest sibling, Maxine, ruminates on the trio's fateful rise and subsequent fall from grace, and her struggle to recover fame. (Or is it recover from it?) Maxine sets out to have a documentary made and relives on the page a yearning that perhaps only a song or accomplished novel could intone. We revisit her childhood in the woods; live through brother Jim Ed's and father Floyd's bloody struggles in the wood mill; witness sister Bonnie's love affair with a young Elvis; and experience Maxine's reverie in front of "a standing ovation more powerful than any drug." Like the sound Chet Atkins pulls from the Browns in the studio, the narrative has a pitch-perfect chorus of longing and regret, with an undertone that connects and heals.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Bottom line for me: I enjoyed reading this book, and I recommend it quite highly.
L. F. Smith
Rick Bass is one of my favorite authors and I was intrigued that he tackled the subject of the Browns, a trio I remembered from the late 50s.
Judy A. Brandon
Nonetheless, the narrative style he used here failed to keep my attention and I found the book slow.
Elizabeth

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful By EJ on September 25, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'm very embarrassed to say that until I read an article about this book, I had no idea who the Browns were, although I have the nerve to call myself a music fan. Immediately I downloaded the book and was transported into a world that I knew very little about, written gorgeously in a way that almost reads like total fiction instead of being based on the lives of very real people.

This is the story of the Browns, a family growing up dirt poor in Arkansas during the depression, surrounded by the sounds of lumber mills and woods which would finely tune their sense of harmony. It is the story of how young country music stars were locked into contracts that barely allowed them to survive while enriching their dubious agents. It is the story of how the lives of many of the famous names you will recognize (Gentleman Jim, Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, and a little band called the Beatles) and the Browns were interwoven as they were all starting out and paving the road to what we now know as the county seat of country music--Nashville. The book alternates between telling the story of the Browns' rise to fame and subsequent fall with glimpses of Maxine as she is now, craving the excitement and fame that her unbelievably unique talent had once wrought upon her. The author, who wrote the book based on interviews with the family, captures the essence of their fleeting flame with heartbreaking clarity.

While reading this incredibly poetic book, I was googling and youtubing like mad. I expected to find some of the Browns' music and hear that it had that tinny `50s quality that was pleasant but not exceptional. Boy, was I ever wrong. Rick Bass is 100% accurate in describing the liquid beauty of their voices and the singular quality of their sound. Their music gives me goosebumps, and Mr.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Years before Elvis Presley burst onto the scene, there were the Browns - Maxine, Jim Ed and Bonnie - who rolled out number one hits, topping the charts and capturing the attention of famous singers who eventually followed.

People came - Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Patsy Cline, Buddy Holly, and the King himself - just to hear them. "They came, they brushed up against the Browns, and then they went on their way - magic-brushed, and forged from a fire they sometimes didn't even realize they'd touch, though others of them understood right from the very beginning the nature of the raw talent they were witnessing."

In Nashville Chrome, the legacy of the Browns is explored - their longing for fame, the aftereffects of achieving fame, the recalibration of "home" with its myriad of meanings. The book is devoted to "truthiness"; Rick Bass quotes Ron Carlson in saying, "I try not to confuse the facts with the truth."

What he sets out to do is to unearth his truth and he does it with lyrical and often elegiac sensitivity. The Browns lived in simpler times... of small town growing-up, longings for love, dressing up for boys, cruel betrayals. Together as children, they sung three-part harmonies that were so smooth that they were dubbed "Nashville chrome." During an early performance, they naively sign an iron-clad contract with an exploitive, morally challenged manager who, in effect, "owns" them from that point on, paying them next-to-nothing and working them hard.

Rick Bass writes, "None of the Browns had a clue. They were like racehorses with blinders, thundering down the dirt track.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By sb-lynn TOP 500 REVIEWER on October 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Brief summary, no spoilers.

This book is a fictionalization of the lives the Browns - a country trio that dominated the country and pop charts back in the late 1950's. Never heard of them? I hadn't either, and I thought I knew quite a bit about music. As it turns out, The Browns were not only at the top of the charts, they were close friends and buddies with Elvis Presley, and even had the Beatles as fans. But they faded away during the 1960s, and are little known today despite having attained charting records that stand to this day.

What this book does is give us the background of Maxine, Bonnie and Jim Ed Brown, taking us from their impoverished upbringing in the backwoods of the deep south during the depression, all the way to the present, in their old age. In particular, we follow the thoughts and life of Maxine - the eldest sister and the most ambitious. The loss of fame was the hardest on her, and the scenes from her old age are emotional and poignant.

Which is how I can describe this whole novel. I was not that interested in the subject matter of this book, but a friend gave it his highest recommendation so I thought I'd give it a try. The writing is a wonder. Truly. The scenes are so well described, we can see, smell, taste and even feel them. And the ability of the author to so believably get inside the minds of characters in adolescence up to old age is impressive.

This is just a beautifully written story. There are so many exquisite passages, that I wouldn't know where to begin to excerpt. Here is just one short example :

"Floyd was born in 1895.
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