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Sing Me Back Home: Love, Death, and Country Music Hardcover – May 27, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The perfect country song, according to the late songwriter Steve Goodman, always had references to mama, being drunk, cheating, going to prison and hell-bent driving. Taking a page from Goodman's songbook, Jennings, a New York Times editor, brilliantly captures the essence of country music in this hard-driving tale that is part memoir and part music history. With the wild-eyed, hard-edged energy of Hank Williams and Jerry Reed, Jennings tells of his upbringing in the hardscrabble hollers of New Hampshire. He recalls characters from his family to illustrate the themes of what he believes is the golden age of country music: 1950–1970. Grammy Jennings, "like Patsy Cline, knows what it is to go walkin' after midnight searching for her man, to fall to pieces, to be crazy-you don't go chasing your oldest son with a butcher knife if you ain't crazy." With the lonesome strains of the steel guitar and tales of hunger and poverty, reckless driving, cheating and drinking, country singers Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Merle Haggard-no longer heard on the radio-sang not only to Jennings and his family but the millions of folks just like them struggling to face "The Cold Hard Facts of Life" (Porter Wagoner) in a postwar world. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Dana Jennings, a native of New Hampshire, is an editor with The New York Times. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; 1st edition (May 27, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865479607
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865479609
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,706,071 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
OK, I admit it. When it comes to real country music, and those whom I believe truly appreciate it as the art form that it is, I am prejudiced. Never in a million years would I believe that some guy from New Hampshire, a writer and editor for the New York Times, of all the newspapers in the word, for crying out loud, would know much about the real thing; no way would someone with that background actually understand the music and those who created it. Well, that was before I read Sing Me Back Home, by Dana Jennings, who is exactly the guy I just described.

I want to apologize, Mr. Jennings, and I salute you, sir.

Sing Me Back Home is not a straight forward history of country music. Books like those serve their purpose, certainly, and there are many worthy ones out there already that take that approach. Jennings, on the other hand, turns the history of country music into something very personal: a way to share his own family story.

As most country music historians (and knowledgeable fans) agree, the years from the late forties to the very end of the sixties mark the period of classic country music. The music reached its peak during those years and has faced a steady, downhill slide since 1970 with the exception of a small (and poorly rewarded) group of pickers and singers that refuses to let classic country music completely disappear. But, overall, country music has probably never been in a sorrier state than it is in today. According to Jenkins, in fact, "It can be entertaining, but the difference between today's country and the summits of the 1950s and `60s is the difference between the lightning and the lighting bug."

As Jennings puts it, "country music was made by poor people for poor people.
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Format: Hardcover
For anyone who thinks country music begins and ends with Kenny Chesney, here's your reality check. Part autobiography, part music appreciation course, the author gives the reader a lean, mean lesson in what country music -- in its Golden Age -- was all about. Far more than just twangy songs about drinking and cheating, the country music of those times and artists tied the music to the poorest, the marginalized, the most helpless of Americans. The prose is eloquent and evocative, yet sparse as a meal in the Depression. Also funny, biting, and wryly witty at times. The author reminds us, too, that country music didn't stem solely from, nor was it intended solely for the people of the rural south. Instead, artists like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Faron Young, the Louvin Brothers, Connie Smith, et al, were all people who came up from hardscrabble lives & times, and their music resonated with people everywhere who suffered from deprivation, whether the listeners lived in Kingston, New Hampshire, or Stollings, West Virginia. The music of our youth evokes the people, the pain, the loves, the losses, and the emotions of our youth. Like the author, I had turned away from country music during my youth, and when I returned to it later in life I found that there isn't any (almost none, anyway) country music anymore. No more fiddle, no more steel, no more twang. Honesty? Fuhgeddaboudit!

This book reminded me in so many ways of the music I love, but more than that, it brought back the people I loved most and who are no longer with me. Yeah, this book was a trip down memory lane for me, but it also felt like validation for the appreciation I've put into this kind of music. And it's a great tool for beginners who want to learn what the Golden Age of country music really sounded like, and where to begin listening.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Capturing the deep angst of growing up poor and wanting in the land of the free Dana Jennings beautifully reminds us of the lessons learned from the patron saints of country music and the early bluegrass artists. Ever wondered why Kitty Wells, Patsy Cline and Hank Williams were able to define your sadness, bring tears to your eyes and put an occasional smile on your face? Then this book is for you. Mr. Jennings skillfully gives a deep look into the harshness of life shared by growing up on the wrong side of the tracks. For serious students of music Sing Me Back Home is required reading.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really wanted to like this book, as I am very interested in the subject matter, but the way the author writes is annoying. He tries to write overly-creative and clever prose, and it doesn't work. Got tired of it very quickly.
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Format: Hardcover
Like the author, I was a yankee (New Jersey in my case, NH in his) who grew up in a poor white family whose main musical preference was country. I am older than the author, and his 1960's experiences were my '50's memories. My family was maybe a bit less broke, a bit more functional despite the presence of a lot of drinking. But Hank Williams and Slim Whitman and Eddy Arnold and the Sons of the Pioneers and Gene Autry and Roy Rogers and Jimmy Wakely and Red Foley and Tex Ritter were on our turntable all the time. Auto mechanics directly, and auto racing indirectly, and fishing and hunting and target shooting were the big recreational events of my youth. My folks had schooling that stopped at fourth grade for my orphaned dad and sixth grade for my ma. There were sporadic tragedies involving guns and cars and divorces and diseases and feuds in my extended clan. Dana Jennings has written about this kind of childhood, punctuated by what is now called "classic country music" and I identified with almost all of what he went through and what he thinks about it. Like him, I escaped into journalism. Despite our similar backgrounds, I could not have written nearly as well about my family as he wrote about his own. I think he did a grand job in this effort.
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