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Sing Me Back Home: Love, Death, and Country Music Hardcover


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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: 8.6 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,572,070 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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Customer Reviews

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This is a wonderful joyride through personal memoir courtesy of the souped-up hot rod of the history of country music.
S. Green
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.
Lily Courthope
Jennings, on the other hand, turns the history of country music into something very personal: a way to share his own family story.
Sam Sattler

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Sam Sattler on June 13, 2008
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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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Lily Courthope on May 29, 2008
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By William E. Adams on June 23, 2008
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Frank on November 8, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I enjoyed the country music part of the book; but I was disappointed in the portrayal of the extended Jennings family. I never felt like I got to know any of the family members. They came across as flat, one-dimensional people who led shallow lives of drinking, having sex, and shooting rats at the dump. I kept hoping one of them would do something that had some socially redeeming significance, like maybe robbing a bank or something, but that never happened.

I finished the book about two weeks ago and the only person I can remember is Grammy Jennings. And the only thing I remembered about Grammy was that she liked big men and lots of sex. Not exactly a memorable family portrait. I found myself wanting to know about the author and his journey from hanging out with the misfits, malcontents, and ne'er-do-wells of his youth to hanging out with the misfits, malcontents, and ne'er-do-wells at the New York Times. But the author chose not to reveal much of himself. I think it would have been a better book if he had.

Jennings has a love, knowledge and appreciation of country music and it shows. He writes about the working-class roots of country music, and the drinking , infidelity and the honky-tonk angels of country music songs. Millions of country music fans would agree with the author when he calls prison songs the third leg of country music. I disagree. Yes, Johnny Cash recorded a lot of prisons songs; and to a lesser extent, so did Merle Haggard. But once you get past Cash and Haggard, prison songs are hard to find. Jennings names some but there just aren't that many. I'm not saying that George Jones, Willie Nelson, Hank Snow, Hank Thompson, Red Foley and a score of other country music singers never recorded a prison song. I'm just saying, if they did, I can't think of any.
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