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The Chenango Kid: A Memoir of the Fifties Paperback – February 29, 2012
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From BlueInk Review, an independent, objective online journal:
"As for Miller's reflections about the literature, music and politics of the 1950s, he delivers understanding beyond the superficial.... all literate women and men who remember that decade will find plenty to roll over in their minds in this wide-ranging and thoughtful memoir."
From the Inside Flap
Roger Miller, aka The Chenango Kid, spent more of his boyhood than he probably should have sitting in the dark watching the Bowery Boys, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, outer-space invaders, and, especially, cowboy epics. Almost any Western hero would do, but it was the oaters of Charles Starrett, aka The Durango Kid, turned out at the rate of seven or eight a year, that sent him eagerly racing to be first in line at the box office of the Star Theater on Chenango Street in Binghamton, New York, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
So here's lookin' at you, Kid! Not only did you (and your sidekick, Smiley Burnette) give the author pleasure watching your movies, but your nickname gave him a title for a book about watching them--and about all the pleasures, pains, joys, sorrows, triumphs, and failures of growing up in the Decade That Never Ends.
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Top Customer Reviews
If this were only a memoir, it would be well worth reading. But it's more than that, so is even more worth reading. Mr. Miller places his family's life within the wider context of the 1950s, and shows how they - and their Chenango Street neighborhood - were influenced by popular culture. Education was important to young Roger, so we get great stories about favorite and not-so-favorite teachers, administsrators, fellow students, and 1950s school life.
As someone who grew up not far from Mr. Miller's environment, I can vouch for his accuracy. As someone interested in American history and culture, I can appreciate his many closely-observed details. And for the lover of a good story...well, that's here too.
Miller's parent were legally separated in a decade where that was a scandal. His mother enjoyed men and beer in good measure. His father was a smart, kindly but clueless slacker who read magazines, acquired patents without doing the market research, and played solitaire, "the deck of cards limp and soft and their spots and figures faded with use." One half-sister was sent away to reform school, and the other Miller never met until late in life. Why? Don't ask. In the ethos of the silent generation, as Miller puts it, "Why bring up not-nice things? You might have to explain them."
Fortunately, Mr. Miller tries. His voice rings true. The memoir is strongest where it is most personal. When it discusses the decade's movies, television, and comics, it lacks the bedrock of emotion many readers need to be able to read as Mr. Miller did when in high school: "with my whole being, taking in greedily what was before my eyes and coming into my ears."
My favorite part of the memoir was the description of Lopez, PA, "where you went to be allowed to be something that you weren't where you came from." It's a boy's paradise, but the kitchen in his grandparents' house has an "amber-colored flypaper hanging in the kitchen, thick with flies." Here, it seems poverty is redeemed by rusticity.
In fact, all the particulars of Roger Miller's early life, dates and details duly appended, build up to a hugely entertaining autobiography that I, at least, found hard to put down. Maybe that's because roughly we lived through the same times, but, a dividend beyond that, the personal wry, spry guy that comes through here is someone you want to be friends with. Not just to discuss those days, innocent and not so innocent, that are gone forever, but to ahare the memories that still remain with us who lived them.
Miller's interesting astringence, fostered by the bittersweet days of youth covered here, is often relieved by his ironic refocusing, but happily he does not adopt the all-seeing omnipotence that some autobiographers enjoy . (For instance, in discussing some of the music of the time, and its "combination of clever inspired writing and excellent musicianship," he muses, "I wonder what I thought of it as a teenager. What did I think I was seeing?")
His laser memory alone would make this book, as a reliable record of the world "the way it was" in those days, but the use to which he puts it helps to explain not only the Miller version of life but the national direction of his time, so soon aborted.
Still, beyond the details that make this autobiography an unparallelled record of the times, the reader cannot miss the hard-won fight that made the writer what he is, as well. A fight that was well worth the effort, in a time that rewarded such struggle.