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And though he didn't know it yet at the time, Crowell had been fueled by that thought ever since he came roaring back out of self-imposed exile in 2000 with The Houston Kid, his autobiographical remembrance of his hardscrabble youth in Jacinto City and Magnolia Park that also served as his declaration of independence from big-time country music.
Crowell has a memoir in the works, a sort of expanded prose version of The Houston Kid. Though he says the project is somewhat stalled right now, it brings him back to town between gigs to "make sure everything's still the way I remember it," as he puts it, to retrace the footsteps of his youth. Literally. "My mother used to drag me what I thought was 40 blocks to the Emmanuel Temple Pentecostal Church on Wayside Drive," he says. "So recently I went back and walked it, and it was only 24 blocks. Walking up Wayside Drive from Avenue P up to past Navigation You know it's still a Pentecostal church, only it's a Spanish one now."
Texas myths have also been much on his mind, though in this case "myths" is a euphemism. "I've spent a lot of time writing about the San Jacinto Monument and the metaphor of it," he says. "Basically we built a 570-foot monument to a bunch of liars. Texas is all about the absolute beautiful poetry of lying. It saddens me to think that Texas has been overtaken by this greed, get-my-money lifestyle when we have this rich heritage of liars to draw from."
He also recently relived a horrendous antibaptism that almost killed him 30-odd years ago. A few months back, he boarded the MV Sam Houston and took the Ship Channel tour to relive the time he fell in the Ship Channel when he was working at Todd Shipyard and got "the mother of all kidney infections." "I almost didn't get back from that and I wasn't in that water for a minute," he says. Riding the Sam Houstonthrough the "absolutely polluted" Ship Channel's waters years later, Crowell says he could still romanticize the hell out of that misadventure, and hell, all of the side of Houston the Chamber of Commerce seldom touts. And in looking at the city with a detached writer's eye, Crowell says that he has fallen in love.
"When you're putting yourself into that receptivity to try to reconstruct memory, you start to develop a romantic relationship with a place," he says. "So I love Houston."
Or as he put it less pithily if more eloquently in the following "Beautiful Despair"-inducing public e-mail exchange with journalist Chet Flippo: "Hallowed be the Houston Ship Channel fifty miles of salt marsh bayou turned world's longest deep water shipping lane, host waterway to the most sludge pumping, poisonous gas spewing paper mills, chemical plants and oil refineries in the Western Hemisphere. The Houston Ship Channel on whose creosote-soaked banks new monied oil-boom tycoons rub chafed elbows with Mexican drag line operators and Coonass pile drivers in a payday Friday winner-takes-all beer and whiskey chugging contest. Piss on Enron, Houston's heart and soul is over on the east side where New Orleans rhythm, Fort Worth blues and Nashville heartbreak once spilled out of its honky-tonk and icehouse juke boxes onto an endless sea of oyster shell parking lots. That's right cat daddy, Houston Texas, land of hot toddies, cold watermelon and lying sons-of-bitches who'd rather gut you with a Barlow knife than listen to a sappy song. Not a bad place to come from."
Thank you, Reverend Crowell. Hallowed be your name, too.
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