"Redneck Boy in the Promised Land: The Confessions of 'Crazy Cooter' " by Ben Jones. Crown. 292 pages. $23.95.
Bottom line: Rambunctious ramblings of a good ol' boy.
The first clue that you're in for fun with Ben Jones' memoir is the chapter titles. "That Was Not a Chip on My Shoulder, That was a Crosstie." "An Old Alky Versus Ken and Barbie." "Cooter Tries to Neuter the Newtster." Heckfire and gravy, a guy who can come up with chapter headers like that ought to be able to write a fine memoir indeed.
"Redneck Boy in the Promised Land" isn't much on the actual writing. It's grammatical. And spell-checked. But then it's unlikely that Ben Jones' fans are going to be plunking down $24 for his way with a metaphor.
OK, there is one moment when he shows some chops. That's when he describes actress Catherine Bach: "She had the best legs in the history of legs." Now that's writing.
For those who are too young or too Northern to know, Jones has two major claims to fame. He played Cooter on "The Dukes of Hazzard," an unchallenging TV show in the early '80s about Catherine Bach's legs, and good ol' boys driving fast through the woods. And he served two terms as a congressman from Georgia's Fourth District, running in memorably miasmic contests against Newt Gingrich and Pat Swindall.
"Redneck Boy" fills in all the other stuff. He was a fervent civil rights demonstrator and is a lifetime member of the NAACP, but supports people who want to display the Confederate battle flag, which certainly puts him in a minority.
He was a hard-core alcoholic who quit drinking in 1977, but had trouble getting with the Alcoholics Anonymous program at first. He thought they were telling him to trust "Howard Powell," and later realized they were saying Higher Power. (As alcoholic memoirists go, Jones is actually kind of tame in the popular game of how low did you go?)
He spent a lot of time in Atlanta in the '70s and '80s, acting at the Alliance Theatre, and drinking up the liquor supply along Peachtree Street. Then he got one small TV role on a show that was, for a while, a pop culture phenomenon, and that changed everything.
Jones complains bitterly that the Hollywood writers didn't know anything about the real South and turned a promising idea into a "cartoon," and that the Hollywood studios ripped off all of the actors, both of which may be true.
But without "Dukes," Jones wouldn't have had the name recognition to springboard to his unlikely career of congressman. With a background that included multiple arrests, he opted for a fairly free-wheeling campaign style. When a reporter asked him if he had smoked marijuana, instead of going the "once in college" route, Jones said he had experimented with marijuana twice. "Once from 1957 until 1961 and once from 1963 to 1978."
"I could have said I was the guy who never exhaled," he writes.
His two campaigns against Swindall were the stuff of political legend, and Jones has a blast recounting them, in a completely nonpartisan way, of course. In 1992 he ran into a buzzsaw named Newt Gingrich, and that was the end of Jones' political career, although he's been busy and happy since.
One more thing. I don't recall that Jones ever mentions Cooter's last name. According to several Web sites, it's Davenport. Maybe he was saving that for the sequel.
MEET THE AUTHOR
Ben Jones will read from and sign "Redneck Boy in the Promised Land" at 7 p.m. Thursday at Manuel's Tavern, 602 N. Highland Ave., Atlanta. A Cappella Books is the bookseller for the event. www.acapellabooks.com.
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