Lowbrow TV-actor-turned-congressman relates his strange life and times.
No, it’s not Sonny Bono, or even Fred Grandy. Surely no one was clamoring for a memoir from Jones, semi-famous for portraying the begrimed mechanic “Cooter” on The Dukes of Hazzard before serving two terms as a Democratic U.S. congressman from Georgia. So this modest tome is a pleasant surprise, as he relates the events of his unlikely life with appealingly low-key charm and easy humor. Born in crushing poverty to an alcoholic railroad man and his defeated wife, the author grew up in a shack in Virginia, following in his dissolute father’s footsteps while racking up failed marriages and stints in jail. But he yearned for something better, haphazardly cultivating an interest in literature and theater between blackouts, eventually finding sobriety and gainful employment maintaining the Duke boys’ General Lee on network television. Jones’s account of his dark years is perhaps too restrained; he alludes to various categories of bad behavior and leaves it at that. The book really picks up steam with his post-Dukes congressional career, a development that surprised Jones as much as anyone. He dishes freely, delightedly reporting on the crookedness and venality of the party machinery that opposed him. The case for campaign-finance reform has seldom been made so entertainingly as in his account of an underfunded and idealistic outsider running afoul of institutionalized graft, corruption and hypocrisy. (Newt Gingrich won’t be providing a blurb.) A late highlight of the narrative is Jones’s trip to Tiananmen Square, where he violated diplomatic protocol and staged a small protest in the name of the murdered student protestors, infuriating the Chinese brass. That gesture sums up his public life: small-scale, sincere and sympathetic to the little guy. Jones currently curates a phenomenally successful annual Dukes of Hazzard fan festival at which “Crazy Cooter” remains a major draw. God bless America.
A warm, witty portrait of a quietly extraordinary American life.