Here is a book with a savvy title and jacket, evidenced by my recent conversation with a friend. We had both seen the cover photo: A beautiful, blonde woman nestled in the arms of a handsome blond man wearing a Stetson. Mr. and Mrs. Alan Jackson. Happy couple, smiles all around. I asked a leading question: “IT’S ALL ABOUT HIM. So, who’s the ‘him’ --- Jackson or Jesus?”
“Oh, it’s Alan. Just look at the picture. I never even thought of Jesus,” she answered.
Obviously, I wasn’t so sure. Opening the book, I turned no further than the dedication page to find the ultimate answer: “…Christ…It truly is all about Him.” Okay, so maybe that’s where the book ends, though it’s a journey getting there --- to a foundational understanding discovered in crisis, as Denise and Alan approached middle age.
In case you’ve never heard of Alan Jackson, he’s a Nashville “country music superstar” who is “wealthy beyond his dreams.” Denise was his high-school sweetheart; they met in 1976 in small-town Newnan, Georgia. In a likable, breezy style, Denise describes their family backgrounds --- two different Baptist churches --- and recounts their courtship and marriage, when she was a sophomore in college.
Right off the bat --- in the “wedding chapter” --- Denise analyzes their early relationship: “I looked to Alan to make everything work in our life together… I relied on him for my sense of well-being. This dependence grew over the years, and in some ways my personal growth stalled.” So a reader is set up to anticipate some future turning point, when “it’s all about him” changes to “it’s all about Him.”
The next few years Alan worked, putting Denise through school; on weekends he sang and wrote songs for a local band called Dixie Steel. Denise taught school, then worked as a flight attendant. In 1985, they moved to a ratty apartment in Nashville in hopes of furthering Alan’s music career. Money was tight. Life was hard, with Alan traveling a lot. “He knew that murky gigs on the road would give him the experience that he needed for the bright future he was determined to reach.” Nearly five years later, Alan’s second single, “Here in the Real World,” broke through, to “number one on the country music charts.” Two months later, when Denise was 30, their first daughter was born. On both the professional and personal fronts, their lives would never be the same.
Initial postpartum depression was followed by fame and fortune that had its satisfactions: Hired help. Acquired properties. Purchased cars. A White House welcome. The red-carpet walks. But seven years later, just after the birth of their third daughter, restless Alan said he was moving out, from their estate to the lake house. And during the next year of wrenchingly painful marital separation, Denise, with the help of a Christian community, claimed her identity and confidence in Christ --- Alan following suit.
The second half of the book shows the remaking of a marriage and Denise’s spiritual growth; the pages are also sprinkled with stories behind some of Alan’s recent professional breakthroughs: the writing of his number-one song about 9/11, “Where Were You?” and the genesis of his first (2006) country/gospel album, Precious Memories.
This is a nicely told autobiography of a marriage with helpful insights for personal and relational healing. But if you’re looking for what the back-jacket copy describes as “an all-access look” into the Jacksons’ marriage, you might be disappointed over the lack of gritty details. Few conversations are recreated, in memoir-fashion. Tales are told with reserve. The gated mansion is not pictured in the photo sections.
A bonus: At least in its early editions, the book includes a music CD on which Alan sings two songs: his own recent composition “It’s All About Him” and the song he sang at his 1979 wedding, “That’s the Way.”
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on November 13, 2011