The Traveling Charbonneaus
At first glance, it appears as though we know exactly what Wendell Charbonneau wants.
Septic cleaner by day, country music troubadour by night, Wendell has spent the better part of his adult life dragging his ragtag family band into every beer-soaked dive and dump that would hire them. It’s crystal clear he’s in dogged pursuit of a neon rainbow with the pot of country music gold at the end. It’s also evident he’s not about to let anyone or anything stop him from winning his prize.
But his quest has been costly, exacting a number of pricey tolls. He’s banished a disloyal daughter, seen his simple-minded son duped into a cruel men’s room prank, and, later, done jail time for retribution against the bar owner who shamed his boy. His long-suffering wife pleads with him to quit the band business, abandon his narcissistic folly, but he’ll have none of it, and presses on concocting scheme after scheme for success and stardom.
Wendell controls much, but not all, in his universe. He’s unable to control the rising country music star who was once his elder daughter. He’s unable to stop the inevitable dismantling of his family as his younger children begin to grow up and out. And he’s unable to control the cancer that grows deep in his lungs, the cancer caused by years of sucking in second hand smoke that hung heavy in the nightclubs and bars.
“I’ve always wanted exposure,” Wendell tells the doctor, upon hearing his diagnosis, “but I’d never figured on that kind.”
A bleak prognosis forces him to take stock of the life he’s had, rather than the life he’d imagined. We learn his true motivation for musical stardom.
Wendell wanted to keep his family together. Simple as that.
“Us,” he tells his wife, “I wanted us to be famous, touring together, so we’d never be apart. Together… forever.”
Near the end, Wendell does come to honor his life, understanding that all the years he’d spent waiting to be discovered, the truth was he’d already been found…