Here In The Tumbling Tumbleweeds
I’ll never be a cowboy. I’ll never be described as a rustler or measure my utterances in the esoteric, stunted vocabulary of a ranchman. I’ll never run a thousand head of cattle from Texas to Kansas, never know the quiet solicitude of the cattle driver, or of fear stricken deep into the heart by an oncoming horde of stampeding beasts. I’ll never have a meal prepared for me by a crotchety old beanslinger nicknamed “Cookie”, or have to worry about being scalped as I traverse an unfamiliar stretch of labyrinthine Utah sandstone towers. This will never be my life.
I will not learn to forecast the weather from Sioux Indians, as my grandfather did; or sit in an old pickup truck at the edge of a bluff overlooking the badlands of South Dakota, working my fingers across the radio dial, watching the needle slowly cross its arcing, dimly lit meridian trying to find the station that plays all of those great Jimmie Rodgers tunes. I’ll never stake out a henhouse before dawn in an attempt to ambush and shoot a fox. I will never fret over a can of pomade, invite a girl to a barn dance, or bury my parents in the yard. These things are too far removed, too far beyond the horizon of my time, to be achieved.
But I am a man of the west, and there are certain things which tether me to the experiences above. There is the geological landscape that defines the western United States, and although it is now parceled and fragmented and liberally punched up by the exponential fists of Manifest Destiny, we have the mountains and the grand sweep of the plains. We have the yellowed, cloudy winds that shake out of a pollinating pine forest in June; the archaic and provincial place names that give us fifty different words to describe a dry ditch; we have the vast, wide open sky that unfurls daily with more stark drama than can be conjured in the scope of our entire, little lives; all of these things allowing us a slivered glimpse of the aesthetic vista of the early 20th century.
And we have the music.
There is an intangible little thing that you can hear in old country music that is evocative of something that may be gone for good, save for the cultural markers we have left from which to glean. It is a romantic notion, to be certain, but that fact does not diminish its strength. This music may be pastoral, and steeped in a time that bears little resemblance to our technocratic, politically bent age, but it’s healthy to hold on to the trifle romance of our history. It’s perfectly alright to imagine yourself as a cowhand as you board the train to go to work, to imagine yourself as skilled in the lasso arts, completely unaware of how to alter a document in photoshop or how to create effective passwords for your computer so that you are less likely to fall victim to an identity thief. It’s alright to adorn yourself with tassles and dress yourself in leather, even if it only happens in your mind and as a brief flash as you tie an apron around your waist and slide your timecard into a punchclock in some urban eatery, ready to sling hashes to the masses. It’s alright to yodel in the shower, even if done poorly.
Speaking of yodeling, this week’s playlist is composed of a handful of tracks from a couple of no-shit honest-to-god yodelin’ cowboys.
Rex Allen, who was one of the last of the great Hollywood cowboys, sang songs that were featured in movies and were generally disregarded as pap when they were first released. This was considered about as far from authentic cowboy music as you could get. It featured all sorts of instrumentation and arrangements that tugged at international influence, like the use of an accordion, or a polka. The songwriting was steeped in cliche’, and probably elicited a collective groan from the stable of Nashville songsmiths working at the time. But time has been kind to Rex Allen, and these songs, as simple as they are, are made more captivating by the scope of their influences and the cliche’s that they bear.
Slim Whitman, on the other hand, feels more ethereal than his contemporaries. His reverb-drenched yodel is accented by the stretchy pitch of a pedal steel guitar, which lends the songs a sweet, narcolepsy-inducing glimmer. Whitman was a master of melody, and these songs, with their parlor piano tinkling softly in the background, are ripe for a sing-a-long.
So listen, and sing along if you want. Grow a five-o’clock shadow and talk about “rustlin’ up some supper”. Chew on a matchstick and practice your draw. I know I’m fixin’ to, here in my kitchen, while I stream a hi-def version of Season One of Gunsmoke.
[audio:http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Rex%20Allen_02_Out%20Where%20The%20West%20Winds%20Blow.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Rex%20Allen_03_Way%20Out%20West%20Is%20Calling.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Rex%20Allen_09_Ill%20Never%20Change.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Rex%20Allen_12_Raggin%20On.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Rex%20Allen_13_Tyin%20Knots%20In%20The%20Devils%20Tail.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Rex%20Allen_18_Dude%20Ranch%20Polka.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Rex%20Allen_19_A%20Human%20Coyote%20Stole%20My%20Girl.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Rex%20Allen_21_Riding%20On%20Across%20The%20Prairie.mp3, http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/Rex%20Allen_22_I%20Wont%20Need%20My%20Six%20Gun%20In%20Heaven.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/01%20Love%20Song%20Of%20The%20Waterfall.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/05%20My%20Heart%20Is%20Broken%20In%20Three.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/08%20Secret%20Love.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/06%20North%20Wind.mp3,http://godonnybrook.com/home/media/09%20RoseMarie.mp3|artists= Rex Allen,Rex Allen,Rex Allen,Rex Allen,Rex Allen,Rex Allen,Rex Allen,Rex Allen,Rex Allen, Slim Whitman,Slim Whitman,Slim Whitman,Slim Whitman,Slim Whitman,|titles=Out Where The West Winds Blow,Way Out West Is Calling,Ill Never Change,Raggin On,Tyin Knots In The Devils Tail,Dude Ranch Polka,A Human Coyote Stole My Girl,Riding On Across The Prairie,I Wont Need My Six Gun In Heaven,Love Song of the Waterfall,My Heart Is Broken In Three,Secret Love,North Wind,Rose Marie]
1. Rex Allen – Out Where The West Winds Blow
2. Rex Allen – Way Out West Is Calling
3. Rex Allen – I’ll Never Change
4. Rex Allen – Raggin’ On
5. Rex Allen – Tyin’ Knots In The Devils Tail
6. Rex Allen – Dude Ranch Polka
7. Rex Allen – A Human Coyote Stole My Girl
8. Rex Allen – Riding On Across The Prairie
9. Rex Allen – I Won’t Need My Six Gun In Heaven
10. Slim Whitman – Love Song of the Waterfall
11. Slim Whitman – My Heart Is Broken In Three
12. Slim Whitman – Secret Love
13. Slim Whitman – North Wind
14. Slim Whitman – Rose-Marie