Archive for May, 2008

May 21, 2008

Cowboy Moments

by cowboylands

Having a Cowboy Moment on the eastern shore of Long Island is impossible. It took me a full two days plus a conversation with an astute writer friend to realize that yes, indeed, it had happened. 

A Cowboy Moment doesn’t need the sound of spurs jingling or the

wa-wa-waaaa spaghetti western soundtrack. With honed perception, a Cowboy Moment doesn’t need these trappings. A Cowboy Moment doesn’t even need to have a cowboy in it, although it helps (once saw cowboy all in black leaning on a sign for the subway in Union Square, NYC. And he had spurs). A Cowboy Moment doesn’t need to be west of the Mississippi (although if you’ve ever seen Monument Valley, you know that’s when these Moments* come fast and furious).

It just has to have the resonance of myth. Like seeing a movie and being part of it and seeing yourself be part of it, bigger than life…

I step off a bus one dark and rainy evening, and plant my new used cowboy boots onto the wet macadam of a coastal town. The bus driver is taciturn or laconic, which would fit many bus drivers, but this one especially: He sports a fancy but well-worn cowboy hat, a bolo tie, turquoise and silver rings, a leather vest–buffed a smooth brown with use–and cowboy boots that are made of some kind of tough animal hide. He follows me down the steps of the bus and begins to pull bags out from the compartment and set them onto the sidewalk.

 “Nice skins you got there,” he tells me as I heft my bag into my arms.

I know he’s not talking about anything but my boots. I pimp them out, letting the light play across their stitched shafts. I tell him that my own Urban Cowboy bought them for me, but we don’t know what kind of “skins” they are.

He drops to one knee and places a heavy hand on my foot. These particular boots are thin; I can feel every finger and the palm of his hand as he kneads my leather-encased foot. I’m not sure if I feel more like a person on a massage table experiencing the weight of a masseuse’s capable hands, or like a young calf getting its testicles manipulated. His hands press and smooth each crack and bump on my boots, as well as my tired foot, from my toe to my heel. My foot erupts into warmth.

He nods then stands. “Python,” he says.

Python. Python. I have PYTHON BOOTS. He tells me about the rattlesnake skin he has recently tanned to put on his Harley’s console, and then details how a python’s water-loving skin feels so different to the touch from a rattlesnake. Fascinating, but what I recall most after two days and a “you know what you had there, honey? One of those cowboy moments” conversation was how he dropped to the ground, snaked out a hand, and held me tight. Yowza. 

 

*A Cowboy Moment is not to be confused with “getting western,” or a “western moment” which usually entails a near-death experience because of weather, rattlesnake, thirst, pickup truck, or cattle herd. 

 

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May 13, 2008

Alt.Country; or, How to Rock a Hootenanny

by cowboylands

In riding the virtual trails of the Wild Western Web, I can come across the truly wild (Bobby Cash, “India’s One in a Billion Country Star”) and the truly wonderful: Postmodern Sounds in Country and Western Music.

Alt. country refers to a pretty diverse array of music with roots in anything from country to rockabilly to punk. You want to know anything more, Google it or check out the blog above; I have a story to tell. I got my intro into super alt.country by striding into a bar in the hip capital of the Eastern Coast Western World, Williamsburg, and settling back with a big shot of whiskey, neat. From the corner of the room came a terrific growl and bang, and then with the beat-beat-beat of my heart came the pow-pow-pow of power chords from a standup bass and banjo. These two rangy guys, as tousle-headed as farmboys and as tattooed as sideshow sidekicks got into an earthshaking beat and stayed there for what seemed like hours, jangling and strumming and thumping and howling and crying. Everyone in the bar was too cool by far, but these two guys had something pretty real going on. They strummed one last rousing chord, their voices raised high in a plaintive wail, and then it was over. They packed up, walked out the door, and I never saw or heard them again.

I search for those two titans when I can, and while I haven’t found them, I did find a place to sit back and listen to other like-minded bands and musicians. The Postmodern Sounds of Country and Western Music not only has a cozy old-time wallpaper background, but also a kickass selection of description, music files, and videos. When the range gets rough, it’s nice to come home and know that someone else is searching, like me, for good music. Corb Lund’s “I Wanna be in the Cavalry” video does a heart good–especially if you like your men in uniform.

Check it out soon and often; the site’s music and video files are here today and gone tomorrow, but for a good cause–the artists’ copyright.

As for Bobby Cash, he’s got a pleasant, light voice, a smooth band accompanying him, and I plan on standing in line with a billion people if he ever comes to the States. Have a listen, and Happy Virtual Trails!

May 11, 2008

They Went Thataway; or, The Absolute Top Worst Westerns

by cowboylands

Ladies and gentlemen. I present…the Top Ten Worst Westerns, lassoed, watched, and reviewed by Batboy42. But before delving into these fantastically feeble films, we have here a by-god manifesto, typed by BB’s own self, own words, own heart and soul.

They Went Thataway, by Batboy42

 

 

I love Westerns. I like ’em good or bad, but mostly bad. Each of these movies has its special charms, mostly the horses and the riding. All of them, even the worst, has its good points. All are well worth watching.

I can get up and leave and let the movie run instead of pausing it. I can’t tell if I’ve missed any or not. Nor do I care.

These losers have their shining place in movie history. If the films are all good, what do you have to compare them to? Long and lustrous careers have been started on cayuses like these.

Why are most of these films old?
Because they don’t make ’em like they used to.

These movies satisfy a basic human urge for loud noises.

Why do the outlaws all have baggy pants? And all their six-guns never run out of bullets?

What I don’t mind—
grainy picture, video snow, and gravelly sound.

What I don’t like—
clumsiness in dialogue, sets, riding, and lack of plot.

What the Western genre has in common—
handsome heroes, horses, fights, shootouts with six guns,
and villains that rob, cheat, steal, rustle, and sneer.

The only thing better than a fight is a barfight.
The only thing better than riding is trick riding.
Gimme a good stagecoach robbery—
but not TOO good.

I love bad movies—
and my choice shows you I mean BAD.

Load your six guns and mount your horses,
you mangy yellow-bellied coyotes!

Hit the trail!

THEY WENT THATAWAY!

May 7, 2008

Outlaws 'R' Us

by cowboylands

Badlands, by Bennett Foster
cover illus. Norman Saunders
Bantam Books, late 40s, early 50s
from the collection of ES

“They Branded Him an Outlaw!” says it all. This dynamic man is the “little guy,” the proverbial clever tailor who can knock down an armed giant/gunman with a flip of his lariat. Go ahead and try it, any of you. Unless you’re a rodeo star, you’ll put your eye out.

The hero’s red shirt blazes with righteous indignation; his straight teeth are gritted with determination; his aim is sure. He will prevail against this gunman, although he himself has no gun. What bully would fire on an unarmed man? Easy! “Man branded outlaw” must mean western plot #3, in which the innocent hero is bullied by (take your pick) big business ranchers or greedy bankers.

Wouldn’t it be nice if, when faced with foreclosure and no recourse, the plucky hero in all of us could channel frustrated impotence and fight? And win? And let the big guy take the fall for once? But that’s not the only reason these tales were so alluring to the “little guys” of the forties and fifties: the hero not only won, but also got the girl and a ranch. His own spread! Meaning he could someday be a big business rancher or banker himself. So that’s how it goes:

If you can beat them, then join them.

Badlands is clean, crisp western penned by Bennett Foster, and this Bantam edition is crowned with a swirl of action from one of the great pulp and paperback illustrators, Norman Saunders. His compositions are always dynamic; this one’s Day-Glo vibrancy highlights a climactic moment in the book, when the hero of the story, in Laocoön-style composition (but without the grisly death), frees himself of his tormentor. Squint, and you’ll see the resemblance.
photo: Jean-Christophe Benoist, 2007
Saunders illustrated a wide range of paperback covers, specializing in vamps and virile men of noir and western genre. Like Stanley, Saunders often used himself as a model. He studied under Harvey Dunn in Minneaopolis (as did Norman Rockwell) and in the thirties and forties worked on pulps like True Confessions, then turned freelance. This fine illustration is one of ten western covers he did for Bantam.

May 6, 2008

Cowboy Diplomacy Isn't Just for White Men Anymore

by cowboylands

Cowboy.
Independent. Rough-hewn. Clean-cut. Hell-raiser, and all in good, clean fun.

But for however many hardworking cowpokes out there, “cowboy” is also code for another array of attributes: rough-and-tumble, no-holds-barred, antiquated, nonrefined, in-your-face. Add that to “diplomacy” and you have a thick brew of Ugly American.

“Cowboy diplomacy” has made it to Wikipedia. In Wiki-speak, it means the “resolution of international conflicts through brash risk-taking, intimidation, military deployment, or a combination.” To quote further from the not so-neutral Wiki-editor: “Overtly provocative phraseology typically centralizes the message, such as George W. Bush’s ‘You’re either with us or you’re with the terrorists.'” That line doesn’t have the terse power of Eastwood’s words, but every time I hear it, it brings home the fact that we are living on a huge movie set, peopled by leaders in Stetsons.

Western story lines are like code, arrangements of elements that satisfy the genre’s structure. One element is a climactic showdown, or what “cowboy diplomacy” inevitably leads to. But, with the arrival of two non-stereotypical stars, Clinton and Obama, we have a chance of having our own revisionist Western. A Western that does not adhere to the dusty, worn plots of yore, and which promises fresh perspectives. Change!
The woman: Clinton is definitely not a tart with a heart of gold. She is not the mild frontier housewife. I have yet to hear of anyone calling her a cowboy, but she can already swig whiskey with the guys.
African American man: Obama’s not the sidekick! He actually has speaking parts! He has a starring role!
Promising! But the more these candidates take pot-shots at each other, the more it seems that these two are in a showdown themselves, filled with intimidation, brash risk-taking, and the same old moralistic “with me or against me” script. There’s still a chance this will be a new Western, but it could be that cowboy diplomacy is here to stay….

May 2, 2008

The Worst of the Worst

by cowboylands

How many top ten movie lists are there in the world? Too many, from one point of view. Always room for more, from another. What I believe, from the bottom of my heart, is that it is always great if SOMEONE ELSE makes the list. I’m pleased to shout the arrival, any day now, of the Top Ten Plug-Uglies of Western Movies. And I won’t have to lift a finger. Batboy42, a discerning western viewer and reader, has volunteered a list of the most god-awful wretched westerns known to humankind. As long as I don’t have to watch them, I’ll be happy. But hell, maybe they’re so bad they’re good?

What will be on it? My personal wish is Dances with Wolves, an inclusion I hope provokes an outcry so I can say why I don’t like that flick. I understand everyone has their favorite, and this one was particularly well-meaning and long overdue, but still. But still.

So soon, dear western viewers, soon. In the words of a not-very-famous movie actor in a not-at-all-famous movie: “Shhh! Something’s coming!”

May the Duke be with you, Batboy45, and happy trails….

P.S. If you have any lists, send them on. Bucko(at)cowboylands(dot)net or in a comment.