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How the West Was Lost

May 19, 2019

I’ll be departing Arizona and heading back east in a few months.  It’s not what I would have chosen, but it is what’s right and responsible.  I’m slowly setting the resentment aside and accepting the necessity of the move.  Work, eldercare, children and a beautiful, sociable spouse all push me eastward and up, while the desert, isolation, and lazy puttering that I covet hold me back and down.  “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one,” as a logical friend says.  I strive to ponder less, embrace more.

Of all the versions of me that have existed over the years, I think it’s the one who sported a jeans jacket, cowboy boots, and a leather belt with his name on the back that I miss most.  He lasted for a few years, from roughly junior year in high school through Mormon mission and college until fading away gradually as graduate school and career took him east.  He wasn’t a put-on as he’d been raised in mountains and forests, regularly fishing, hunting, gazing at campfires and riding in pick-up trucks.  It was at the age of 16 or 17, however, that he really came into his own.  It was then that he bought his own pick-up, a ’56 Chevy, and settled in with a small group of like-minded friends, a few of which had horses, lived up in the valley, or boasted brothers who competed on the professional rodeo circuit.

  Queries unwelcome as to which of the horse’s asses is me…

Since coming to Arizona in 2017, my love of the western novels of Louis L’Amour, which had been teenage favorites, has seriously rekindled.  I’d never set them aside completely, picking up one or two every couple of years when seeking easy airplane reading or whiling away the time in some troubled land, but they certainly weren’t top of the reading list.  I imagine it’s their fit with the landscapes that surround me here, coupled with their endless availability at every local thrift store – often at less than a dollar a pop – which has coaxed me back.  The stories of quiet, honorable men and strong-willed, independent women standing up against dire challenges, both villainous and natural, are a salve against the worst of human motivations with which we are bombarded daily.  I find it easy to lose myself in their lonely gulches and solitary plateaus.  They’ll go with me back to Virginia.

With the Ferguson rifle in my right hand, I drank coffee from the cup in my left.
       — Louis L’Amour, “The Ferguson Rifle”

The young me would have never pretended himself a true cowboy, but among the high school cliques I guess that is how we were categorized.  While trucks, boots and leather belts were shared standards, we fancied ourselves rugged individualists.  Save for one head-spinning attempt, I never joined my friends in the enjoyment of Skoal, their preferred chewing tobacco, although I did work my way through a few boxes of Wolf Bros. Rum-Soaked Crookettes.  Our nights were spent either dragging the boulevard in search of girls to bother or drinking coffee and playing pool at the Tamarack Restaurant in the old Flying J Truck Stop.  More than once, some old trucker would spring for a round of baked potatoes in return for us letting him share his tales.  Another draw was my eventual senior prom date Cindy, who was a waitress at the Tamarack, although during most of that time she was the girlfriend of my buddy Patrick.

I’ve been spinning my Chris LeDoux records quite a bit of late.  His straight-forward songs of rodeo life and western living, with their rough rides, longing for home, and simple goals have always appealed to me but had not really been part of my regular music rotation since my early 20s.  Chris was the real deal, having won the World Champion Bareback Rider title at the 1976 National Finals Rodeo.  One of my major music-related regrets is never having seen him live.  My high school buds and I bought tickets for a Charly McClain concert in the early 80s only to learn she’d been snowed in at Denver and wouldn’t make the show.  Having been all revved up to ogle Charly, we opted to get our money back rather than stay for an extended show by opening act Chris LeDoux.  Chris was always putting on shows in Utah and I figured there’d be a million future opportunities to see him on the cheap.  Unfortunately, I never did get around to seeing him and, with his death from cancer in 2005, I never will.  His records will definitely go with me back to Virginia.

Life back east is going to be good.  I miss my kids and being close enough to embarrass, harass, and hang out with them will be a pleasure.  My noble wife will have siblings nearby who can grant her an occasional break from eldercare demands, and Mamá Lidia herself deserves to be surrounded by children and grandchildren as she plays out her story.  There seems to be a broad spectrum of work positions available for me to choose from, and, as long as I spend the next couple of months sticking to my exercise routine and eating better, I shouldn’t have to buy any new suits.  Yep, I’m sure that this is the right move.

Amarillo by Morning by Chris LeDoux

Caballo Diablo by Chris LeDoux

From → Family, Music

  1. The middle section of this piece entranced me, Vic. The images of your youth blur with received cinematic panoramas and film cliches. Such an alien world, populated by men who hunt and pretty diner waitresses. Yet they are clearly personal history for some, for you. The books and music–though those items clutter my home–are entirely unfamiliar too. Who could write so many books? Wear big white cowboy hats? Strange, beguiling, worlds. Though I think it is the solitude and desert that call me strongest. Those things you are farewelling, for now.
    It’s a long ride from Arizona to Virginia. I know because I googled it. May your saddle be comfortable and your water bag never empty.

    • Glad to hear it maintained your attention and spurred a little wonder, VC. That cinematic west can still be found if one knows where to look for it. I’ve loved coming back to it and have been happy to find its sparse populace much more varied and nuanced than many might think. Turns out plenty of folk chose not to trade in their Stetsons for MAGA hats.

  2. Really enjoyed this VoF… and as much as you’re all settled and it not being something you would have chosen, I hope the move goes well. I’m gonna need to investigate this Chris LeDoux chap. That stuff appeals to me a great deal.

    • Thank you all around, J. And if you like this stuff, do give Mr. LeDoux a shot. He’s about as western as they come. That said, I’d recommend the 70s and early 80s output first (such as those albums pictured above if you can find them for streaming). Garth Brooks was a fan and helped him get a deal with a major label later and, of course, the business folk didn’t know what they had and adorned him with all kinds of fancy production in search of country radio hits, all of which took away from what made him so great in the first place.

      • I’d found a bunch of his stuff on Spotify, so that’s what I’ll be obsessing over for the next while. I’ll start with those you pictured and keep my eyes peeled for a cheeky wee copy or two on vinyl that may have made their way across the pond.

  3. There’s a learned article to be researched and written about the fashion/ideological crossover between cowboys and rockers.

    Who am I going to associate with ‘Mesa, AZ’ by Guantanamo Baywatch now?

    • A lifetime of research indicates both embrace the tenets of the Holy Trinity; shitkickers, denim and leather. Boom, learned article completed.

      As for Mesa associations, Bret Michaels, Alice Cooper, Rob Halford, Ice T and Maynard James Keenan all live here in the greater Phoenix area. You might ask one of them to step in.

  4. Good piece. Have heard of LeDoux just never heard his music. “Straightforward”. I like a lot of this stuff like Ian Tyson, Tom Russell etc. Love that Cowboy and country life style. You got me hankerin’ for one of them “Crookettes”. Elmore Leonard has written some dandy dusters.

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