Thursday, July 16, 2009

How we do in West Texas and, Fuzzy People 56

Just back from the regular Thursday night jam at the auto-body shop. This is a serious west Texas institution which may require a bit of translation to those from other planets.

In west Texas, in the summer, it is too goddamned brutally hot to be outside any time that the sun shines directly upon you. But, along about 8pm, as the sun slants down toward the horizon, it doesn't get cooler, exactly--it's just not quite so hot. And, because it's flat as a griddle and we're at the absolute hell-west-of-nowhere-end of the time-zone, the twilight is very, very long: maybe 3 1/2 hours between when the sun's below the horizon and when it gets to be full dark.

And those 3 1/2 hours of twilight have led to the fantastic west Texas institution of the beer garden. It probably begins with the Czech, Bohemian, and German immigrants to the Hill Country (e.g., "Biergarten") but it continues in west Texas: if you're done with work, and there's only one more day--Friday--in the work week, and you're starting to slant in toward the weekend, then Thursday night is a very good night to go out, hang out, and listen to live music.

Outside of Ireland, I have never encountered a vernacular culture where musicians are so much respected, and where such a substantial part of the population makes going-to-hear-live-music their main leisure activity (to be fair, I've never spent time in West Africa, but even there, I think the caste/class things are stronger and more prohibitive). I have never been treated better, as a musician, by the person in the street as I have been in west Texas (well, with the exception of the west of Ireland, and playing for Portuguese fishermen's weddings in Gloucester, Massachusetts in my youth).

Usually, I have a regular Thursday night gig which prevents me getting out to do much else on that evening. But I'm taking the summer off from that gig, and so, when old buddy Coop emailed me with an invite to the Thursday-night jam at the auto-body place, I had the chance to attend.

It's old-school west Texas: this is the kind of party that the great Willie Morris described in North toward Home, and my deario Molly Ivins skewered and feted: beer in a cooler, sitting in folding lawn chairs on the concrete apron out front of the shop, most everybody smoking like chimneys.

But there is absolutely no self-consciousness to these people: the racists are un-selfconscious about their racism, the judgmental fundamentalists are un-selfconscious about judging you, the potheads are un-selfconscious about their attraction to weed, and so on.

But they're remarkably open people: they have all kinds of presumptions and judgments, but they're almost all aimed at people they haven't yet met. If they've met you--and even more, if you're a friend of a friend of the house, as was my case with old buddy Coop--then you're a person, and they're all about people.

The music had its ups and downs (lots of Eagles and Billy Joel covers), but it was a remarkably open and friendly experience: didn't matter just how badly guitarist A sucked worse than guitarist B, they were still going to give A his turn as the song-choice circulated around the table, and they can fall in and busk-along on the chords for almost anything. And, to an extent almost unimaginable in any other part of the country except maybe the Lutheran northern Midwest, or possibly Congregationalist northern New England, these Baptists and Church of Christers can harmonize like angels, and without even having to think about it. And would, generously making no-matter-how-rudimentary a guitarist or shaky lead singer sound pretty damned good.

And--another one my Yankee and Left-Coast friends might never anticipate--at the end of the night, the fiddler who's boss of the session pulls you aside, and thanks you for coming, "'specially 'cause I know you're a music scholar and everything," and starts telling you his recollections of a visit by the Dalai Lama to Lubbock way back in the 1980s. And they thank you for attending, and you find yourself telling the following story about Padmasambhava's 8th century prophecy:

“When the iron eagle flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered over the earth, and the Dharma will go to the land of the red man.”
And the old fiddle player with the white hair in a ponytail and the false teeth smiles and says,

"We know."

And, of course, they do.

Below the jump: Mama sea lion teaches her cub how to swim:

Thanks to the Rev for the "fuzzy people" appellation.

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