By early summer, Houston is so muggy that all the edges blur. Temperatures slink into the low 90s and stay there. In certain neighborhoods, the smell of weed lingers, lending the air a permanent tang. Slabs, creeping slowly down the street, broadcast a sound indigenous to the city, a sluggish hazy rhythm that couldn’t have been born in any other town.
An interview with Amanda Shires.
I was trying to be on my own in Lubbock, playing my own songs, but I guess people didn’t see me like that. It was my fault, because I had to pay my rent, so I was still taking sideperson work, which kept me from being known as just that. I had written some songs with Thrift Store, but it was never an idea that I could do it on my own, solo, until Billy Joe told me to. He even said, “There’s no loyalty in side work. This week, fiddle is cool, but next week, it might be a dobro, and then where will you be?”
The result: as many as a million and a half feral hogs rampaging through Texas, growing as big as sofas, tearing up farmland and creek bottoms with their root-rooting snouts. They gobbled up baby lambs and caused car wrecks. They carried pseudorabies, swine brucellosis, tuberculosis, bubonic plague, tularemia, hog cholera, foot-and-mouth disease, kidney worms, stomach worms, liver flukes, trichinosis, roundworms, whipworms, dog ticks, fleas, hog lice, and anthrax. Their tusks were “razor sharp,” the pamphlet said, and their gallop as fast as “lightning.” Lest some shred of sympathy stay my hand from indiscriminate slaughter, the pamphlet threw in the lurid detail that feral sows had been known to eat their own young.
Around two thousand years ago a woman died in Greek-speaking Asia Minor, near the ancient city of Aydin, in what is now Turkey. Her name was Euterpe, after the muse of music. Her husband or son, Seikilos—his relationship to Euterpe depends on how you read a gap in the dedication line—commissioned a stele, a stone memorial, which bore the following words, etched in Greek: “I am a tombstone, an image. Seikilos placed me here as an everlasting sign of deathless remembrance.”
People have gone to Texas for many reasons. In the past, people went because they were running from something, such as Johnny Law or Jerry Influenza, while others went to get rich by digging in the ground for valuable commodities, such as oil and Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. As for me, I came to Texas for a much less noble reason, which was to try to be a writer.
“We was on the radio at Del Rio,” recalls one of the Cowboy Kings in Clem Maverick, R. G. Vliet’s multi-voiced epic poem about the high-lonesome lovesick rise and fall of a country-western singer. “That night Clem yodeled from his toes up. Had to tote him from the mike.” Clem and the Cowboy Kings tore up their tunes as phantoms of a poet’s muse, but their flesh, blood, and whiskey kin conjured their sound into every corner of North America and beyond. Clem’s audience would have known that “the radio at Del Rio” meant one of the high-powered radio stations that dotted the northern frontier of the Republic of Mexico and blasted their signals northward in English from 1930 to 1986. Over the course of those fifty-six years, border radio’s continent-spanning coverage played a major role in popularizing just about every kind of music that came out of Texas: hillbilly, cowboy, gospel, Mexican, Tex-Mex, country-western, blues, r&b, rockabilly, and rock & roll.
These assemblages don’t need to be explicitly religious to suggest the spiritual potency of ordinary things. That simple things—especially things detached from ordinary meaning—may acquire a higher meaning. That these objects make no obvious representational sense makes sense. Who knows what spiritual beings look like, after all? Platonic forms?
Sarah Winchester and the legacy of living with gunsIt’s difficult to understate how the repeating rifle revolutionized killing, of both animals and man, as it brought the world from the single-shot muzzle-loaded rifle to a gun that could hold multiple cartridges and fire two shots per second. It’s the “gun that won the West.”