Saturday, November 27, 2010

True West

We left El Paso at sunup. My wife, guitarist Thad Beckman, and “Poppi,” my father-in-law. Poppi doesn’t speak English, except for the phrase: “F*** You, cowboy.” We were hoping he wouldn’t employ it in the wrong situation. We rolled down Highway 9 into the desert and Columbus, New Mexico, where Pancho Villa attacked the U.S. in 1916. Black Jack Pershing, with George Patton in toe, was sent after Pancho –never caught him. On through Hachita and Animas; past the monument where Geronimo surrendered; ate crackers and cut meat near Skull Valley; arrived in Douglas, Arizona. I showed them the Gadsden Hotel lobby, where Villa rode his horse up the stairway. There’s a stuffed puma, a cowboy watering hole – The Saddle and Spur Bar - and an old café. Next stop Bisbee. Show for Bill Carter, who wrote fine books on salmon fishing in Alaska and the war in Bosnia. On to Sahuarita: a church with a giant cross made of saguaro ribs and copper wire. Ross Knox, the last cowboy-muleteer, was in attendance. Ross is “the man who rode the mule around the world.” True west.

On to Flagstaff and the Orpheum theater. Snow on the road going out. A night off in Scottsdale. Visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s desert retreat. Frank Lloyd Wright, Georgia O’Keefe, Fritz Scholder, Ross Knox, and Geronimo color the true, raw West. Outsiders. Aboriginals. I bought a pawn shop Kachina in Scottsdale and wondered about its journey. Hawked for five dollars by a Navajo in 1969? Monday night show at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix. Then we gave Poppi the Western ride of his life – across the middle of Arizona and New Mexico. Through towns like Payson, Show Low, and Pie Town; stopped for the obligatory slice of Apple, Blueberry, and Boysenberry. One codger, around 90, ate a cafe dinner of cream of mushroom soup with two dozen crackers crushed inside; for bulk. He was “western” to the beard and bone.

After seven hours we hit old Magdalena and the adobe home of Steve Bodio and his wife Libby. In the front room were seven Russian coursing hounds, called “Tazi’s” from the old Turkin territory, and one Peregrine Falcon, which Steven fed from his hand. Frozen quail. Steve has many fine books out, including one on hunting with Eagles in Mongolia: Eagle Dreams. We ate Libby’s homemade posole and drank Mongol vodka; imbibing in a few bottles of God’s grape juice. Bukowski once wrote me: the Greeks didn’t call wine the blood of the gods for no reason at all. In the morning we drove home down the Jornado del Muerto, the long “journey of death” the Spanish rode five hundred years back.

There is still a west. It exists on desert back roads and in odd, fragmented glimpses: Saguaros against Sonoran sunsets; pawn shop Kachinas; crosses made of Saguaro ribs and copper; the lingo of the muleteer, a blueberry pie slice in Pie Town; frozen quail on the hand of the Falconer. God’s footnotes.


jimhar46 said...

I enjoyed your concert at the Soiled Dove in Denver and the Cafe Roka concert. I just read your excellent article on Tom Lea in The Cowboy Way. I look forward to seeing you, again.
Jim Harris

edenontheline said...

A really evocative piece - thanks, Tom. Made me want to get on a plane and head out there. Meanwhile I've spread the word a little at

IWitnessEd said...

God is in the details--isn't that how it goes? The blood of First Nations, last pioneers, and leftover Joshua Trees; my wife and I are heading South into that desiccated land soon, trading Seattle greys for sunset colors and Southwest skies.

But you threw down a Wright; I'll match that old reprobate with a Maynard Dixon and raise you a couple of Ed Mells--hell, make that two Mells and a Thomas Moran. Those gents all had their squinched eyes on the desert scapes and deserted skies.... And may safe journeys and God's light attend all of us.

Shirley said...

Tom-Does the name Ute Lemper mean anything to you? FYI, she's doing a show called "The Bukowski Project" at Joe's Pub. The writeup in NY Times, Monday, November 29, is outstanding, in case you're in the area. Happy Holidays!! See you on January 16 at Freight & Salvage. Shirley Kelley

editor said...

This piece tangentially struck something I've grown more and more interested in over the years — the Wild East. Russian hunters and their birds of prey. Ordering for XMAS Frederich Remmler's Memoirs of a Hunter. The dark forests of Finland and Russia — 1904-1930. Blurbed by the man you mention: 'Many know of Friedrich Remmler as the first western master of eagles. But his Memoirs of a Hunter opens up an entire lost world, so wild and brave it seems it could not be just a century ago. Nobody interested in the history of hunting and lost adventures should miss this book.' Stephen Bodio
Also, check out the art of Vadim Gorbatov:

Steve Bodio said...

Tom, Editor:

Endless circles! Vadim is s good friend, has been in Magdalena, and drank tequila--what he called "Mexicanski vodka"-- in the Golden Spur with the cowboys. He is the Russian artist I mentioned a few days ago.

Link to his trip here; scroll down a way for Magdalena.

Unknown said...

What language does Poppi speak, this daddy of the gal that changed your life? Skoal.

editor said...

Beautiful. What a piece of country you live in. I really love Vadim's work. There's an element of the fantastical to it that speaks to my romantic soul.

I am inspired to more exploration.

BTW folks, Tom is playing at our Sisters Folk Festival Winter Concert Series in Sisters, OR on February 4 if any of you are in this part of the country.

Anonymous said...

Wow, just was looking at a book called Cactus and Pine (printed in 1911) on Google Books, and what should I find there but a song/poem about the Jornado del Muerto, called The Trail of Death. A bit like El Llano Estecado

We rode from daybreak; white and hot
The sun beat like a hammer-stroke
On molten iron; the blistered dust
Rose up in clouds to sere and choke;
But on we rode, gray-white as ghosts,
Bepowdered with that bitter snow,
The stinging breath of alkali
From the grim, crusted earth below.

Silent, our footsteps scarcely rung
An echo from the sullen trail;
Silent, parched lip and stiffening tongue,
We watched the horses fall and fail:
Jack's first; he caught my stirrup strap;--
God help me! But I shook him off;
Death had not diced for two that day
To meet him in that Devil's trough.

I flung him back my dry canteen,
An ounce at most, weighed drop by drop
With life; he clutched it, drank, and laughed;
Hard, hideous—a peal to stop
The strongest heart, then turned and ran
With arms outflung and mad eyes set,
Straight on where 'gainst the dun sky's rim
Green trees stood up, and cool and wet

Long silver waves broke on the sand.
The cursed mirage! that lures and taunts
The thirst-scourged lip and tortured sight
Like some lost hope that mocking haunts
A dying soul. I tried to call,--
The dry words rattled in my throat;
And sun and sand and crouching sky--
God! How they seemed to glare and gloat!

Reeling I caught the saddle horn;
On, on; but now it seemed to be
The spring-house path, and at the well
My mother stood and beckoned me:
The bucket glistened; drip, drip, drip,
I heard the water fall and plash;
Then keen as Hell the burning wind
Awoke me with its fiery lash.

On, on; what was that bleaching thing
Across the trail? I dared not look;
But on—blind, aimless, till the sun
Crept grudging past the hills and took
His curse from off the gasping land.
The blessed dusk! my gaunt horse raised
His head and neighed, and staggered on;
And I, with bleeding lips half-crazed,

Laughed out; for just above us there,
Rock-caught against a blackened ledge
A little pool; one last hard climb;
Full spent we fell upon its hedge--
One still forever. Weak I lay
And drank; hot hands and temples laved:
Jack gone alas! the horses dead;
But night and water—I was saved!

Saddle Tramp said...

Nice trail loop Tom. One of my favorite runs was coming out of Santa Rosa, NM or dropping down from Moriarty, NM to U.S. 60 taking it all the way to Phoenix. Omega, NM does seem like the end of the world. The end of the trail anyway. Went out to the old cattle loading chute " The Trail's End " in Magdalena. I always run the old roads any chance I get. Nothing like the west for me.

Regarding Bukowski. I just spent the day at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botonical Gardens in San Marino, CA. A Bukowski banner hangs at the main
entrance. Charles Bukowski Poet On The Edge. Library West Hall. Yeah, he has his own exhibit. A roomful of Bukowski. Another banner hangs outside the entrance to the library. He's in there with the likes of the Gutenberg
Bible and all the rest. Glad he made it. The outsider got in. Not where you would expect, but appropriate all the same.
The parting of the red sea. Exhibit ends Valentine's Day 2011. Bukowski ... Poet on the edge at The Huntington.
Wide assortment of Bukowski merchandise in the gift shop.
Who woulda thunk it ...

Parting shot for anyone bemoaning the economy. I woke up in Tacna, AZ awhile back surrounded by 10 busloads of field workers readying themselves for there trip to the
fields. Lined up with them for 30 minutes to get my coffee.
Old and young. Men and women. The women all covered in scarves and such. I loosely quote below.

" If I suffer over this typewriter, just think if I was amongst the lettuce workers in Salinas "
-Charles Bukowski

saddle tramp
Via: East of where I'm goin' and west of where I need to be, listenin' to Bernie Taupin's American Roots Radio Show, enjoying his impeccable taste. Marty Robbins is his musical hero. Bernie Taupin, cowboy at heart. Tom Russell fan.