The Freelance Mentalists.
Sunday, March 21, 2004
Sometimes the Back Seat of a Chevy Blazer, Hurtling Through Montana in the Middle of the Night While Everything Smells Like Chewing Tobacco and Feet, Is the Greatest Place in the World

Waylon Jennings, Honky Tonk Heroes (RCA), 1973

The chew wasn't mine, it belonged to my mom's boyfriend Dick. He was a country guy, albeit one born and raised in New Jersey, and he was my mom's boss and our boss and we were on a summer work trip, installing thermal pool blankets in Montana and Colorado and Idaho and staying in his place in Wyoming before returning to Oregon. Big huge long trailer on the back with foam pool blankets and our equipment; me and Tim and Jeff in the backseat, Dick driving, Mom shotgun. Mom made us alternate the music we played on the Sony cassette-only boombox (Adam and the Ants, the Pretenders, the Jam, David Byrne's Catherine Wheel, Adrian Belew, Prince with the dirty parts turned down so as not to get the parental smackdown, and lots of Bowie: Lodger, Scary Monsters, Hunky Dory and Aladdin Sane and Ziggy Stardust, we loved us some Bowie) with Dick's music.

--Aw man, mom, why we gotta listen to country music?
--It's only fair, you guys play all that loud stuff, you were just playing Van Halen, let Dick have a turn.
--Dick, could you please learn what good music is and listen to it?
--Hey, this IS good music, you'll realize that someday.
--Willie? Waylon? I don't think so!

But I did like it, despite my vow (growing up in a semi-rural town where people listened to country even though they didn't have to) that I wouldn't. Red-Headed Stranger and Willie and Waylon were pretty damned good, I had to admit that, and Honky-Tonk Heroes even better. I didn't know any of the backstory (Waylon hears Billy Joe Shaver singing backstage, says drunkenly "I'll record a whole album of your songs" and then never calls, Shaver shows up with a gun and says "You never called me, you're recording my songs," they work it out, 11 of the 12 songs here are Shaver originals), didn't need to.

Not when songs are this perfect. "Honky-Tonk Heroes" is practically the "Good Vibrations" of country music, sections building up and releasing, fake-outs and do-overs, guitars here and cymbals there, can't fail to make you feel better. "No God in Mexico" is deep-down whitey falsehood, of course there's a god in Mexico, he's just not YOUR god Mr. Billy Joe Cortez Shaver, screw you, plenty God gods goddesses in Mexico even now, open yr eyes west tejas boy...but that groove! "Willy the Wandering Gypsy and Me" is an ode to leaving your pregnant wife and going off with a charismatic stranger (I WONDER IF SHAVER KNEW HOW GAY THAT SONG IS). "Low Down Freedom" sums up the perils of wandering gypsy-ism, the lonely life of the road. "Omaha" is better than "Galveston" or "New York New York" or "Allentown" or any other song about a city ever.

It sounded better driving through a Montana night, blackness starting to set in as we searched for cheap motels that had cable TV, Doritos and Mountain Dew and five-pound bags of Peanut M&Ms all over the place, Jeff between me and Tim falling asleep on one of us then the other, casual mountains and understanding police officers and found Playboy Magazines in hotel bedside tables, 98-degree heat and a 10-hour workday, learning to work chopsticks because we only ate at Chinese-food places and truckstops, missing my girlfriend who was two years older and about to go off to college and who broke up with me when I got back from my trip but it didn't matter, getting ready to be a junior with finally all the guys who hated me having graduated except I didn't know that the main ringleader didn't actually graduate so he ended up in my first-period class but he didn't hate me anymore anyway, learning to shave from a beardy guy who loved country music and my mom, than any music ever sounded before.
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