Thursday, March 10, 2005

The Cowboy Rides Away

I don't like country music. In fact, I loathe about 99% of it. I hate Toby Keith; he represents the most base elements of rural America: intolerance, ignorance, and stupidity. Another reason I hated country music is that with the exception of maybe only one other big country artist (George Strait is The MAN; he is a champion team roper himself), all of the male singers are just dudes from small towns. That's it; not one of them has probably every really worked on a ranch (other than enough for his promo packet from the record label). I respect and admire the real working cowboy ethic and spirit immensely, however. They're a different breed of folks; they're too concerned about getting work done to be worried about the superficialities the rest of us get caught up in. Wearing a $1000 Stetson (most real cowboys would probably wear a Resistol anyways), snakeskin boots (no self-respecting cowboy wears snakeskin boots; they're a waste of money), growing a handlebar mustache, and driving a pickup with a rebel flag sticker doesn't make Tim McGraw, Toby Keith, or any of the other carefully manicured singers a cowboy. And yes, there is a difference between a cowboy and a redneck. A cowboy takes off his hat when he goes indoors, he opens doors, he says "yessir" and "yes ma'am". A redneck is what you see on Jerry Springer.

However, Chris LeDoux was the real deal. He was someone in country music that I could listen to and respect. Why? Because he was a world champion bareback bronc rider in the 1970's. He started making cassettes of his music so that he could earn enough money to pay his entry fee for other rodeos. His songs were honest and simple. He could make you feel that cold wind along a barbed wire fence out on the plains; you could almost smell the sagebrush in his songs; you could see the sunset erupt into a thousand shades of pink, turqoise, orange, and purple; you could truly understand what a cowboy really felt alone out there. His songs would make you want to turn the collar up on your jacket because you could feel that cold wind on your neck. Chris LeDoux lived the life of a cowboy much as Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker lived the life of a bluesman. Listening to any of the pretty boy country singers who dress like a cowboy is like listening to blues by a guy who grew up in Westchester or Beverly Hills. You just know it isn't the real thing.

I will never be a working cowboy. My whole cowboying experience comes from working out at one my family's ranches doing everything from branding to mending fences. It's damn hard work and I'll admit I don't have the constitution for it. Upon his retirement, my old man wants to move back out to one of the family ranches in an isolated corner of northeastern New Mexico. It's almost an hour drive along back roads to the nearest convenience store or supermarket. It's a place of amazing sunsets, scorching hot days, cool nights, dust, pinon, sandstone, sage, and cactus. It's beautiful in its starkness. I've spent many a weekend growing up out there. My old man would show us the how to fix the windmills, ride horses, mend the fenceline, make cowboy coffee, and I even learned a little roping out there. At night, we kids would get to sleep in the front yard of the ranch house under a huge cottonwood, stare up at the stars and the moon, talk for hours, and listen to coyotes serenade us to sleep. There is a simple poetry to life out there that I can't even begin to do justice to with my fumbling words. But Chris LeDoux always brought me back to that ranch in his songs. And for that I thank him. I'll tip my ballcap to Chris on his way out. And Chris, when we all join you up there someday, hopefully you'll teach me the finer points of roping that I never had the patience for as a kid. Adios Mr. LeDoux, we'll see ya soon enough; so keep the campfire going and the coffee hot ....

One Of The Last Real Cowboys

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