Lyle Lovett says it best,
“Making stuff up and peddling it to people is not considered work where I come from.”
When he said this at the Texas Tribune Festival of 2022, those of us from Texas laughed with empathy. We’ve ridden that horse, though not on the same high plain as he roams.
Our own families, who may indeed do or did such things as raise cattle, ride horses, and grow stuff with the sweat of their brows, think we writers, artists, song-writers, and performers, are lazy. The callouses on our fingers can’t compete with the callouses on their hands.
I get it. My great-grandparents, grandmother and uncle got up at O’dark thirty, or before, to milk cows, feed chickens, gather eggs and a hundred other things before breakfast.
I don’t do anything before breakfast except sleep.
Larry McMurtry is also a Texan who grew up down the road a piece from where I grew up. The similarities don’t include my being an iconic writer, but they do include our disdain of the small towns where we grew up.
However, as much as Larry McMurtry disdained small-town Texas, he respected the cowboys in his own family.
Texas Monthly gives us the why:
“Take My Saddle From the Wall: A Benediction,” appeared in the 1968 collection In a Narrow Grave. He wrote about his family elders — especially an Uncle Johnny who rode off to work the great vast spreads of the Panhandle, went broke running his own ranch, started another, lived to drive a Cadillac, and in the end was so arthritic from getting thrown and fallen on by horses that he had to order his cowboys to fix him in the saddle with baling wire.
Cowboys and Cowgirls were and are hard-tack people with often unsung resilience. Except Lyle sings about it.
Lyle Lovett still owns a ranch, near the family cemetery in Klein, Texas. While he jokes about “making stuff up and peddling it to people” not being work where he comes from, we creators know it is work, and hard brain work at that.
Sometimes a creator has to metaphorically tie themselves to their desk chair with baling wire.
Lyle Lovett knows the writer’s pain. He also lets us know what real, physical work is, too, by commemorating his family and background in his songs, and by doing his own ranching today.
He had his leg broken by his pet bull and it took months to heal, kept him from performing, and spawned wild speculation about his health. He and McMurtry’s uncle Johnny have in common the intrepid cowboy nature of resilience and determination.
Lovett is also a horse enthusiast and co-owns and competes in reiningcompetitions with world class Quarter Horse, Smart and Shiney.In 2012, Lovett was inducted into the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame. In 2018, he was awarded the National Reining Horse Association Lifetime Achievement Award in the National Reining Horse Association Hall of Fame.
While many Texas creators ran from our small Texas towns to the big cities of L.A. or New York, “you can take the Texan out of Texas but not the Texas out of the Texan.” I only ran as far as Austin, Texas, where Willie Nelson lives, and McMurtry, Willie, and Lyle always came back to Texas after their sojourns in the bright lights and on the world stages.
Lovett’s ranch is in Klein, Texas, where he grew up. McMurty spent his last years in Archer City, Texas, the small town he ran from and for a long time disdained. Willie Nelson was born in Abbott, Texas, spent time in Nashville, and elsewhere, tours the world, but lives in Austin, Texas.
Why do these creators come home? Why haven’t I left?
It can’t be the weather. Texas has the coldest cold in the north in the winter, and the hottest hot everywhere in the summer. Up to 109 degrees in many parts this past summer.
It’s mainly the land its-ownself, as Dan Jenkins, another native son writer from Fort Worth refers to it.
Texas ranges from vast stretches of desert in the west, where horned toads still hide among the cactus, to scrub covered mountains in the southwest. From reach-for-the-sky pine tree forests sprouting in the red dirt of east Texas, to black-dirt farms in the Hill Country. From dust storms mixed with blizzards in the panhandle, to warm sand beaches on the Gulf Coast in the far south, as close to Mexico as you can get without crossing the border. Actually, closest to the border is Big Bend National and State Parks, where I waded across the Rio Grande to the other side of the park, much as immigrants wade the opposite way to get to Texas.
We stole a lot of that land from Mexico, and from the Hispanic people who had ranches here before the land was annexed. Some of those ranches and the Hispanic owners survived and thrive. All Texas people are from sturdy stock.
Maybe it’s the people. Germans settled in the Hill Country, Chechoslavakians in the area north of Austin, people from Mexico established San Antonio. The third most spoken language here after English and Spanish is Vietnamese. My own great-great-grandparents came from either South Carolina or New Mexico in a covered wagon. The origin depends on who is telling the tale. As do most origin stories.
Texas lends itself to wild and wide-ranging imagination, fueling music and writing, visual art and dance.
The same week I saw Lyle Lovett speak, I watched the Bruce Wood Dance Company perform Woods’ hectic mix of country, modern, and classical choreography to Lyle Lovett’s music. Bruce Woods was a Fort Worth native son who composed some of the most original dance ever seen. The finale was to Lovett’s “That’s Right, You’re Not From Texas (But Texas Wants You Anyway).”
Texas wants its creators, even when we disagree with its politics, and protest its laws passed every two years, which we then challenge during the next biennial legislative session.
Texas wants us with all our warts, protests, disdain for our small town origins, and undying, nearly fanatical devotion to this crazy state that never can forget it was a Republic for a brief span of recorded time.
And so the creators leave and come back. Or stay and write while tied metaphorically to our chairs with baling wire. We form callouses on our fingers writing about the wonders of our fierce, resilient ancestors and the land that sustained them. Among other things.
Dan Jenkins once told me, “The trick to writing is doing it.” Just like the trick to ranching and farming is waking up and doing it. Day after day after day.
What does Lyle Lovett say about writing? After all, he has a degree in journalism, too.
LL: Writing has never been easy for me, but some things work easier than others. It is hard and you do have to edit somewhat. And playing a song for a while you can figure out things that work and things to change.
That sounds like good-old Texas life advice to me.