Sunday, August 26, 2007

Don't Fence Me In

I can remember quite clearly that there were two songs my father would use to try and sing us to sleep when we were kids. Interestingly, they were both originally introduced and popularized by Kate Smith whose influence upon the old man was, obviously, deep-seated and lasting.

Neither of them, I should point out, ever actually put us to sleep. We were far too frightened by the sight of our father looming over us and singing for us to consider closing even one eye until he'd finished and left the room.

The first was called Rose O’Day and the chorus went like this:

Rose O'Day,
Rose O'Day,
You're my filla-da-gusha,

The other one seemed closer to his heart and usually elicited a more dramatic performance, although I think the template here was the famous Bing Crosby version as I always thought I detected the old man slipping into crooner territory a little bit:

Oh, give me land, lots of land
under starry skies above,
Don't fence me in

Let me ride through the wide
open country that I love,
Don't fence me in

Let me be by myself in the evenin' breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don't fence me in

Like Rose O’Day, this song also felt like it came from some strange place that existed long before we were born. Even then we realized that things were no longer as free as they once were and that we were rapidly losing the open spaces that the old man must have taken for granted.

Not that we actually thought he had been a cowboy riding the range, you understand. But the song seemed part and parcel of our father’s childhood, along with the cowboy movies on the television that he would sit and watch contentedly. He’d seen them all originally in the theater and could sit through anything that had a horse in it.

The Cowboy Myth is one of the greatest of all American myths, of course, and it changes and mutates to fit each generation. He became the Private Detective and eventually The Avenging Vigilante, so it didn’t surprise me when the old man developed a thing for Charles Bronson movies. As far as he was concerned, it was just another Randolph Scott picture.

The effectiveness and longevity of The Cowboy Myth was recently proven in the world of politics when the country elected an actor they somehow felt actually was a cowboy. They actually expected him to ride in on his horse, six-guns blazing, and clean up the town.

Political handlers aren’t stupid. They know that the policy wonk with the pie chart doesn’t stand a chance against the inarticulate power of a simple “Shucks, ma’am.” That’s the guy you can trust.

Hence, our current predicament.

I have to hand it to the old man, though. As much as he liked to razz me about how my candidates always lost, he never seemed to buy the official line of Republican guff, even if he might vote for one from time to time.

He had one friend in particular who kept trying to sell him on the wisdom of Rush Limbaugh and the Republican party line. He’d tell me about him and the expression on his face told you that he thought this was an obvious bill of goods.

My dad had seen enough movies to know a real cowboy when he saw one. Limbaugh wasn’t it.

Neither was this guy who seemed to spend most of his time in Texas clearing brush.

I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses

My father, who had spent a lifetime refining the fine art of getting something for nothing, knew full well when someone tried to give him nothing for something.

I can't look at hovels and I can't stand fences
Don't fence me in

Something in my father’s range-riding past bristled at these counterfeit cowboys and their phony ten-gallon hats. He could tell they had fences on their minds and would probably get around to foreclosing on the ranch, given luck enough and time.

But not everyone is as perceptive as my old man, who had honed and fine-tuned his ability to recognize a false explanation through thousands of hours of arguing with the retail establishment. There was many a supermarket clerk that trembled at the jangling sound of my father’s approaching spurs, wielding his handful of coupons like a Winchester rifle.

No, the sad truth of the matter is that there are still lots of phony cowboys around today and they’ve got audiences who are only too happy to encourage them.

I looked around at the ocean of Toby Keith fans we’d wandered into and the exit lane in the distance that provided the only way out through the fencing around the parking lot and thought, just let us get out of here in one piece.

Let me ride through the wide
open country that I love

The old man had tried to warn me.

Conclusion: Sweetheart Of The Rodeo


Blogger Lefty Lucy & Ry T. Tidy (Powered by Radio Zero) said...

Count Screwloose,

You've been tagged!!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007 1:54:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As ever, Count Screwloose, you are a hoot and a half!

Friday, October 12, 2007 7:08:00 PM  

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