Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Another Transcript Now Available: Marfa Mondays Podcast #11 Cowboy Songs By Cowboys and an Interview with Michael Stevens

Reposting from my main blog, Madam Mayo:

Still working on the edits for Marfa Mondays Podcast #17, an interview with Texas historian Lonn Taylor; meanwhile, still churning out the transcripts. Available to date:

#16 Tremendous Forms: Paul Chaplo on Finding Composition in the Landscape

#15 Gifts of the Ancient Ones: Greg Williams on the Rock Art of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands

#14 Over Burro Mesa (not a transcript but an article)

#13 Looking at Mexico in New Ways: An Interview with Historian John Tutino

#12 Dallas Baxter: "This Precious Place"

and as of today... drumroll...

#11 Cowboy Songs By Cowboys
and an Interview with Michael Stevens

[Note: If you want to hear the songs, which I highly recommend, it would be a far sight better to listen to the podcast.


C. M. Mayo: We're going to hear some more music in this podcast, but I want to go back for a moment to put all this into some context by sharing with you some of my interview with Michael Stevens, which was recorded in one of the lounges at Sul Ross State University's University Center just before the show. Michael Stevens is the one you heard first in this podcast singing about the Old Double Diamond. My first question was, how did this all get started?

Michael Stevens: Well, it started out as just cowboys getting together. And when it really would happen in the old days, it was just people heard about these guys who get together and talk and BS and tell stories and, you know, that's all they had. It's an oral tradition of just like, seamen. And there is a Fisher Poets Society in Oregon/Washington, somewhere up there. I've forgotten where it is. It's around Siskiyou Pass I think. But it happens right about now. Of course, they did it before we did. The ships were out there long before the cowboys were here and they told stories and sang songs. A lot of those songs and old Scottish and Irish ballads got turned into cowboy songs when the people came over here. Instead of singing about whales in the ocean, or whatever they did, they took that melody— and I believe "Streets of Laredo" is "The Bard of Armagh" or something like that— so it was some old melody that they just changed the words to. They weren't musicians particularly. A lot of times they didn't carry instruments, so a lot of it you'll hear a cappella, a lot of what those guys had—or they took an instrument out and it fell apart. Banjos seemed to last longer than guitars and things like that.

So it's a real old tradition of telling stories and it gets moved to the next person because a lot of those people didn't write, and so what the cowboys picked up on and started and then, at some point a few people, John Lomax and his son, they started recording these songs. Well, there were people before that even that were some of the cowboys that were starting to collect the songs.

The first gathering of this type that I know of was Elko, Nevada. They'd created a folklore center. I never studied the history of that either. If you could get ahold of Joel Nelson he might fill you in a little bit more but you can Google all that. About '85, well, Joel Nelson and his wife at the time, Barney Nelson, who's a teacher here in Ryder, got some really neat books out, they went. They heard about it. Joel's always been into poetry. He reads Robert Service. He reads Pushkin. You know, name it. If he sits down and does "The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost with a big mustache and a cowboy hat you think it's the best cowboy poem you ever heard and then he says "Robert Frost" and you can see people go, Oh, that's why it seemed familiar to me! Because it's kind of what cowboys do. You know, they go the other way. If they want to make a lot of money they wouldn't be a cowboy.

So they came back here the next year after Elko and started a little gathering here and I wasn't here at the time. I was in Austin building guitars, but I'd gone from a horse ranch in McKinney to Austin and been in and out of the horse business since I was a little kid.
When I came down here [Alpine], my wife wanted to live here and she was not living anywhere else, and I heard about it. And then a friend of a friend, a girl we'd known in college had married Warren Burnett, the trial lawyer from Odessa and then I met Warren and he one day said— I hadn't gone to the gathering—he said, "You should go meet Buck Ramsey. He's my friend. He's the guy in a wheelchair and if anybody gives you any trouble…" Well, Warren says, "Anybody gives you any shit you tell them," because that's the way Warren was. I don't know if you know anything about Warren. Anyways, so I met Buck Ramsey and played music. Well, it turned out I knew a couple cowboy songs, and I didn't even know they were cowboy songs because I'd been in Berkeley since 1967 and played a lot of music and country music.

C.M. Mayo: Out in California?

Michael Stevens: Yeah. When I hit there I left Fort Worth in '67 and got there in November of '67. I had a cowboy outfit with bell bottoms, embroidered shirts and long hair and they called me The Sheriff. And we played country music. Cody was there. We played the same kind of venues as Commander Cody. Then they said you won't believe who's coming from [??] asleep at the wheel, so I was out there. Then I learned a bunch of folk songs hanging around the Freight and Salvage and those things. Well, it turns out a bunch of them were cowboy songs, and I'd heard a lot of Jack Elliot and all that, well, there's a bunch of cowboy songs stuck in there.

So I got down here and somehow after meeting Buck and playing... So they said, we need some more performers. Would you come and we'll stick you in a session and sing a few songs? And I went, Hey, I like this.

C.M. Mayo: What year was that?

Michael Stevens: That would be about '93 or '94.

C.M. Mayo: You've been coming back every year since?

Michael Stevens: Well, I live here.

C.M. Mayo: So you've come to all the Cowboy Poetry Gatherings?

Michael Stevens: Well, I was on the committee for 16 years and of the 16 years I think I was vice president about three and president for seven, at least. I just retired from the 25th year. This is my first year as a performer as a civilian.


C.M. Mayo [to listeners]: A little further into the interview Michael Stevens talked about after Berkeley, how he came back to Texas. But then you're going to hear him backtrack and talk some more about his time in Berkeley at the Freight and Salvage. That was, and is, the hub of the folk music scene.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Cyberflanerie (from the Madam Mayo Blog)

Reposting from my main blog, Madam Mayo:

(Translation: No littering, dude.)
So who painted this oh-so-Texan trash receptacle with the Magritte-esque slogan for the Marfa Visitor's Center? A 4th of July cyber-sparkler to you, whoever you are, dear artiste. (At least it was plum-obvious where to deposit the bottles and snack wrappers that had been accumulating on the floor behind the front seat since El Paso.) The question for today's little foray into les mystères de l'art is, would I get arrested were I to spray pink sparkly foam paint all over it? Hard to say. The Marfa Vistor's Center is, after all, walking distance to El Cosmico, where you can rent the yurt and, round about when I was there, sign up for an herbal remedies class-- and I would not be at all surprised to catch some ukelele playing going on at one their "happenings." I mean, Marfans do seem whimsical or at least mind-your-own-business-relaxed when it comes to art-- or, this is not art qua art. 

But then-- Madam Mayo plucks a few bees out of her bouffant-- what is "art"? 

"Manos Arriba," or "Hands Up," pictured right, is an approximately 1,000- 2,000 year-old rock art site in the relatively nearby (by Far West Texas standards) Big Bend Ranch State Park. Never mind that hypothetical can of pink sparkly foam; you touch that rock art and the ranger sees you, boy howdy, you're in a poke of trouble. Carve your name and a date into the rock with your penknife? Seriously illegal. And if you did that back in, say, 1887? Well, you'd be dead by now so much as the ranger might like to, true, she couldn't do anything.

Voyez l'équation simple:

+ Really old man-made marks = Art. Approved response: From a reverent distance, take pictures.


+ Relatively recent marks, including those made as long ago as 1887 by nonindigenous people = Defacement. Approved response: Express dismay.

Bloggable Graffito, circa 2015
Ladies Room, Plaine coffee shop

Alpine, Texas
Not that I personally don't feel sincere reverence for rock art-- (and may my podcast interview with Greg Williams, executive director of the Rock Art Foundation, bolster my case). I am simply sayin'.

Voyez l'équation étonnante:

+ Writing on coffee shop bathroom wall that evidences childlike yet articulate whimsy referring to marine life = Bloggable.


+ Writing on coffee shop bathroom wall that evidences childlike and inarticulate whimsy referring to just about anything and everything else = Ick. 

Where does the hypothetical sparkly pink foam paint come in? I don't think it does. 

Once home in Mexico City I encountered this street art mural with a hand appearing to reach for a grape-purple grenade with feet:

Mexico City street art

I have absolutely no idea what it all means. The word BOMB to the left often appears in Mexico City graffiti, why I know not.

Madam Mayo pronounces this Very Fine Art.
On a more high-toned note, here is a small section I snapped of one of the murals by Víctor Cuaduro in the Government Palace of Querétaro, of the three monarchists executed on the Cerro de las Campanas in 1867, Maximilian and his generals Mejía and Miramón. If you were to apply anything from a spray can to that-- let's say you wanted to make a stencil of your hand, as in "Manos arriba"-- I'll bet you a million pesos that you would be speedily tackled by the several security guards.

P.S. Instant Art Critique Phrase Generator. I typed in 12345 and got:

With regard to the issue of content, the disjunctive perturbation of the spatial relationships brings within the realm of discourse the distinctive formal juxtapositions. 

+ + + + + + 

But seriously now...

The Lower Pecos Canyonlands have been much on my mind as I am writing a book about Far West Texas, and one of the many compare-and-contrast items from my previous book, Miraculous Air, about Mexico's Baja California peninsula, is the rock art. So far I've visited a multitude of sites in the Big Bend (most recently in the canyon that runs north-south alongside the western flank of the Solitario) plus the Lower Pecos Canyonlands sites at Meyers Spring and Eagle Nest Canyon at Langtry, which drains into the Rio Grande, that is, the US-Mexico border. And this May, just a scootch east of the Pecos, I plan to visit Curly Tail Panther. Did I mention, Lower Pecos Canyonlands rock art is spectacular?

Apropos of the Lower Pecos Canyonlands, a recent and delightful discovery is that my fellow Women Writing the West member Mary S. Black, an expert on the Lower Pecos, has published a novel, Peyote Fire: Shaman of the Canyon, about the Archaic artists-- to my knowledge, the first historical novel about these people. I'm looking forward to reading it, as well as her guidebook to the region which is in-progress.

Listen in anytime to my interview with Greg Williams, executive director of the Rock Art Foundation, which offers tours to important but very remote rock art sites, many of which are on private land. 

> My brief video of the first part of the hike into Eagle Nest Canyon.

> Check out these photos of a storm in May 2014 with massive flooding in that same canyon-- it gives an idea of how the caves were formed.

> Your COMMENTS are always welcome. My newsletter goes out on Monday with new podcasts, articles, and upcoming workshops; I welcome you to automatically opt-in (and opt-out anytime) here.