Sunday, November 4, 2007

In which Malcolm takes a Sabbath day's dander through some cheery things of life, and in which

Malcolm ventures an opinion...

... even though he fully expects the wrath of Zach (Malcolm's authority on all things to do with Texan singer-songwriters) to descend upon him cyberspatially, from

That said, Malcolm is currently listening to, and enjoying Stayton Bonner's new CD, Cadillac Road.

At one level, Bonner is yet another of the artists coming off the Austin, Texas, production-line. In itself, that is no put-down; to be able to hold one's own against such competition is itself no mean achievement. His voice is light, even gentle; it never dominates or demands: sometimes the pitch is approximate at best. On the other hand, his work evidences musicianship: the banjo/Mandolin/whatever accompaniment (mainly, Malcolm believes, Eddie Collins) is first-rate. The whole feel is nearer the folk world than the good ol' country boys: a Townes van Zandt in the making, Malcolm wonders.

That's not the whole of it.

What attracted Malcolm's attention in the first place was the third track on the album: Black Bush Whiskey Straight. An anthem to Malcolm's favourite medication!

After that, it was a matter of looking at what else Mr Bonner is up to. The first, and title track, Cadillac Road is a celebration of the road-trip across the Panhandle: other tracks are also taken from a High Plains drifter journey: Quality Inn Confessional; El Camino; Going New Mexico; and Gas Station Coffee. It's good to find an album that adopts a thematic approach, rather than being just a hodge-podge of miscellanea. The journey is completed by a wry piece, Armadillo Boogie Woogie, where a hunt for Dasypus novemcinctus results in bagging the family Chevy.

One other track caught Malcolm's attention: Cemeteries & Second Hand Bookshops. Again, such places are, together and separately, fascinations of Malcolm. It was a clue that Bonner has (in Dennis Healey's famous metaphor) a hinterland. Sure enough, that led to Malcolm discovering that Bonner had written A Story About Larry McMurtry's Other Day Job.

This is an essay, not a book, more of a pamphlet, called The Bookman, and the subtitle says it all. Larry McMurtry is a distinguished author in his own right. Lonesome Dove, both as book and tv adaptation, gave Malcolm considerable pleasure, and inspired a reading stint of what the local bookshop had of McMurtry's other work. Recently, of course, McMurtry fame has been further burnished by the Oscar for the screenplay of Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain.

What Malcolm had not appreciated was that McMurtry was a book-collector and dealer of some stature. So, here is John Schwartz in a 2001 article for the New York Times:
... in his hometown [Archer City], population 1,748, one of America's most celebrated living writers is digging through boxes of old books in the ovenlike heat of the sorting room at his vast secondhand book business, Booked Up. Mr. McMurtry has been building his inventory the last four years, hoping, with the cooperation of other booksellers, to turn Archer City into ''book town'' with many shops -- a place for serious bibliophiles to make their pilgrimage.
Booked Up, it seems, survives with only a polite and thoroughly-decent on-line presence.

Nor can Malcolm pass over Archer City without making a further link. The town became was fictionalised as "Anarene", with its town cinema, the Royal, for McMurtry's early novel, The Last Picture Show. That was, of course, filmed for Peter Bogdanovitch's elegiac 1971 movie (for which McMurtry also did the screenplay). Burned out, rebuilt in the 90s, the Royal is enjoying a new lease of life as a local arts center. Another happy ending.

And, in yet another mental jump, Malcolm connects Larry with James, father to son, author/bookseller to another Austin singer/songwriter. And a powerful voice for the anti-War coalition. Which makes that campaign poster of Barry Goldwater in Larry McMurtry's book-store ("In your heart, you know he's right"), on the odd side of ironic. (Malcolm never recalls that slogan without also recalling the LBJ campaign gloss, allegedly by Bill Moyers, "In your guts you know he's nuts.")


So Malcolm's characteristic commodius vicus of recirculation brings him back to Stayton Bonner. Bonner wrote for Texas Monthly about Bruce Robison, whose Travelin' Soldier was recorded by the Dixie Chicks on their Home album. Bonner's report included the wryful:
"The Dixie Chicks recorded 'Travelin' Soldier,' one of the first songs I wrote, and it did great until the girls got embroiled in that crazy media-frenzy.
Hey, it can get tough when the message runs counter to the local mood.


And so, with the sun well below the November horizon, and darkness settling on North London, Malcolm reaches for a snifter of Black Bush. He thanks Mr Bonner for putting the idea into his head. And benignly wishes the rest of yous as tranquil an evening.
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