It goes without saying that there is one and only one state that might make a decent tattoo (hint: not Wyoming) – one that people make waffle irons to honor – and a great ambition of my adult life is to consistently be the most obnoxious person in the room every March 2nd I spend outside these borders. I suspect the reasons why are something I’ll keep chewing on for a lifetime, and that’s just fine: this obsessive braggadocio has evolved dramatically over the past five years, and I am now nothing of the 17 year old wanting to escape to the northeast. But in an effort to atone for past sins, I’ve compiled some materials from my student-taught-course-that-never-was –Texas History through Food and Literature** –for reference and perusal by all those who were either born here or got here as fast as they could.
1. Larry McMurtry (translator of transition, king of the West): Lonesome Dove; The Last Picture Show; Horsemen, Goodbye.
2. Cormac McCarthy: Blood Meridian.
3. T.R. Fehrenbach: Lone Star.
(Honorary mention: Nothing Happened and Then it Did by Jake Silverstein. Obviously not close to the literary or historical giants, but it’s a quick, more modern, half-fictional jaunt through Marfa from a Texas Monthly editor.)
1. The Hill Country Thing. Float in the Comal or the Frio or the Guadalupe and hope you’ll be able to remember. Dance at Gruene Hall. Ride ATVs through oak and mesquite to a campfire at dusk; risk deer jerky after a day of shooting.
2. The West Texas Thing. Drive to the middle of nowhere and keep going for a few hundred miles more. Rush down highway 17 through the Wild Rose Pass at sunset on your way to the McDonald Observatory. Pull over in the desert and try to hear something, anything. Underestimate hikes and run into cougars after dark.
3. The Panhandle Thing. If you’re going fast enough, everything around you should blend into three flat stripes: gray road, golden grass, tornado-purple sky. This should be terrifying and may only be interrupted by the equally questionable specter of ten Cadillacs thrust nose-first into the earth.
4. The Houston Thing. Take note of the relaxed vigor and the defiance of caricature. Hear six different languages on one commute. Eat fusion cuisines you’d only forge together in fever dreams.
Listen (or on Spotify):
1. Lyle Lovett: South Texas Girl, This Old Porch
2. Robert Earl Keen: Feelin Good Again, Corpus Christie Bay, Rolling By
3. Townes Van Zandt: Poncho and Lefty, To Live is to Fly
4. Pat Green: Texas on my Mind, Carry On
5. Hayes Carll: Beaumont
6. Bob Schneider: I’m Good Now, Lorena1
7. James McMurtry2: Hurricane Party, Rachel’s Song
8. Willie: Honestly, my favorite is The Highwayman with Waylon Jennings. Not sure if that’s heresy or not.
9. Steve Earle: Ft. Worth Blues
10. George Strait: Amarillo by Morning and nothing else
11. Northern heathens: That Summer3/Garth Brooks
12. Honorary mention: H.E.B./The Scabs
Texas Country is an exercise in evocative storytelling (nearly so much as Nashville country is defined by tropes /fightingwords) in a manner that remains consistent across generations, from the older guard of LL/REK/TVZ to the ACL-induced Weird Stuff of Bob Schneider et al. Vocals may be an acquired taste.
1. Lonesome Dove reference?
2. Larry McMurtry’s son
3. I actually can’t handle this song but I heard it out the radio the other day and nearly died laughing. I’ve decided it’s sourced from The Last Picture Show, so it plays into my theory that All Things revolve around Larry McMurtry.
1. I loved Evan Smith’s work at the Texas Monthly but have found The Texas Tribune less compelling. This is nearly certainly an issue of taste: Monthly maintains a consistent je ne sais quoi and a twinge of irreverence that the Tribune has largely shed. The latter’s dedication to transparency, exhibited most clearly through their wealth of online tools, is unparalleled.
2. Paul Burka’s intuition is nigh unparalleled when it comes to a) the inner workings of the Texas state legislature and b) anything and everything to do with Rick Perry. Every time I think (b) will be forever irrelevant it pops up once more; I suspect that when it finally runs its course this will switch to c) anything and everything to do with Ted Cruz.
Some nice words:
“They rode like men invested with a purpose whose origins were antecedent to them, like blood legatees of an order both imperative and remote. For although each man among them was discrete unto himself, conjoined they made a thing that had not been before and in that communal soul were wastes hardly reckonable more than those whited regions on old maps where monsters do live and where there is nothing other of the known world save conjectural winds.” – Cormac McCarthy on Cowboys
“I have said that Texas is a state of mind, but I think it is more than that. It is a mystique closely approximating a religion. And this is true to the extent that people either passionately love Texas or passionately hate it and, as in other religions, few people dare to inspect it for fear of losing their bearings in mystery or paradox. But I think there will be little quarrel with my feeling that Texas is one thing. For all its enormous range of space, climate, and physical appearance, and for all the internal squabbles, contentions, and strivings, Texas has a tight cohesiveness perhaps stronger than any other section of America. Rich, poor, Panhandle, Gulf, city, country, Texas is the obsession, the proper study, and the passionate possession of all Texans.” – Steinbeck
**Please, someone do this, somewhere, anywhere. I wrote the whole thing before deciding I didn’t have time and you just can have it. Lesson plans include “The Evolution of the Breakfast Taco” paired with the evolution of ACL and SXSW, “The Czech-German Barbeque Wars” paired with a discussion of Hill Country German immigrants during the Civil War (/highschoolpaperlolz), and 3 types of guacamole + grapefruit paired with a discussion on the socioeconomic complexity of agribusiness in the Rio Grande Valley.