Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Jerry Jeff Walker and the Lost Gonzo Band -- "London Homesick Blues" (1973)

I wanna go home with the armadillo 
Good country music from Amarillo and Abilene 
The friendliest people and the prettiest women 
You've ever seen
That's two country-western songs in a row on 2 or 3 lines.  Some of you will say to yourselves that it's about time.  Others will say that 2 or 3 lines has jumped the shark.

Relax -- all of you.  Don't get your bowels in an uproar.  There's no particular significance to 2 or 3 lines featuring two country songs in a row.  When you see four or five in a row, that will be something to talk about.  But we're not there yet.

"London Homesick Blues" is the last track on Jerry Jeff Walker's 1973 album, Viva Terlingua!, which was recorded live at the Luckenbach Dance Hall in Luckenbach, Texas.  Luckenbach is to "outlaw country" devotees what Woodstock is to hippies and Graceland is to the Elvis crowd.

As many of you know, I grew up in Joplin, Missouri.  I always thought of myself as a midwesterner, although Joplin has a lot more in common culturally and politically with Oklahoma and Texas than it does with Iowa or Illinois.

When I attended college in Texas, I steadfastly clung to my Missouri roots despite being surrounded by Texans.  Texans weren't all bad -- they weren't Oklahomans or Arkansans, after all -- but I didn't feel like I was one of them

But when I moved to Massachusetts to attend law school, that changed.  No one in Massachusetts cared much about Missouri.  But Texas was another matter -- most of the people who lived within a stone's throw of Harvard Square loathed Texas, while the rest thought it was a huge joke.

Jerry Jeff Walker
I have always been a contrarian -- or simply contrary -- so I adopted a quasi-Texan identity despite having a very thin connection to the Lone Star State.  For one thing, I bought a cowboy hat (compete with a small American flag pin) at a pawn shop in Joplin one summer -- I didn't wear it much while at law school (there's a thin line between being a contrarian and being a laughingstock), but I had it in my closet, just in case.

I also listened regularly to a weekly country music program on the Harvard University radio station.  It was called "Hillbilly at Harvard" -- it's slogan was "Country music for eastern New England" -- and featured mostly old-timey bluegrass records.

Click here to read a 2002 article about "Hillbilly at Harvard."

But "Hillbilly at Harvard" also played outlaw country -- Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, David Allan Coe, et al., all of whom were shunned by the Nashville country-western powers that be.

Waylon was my favorite in those days -- Jerry Jeff Walker was not high on my list.  But this song (which was written and is sung by Lost Gonzo Band member Gary P. Nunn, who was a pharmacy major at UT-Austin when he met Jerry Jeff) never failed to stop me in my tracks.

Gary P. Nunn
The singer of the song is a down-on-his-luck, cowboy-hat-wearing, purebred Texan who finds himself all alone in a very foreign London.

The alienation and culture shock I experienced in Boston was nothing compared to what he suffers.  But I let myself wallow in homesickness and nostalgia and self-pity nonetheless.  

Years later, when I visited London for the first time, I stayed in a hotel on Oxford Street near Hyde Park.  Perhaps the most memorable moment of that trip came when I realized that the London Underground station nearest to my hotel was Marble Arch Station.  That instantly brought the third verse of "London Homesick Blues" to mind:
I decided that 
I'd get my cowboy hat 
And go down to Marble Arch Station 
'Cause when a Texan fancies
He'll take his chances 
Chances will be taken, that's for sure 
And them Limey eyes
They were eyein' the prize 
That some people call manly footwear 
And they said "You're from down South, 
And when you open your mouth, 
You always seem to put your foot there"
Up yours, London.  And go f*ck yourself, Boston.  To quote the Talking Heads, "I wouldn't live there if you paid me."  (Unfortunately, my current wife has always felt  exactly the same way about Texas.)

Marble Arch Station, London
 I didn't listen to Viva Terlingua! when I was a law student nearly as much as I listened to a number of other LPs.  The only other song on the album I really liked was "Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother":

Up against the wall, redneck mother
A mother who has raised her son so well.
He's thirty-four and drinking in a honky tonk
Just kickin' hippies' asses and raising hell

But when I did pull out that album, "London Homesick Blues" was sure to be played many, many times.

At that point in my life, I had never been to Amarillo or Abilene.  (Houston, where I had gone to college, had about as much in common with those west Texas cities as it did with Philadelphia.)

But I would sing that chorus until the cows came home -- or until the obnoxious law review guy in the dorm room next to me started pounding on the wall and complaining like a little bitch because he couldn't study. 

Here's a live version of "London Homesick Blues":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon: 

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