Monday, December 14, 2009
The most amazing live music month of my life!
I think I lost most of my followers when I blogged so much about my favorite songwriter, Rusty Weir, after his passing. His death seemed to mean a lot to me that I could not explain. And now on the heals of that, AND RAY WYLIE HUBBARD APPEARING IN MY OWN TOWN LAST WEEK, another music titan in my mind crossed my path out of nowhere…
When I first heard Michael Murphy, and took note of his name, he was raging like a crusty, poetic lunatic on KFM Radio, 92 ½ in Dallas, singing Crack Up in Las Cruces, and I was still mourning a similar loss after totaling my own car. The first time I heard it, it kind of irritated me. It was nothing to sing about. After riding around Denton on a four-speed for a few weeks, balancing my groceries on the handlebars, dodging clueless drivers, and nearly crashing in the bushes a couple of times after taking those steep Denton hills too fast, I found his high pitched lamentations fit amazingly close to mine, and I bought Geronimo’s Cadillac (1972), and his new album, Blue Sky-Night Thunder (1975). They may have been the very first albums I ever bought as a youth away from home, and making choices for myself. I fell heart and soul into Boy From the Country, Waking up, Geronimo’s Cadillac, all songs from his first album. At the time I was having that once-in-a-lifetime, passionate love affair with the woman of my dreams… my future wife of now 35 years, and his title song from the other album, Night Thunder, pretty much summed up my student- in- his- first- apartment- by- himself outlook. And what a great album, sporting two hits, Wildfire, his biggest chartbuster ever, and Carolina in the Pines. And get down in your mind ditties like Wild Bird and Blue Sky Riding Song.
Michael Murphy perfectly, artistically personified many a church-raised, red-blooded American male at large, especially southern boys with a love for the out of doors and the land. Young cowboys with no cattle to round up, no towns to shoot up, and no Indians to fight. The first Dr. Spock generation, with a thousand questions and all of them avoiding the One answer. We were wild, or at least wild at heart, or wanted to be, and only challenged authority as the new liberated society expected us to. Our father’s called it sowing our wild oats. Our mother’s called it a phase. Wildness was a right to passage, and in many cases, Michael, or at least the one on the album covers, was wild enough to satisfy the wild man in most of us.
Later he came out with a fabulous, inspiring album called Swans Against the Sun, my personal favorite, that really affirmed my focus as an artist on the legend and lore of my native Texas, which almost immediately got me kicked out of the North Texas State University Art Department. Suddenly I wanted to have an art show that was the equivalent to Wild Kingdom and Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. I just wanted to paint what Michael Murphy was singing about. Appalled, my professors wanted me to go away and never return. They told me to major in something else. Crack Up in Las Cruces seemed to be the theme for me while up in Denton. Rejected and dejected, and feeling weirdly counter-countercultural, I kicked the dust off of my feet and found greener pastures and melted into the sunset. But I held on to my albums… Somewhere in between their covers was the map of my identity, and I had better hold on until that became more clear.
I had a little pathetic barrel cactus for awhile, and an old Grapette bottle we found one day, but the cactus finally died down here, from too much rain, so today my Blue Sky- Night Thunder Lp is my one prominent souvenir from those innocent, difficult times. I’m not complaining, I got the girl… and I listened to my Texas Music for years until my turntable broke and they were out of style, and marriage and the music of the 80’s obliterated the soul strings I had woven with a number of musicians from that era. Many of them bit the dust right along with my art degree, when everything recorded and played turned to cassette technology. Struggling recording artists must groan real loud every time the music technology changes, since they will be the last to be re-issued in the new medium, right in time for it to change again... Waylon and Willie were immune to such obstacles, but other Hill Country artists like Rusty Weir, Steve Fromholtz , Kinky Friedman and Ray Wylie Hubbard often got lost in the shuffle, or just as often were victims of their own wildness…
Yet others, Texas music survivors like Jerry Jeff Walker, Gary P. Nunn and Michael Murphy persevered with some success and faithfully represented that rebellious generation of Texas sons of WWII heroes that were carving out their own cultural niche… and Michael Martin Murphy was at the head of the class. He had actual hits, songs that were loved from coast to coast. He broke out, took Texas music to an international level. He made us all proud.
Then radio trends changed and I lost my lifeline for Texas music, and spent a decade at least brushing up on the rock music I had ignored during that time. I figured all those wild men either went down hard like wild men do, or got respectable jobs.
About a year ago a friend gave me a decent turntable that still worked, and I began to collect old Lp’s, and listen to them again. I could finally play Blue Sky- Night Thunder again. I had long since lost my copies of Geronimo’s Cadillac and Swans Against the Sun to fleeting friends who “borrowed” them. For some reason, I have carried that old discolored, warped album around from phase to phase of my life like a security blanket. And little could I have ever imagined, that someone who had been a silent icon, staring out into my studio for thirty years, could become flesh and bone.
That, as you might have expected, is what happened, and I can’t wait to share every interesting detail with you!
A few months ago, a new friend of mine and as it just so happens, a friend and production manager for Michael Martin Murphy, crafted a “chance” meeting between Michael Martin Murphy and myself out at River Haven, and got me an autographed CD. How cool is that? Recently the same friend invited me to hear Michael Martin Murphy in concert at Houston Baptist University… You can imagine my pleasure at this turn of events. So it was at one university where I discovered Michael Murphy, and another thirty years later where I rediscovered him. Even the names and places are very telling. From hippie college town to straight as an arrow Baptist institution. And miraculously, Michael Murphy fit in both, yet looked bigger in real life than he ever did in my imagination, or on my dusty album cover. The following are several independent segments about my impressions about his musical transformation. And as usual, they have strong interpretations as well as implications. But I think you will find each segment worth your time.
I hope through it all, to get you into the music, and also illustrate the idea that there is a reason for everything that happens, and it is up to us to figure out the significance of them. And that is what makes the unfolding of this mystery so much fun!