Favorite Western Songs II

With Grammy Awards coming up tonight (Sunday, January 31), I thought it was time to return to an earlier post on Favorite Western Songs. Just taking a quick look at the award nominees this year, none of them strike me as particularly western in theme (unless Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” is really about Texas Hold ‘Em). Below are some favorite western songs drawn from comments made on the original post. As usual, use the comment link below to aid to the list. In particular, if you know of any “western” songs recorded in the last year that were passed over by the Grammy Awards, add them to the list.

I recently saw Rio Bravo (1959), starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, and Ricky Nelson, and was struck by the performance of the song “My Rifle, My Pony, And Me.” In the scene, the main characters are gathered in the jail, and, for two minutes or so, the plot is abandoned, and we have a nice little duet with Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson singing the song. The only real motivation that I can imagine is that, if you have Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson in a movie together, how can you not have them sing?

I don’t know if this my favorite song performed in a western, but it’s a pleasant and memorable moment in the film.

I’m also fond of Tom Russell’s “When Sinatra Played Juarez” and “Tonight We Ride”

And, of course, anything by Calexico:

From Lesley Brown:

I don’t think it’s necessarily a great song, but the theme song from High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling) never leaves my head. I haven’t seen that movie in over 30 years, and yet the song pops into my head regularly.

I like all the old raunchy western songs, and among the overly familiar western songs, Tumblin Tumbleweeds will remain my favorite because the harmony is just so good. The PBS special _American Roots Music_ has a good section on western music and its influence on what we now consider to be Roots Music.
My favorite song to sing is an old song called “My Love is a Rider,” which can be found in a book called _He Was Singin’ That Song_ by Jim Bob Tinsley, U Press of Florida, 1981.

Favorite verse: My love has a gun that has gone to the bad/ And that makes my lover feel pretty damned sad/ For the gun it shoots high, and the gun it shoots low/ And it wobbles around like a bucking bronco.

From David Cremean:

y favorite two (among the many, many I love) are more contemporary: John Denver’s “Rocky Mountain High” and Michael Murphey’s “Carolina in the Pines.” Many lasting personal connections.

Filmically, probably Marty Stuart’s closing song to the mediocre film version of “Pretty Horses,” “So Far Away.”

From Jim Price:

Three of the best are Ghost Riders In The Sky, Mr.Shorty
and The Streets of Laredo.Now this is real western music,
and Strawberry Roan and El Paso City are pretty good
as well.


Science Fiction and the Frontier (CFP)

The 2010 Science Fiction Research Association Conference (June 24-27) theme, “Far Stars and Tin Stars: Science Fiction and the Frontier,” reflects the conference’s venue in the high desert of Carefree, Arizona, north of Phoenix. The frontier, the borderland between what is known and what is unknown, the settled and the wild, the mapped and the unexplored, is as central to science fiction as it is to the mythology of the American West.

Submissions are invited for individual papers (15-20 minutes), full paper panels (3 papers), roundtables (80 minute sessions), and other presentations that explore the study and teaching science fiction of any medium. Preference will be given to proposals that engage the conference theme.

Paper and other session proposals should be 200-300 words. Paper panel proposals should include the proposals of all three papers and a brief statement of their unifying principal. Include all text of the proposal in the body of the email (not as an attachment). Please be sure to include full contact information for all panel members and to make all AV requests within each proposal.

Click here for the Far Stars and Tin Stars: Science Fiction and the Frontier website.

E-mail submissions by March 15, 2010 to Craig Jacobsen: jacobsen at mesacc dot edu

Book of Eli, End of the World, and the Western

Having now recently watched The Road and The Book of Eli, the two big post-apocalyptic movies of the holiday season (that time of year when families get together and think warm thoughts about the end of the world), I can see that I’ve learned a couple of things about how to prepare for the apocalypse from Hollywood films. So, there are two things I need to do before the end of the world as we know it arrives:

First, I need to stock up on color film and film stock. In the post-apocalyptic movie, there is no color, or what color there is faded, muted. Things are covered in gray ash or dust.  Even the sky in The Book of Eli is colorless. In order to replicate the real conditions of the loss of color film stock after the apocalypse, the filmmakers in both Eli and The Road clearly decided to film the movies as if we’d already run out of color film. In one of the early fight scenes in Eli, our hero Eli (Denzel Washington) is filmed in silhouette taking on a gang of desperadoes,  and there’s not even gray left in the color palette, just black shadows dueling, one with a machete, the other with a chainsaw. Yes, this is the kind of film that not only has a machete versus chainsaw duel but also films it in silhouette (and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing).

So, stock up on color film now— it will be a hot commodity when the end of the world as we know it arrives.

Second, I need to go to dental school. Judging from The Road and The Book of Eli, the apocalypse is really bad for your teeth. And whatever happened in The Road, it was much worse for dental hygiene; perhaps the dentists died first in that world. There are some characters with good teeth in The Book of Eli (such as Eli himself, but he’s blessed by God, and, really, that’s not the kind of thing you can depend on), but there are plenty of people in need of someone with some dentistry skills.

So, learn basic dentistry. When we come to the end of the world as we know it, you’ll be glad you did, as your path to survival will be assured.

The basic plot of The Book of Eli, is that Eli (whose name we don’t learn until the end of the film) is in possession of the only surviving Bible. After the war, and the flash that “tore open the sky,” all the Bibles were burned (because, some say, the Bibles were the cause of the whole conflict). His quest is to carry the Bible to the promised land, to a place where a small group of believers await his arrival.

The film seems to take place about thirty years in the future. Eli, in addition to a Bible, also has what must be the world’s last iPod (and listening to Al Green is as much a holy ritual—as it should be—as his nightly reading of the Bible).

Despite it’s sci-fi post-apocalyptic trappings, The Book of Eli is almost purely a western, as much so in its references to other western genre films and its use of western motifs as Appaloosa (perhaps the most recent western to use an “old west” setting). Much of the film was shot in New Mexico, and it makes extensive use of that western desert landscape. When someone asks Eli where he is going, he simply replies, “West.”  When someone asks him who he is, he replies, “I’m nobody,” a line referencing Clint Eastwood’s Man Without a Name character in the Sergio Leone westerns. The film ends with one of the heroes striding off into the sunset.

The film also references the mise-en-scene of John Ford’s westerns shot in Monument Valley. But, rather than a sublime natural landscape, it’s the wreckage of civilization that visually echoes those Monument Valley landscapes: towering bridges, partially destroyed, shot from below, dominating the skyline; abandoned cooling towers of a decaying power plant, echoing the shape of rock formations in Monument Valley.

Eli’s path takes him through a newly established town, a frontier community constructed on the wreckage of a formerly abandoned and nearly destroyed city.  Although a barely legible sign may read “J. Crew,” the facades are clearly modeled after the western town sets of classic westerns, as is the saloon set where some of the action takes place, and, thus, it comes as absolutely no surprise that there’s a shootout on the main street in front of the saloon.

The film also has its sci-fi allusions, including a nice shout-out to the film A Boy and His Dog (based on Harlan Ellison’s classic post-apocalyptic short story), via a faded poster on a wall; there’s also a poster for A Clockwork Orange. And, at the end of the film, Malcolm McDowell shows up (aging, but still handsome)! If only they could have found a role for Don Johnson (who played the boy in A Boy and His Dog). In general, though, the casting of the movie is quite fun. Not only do we have Denzel Washington (who is excellent in the film), but also Gary Oldman (as the villain), Mila Kunis (That 70s Show), Tom Waits (as the guy that recharges Denzel’s iPod), a couple of wizards (Michael Gambon and Frances de la Tour from the Harry Potter films), Jennifer Beals, and Ray Stevenson (Titus Pullo of Rome).

So, if you’re looking for a good western-post-apocalyptic-sci-fi adventure, The Book of Eli is highly recommended.

More thoughts on “The Road”

From Neil Campbell:

Watched The Road this afternoon in a post-apocalyptic Derby, UK (or, at least, rain swept).  After this film, the world, actually seems a whole lot brighter, whatever the weather. I have read the novel – which I thought magnificent – and the film is a pretty good ‘version’ (for that is what it is).  Mccarthy’s novel is more severe, more Gothic (the cannibal foodstore House scene, for example).  Anyway, I’m thinking about it as a Western … did my eyes see a map showing the Pacific Coast (or was I wrong?)  Are they heading ‘South’ but to the west coast?  The film has Viggo Mortensen in flashback as a ‘cowboy’ (with check shirt and horse the first time we see him) – PERHAPS. The gun (as Michael says) adds to this – plus the echoes of McCarthy’s own work – the ‘kid’ in Blood Meridian journeying across a brutal landscape of the west and the boys of the Trilogy.
The film – as Michael suggests – has a kind of intertextual quality re-connecting to Deadwood – AND also to John Hillcoat’s wonderful Australian Western The Proposition whose ‘feel’ and brutality is mirrored here (as well as Guy Pearce’s brief cameo as the ‘saving’ man at the end) – a filmic space where landscape works absolutely with character to portray a naturalist nightmare.

Still thinking …

William Carlos Williams understood The Road:

‘History, history!  We fools, what do we know or care?  History begins for us with murder and enslavement, not with discovery … the ghost of the land moves in the blood, moves the blood’ (In the American Grain).

… and the film’s deep iconographic history is exquisite too –  its images create the spectrality of a ghostly landscape: the abandoned TARGET; the last Coke in America; Del Monte Fruit Chunks; Cheetos; the Amusement Park; the twisted Freeway; two bullets in the revolver. As Derrida puts it, ‘like all inheritors, we are in mourning’ (SoM, 67) as we watch the film slide away.
— ‘Certainly, the cinema is inhabited increasingly by spectres’ (196, Laura Mulvey, Death x24 a Second (2006).

— The film resonates with the ‘palpable absence and sense of loss’ of promise contained in what Zeese Papanikolas has called ‘American Silence’: ‘a kind of longing, a sense of something lost, lost perhaps even at the moment of gaining it, and possibly irretrievable’ (2007: 19). The dreams of the small farms we see throughout the film; of the broken cities; of families scattered (and eaten):  A cold world ‘more poignant, and the wound fresher’ since one is conscious always of the ‘utopian possibility that we just missed’ (ZP, 21, 22) – created via the memories of Papa (Mortensen) – as much as tries desperately to erase and block them out.

Little Mosque on the Prairie

Has anyone else been watching this Canadian sitcom? Set in the small town of Mercy, Saskatchewan, and partially filmed on location in the province, Little Mosque on the Prairie may be the only comic “western” currently on the air. The title playfully evokes Laura Ingall Wilder’s series of frontier narratives, and, although the setting is contemporary, Little Mosque emphasizes its small town in the prairies location as well as a sense of the frontier as a meeting point between different cultures, a first contact of sorts between Muslims and Christians. The meeting point is not only the town of Mercy but also Mercy Anglican, which houses the mosque as well as the church.

I’ve been reading about the series for a number of years, but I’ve just now started watching it, starting with the current season (the show’s fourth). There’s a new sheriff in town, or, rather, a new priest, Rev. Thorne, for whom Amaar (the sitcom’s central character and the Imam of the mosque) is quite simply “the enemy.”

It’s always difficult to pick up a series in the middle of its run, but the arrival of Rev. Thorne (replacing his predecessor, the more Muslim-friendly Rev. Magee) makes season four a fairly good place to start, and the first episode of the season was very amusing, and Rev. Thorne nicely oily as a comic foil.

Seasons one and two are currently available on DVD.

For more information, see the Little Mosque on the Prairie section of the CBC website.

CFP: International Conference on American West


University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), Vitoria-Gasteiz (Spain)

7-8 October, 2010

This international conference, organized by the research group REWEST (Research in Western American Literature: www.ehu.es/rewest ), will focus on the different ways in which literary interpreters of the American West have shaped and reshaped traditional western imagery and themes. We would like this conference to offer as diverse and rich a picture of current research on the literature of the American West as possible. We particularly invite specialists of western American studies to consider the literary representation of the complex interaction between the mythic dimension of the West and its real historical, social, and cultural features. Papers can address a variety of critical issues in literary studies of the West:

– the role of “place”, “space”, and “region” in western writing
– the interplay between myth and history
– the construction and deconstruction of western stereotypes
– gender politics and power

– masculinity and cowboy mythology
– border landscapes and narratives
– race and ethnicity (multiculturalism, assimilation, exclusion, transculturation…)

– immigration and exile

– forgotten and neglected Wests

– the impact of globalization, urbanization, science, and technology on the West
– nature writing, ecocritical perspectives, and environmental concerns
– the popular West

– memory and (auto) biography in the West
– the New West
– class issues

– religion in the American West
– personal / regional identity (re/de) construction in the West

– the role of family and relationships

– the American West in non-U.S. literatures
– cultural transfers between literature and films…

Papers should not exceed 10 pages (2,500-3,000 words: 20 minutes’ delivery). Although English will be the official language of the Conference, papers in Spanish or Basque will also be accepted.

The conference will be held at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain.

Confirmed plenary speakers: Neil Campbell (U. Derby), David Fenimore (U. Nevada-Reno)

Confirmed keynote writers: Phyllis Barber, Gregory Martin

Please submit your proposal (300 words) plus a brief CV to the conference organizers by April 30, 2010. Proposals should be submitted via e-mail to David Rio (david.rio@ehu.es), including copies to Amaia Ibarraran (amaia.ibarraran@ehu.es)  and Martin Simonson (martin.simonson@ehu.es).

CFP: Suburban and Urban Western Literature and Culture

Suburban and Urban Western Literature and Culture

The journal Western American Literature invites submissions examining the urban and suburban West in literature, film, television, memoirs, and other forms. We are interested in original work investigating the urban and suburban from a variety of critical perspectives. You might, for example, consider individual writers with a strong urban/suburban focus to their work, specific themes that reflect upon the increased urbanization of the West, place-based studies, environmental issues raised by sub/urbanism, or theoretical approaches that engage with and illuminate our perception of the topic (such as critical regionalism). Interdisciplinary essays and those taking innovative approaches to the topic are particularly welcome.
Your essay should not exceed 35 U.S. pages double-spaced, including endnotes and Works Cited. Please use endnotes, not footnotes, for substantive notes. Your manuscript should follow MLA style. Check journal website for further information http://www.usu.edu/westlit/submissions.htm

All submissions are electronic to our guest editor, Professor Neil Campbell, at the University of Derby,  England. Questions and submissions should go directly to him at n.campbell@derby.ac.uk

The deadline for submissions is January 1, 2011.