Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air: Legends
of West Texas Music
"Indeed, Oglesby's introduction of more
than two dozen musicians who called Lubbock home should be required
reading not only for music fans, but for Lubbock residents and
anyone thinking about moving here. On these pages, music becomes
a part of Lubbock's living history."
Chris Oglesby Interviews
I became acquainted with Paul Bullock at a Cary Swinney show in a parking lot during Lubbocks "4th on Broadway," July 4, 1998. Paul had just taken the top honors at the Taos, New Mexico, Poetry Circus for recitation of his trademark poem, "The Car Pool Mom" among others. He was making plans to come to Austin later in the summer to participate in the 1998 National Poetry Slam Championships being held there that summer; Paul entered not for competitions sake, rather in hopes to get exposure for his art.
It was on the first day of the Austin Poetry Slam that I met with Paul to talk about Lubbock, art, the nexus between the two, and whatever other entertaining oddities arose in conversation.
Pauls poetry is really meant to be spoken. At the time
of this interview, Paul was recording
a CD of many of his best oral poetry. That CD has since been
finished and is called "Manfred's Midnight Monologue."
(Manfred C. Balzac is the
name of Paul's stage alter-ego.)
We conducted the interview on the rooftop bar at Waterloo
Brewery on 4th and Guadalupe in downtown Austin (which
is now, sadly, defunct; Er...The bar, that is - not Austin,
by any means).
Paul: I moved to Lubbock from Washington, D.C. in 1957, when I was three years old. I stayed in Lubbock through the first couple of semesters of college. Then in 1971, I left Lubbock for awhile.
I was working on a government contract. We painted geodesic domes for the Air Force, and we were sent all over the world to paint these things. They housed radar screens, early warning defense systems.
It was real strange; At the company that contracted that work, there was a secretary from Lubbock, so she started getting guys here and there from Lubbock, and we all had a real West Texas kinda friendly attitude and so they pulled a lot of people from Lubbock for the crew. As a matter of fact: While I was doing it, I would guess that there were probably fewer than 30 or 40 people that had ever done that kind of work for over a year, and like 12 of us were from Lubbock. It was incredible.
We traveled all over. And I still have my friends in Lubbock that I traveled all over the world with when I was a young kid.
Those domes were incredible. The largest one I ever worked on was two-hundred-and-ten foot in diameter. It covered a building that was about 30 feet tall and the dome, at its apex, was probably close to 200 feet tall or more.
Chris: Wow! And yall would get up on em and paint em?
Paul: Wash em, caulk em, paint em.
Chris: Were these in remote places? How would you get to these places?
Paul: Oh yea! Trains and boats and planes. Ive been on a Korean battleship for transport and Ive been on Dussenhaff trucks going up and down mountain roads and helicopters and small aircraft and trains and buses
Chris: How long did you do that?
Paul: I did it from about 71 to 76 - about five years and a half years.
Chris: And then did you go back to Lubbock?
Paul: Yea. And I had my nice little Korean wife with me that I picked up in one of the brothels over there, and my newborn son. Shes not my wife any more. Our children were seven and four when she split. She married a guy in the Air Force and started a new family. The kids stayed with me. She lives in Oklahoma City now, and we dont hear much from her. That was 15 years ago. I dont have any hard feelings. I was stupid to marry her to begin with.
Chris: So what did you do when you got back to Lubbock?
Paul: Ive done a lot of different things. I worked as a salesman. I was a licensed audiologist for Belltone Hearing Aids for awhile. I sold swimming pools after my divorce. I sold meat and frozen fish door-to-door. And I was a security cop in Baltimore, Maryland, for the Social Security Building for awhile; got that job one summer through the same company that contracted the dome jobs.
Chris: What are you doing in Lubbock now?
Paul: I have an industrial paint contracting business. I usually have six or seven good months of industrial painting, and then I just dont do much of anything for the rest of the year. I paint grain elevators, cattle feed mills. Ive been painting mills since about 80. When we got back from overseas, we didnt know that we had a skill.
Chris: What was that?
Paul: Well, everything that Ive worked on since I was a young man has to do with height. I am an "Above-Ground Paint Contractor." I specialize in getting off the ground. Like the light-poles at Jones Stadium; I painted those. Ive had the same customers for almost 17 years.
Chris: How long have you been doing poetry?
Paul: Publicly, for about 6 years now.
Chris: What made you get started doing poetry?
Paul: Mostly, I had all this poetry and I wanted to
do it, and I had envisioned myself doing it. So I started memorizing
small pieces, and Id get up at parties. Then I was invited
to get up at a music open-mic. Of course, I was hangin
out with Cary Swinney so
Cary - after seeing me do this
stuff, yknow - he invited me on his stage, and it became
a regular thing to the point where people associate us, now,
as being almost "an act."
If it werent for Cary Swinney Id still be tryin to figger out how I would get this stuff out to people.
Chris: These were things that you wanted to get out publicly. Had you been writing for a long time?
Paul: I wrote when I was a kid but I didnt really start "writing" until I was in the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean. It's about 200 miles south of the equator; 1800 miles off the coast of east Africa; between Africa and the southern tip of India.
Chris: About as far from Lubbock as you can get, pretty much!
Paul: While I was overseas, I started smokin
a lot of pot, a lot of hashish, and I that's when I started writin.
Chris: What year was that?
Paul: That would have been in 73, I think.
Chris: Tell me about some of the things you learned; You said that at the time you didnt know that you were changing but you felt like you changed What happened? Tell me somethin about what happened to you.
Paul: Island life tends to slow people down to a snails pace. And I learned a lot about just relaxing and really not getting in a big hurry; cause Im a real hyper guy. But yknow, you go into a restaurant and sit there for fifteen or twenty minutes waitin for a glass of water, and when the waitress came, what were you gonna do? Scream at her for holdin you up? The island philosophy is, "Where you goin? Slow down!" And because there was this slow-down period, there was experiments with drugs.
There was a need for me to write at that time. I dissociated
myself, almost to the point of exile from my family who didnt
hear from me for a few months. I was just a young kid and didnt
feel like writing home.
We were trying to stop the dome from leaking but when they built it, they built it wrong and so it had leaked from the day it was built. They kept us there for seven and a half months trying to stop a leak that couldnt be stopped. So it became very frustrating and there was no end to it. It was a test of patience and will.
My real first exposure to just total difference was in Korea, and it absolutely blew my mind. I just couldnt believe what I was seein.
Chris: So much of the dynamic in Lubbock is that idea of "Normal." Im so intrigued by the fact of this concept of "Normal" because theres no way that 'whatever that is' is normal because there are so many amazingly different things going on everywhere and always have been. People function in entirely different ways; But for some reason, people get into their minds that theres this one "right way to be" and that it is and will be always like that. Lubbock celebrates that very big fantasy in a big way. Like being on the island - What is normal there is totally different from what is normal somewhere else. And if you want "Normal Lubbock" and youre living onan island off of Africa or some little beach town in Mexico, then youre "Insane." Youre a Lunatic, and youre in no way normal if you behave that way. [Laughs] That has really struck me while traveling and talking to people who travel; One thing that you learn is that theres really nothing thats "normal." Everything is different, everywhere.
I dont know what that has to do with anything.
Paul: Oh, it has a lot to do with everything! If you
dont get out
Thats the advantage Ive had
over a lot of people is that Ive gone to places and seen
things that "nobody else has seen." I mean, if you
never leave Lubbock
Chris: [Laughs long and loud]
Paul: You have to understand: When I was in the Far
East, the Vietnam War was going on, and there were American troops
all over the place; Everywhere! It seemed like every south-east
Asian country had Uncle Sams fingers somewhere in them.
Hell, we ran whorehouses all over the Philippines cause
they was "important to the cause in Vietnam." I was
supposed to do some work in Vietnam but the tour I was supposed
to go on was after the Americans had withdrawn. I went to Australia,
the Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand, the Seychelles, Iceland,
Greenland; I've been around, and was real young when I was doin
Chris: Pretty exciting. Yea.
Paul: Which is all a bunch of baloney.
Chris: [Laughs]. You were sayin you were getting into "the cannabis scene" at the time; Talk about that a little bit.
Paul: I wadnt concerned with pot until I was
working with a guy named Earl Johnson. He was a Baltimore man.
He was Black. And he loved to smoke. He got along well with some
of the locals who smoked. He finally talked me into it...
In the Philippines, you can get shot for possession but we managed to get some there, too. It was everywhere. I mean, it was the "Far East." Anything you wanted - during that time - If you had the money, you could get it; Especially pot.
Chris: So now you're back in Lubbock.
Paul: Yea. Anxious to see whether or not this poetry
thing can move me along. Id like to think that therell
be other responses. I was encouraged by several people from Taos
competition; during the competition at Taos I was invited to
come back as a featured artist in the 1999 competition. "Featured
Artist" means that they put you up in a motel and they pay
for your food. They may pay a little money; not much.
Chris: I think your material is something thats more "audience interactive," as opposed to just "exposing ones self." And its entertaining, yknow.
Paul: Have you ever heard "orgasm" mentioned so many times in one hour by so many different people? Or nipples?
Chris: Its whats on peoples mind, I guess.
Paul: Now that it's over, Im gonna get high. [Lights a "one-hitter" he has brought with him] Tomorrow night might be different. Theres three different "poetry bouts" at six different places...
Im a pot-head and I admit it. I feel like its almost a destiny for me to go out and shake people up and say, yknow, "Its time to start standing up for your right." I have children who are subject to the same penalties that I am. Theyre subject to go to jail if they get caught with any marijuana. So Im not only speaking out for my right to smoke it, to have my name cleaned as a criminal...Because for the past 60 years anybody that has dealt in it has been a criminal, according to our laws. These are peace-abiding, loving people who are "criminals." Felonious!
Walter Cronkites even said, "Bullshit."
Ive been on radio. Ive talked on radio programs about it. I get on stage and say my stuff. I have almost relinquished the opportunity to make a choice, and now I feel like theres very little choice for me to make. I have to go do this.
I get angry when I see some newscaster act as though, "Oh, we found eighty pounds of pot in a car that we pulled over cause the registration was bad or the guy didnt have his seat-belt on. Weve kept another eighty pounds off the streets of Lubbock." Well, this reporter is some bitch who was snortin cocaine at a goddamn party last week! Its horseshit!
Chris: The whole history of the illegalization of marijuana has just been big lies, propagandas and lies. Every one who does it regularly knows...That its just a lie.
Paul: Its bullshit!
Chris: I just think that the Coca-Cola people must laugh their asses off at the war on drugs; Theyre the biggest drug dealers in the world, and they are revered the world over as "making everybody happy!"
Paul: There are deaths every year in this country from over-doses of caffeine; heart palpitations, stuff like that. Coke just tears you up!
Thats the thing; This country was founded on drugs and
drug use - Rum, Sugar, & Tobacco. The hypocrisy just didnt
start yesterday. Its been around for a long time. And Im
sick of it!
Were puttin up prisons like crazy! I have an opportunity to bid on some work in a prison, and I almost feel like Im going against my religion! It's almost like, "This is where theyre puttin people that I sympathize with, not people that I feel hard feelings about."
These are "Good" people. These are "True Americans" in the best sense; They are great examples of that uniquely American theory that if an individual is allowed to pursue his or her deepest desires without undue tyranny, the world as a whole will benefit.
We all have something in life to give. Growing up in Lubbock, you learn this lesson on both sides of the street: the church and the honky-tonk.
I believe these factor are among the major ones contributing
to Lubbock's creative fertility. It
seems West Texas forces one to make a choice: Sanctimony or Rebellion.
On the Llano Estacado, there is very little tolerance for any
2007 Chris Oglesby
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