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."
The Language of Lubbock
I grew up like most other folks in Lubbock. I went to Sunday school and church every single Sunday until I graduated from high school and then moved out of my parents' house. Not so much a product of the community in which we lived, our family's regimental church attendance was almost genetic. My mother's mother came from a family of Scots-Presbyterian ministers named Llewellyn. Mom received her master's degree in English, and was working on her Ph.D. dissertation on James Joyce when I came along and she dedicated herself to being a full-time mother and Junior Leaguer. So the Presbyterian church my mother took me and my sister to was one of the more "academic" congregations in Lubbock, made up of mostly Texas Tech professors, attorneys, etc.
The congregation at Westminster Presbyterian lived up to its
denominational name - "presbyterian" means a sect governed
by a council of elders - mostly a bunch of old, responsible,
contributing members of society with fairly-liberal minds and
rather conservative, dull lifestyles. Church for me was simply
reciting pre-written prayers of intercession, singing ancient
hymns written by Martin Luthor & Bach, and sleeping through
a very boring sermon on a topic such as "stewardship."
Like a good Texan, if the Dallas Cowboys played at noon instead
of three o'clock Rev. Laine released us from our nap early. There
was very little inspiration at my church, mostly just bland psychological
confirmation for these comfortable white-folk that the post-WWII
American way of life seemed to be the pinnacle of civilization.
The dour, Scottish Presbyterian church did not inculcate any
awesome, overwhelming spiritual dogma upon me. In fact, the only
piece of theology that I recall learning in my confirmation classes
is that Presbyterians believe in pre-destination. Pre-destination
was the ideal theology for my predisposition. I didn't suffer
much of the psychological confusion, guilt, and fear that seemed
to be imposed on my friends at the fundamentalist Southern Baptist
Church & Church of Christ regarding sin and its consequences,
where almost anything that stimulates the physical senses is
Lubbock born & reared, playwright and songwriter Jo Carol Pierce made this observation regarding Lubbock's obsession with The Bible:
It is my contention that this language of the Spirit gives rise to much of the multifarious galaxy of original West Texas artists, musicians and writers that we can observe. The structure of one's language is the architecture of one's psychic environment. Our actions are shaped greatly in the internal world of language; our own reactions to ideas and concepts created by others far away in time and space and circumstance.
and without The Word not one thing came into being."
Alfred Korzybski, the 20th Century engineer and social scientist
who developed the modern science of General Semantics as a means
to study and explain human activity, observed that, due to the
influence that our words and symbols have over our relation to
our environments, "[W]e act as biased observers and project
the structures of the language we use [into the phenomenal -
or "real" - world] and so remain in our rut of old
orientations, making keen, unbiased observations and creative
work well-nigh impossible(4)." In
other words, we assume the perceptions and definitions of reality
which we carry in our heads are correct and accurate reflections
of reality around us. Because we all have limited capacity for
perception and understanding, this assumption is by definition
always false and not very scientific. This is particularly true
when dealing in the realm of metaphysics.
Korzybski later explains: "There is nothing mystical about the fact that ideas and words are energies which powerfully affect the physicochemical base of our [human] activities What is achieved in blaming a man for being selfish and greedy if he acts under the influence of a social environment and education which teach him that he is an animal and that selfishness and greediness are the essence of his nature?"
Korzybski goes on to explain the idea that human beings are manifestly different than animals - and therefore a higher order of being - due to our capacity, unique among all creatures, to communicate abstractions from generation to generation and in our ability to use that capacity in order to conceptualize and create new resources, tools, and abstractions. Korzybski points out that, "even though eminent philosophers tell us: 'a creature must live before it acts, therefore egoism must come before altruism,' this is not true of humans."
"Why not? Because humans [through the use of words, ideas,
and other abstractions] are first of all creators and so our
number is not controlled by the supply of unaided nature but
only by men's artificial productivity," which is the product
of that unique human use of abstractions
by the very intrinsic nature of his being, must act first (through
the actions of parents or society) in order to be able to live,
which is not the case with animals. The misunderstanding of this
simple truth is largely accountable for the evil of our ethical
systems or lack of systems. It is just because human beings are
creators that they are able to live in such vast numbers."(6)
However, Preacherman does offer a brief glimmer of salvation: because God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten son - Jesus.(7) And now what comes from Mr. Preacherman is the interesting thing - Now, Preacherman's here to tell ya' that he knows this fella' Jesus better than just about anyone does, and the only way for you to know Jesus is to keep listening to what Mr. Preacherman has to say. Mr. Preacherman will tell you all you need to know. So you best not be listening to any other voices telling you different, because those are the voices of the Devil. Don't read any books, don't listen to that "secular" music, don't allow any ideas into your head because they are surely of the Devil. Nothing good can come from your own sinful mind. Don't dance, don't drink, don't do anything fun. Don't look for goodness or expect goodness in the world, because the world is devoid of goodness. Wait around until you're dead and then God will take you into his mansion in the sky and keep you forever.
Although the term Manicheism is little known or discussed in the Lubbock community, that is the name of the philosophy predominantly practiced in Lubbock. Manicheism - which originated in the 3d century A.D. from the syncretistic teachings of the Persian philosopher Mani - teaches Dualism: that is, spirit (good) is in a constant battle with matter (evil); and that the release of the spirit from matter is obtained through physical asceticism, i.e. depriving oneself of physical pleasure and subverting all natural impulses.
Thus, it is Manicheism that is the framework for a worldview, the basic philosophy existing in much of the Lubbock and West Texas community. As renowned songwriter, poet, and photographer from Lubbock, Butch Hancock has said: "We all grew up with two things pounded into our brains from the day we were born. One is, 'God loves ya' and he's gonna send ya to hell.' The other is 'Sex is dirty and evil and nasty and filthy and sinful and bad and awful, and you should save it for the one you truly love'."
This Manichean philosophy, I believe, is adopted by many in agricultural West Texas because it eliminates fear of the elements through control of chaos. If we, as a community, choose to subvert our natural urges and live a life of asceticism and religious grey dourness, then God will bless our harvest and spare the dust storms, hail, and tornadoes. And, like everywhere and at all times, most people in a community don't actively seek a philosophy. The urge to belong to the group is overriding. Many are willing to adopt the philosophy of those around them, of their families, without much contemplation or deliberation. As Lubbock singer/songwriter Cary Swinney observed in the lyrics to his song:
I still have the "red-letter edition" Zondervan
Bible that the elders of Westminster Church presented me when
I turned twelve years old. I've toted my collection of books
all over Texas and to both coasts in various moves, and the most
beat up book I own is that Zondervan "red-letter edition."
I really have read that book a lot.
As I said, I like the idea of God and wanted to get to know His son Jesus better so I began, as many do, the task of reading the Bible from cover-to-cover. Being a teenager, I got really bored about the time I got into The Book of Numbers. I then decided that, if the goal of this Bible study was to get to know this magical person we call Jesus who in some way binds our carnality with the Kingdom of God, I would just read what Jesus had to say on the subject.
In the "red letter" edition of The Bible, all the phrases and statements that are attributed to Jesus are highlighted with red print, so it is readily apparent what the man we call "Christ-The Anointed One" has to say about our pursuit of the Kingdom of God. Upon review, it is obvious that the pursuit of God's Kingdom was Jesus' primary concern. So I skipped all the prophets and judges and kings, all those frightening books of the Bible like Nahum & Job where God seems really hateful and mean; that stuff is absolutely no fun for a kid. I leaped right into Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John, the only books in the Bible where the prophet Jesus, whom we in Lubbock were supposed to be so all-fired excited about, has anything to say. I committed myself to becoming familiar with only those "red-letter" statements of Jesus, ignoring the other prophets and apostles.
However, as I read the statements attributed to Jesus, at
that time I discovered a very different Jesus than that whom
the community of Lubbock seemed to be worshiping. In xenophobic
Lubbock, it seemed that everyone who was somehow different -
i.e. went to a different church, dressed oddly, wore longer hair
than most, read strange books, advocated non-traditional forms
of government, played sensually stimulating music - was somehow
"evil" and therefore should be quelled.
I believe that if Jesus the Nazarene were to come to Lubbock, his primary message to much of the Lubbock community would remain: "Get that log out of your own eye before you start worrying about the specks in others."
This character Jesus seems to be the root of much of the paradox
in Lubbock. I began to realize that Jesus wasn't a preacher or
a cop; he was a revolutionary and a rebel. Jesus spent much of
his ministry challenging the established theological leaders
in his community, the Pharisees and Sadducees. And because of
his rebellion and non-conformity, Jesus would have certainly
been crucified if he had ever come to Lubbock.(8)
Gimme a Ride to Heaven Boy, by Terry Allen (also recorded by Joe Ely)
Terry Allen -- painter, sculpture, singer-songwriter - has been called a "chicken-fried renaissance man." Terry really had no love for his hometown when he and his young wife Jo Harvey high-tailed it out of town for keeps after they graduated from Monterey High School. Terry has said, "All I basically wanted to do was get out...I desperately needed to get out of there."
Terry Allen's Lubbock of the 1950's had little tolerance for artists whose creative expression dabbled in sensuality. "I was kicked out high school twice: Once for doing porno drawings on people's notebooks, for a quarter; and then I got kicked out for playing a song I wrote which was called The Roman Orgy. I had tried out with this band I was playing with in high school. I tried out with a Bo Diddley song and got on this assembly and then sang my song, which got me in big trouble with the school and they basically kicked me out."
Fortunately, Terry was dedicated enough to his sense of creativity to later come to the following conclusion: " But also, it's interesting that the two things I got in trouble for --kinda' constantly-- was the two things that I really ended up doing [graphic art & musical composition]. I'm not still drawing porno drawings on notebooks but I'm not above it."
It is interesting that Terry Allen found his art - his "true calling" - through acts of rebellion from the mores of his community; how non-conformity equals creativity. Carl Jung, one of the primary founders of modern psychology, had just such an epiphany. At age 12, Jung had a dream that he feared would cause his soul to be damned, until he realized that it was God who gave it to him. The dream was of a giant turd falling from heaven to destroy the cathedral of his hometown, where his father was a pious ranking elder. Jung reported that he wept with happiness and gratitude for the 'grace of the vision.' This revelation became the seminal inspiration that led Jung to create an entirely new discipline with which to study the workings of the mind.
After leaving Lubbock as a teenager, Terry Allen hoped and believed he would never return to the hellfire he had fled. However, when he returned to Lubbock in 1977 - mostly upon the urging of fellow artist Paul Milosevich - to record his critically acclaimed album Lubbock: on everything with Lloyd Maines and the Panhandle Mystery Band, Terry began appreciating Lubbock a bit more. Terry has said:
That "mind-boggling experience," I contend, is one experience common to many of those creative artistic innovators from the greater Lubbock area. Lubbock does make you think, and it makes you commit to one side or the other. In Lubbock, you're either a "church-goer" or a "partier"; there's nothing in between. So once one comes to terms with the fact that the church has condemned him or her to Hell, then he can wholeheartedly throw himself into perfecting his or her heresy, be it rock-n-roll, abstract art, or questioning the military wisdom of a manichean President of the United States who also happens to be from West Texas.
is familiar with the experience of having his mind boggled by
growing up in the dualistic community of Lubbock. Butch agrees
with the contention that this dualistic way of approaching the
world does much to foster the determination of artists, iconoclasts
or Return to Stories
(1) Source: Lubbock Yellow Pages
(2) Source: National Council of Churches membership statistics
(3) It is interesting to note that 4th & 5th on the list are: Assembly of God - 13, & Mormons - 11.
(4) What I Believe, by Alfred Korzybski, Inst. Of General Semantics, Brooklyn, NY, 1948.
(6) Manhood of Humanity, by Alfred Korzybski, Inst. Of General Semantics, Brooklyn, 2d ed., 1950, pp. 71-73.
(7) Although there have been plenty of other accounts of "virgin-births" throughout history - Krishna, Horus, Mithra, Buddha, Hercules, etc. - all supposedly due to the paternity of the Supreme Deity.
(8) As Mark Twain said, "If Jesus were to come to Earth again, the last thing he would be is a Christian."
2007 Chris Oglesby
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