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Dancing in the Headlights
by Jo Harvey Allen
(This article originally appeared in
the AAA magazine WESTWAYS, September ’92)

On UFOs, howling winds and what makes Lubbock, Lubbock.

In Lubbock, Texas, playing and listening to music are as natural as breathing, and over the years the area has spawned a long list of musical "Greats" Why this is so is the subject of endless debate among Lubbockites and music lovers at large.
Actress, writer and performance artist Jo Harvey Allen grew up in Lubbock, listening to the music of such local talents as Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison and Terry Allen, whom she later married. (The couple now divide their time between Santa Monica and Santa Fe.) Here, she talks about her hometown and what it is about this plain-looking city that makes it such a hotbed of musical activity.

In Lubbock you can stand in the middle of a cotton field and see flat out to the horizon, a big, perfect circle 360 degrees around you. You'd be smack in the middle of it, feeling like a tiny speck of nothing or the center of it all, solo performer on the main stage of the world.

Lubbock is contradiction. Lubbock is also extreme. Everyone from Lubbock knows there's fantastic times and horrible times, real good and real evil, total right and total wrong, and not much else in between worth mentioning. If something normal happens, you just hope to God that you've got the good sense to keep your mouth shut about it or lie like a dog, turn five into 50 and pretend it was a lot more exciting than it really was.

Lubbock looks fairly normal, except for having the world's largest prairie-dog town. Lots of people believe the level of creativity rose sharply after that mass invasion of UFOs in the'50s. My friend Sharon Ely thinks thousands of honkytonkers dancing in circles drew them to the area. It was then the most documented sighting known to mankind. There just happened to be a convention of scientists out barbecuing in somebody's backyard when the first formation flew over. These scientists all had Brownie Hawkeyes around their necks and took lots of impressive photos. One brilliant theory was that somehow the lights from Reese Air Force Base were reflecting off big flocks of geese.

No one ever recognizes greatness or anything earth-shattering that happens in their own hometown. Take Buddy Holly. It took decades before Lubbock erected a statue and named a fairly scrawny looking park after him though they have since outlawed rock-and-roll music there. I hid behind the front door in my baby dolls once when he delivered the cleaning. I sorta knew he was special, but I wasn't sure why. We'd park the cars in a circle out in the middle of a cotton field, turn on the radio, and dance in the car lights to "That'll Be the Day" and "Rave On." Nobody actually knew what was going on or the impact Buddy Holly was having on the rest of the world or on music, period.

When I was a kid, we staged lots of tragic deaths and elaborate funerals, always accompanied by good music. We definitely had to make our own fun, and anything morbid was interesting. We'd run behind the DDT trucks and chase them down the alleys until we keeled over from the poison or else went temporarily blind and ran into the garbage cans. That made mutants out of us all and could possibly account for some of our behavior.

Lubbock is a "sin big on Saturday night, repent on Sunday morning" kind of town. After the bootlegger came by on Saturday night, which was always exciting, my folks would dress up fit to kill and go out dancing. I would get a substantial bribe for staying home with my granddaddy, Daddy Jesse, who always wore a rose in his lapel, told great jokes and ran the elevator in the only tall building in Lubbock. We'd listen on the radio to the greats like Hank Williams performing live on the local "Saturday Night Jamboree," put on by Terry's daddy. Daddy Jesse would sit in his easy chair, and we'd sing "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" while I painted his lips and toenails red and dressed him up in drag.

My grandmother, Mama Louder, would be off baby-sitting some other kids, whose folks were off honky-tonkin'. Otherwise, we couldn't have listened to country music. Mama Louder was proud, and country music reminded her of being poor, which she was but tried hard not to show. Her house was so clean you could eat off her bathroom floor. She was tiny and lived in a big, two-story rent house exactly catey-corner from my big, fat Grandma Koontzie, who lived in a filthy little two-room shack

One time I watched Koontzie wring a chicken's neck, throw it into the kitchen sink to pluck its feathers out and mash cockroaches around the rim of the sink with the same bloody hand. She didn't have any problems with country music.

You take nothing to do, mix it up with sin and religion and lies and morbidity, and put it with a daily overdose of DDT, a massive zappin' from a major UFO invasion, a good solid backbeat, and add constant wind fierce enough to drive anybody stark raving mad, and you come up with some pretty strange behavior and lots of good material.

Some blame everything on the Baptists. I personally think they get way too much credit. My mother thinks the whole world went straight to hell the day they stopped building houses with front porches, when everybody stopped knowing or caring about their neighbors’ business.

Thousands flock to Lubbock to see Jesus, who periodically shows up in the clouds. If you've never been--Go. Don't miss Saturday night at the Cotton Club, Lubbock's best historical monument. My first cousin, Waynie, owns it. There's a lot of great-ghosts in that joint. You'll probably need to go to church Sunday morning. If so, there's one on every comer.


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