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."
When the Dust Settles
Since I’ve been away from Texas for several years, I’m surprised sometimes by what I miss. I miss wild thunderstorms, the most incredible sunsets and sunrises, wide open skies, chicken fried steak, homemade tamales, real barbeque and many other foods, and believe it or not: dust storms.
Dust storms happen to be very romantic. Not romantic in the “hey baby, let’s get it on” way, but in the way that they are a complete sensual experience. It could be a perfectly clear sunshiny day-not a cloud in the sky, when…you smell it. You always smell it first before anything else. Depending on where you are, in the city limits of Lubbock, or miles away on the outskirts, you can sometimes see a dust storm approaching. I remember seeing a dust storm on the outskirts and half of the big open sky was an amber color. You could even see a line in the sky: serene, calming, crystal blue on one side and wild, turbulent amber on the other. What I miss is that you can see the weather, and see it approaching and forming.
As the dust storm rolls in the scent of dust becomes stronger. The full sunlight slowly fades and shadows appear, altering colors and perceptions. Sounds become muffled and you hear the wind. Even though you are in the same place, in a house or a car, it definitely feels like a different place. You can see how colors and the light and shadows are shifting, you can smell the dust, sounds are muted, and you can even faintly taste dust.
What you don’t realize at the time is that small dust particles are swirling around and being deposited everywhere in a sand blanket. Depending on the dust storm, you could have enough dust outside your door that makes it hard to open or close your door. Or maybe it’s less. The dust is everywhere; in windowsills, on your car, in your hair, in your clothes. You can’t directly see it on your clothes but you can smell it and if you shake out your clothes it falls off.
When it’s over you have real understanding of what the phrase “when the dust settles” really means. You never can predict how much dust will be on your windowsills and car, outside your door, on your roof, in your hair. Sounds return to normal and the light appears the way it was, yet different somehow. The memory of what was is as fresh in your mind as the scent of dust is still in the air. The sky returns to the comforting serene blue but you don’t forget those transforming dusty moments. Depending on where you are at the time, you can see a dust storm leaving looking like clouds of dust hugging the earth and moving by some unknowable, mysterious force.
Richard was my first love. We met at the Planet, a club where mostly Texas Tech students and a few locals went to, drank and smoked at, hooked up at, worked at, did rush (aka poppers, adrug you sniffed in a small bottle), but mostly danced at, in Lubbock in 1990. When we danced people would stop and stare. I loved dancing with Richard. He was a good dancer, especially for a white guy. He taught me how to use my heel and ankle when I danced and it made me better. Makes me afraid of what I was like before I met him. I have no way of knowing if this is true, but he told me that before we met, he saw me on the dance floor. He said that he pointed me out to his friend and said “You see that? That is sexy”. I remember dancing to Front 242 “Hey Poor, Jesus is Here”. Nothing like Europeans observing American culture and singing it back to us, and dancing to it, in the hub of the Bible Belt.
When we walked to class together at Texas Tech people would stare at us. He was tall, dark, and very handsome--striking even. Some of my girlfriends told me he could be a model. He looked older and wiser than all of his 20 years. I was petite with hair that Richard once called “honey wheat”. We were opposites in some ways but we worked well together. We worked even better behind closed doors. I was not a virgin but most definitely no sexpert. I was too young and inexperienced at 20 years old, to feel very comfortable with my body. Ironic, since now I am more comfortable with my 40 year old body.
Richard had that 20 year old body several times. It was a passion that has been difficult to match since. He told me several times that he was convinced that I was Italian because I was so passionate. The truth is, he brought out the passion in me.
Richard was terribly close to his family, and his family was terribly crazy. His closeness with his bizarre family put a strain on us but somehow we managed to stay together, for a few years, anyway. In some ways they were the best few years of my life. Young, first love is precious because you can’t really compare it to anything else. I can now recognize how rare our experience was because, among other things, the passion was reciprocal and intense.
Being with Richard made me feel more comfortable with my body, and more comfortable in my own skin. I’ll never forget one night in his bedroom…. Dim red light. Slow music, Art of Noise “Moments in Love”, the version with the piano intro is *the* only version…. It was a flattering red light. He made me stand up, naked—we had been naked a while—and he made me turn around, very slowly. At the time I thought it was some kind of torture. In my 20 year old oppressed, repressed, dusty small town Texas Southern Baptist female brain, I was ashamed. I was ashamed of my own body. My 20 year old body! But in time I did not feel ashamed, because of Richard.
When we were at his parent’s his Dad would make chicken spaghetti with homemade biscuits. His crazy chain-smoking Mom would yell out “Chuck!”. I drank cowboy coffee. We played the card game Hell and I would frequently beat everyone. My winning streak became so legendary that I was accused of cheating, which is quite funny to me considering I wouldn’t know where or how to begin at cheating at the card game Hell. I went on trips to New Mexico and saw the sprawling acres they owned. The enchantment and serenity of New Mexico did not seem to match Richard’s arrogant family.
One late night, I heard rocks being thrown at my window, and later, yelling. It was Richard. I was home alone but he thought my friend was visiting. He had missed me and wanted me to invite him in.
We had picnics in the full Texas sun and we stared deeply into each other’s eyes, and smiled. He had a smile that made you feel like you were the only person in the world.
For her birthday, Richard’s parents bought his little sister a Porsche. Richard thought it would be a hoot if he let me drive the car. Richard’s sister didn’t mind. Richard seemed to get more enjoyment out of me driving the car than I did. I am not a car person, but I do admit that it was fun to drive it, especially with Richard’s glee.
Eventually Richard and I moved in together. I knew on some level that it was doomed. But I was deeply in love with him. He dj’d for a while at the Planet, and it was packed with people on the weekends. We had an experience, shall we say, in the dj booth one night…. The Pet Shop Boys and Book of Love played on, and then it was house music. House music all night long. Later it was “How Soon Is Now” (Smiths) and the small rush bottles began rolling on the dance floor. And then “Hippy Chick” (Soho), “Push It” (Salt ‘n Pepa), “Groove is in the Heart” (Deee Lite).…
A friend had a party one night and Richard and I inevitably ended up in the hot tub. Later that morning we found out that the hot tub had melted and was completely ruined. We had never heard of that happening before (haven’t since). I think to this day that it was the heat and the fire between Richard and me that melted that hot tub.
As the years went by, Richard had a roving eye, and most likely became bored with me, what with me being completely love-struck and all. He began to look at other women. I was in denial for a while. I didn’t want to face it. However, we never had a chance. Richard was a trust fund kid. My family had absolutely no money and was completely nuts.
Once Richard’s crazy chain-smoking mother invited herself over to my parent’s house, which was a small apartment. The apartment was on the wrong side of University: the East side. Richard’s mother was condescending. My parents never went to college. Richard’s mother knew what she was doing.
Richard was still a boy in some ways and did not think of standing up to his mommy. Eventually Richard broke up with me. I was a bit unhinged after that, for about a year or so. I went out to clubs--but not the Planet, and had one night stands. I drank too much and had black outs. I woke up one morning in a strange bed, with no memory of how I got there. I wasn’t completely conscious of what I was doing.
As I emerged from my haze, I slowly began to move on with my life. Lubbock being a big small town, I ran into a mutual friend of Richard’s. I began to date one of Richard’s friends, but I did not target Richard’s friend; it just happened. We had gone on a few dates. Apparently Richard found out. One night, home alone, my phone rang. It was before caller ID, before internet, before cell phones, no email. It was Richard. He began to call me regularly. Sometimes he would be drinking. He always invited me over, and I refused.
I was still very much heart-broken that he had dumped me a year earlier, but I had to move on. The guy I was dating was the calm, normal blue sky type and Richard was the unpredictable problematic sort. I tried to settle in with the normal guy, but Richard kept calling and inviting me over. And of course, I remembered…. I had bared my heart, soul, and body to Richard and he had accepted me, even embraced me. He had broken up with me, but I wasn’t focusing on that…
Eventually I broke down and went to see him.
He had been drinking but I don’t think he was drunk. We took a shower together. When we got out, I noticed books everywhere. He showed me a gun he had beneath his pillow, which scared me, but I wasn’t focusing on that.
What happened was what always happened when we were alone together. We ended up in bed, but this time he told me-much to my surprise, that he loved me.
It was all very dramatic and emotional, rolling around in the bed, in the throes of passion that had somehow remained. “Nothing Compares 2 U” (Sinead O’Connor) and “Come Back To Me” (Janet Jackson), oh and “Scandalous” (Prince) was playing in the background… I asked him why he broke up with me if he loved me. He said it was because of his Mom, and I knew.
Stop the music.
She did not approve of me, coming from my apartment in what some proper Lubbock folk would call seedy neighborhood. One of my favorite memories of living there was coming home late one night, more likely early morning, (a regular occurrence) and seeing and hearing a mariachi band serenading a grandmother, and seeing the men play the guitars and sing so heavenly to her. It was one of the most tender and beautiful moments, one that I find hard to imagine witnessing in Richard’s parents’ docile, white bread, and pricey neighborhood.
Richard’s mother saw me as unfit for her son. This was not the first time in my young life that I had heard those words of disapproval, coming out of a young person’s mouth, but echoing, or parroting, their parent.
Maybe it would have been different if my parents were dishonest and embezzled money, like the mean math teacher’s husband did. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas seemed like very upstanding citizens. Mrs. Thomas was a teacher, Mr. Thomas was a respected businessman, they went to church every Sunday, they had children who played sports, they lived in what passed as upscale Lubbock, and then he got caught stealing thousands from his employer.
My parents were nuts but they were hard working. My Dad often worked 6 or 7 days a week and my Mom had 2 jobs for many years.
Richard’s Mom did not approve of me, never mind that I’m nothing like my parents, that I never got along with them, and was never close to them. Even though we lived in a racially mixed neighborhood and our neighbors were black and Mexican, my parents were racist. I began having arguments with them about it since I was 12 years old. I was not allowed to invite my non-white friends over. Sometimes I “forgot” and invited them anyway and later after they left my parents yelled at me. The arguments and disappointment and frustration never stopped. My parents claimed to be Christian and forced me to go to church. Yet they were racist. At the age of 12 and beyond I routinely challenged them on their alleged Christianity and being racist. They couldn’t force me to go to church anymore.
…. It was a strange place for me to be; in Richard’s bed with the truth. I still loved him deeply but I knew I could not be with him. He wasn’t a man, or even a young man willing to go against his family’s wishes. He looked like a man, even like an older, wiser man but he was just a boy. He could fool some people or even most, but not me.
Richard’s mom liked to brag about how she had to buy specially made bras, because of her large size. This fact did not impress me and I’m not sure who she was trying to impress. I often was a witness to her verbal and emotional abuse to Richard. “I don’t ever see you making more than $40K, Richard”. If I could go back in time, I would say to her “And what did You make last year, Mrs. Johnson?”. The answer would have been exactly Zero—ok, at most: $6K, from her part time job, and that went mostly for cartons of cigarettes. Richard’s Mom had married Richard’s Dad when she was 20. Richard’s Dad at the time was 40. Richard’s Dad came from money; Richard’s Mom did not.
Now that I’m older I am disgusted and horrified by this woman’s treatment of her son. She obviously had issues and was trying to overcompensate for her disappointing and bleak life by intruding in Richard’s life. For years I blamed myself but eventually I realized that she had serious mental issues.
Weeks after I left Richard’s bed of truth I continued to date his friend and years later, I married his friend. Did I marry his friend to forget Richard or spite him? No, but I was too young and not completely over my young broken heart. Most of all…I was not close with my insane family. Relationships—with men or with platonic friends, have enormous meaning to me because I have no one else. I sought the comforting blue sky and tried to bury the wildness. I wanted to have some semblance of family, something resembling a normal life that I witnessed at some of my friend’s houses. But my friends and lovers already had family. “Me, Myself, and I” (De La Soul) -indeed.
Years later, after my divorce, I moved from Texas to New York. I lost touch with some friends. I didn’t know what happened to Richard, except that he was still a trust fund kid, now seemingly an adult, still living in the shadow of his parents in the LBK.
….I received a phone call here in New York a few years ago, somewhat out of the blue. Richard had been found dead, slumped over his computer. He was 37.
All of the memories, and some that I had long forgotten, came flooding back. The memories washed over me, and memories that were long buried rose to the surface, rolling over me, and I cried and cried. Why couldn’t I just see him once more?
I could think of nothing else but those memories for about a week. I hadn’t seen him or spoken to him in years but I still loved him.
I learned that love never dies.
Death has a way of making some things seem very clear. Painful? Hell yeah, but sometimes past events seem more lucid and more understandable after a death.
I wouldn’t find out 6 months later that he died allegedly from an aneurysm. Richard’s close friend, David, began to describe the last years of Richard’s life… Richard lost the will to live. Richard had fallen hard for a woman, Angela, and she did not love him. Richard may have had his trust fund, but he had no job or career and Angela wanted something more from a man. Richard was heartbroken from Angela’s rejection. Richard’s beloved dog had recently died, and Richard lived alone, and it was too much, David had said. Richard’s mother did not attend her son’s funeral. Knowing her and how ridiculous she could be, I was not surprised.
Richard was a trust fund kid and I was from the wrong family in the bad ‘hood. It was a miracle that we lasted for over 2 years. I never cared about Richard’s trust fund. I was 20, and in love and overwhelmed with passion. There was no room in my consciousness to think about Richard’s wealth, or what that meant.
Even though he was a trust fund kid, or because he was a trust fund kid, he had very limited control of his life. He didn’t seem to rebel at all, which is not at all like me. Perhaps his way of ‘rebelling’ was to date me. Richard’s parents forced him go to a military school in New Mexico, instead of a regular high school. He always told me he hated every second of it. There were other rich kids in Lubbock who were sent away to private school, but not military school.
His Mom was a helicopter parent long before the term became known. If Richard was still living I don’t doubt that he would still be in Lubbock, alone with his trust fund dough, his parents constantly checking in, making the rounds, making assessments, pushing suggestions, forever hovering. I would not have made it to 37 under those conditions.
I came from a family that has never had any money, but consisted of foolish choices, bad luck, irresponsible behavior, recklessness… I had moved 8 times before my 8th grade year. My high school life was not that different from the movie “Pretty in Pink”—No, I’ll meet you there. No, I’ll meet you there.
I got out of Texas. I live thousands of miles away but that state is so big that it’s sometimes still hard to get away from. Recently I got in touch with an old friend I have not seen in 20 years. “How has your life been”, she wanted to know. I replied that my life has truly been a roller coaster, or maybe a space ship, a life rich with experience. I still struggle to balance the normal, calm, ordinary blue-sky kind of life with the wildness, passion, creative and magical life. I’m still in awe of nature, and all the shades of normal blue and passionate amber. There is no trust fund in sight; quite the opposite. Was Richard better off, or me?
Robin Montgomery is a native of Lubbock and graduate of Lubbock High School and the University of Texas at Arlington. She currently resides in New Jersey
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