Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Cultured Cowboys

via The Rat via Eve Tushnet:
"Bluntly equating literary discourse with sexual intercourse, Wister indicates [in the novel The Virginian] that a cowboy can make love to a woman only by first gaining intellectual access to her through an acquaintance with canonical fiction."
Blake Allmendinger, The Cowboy: Representations of Labor in an American Work Culture

One intellectual stretch deserves another. I therefore reference Waylon Jennings' "Let's All Help the Cowboys":

Cowboys they are ladies men all right
They'll love 'em up and talk 'em up all night
But they're lonely when there's nothing else to do
And that's what makes the cowboys sing the blues
He does a little Shakespeare and he sings
He plays the mandolin and other things
He looks for love beauty and IQ
And that's what makes the cowboy sing the blues

Cowboys have to fall in love get hurt and all that bit
Let their hearts hang out so they can write you all a hit
So ladies if they ask you don't refuse
Let's all help the cowboys sing the blues

I'm intrigued by these depictions of cultured rural laborers, simply because such pictures have informed my own family. I'll hold off on calling my Wyoming ranching ancestors cultured until I read their diaries. But the gentlemanly ideal of the cowboy poet, romantic to the point of being pure cheese, stands in notable contrast to the songs exalting white trash or even their more respectable kinsmen, the rednecks.

There is a curious parallel on another side of my family tree, in Irish tales of pre-emancipation culture. These speak of country boys who between farm chores learned Latin and ancient Greek at the hedge schools, keeping watch lest an Englishman break the peace.

For the present, husbandry, music, and Shakespeare is, sadly, a neglected combination.

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