Today’s post comes from Bill in MPLS
In the early 1970s, Robin and I and our friend Steve Carley drove to Calgary, Alberta for the Calgary Stampede. In truth, I was only vaguely interested in the rodeo. As it turned out, the rodeo wasn’t especially exciting; the problem was that the competitors were all excessively competent—every participant performed perfectly and the difference between them amounted to seconds or fractions of seconds.
The real reason I was in Calgary was because Wilf Carter was going to be in the pre-stampede parade. Wilf Carter, also known as Montana Slim, was one of the original singing cowboys. Carter was the first Canadian country music star. An unbelievable yodeler, Carter belonged to the ilk of Hank Snow, Jimmie Rodgers, and Gene Autry. Here’s a sample:
The Stampede was my chance to see him in person. He rode in the parade, in a convertible designed, I think, by the legendary Nudie Cohn. The header photo shows that car.
Nudie was a Ukrainian-born tailor who established himself making sequin-bedecked outfits for the likes of Elvis and Roy Rogers and later branched out to designing boots and even cars. Here’s what the interior of the car looked like:
I was going through my cowboy phase then. I was collecting and listening to a lot of early cowboy/country music. You couldn’t get a shirt in those days in the style of the classic movie cowboys, so I was making my own cowboy shirts, with fancy piped yokes and cuffs, curved slash pockets with arrowheads on the corners and pearl snaps. Sometimes the fabric was atypical— hawaiian prints, for instance.
I was never really interested in the actual business of ranching or horses.. What attracted me was the lore and milieu of the singing cowboys. The imagery of the likes of Tom Mix, Ken Maynard and William S. Hart. At the time I was working on a series of drawings I called my Patsy Montana drawings. They had nothing to do with the real Patsy Montana or her songs. She was my muse and the drawings were more along the line of “Even Cowgirls get the Blues”.
In downtown Minneapolis in the 70s and early 80s, on First Avenue, just north of Hennepin, on the second floor, there was a record shop called Pyramid Records. It was a big open space with waist-high benches around the perimeter, on top of which were boxes of records, many of them cutouts, all inexpensive, and chiefly old country recordings and vintage jazz. The proprietor sat in an overstuffed armchair in the center. He seldom made eye contact and never conversation. When you had made your selection, he would reluctantly accept your money. I’ve heard that he just disappeared one night, leaving his entire record stock behind. But he had some incredible, obscure records on offer, if you were in that market. There was a label out of West Germany, CMH, that had reissued classic early country music, including Wilf Carter, Hank Snow, the Carter Family and Goebel Reeves.
I bought them all.
Eventually I moved on from my cowboy phase, though I’ve never lost my interest in either the music or the imagery. I’ve overlaid them with newer fascinations but not many carry the pervasive richness that that long-ago cowboy fixation carried for me.
I can’t judge the extent to which I am deaf to the popular culture and the extent to which I am willfully contrarian. Some of both no doubt. But those are traits I also savor in others. What interests me, what I look for, are the obsessions people nurture that aren’t delivered to them as a readily consumable commodity— obsessions that call for research, diligence, craft and expertise. It could be an art, in the broadest sense, or it could be a collection. It scarcely matters how arcane, how peculiar the obsession might be. After all, the more elusive the interest, the more dedication it requires. And the more dedication it requires, the more it can be uniquely yours.
So, how do you entertain yourself?