Monday, February 21, 2005

A Country Music rambling

The Life of a Rodeo Cowboy, as told in 4 Country Songs.

Ever notice how some songs could be put together and they’d tell a more complete story than any one of the songs did? Consider these 4 country classics:

“Some Day Soon” sung by Suzy Boggus, but long before that by Ian and Sylvia (written by Ian Tyson)
“Rodeo” by Garth Brooks
“I Can Still Make Cheyenne” by George Strait
“Amarillo by Morning” by George Strait

I’d quote the entire lyrics of all 4 songs, but if you’re reading this you probably already know them. If not, click here and read them before going on.

“Some Day Soon” is written to be sung by a woman (I know; Chris LeDoux sang a version written for a man, but...). It tells of her love for a 21 year old man just out of the service. The problem?

"He loves that damned old rodeo as much as he loves me. "

But she’s going with him anyway, some day soon. Why? We must surmise that she thinks or hopes that his passion for the rodeo will fade, and that his love for her will keep them together. The familiar false hope of many a woman that she can change her man.

“Rodeo,” though sung by a man, is also told from the wife’s point of view. They are a bit older. He’s been hurt in a rodeo, but “his wounds have almost healed.”

She now knows, but is still in denial, that his love for the sport (game?) is still just as strong as his love for her. Maybe stronger. She knows he’s gonna go.

Is it the same cowboy and his wife? Could be. There are those same lyrics, “that damned old rodeo.” Sounds like the same couple, but grown more cynical.

But while she curses the rodeo, isn’t it in fact the cowboy who’s damned and not the sport?
He’s controlled by his need, and it will drive him insane. This song offers a chilling prediction of the inevitable outcome of his addiction; “all he’ll have to show” is a broken life.

“I Can Still Make Cheyenne.” A year or two pass. The cowboy’s wife hears the telephone ring, and wonders what’s wrong “this time.” No doubt something is wrong. Something always is. They haven’t been together in months. Still married, still hanging on, but only because she has nurtured that same hope in her heart over the years that his passion for the “damned old rodeo” will fade. Her heart tells her the hope is gone. She answers the phone.

After the first stanza the point of view changes from the wife’s to that of the cowboy. (Why does he start by assuring her that he’s all alone? Maybe because that’s not always the case?) He tells his tale to apparent stony silence, and asks, knowing the answer, if there’s something wrong.

In final acknowledgement of the truth she’s known all along, she tells him it’s over. She has lost hope. There is no way he’ll ever love her as much as he loves that damned old rodeo. There’s somebody new, and it sure ain’t no rodeo man!

Wait. Maybe she’s bluffing! Maybe she still clings to the hope that, faced with losing her, he’ll give up that stupid damned rodeo and come home.

If so, there’s an instant when it might happen. He apologizes! Says he’s “sorry it’s come down to this.” But that faint spark dies with his next words, as he shows where his heart really is:

“There’s so much about you that I’m gonna miss. But it’s all right, baby, if I hurry I can still make Cheyenne.”

Ah, the poignancy! He doesn’t hang up the phone, but leaves it dangling. He can’t bring himself to be the one to terminate the contact, the relationship, the marriage. He stares at it for a moment, and then drives off to his other love, damned to self destruction by his overpowering addiction.

“Amarillo by Morning” tells us his outcome. The entire song is from the cowboy’s point of view. There is nobody else in his life now. The broken bones and broken home promised in “Rodeo” are acknowledged in the second stanza.

In the third stanza we find that now the cowboy is the one in deep denial. He acknowledges that he has nothing, “Not a dime.” But he asserts that though not rich, he’s free.

In truth he’s just as much a slave as the plantation farm hand in the 1830s. His master is that “damned old rodeo.”

I love the ability of a song, or a few songs, to tell us so complete a tale in so few words. There’s enough material in those four songs to write a novel, or a series of them.


Anonymous said...

Man, pretty deep. I never saw anyone write a book report on a soneg before, much less on a series of them. I like the way you pick up on the symbolism. You got any more you'd like to analyze?

Anonymous said...

Great analysis of the song "I can still make Cheyenne"! I was looking for some views/interpretations of the song because there is a lot that the song leaves unsaid and still says a lot... for instance how the cowboy knows that something is wrong, or whether the cowboy's wife is bluffing about the other guy etc. Good write-up! Cheers, Harsha