Posted by: kubiakl | October 19, 2008

Levelland

I grew up in central Texas, but for seven years I lived in west Texas (Abilene, to be specific).  If you’ve never had to drive from that area up to Lubbock consider yourself lucky.  It’s one of the most featureless landscapes you can imagine.  You know those old post-apocalyptic movies, where all you see for miles is dust?

Seriously.  I went to watch a six-man football game in Lamesa, TX, a friend’s hometown.  Some of the locals mentioned that a game had been called a few weeks back due to dust storms.  Nobody smiled when they said this, even though it was supposed to be funny.  They were afraid of getting dirt in their teeth.

James McMurtry calls this song “Levelland”, but it was actually written for a friend of his in Floydada, TX.  Both towns are in the vicinity of Lubbock, out in the great west Texas dust bowl.

I think McMurtry is a great songwriter.  Instead of spelling out everything he wants to say he paints word pictures.  Like this line:

“Momma used to roll her hair, back before the central air,

we’d sit outside and watch the stars at night

She’d tell me to make a wish, I wished we both could fly

don’t think she’s seen the sky, since we got the sattelite dish.”

There’s no need to tell you how this marriage has become drab now that the mundanity of small town life has sucked the passion out of their relationship.  I picture the front porch of a small house overlooking a dirt field.  Two chairs sit with a layer of dust that shows their neglect, while the blue glow of a television emanates from the window.  A songwriter who can evoke those kind of images with a few simple lines is a powerful songwriter.

He also wrote a song that I end up playing about 73.4% of the time I pick up my acoustic guitar.  It’s called “Out Here In The Middle”:

“Out here in the middle, where the buffalo roam

we’re puttin’ up the towers for your cell phone…”

Great.  To learn more about this Austin native, check out his website:

James McMurtry

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Responses

  1. Heya,
    Really enjoyed the links (tho something’s wrong with your Levelland link, I had to go chase that one down on my own). I’ve got to say I preferred the Levelland song to the other, but maybe that’s because of my own memories since my family is from Levelland.

    I also remember getting caught in a dust storm so thick that you couldn’t see the road for a good while when driving to college for the first time at ACU.

    He’s a very good storyteller, definitely. Thanks for sharing your thoughts…

  2. Stumbled on this page by accident, but enjoyed reading your take on these songs. They rate as a couple of my favorites. As a Texas native, I’m sure you’ll appreciate some more trivia. McMurtry resides in Austin, but he’s from Archer City. His dad (of Lonesome Dove fame) penned his first novel while attening NTSU (now UNT) in Denton. Both of these men are Texas treasures!

  3. I live in Pennsylvania now, but I “discovered” James McMurtry several years ago when I was considering taking a job back in Austin. I’ve always been a fan of his dad’s books and I thought that I’d give him a listen. Once I heard his music and his masterful lyrics, I was sold. Then I found out that one of my favorites, “Levelland,” is actually about my hometown of Floydada. And then I found out that it was written for his buddy, who was the son of my junior high English teacher.
    By the way, the dust storms are real up in the panhandle. I remember our district tennis matches being moved because when we arrived at the courts, the press box from the adjacent football stadium had actually blown down and onto the tennis court. The wind blows up there all the time, just stronger and dirtier during the dust storms.


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