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up against the wall redneck mother

March 3rd, 2014 by kevin

last spring break, when me and schmitty went down to terlingua, texas and met up with vince and zach, we listened to a lot of texas songwriters in the car. partly because schmitty was driving, and that’s what schmitty listens to, like, 90% of the time. but partly because we were driving straight through the heart of where that music was created. it’d be like driving through liverpool and not listening to the fucking beatles. just don’t make no sense …

so i remember falling in love with two records:

the first was that flatlanders record, live in ’72, which was basically a boombox recording from a pool hall, or something like that, in austin. there’s a version of tecumseh valley on that record … it was the first time i ever heard that song, and it’s one of those things where i’m now attached to that version. it’s the version for me. i see those desert bluffs of big bend national park when i hear it. i can also see schmitty, deathly hungover, his countenance an olive drab, holding his white straw stetson and trying not to puke in the rio grande. good times …

the second was viva terlingua! by jerry jeff walker. another live record, recorded in lubbock, texas, i think. (synchronicity side note, schmitty just opened up for the lost gonzo band – jerry jeff’s backing band on viva terlingua! – last week at the manship theatre in baton rouge. small world …) anyway, the record just fucking rocks. great voice, great songs, great energy. just a classic, all time great partying record. the kind of record you drink a case of milwaukee’s best light with and wait for christopher sine to take his shirt off and start dancing. that kinda record …

anyway, i remember falling in love with the song ‘up against the wall redneck mother.’ it’s just an anthem. makes you want to stand up on something high and yell real loud and, as conor would say, fuck something. but, after listening to it about 20 times in the car, i finally said to schmitty, ‘schmitty, what the fuck is this song about, anyway?’ schmitty is one of the great all-time american songwriters in my opinion, and i say that with no hyperbole. he shits out a half dozen honest, clear, beautiful, character driven songs – in genres that span the breadth of the american songbook – every month. don’t believe me? go into that back room of his and start digging through his box of cassette tapes. it’ll make you feel like a big worthless dumbass, no matter what you do. that’s his challenge, i think. he is trying to fit into a genre that is pretty narrow, and he fits in it, for sure, but he has so much more to offer that he confuses people who want to hear only the things that fit in the genre that they like. he’s a man ahead of his time. and right now, he’s very likely quadruple checking that he locked the door to the studio (he never forgets to lock it, it’s truly an act of an insane person) before he can get in his car and leave the house.

anyway, schmitty, being such an accomplished songwriter and all, had no fucking idea what the song meant. so i started breaking it down … ‘so is it anti-redneck or pro-redneck? i mean, there appear to be a lot of rednecks singing along with the track, but the verses seem to be suggesting that the redneck character is a no good mama’s boy with a violent streak. but is that a good thing to these people? schmitty, it’s so paradoxical … i love it! but maybe i should hate it … but i can’t, because i love it so much …’. and schmitty said, ‘well, kev … i don’t know, man.’

tonight, i put on a little viva terlingua! in honor of schmitty’s gig last week. so good. and on comes my song. and it hits me suddenly – BAM! – sitting in my new life in carrollton, georgia, that i’m sort of living the paradox that i first noticed in schmitty’s car in the middle of the west texas desert listening to jerry jeff. like, what the fuck do i do with all these rednecks? are they good/bad … neither/both? are there sub-genres? are there hippie rednecks and klan rednecks? would they both self-identify as a rednecks? is it a negative term to everyone? like, when i was in louisiana, i never got over that the term ‘coon ass’ wasn’t derogatory. i thought that sucker was a land mine of signification. never seemed to bother anyone to call, or be called, a coon ass, though. go figure … but south-east louisiana is a bit more laid back than this scene. way more laid back, in fact. for instance, right now, they’re preparing for mardi-gras in south-east louisiana. right now in carrollton there’s a big sign for a ‘gun, knife, and prepper’ show on the main drag through town. guns and knives, sure, who cares? but wtf’s a prepper? turns out it’s someone preparing (nay, rooting) for social collapse by stockpiling ammunition and iodine and the sort … {sigh} … in the words of jerry seinfeld (speaking to george when george revealed that he wanted to try to combine having sex and eating food at the same time): “we’re trying to have a civilization here.” not all of us, apparently …

so i started researching my song for real, trying to find out some sort of angle for how i should take it, and i found this article from hottytoddy.com. i’ll repost it here. this is likely illegal, but i’m not making any fucking money here. i’ll take it down if they ask:

***

This Song Is By Ray Wylie Hubbard
By Tad Wilkes, Nightlife & Lifestyles Editor

Let me preface what I’m about to say by noting that what Ray Wylie Hubbard wants you to know, and what I want you to know, is that he’s more than The Guy Who Wrote Redneck Mother.

That doesn’t change the fact that the song that made him famous—as recorded by Jerry Jeff Walker—is part of an album that changed my life forever and imbedded three songwriters (later four, when I grew up and learned Guy Clark wrote “Desperados Waiting for a Train”) in my consciousness like a microchip implanted in my fevered mind. If you want to know Ray Wylie’s life story, Google is your friend, but this is a little bit about why he matters to me.

In the 1970s, my dad had the 8-track of ¡Viva Terlingua!, Jerry Jeff’s 1973 album, mostly recorded live in Luckenbach, Texas. He’d play it when the lights were dim and my folks had friends over, having a couple cocktails and laughing loudly. The music I heard through the speakers was romantic and real, to say the least. The sensibility of the lyrics reminded me a lot of my dad. Honest. And often funny.

I don’t know if I was four, five, or six when I first heard it. I didn’t quite realize it at the time, but what I heard is what I wanted to be. I’ll save a song-by-song analysis for another time—perhaps over beers, listening on vinyl, in my living room, when you’re ready—because today we’re talking about Ray Wylie Hubbard. As I grew into grade school, junior high, and high school and explored every avenue of Music My Parents Did Not Listen To, I forgot about the album. I rediscovered the 8-track when home from college. It came roaring back into my mind like a muscle memory I couldn’t shake. I was, as Gary P. Nunn said on the album, “back in that place.” I showed it to my dad. I recall discussing how how great the dark Jerry Jeff tune “Wheel” and the album’s first track, the cosmic cowboy anthem “Gettin’ By,” were, as well as “Desperados.” Don’t worry, we’ll get to Ray Wylie.

Jerry Jeff, one of the best American songwriters in his own right, had an ear for excellence and was always certain to cover his friends’ songs and give them due credit. The album made two such songwriters famous. Gary P. Nunn was a member of Jerry Jeff’s Lost Gonzo Band at the time, and Gary P. sang “London Homesick Blues,” which he wrote, live on the album. Jerry Jeff made sure to holler his full name (“Mister Gary! P.! Nunn!”) on the record so we’d know who was singing (I later in life, a few days after playing at the Gin, had the privilege of meeting Gary P. and singing with him at the Broken Spoke in Austin, and he introduced me as “the Mississippi boy,” which is a good enough name-check for my memoirs).

And when Jerry Jeff sang “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother,” Gary P. introduced the song by noting, “This song is by Ray Wylie Hubbard.” The record label wanted to omit the declaration, but Jerry Jeff insisted on leaving it on the record. The song is a satire of drunk goons who liked to kick the asses of hippies like the Lost Gonzos in the honky tonks where the two factions, at the time, were crossing paths.

For Ray Wylie Hubbard, the song has been an albatross at times, a calling card at others, and a nice source of royalties across the board. Much the same way Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” has been co-opted by conservatives who are mistaken about the song’s meaning, “Redneck Mother” is often perceived by frat boys and meatheads as a celebration of kicking hippies’ asses. But even as a little boy in the 1970s, I instantly understood the song’s intended irony and its assessment of the world around it. It’s part and parcel of why today I am a songwriter, and why I always check the songwriting credits on songs I love, to find out whose album I’m going to go find next. Jerry Jeff Walker (real name Ronald Crosby), Gary P. Nunn, and Ray Wylie Hubbard are why when I perform I go by the name Moon Pie Curtis. I had to have three names, and they had to come together and sound, well, gonzo.

Ray Wylie stumbled in capitalizing on his newfound notoriety from ¡Viva Terlingua! and suffered through 20 years of alcoholism before reemerging in the 1990s and finally making albums he says he’s proud of. He’s an elder statesman of the Texas songwriter realm and has been called the Ray Wylie Hubbard – The Grifter’s Hynmalredneck Dalai Lama. The important thing is he’s a poet, and Oxford is fortunate to get the opportunity to hear him live, this Thursday, March 21, at Proud Larrys’, touring on his latest album The Grifter’s Hymnal. Shannon McNally opens the show. Tickets are $20.

Last week, an expatriated Oxonian living in Austin texted me from a Ray Wylie show to tell me that Hubbard’s on-stage banter and humor reminded him a lot of my father. Yep, that’s about right.

***

so the rednecks are the bad guys … well, that makes it easier, in a way. but there’s some love there, too, right? and there’s this whole idea of ‘crossing paths’ that is pretty damn interesting. like, here i am, part of this new wave of people descending on this little old redneck southern cotton town. we ain’t from here, certainly. but we’re here. and some things have already changed because of it. like, this town is a different place (however insignificantly) just by virtue of the fact that i go to bed and wake up here everyday. and go out and talk to people and buy beers and sandwiches and guitar strings and gasoline. i’m here, y’all. and that might change a thing or two. and, such as these things go, that change doesn’t only go one way. that’s not the way change works. i’m already changing too. so it goes …

so these guys, these texas hill country hippies from the ’70s, are gonna be touchstones for me in my new digs. whenever i find myself struggling with my lot in life, being forced to ‘cross paths,’ as they say, with ‘drunk goons … frat boys and meatheads,’ i’ve gotta remember i’ve got the trump card. parody, irony, heart, humor … fucking rock and roll, man. it’ll never lose. never has, never will.

he’s 34 and drinking in a honkey tonk,
kicking hippies asses and raising hell …

this ain’t jerry jeff’s version, although he’s there, along with willie, ray wyley hubbard, leon russell … enjoy.

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