3/31/99 WESTERNS

Every bone in my body resists writing on this subject. Westerns are a droning sound in the background on a boring afternoon or early evening. When you hear it, you KNOW to be very quiet on account of dad is watching TV. The music ranges from hyper-mixed with-gunfire for chases on horseback, to flouncy, bouncy saloon piano, to tension-laden for sneaking up on bad guys...pre-confrontational climax, switching to drums for the all important showdown at high noon, with humorous little ditties tossed in on occasion. You can co-exist with a western on TV doing your own thing and tell just by the music how the story is progressing.

If I had my druthers, I'druther NOT be parked in front of a western. But I don't feel hostile in such ambience as I do when sports are on in the background...and an insidious seething begins to brew inside...and it takes me a while to figure out why I'm getting so agitated. Then I realize that annoying roar of the crowd like loud static and sports caster's play-by-play, every word shouted with great exhuberance so you never WOULD know if something significantly exciting did happen...it's a monotony that just might bring me to go buy meself a rifle and blast the TV or radio like Yosemite Sam. "Take THAT, varmint!"

There are things that intrigue me about westerns though. Trust me. I had plenty of opportunities to contemplate such things, albeit against my will. One thing was the concept of "lawlessness". Individuals carrying out justice and injustice on their own. Lives dropping right and left. Primitive. When like-minded people witnessed murder for what they considered justice, the person who did the killing was sympathized with, comforted by a pat on the back, "You had to do it...there weren't no other way!" and they walk away in silence...have a drink...carry on...go back to their families heroes. Well, not always. The thing is, it was an unsafe world...unprotected cepting for the sheriff. But after all, he's only one person. (Yeah, I know he can whip a posse together, but still!) Imagine all the killing, robbing, and pillaging being carried out because much evil can easily be accomplished in isolated places. Populated ones too, of course, but going west was moving farther into the wilderness. The thing is...it wasn't all that long ago. Evil has increased with populations, but we are no longer free to take matters into our own hands.

It was possible back then to kill someone and get away with it in myriad situations. I mean, there wasn't a body count back then...no reliable census...no one keeping track of us...no demanding of registrations and numbers to exist. It was possible to give birth back then and no one would even know another person had entered the world. Unless you lived in a town and interacted with others. When I lay back and imagine myself, one-on-one, in an uncivilized world, carrying out my interpretation of justice, or even attempting to protect myself from an intruder...as in shooting him (yes it's probably a him..ha!) and to then, carry out procedure for getting rid of the body, and to then go put the kettle on for tea and get back to churning makes my breathing stand still. It seems to me that putting an end to someone's life even if someone else drags and tends the corpse, would alter my psyche so it'd never be the same. I'd be eternally warped somehow. But then I was brought up in a so-called civilized mind-set. Then it was just a fact of life. Maybe you were taught that most likely you wouldn't have to contend with such things, but if the need to kill arose you'd better have the grit to protect yourself because no one else would be there...no 9-1-1 swooping in to surround the area.

Another fascination was the tah dah! Saloon! What merrier place could there be on this earth, I ask you. I love that music and all those fun, tacky frocks the saloon women wore...bosoms bulging out the top surrounded by satin and lace...tucks and gathers and slits and drapes and colors galore topped off with an imposing, proud gala feather just off to the side, hair swirled and curled! See how they danced so carefree and merry! I wanted to be one of them! Their clothing was enough reason...as opposed to the no-nonsense dull, boring, plain attire of the upright townswomen.

Westerns that were on every week had some common town folk. The Big Valley had quite an intricate network of people beingst that the main family therein was rich and traveled a lot. No matter what show, there was often someone playing the role of listener or wise one. Someone who incidentally listened to another's woes. And there would be a righteous sheriff, who was occasionally one-upped by some brave, fearless hero who saved the day and made his job easier. There had to be a town clown...someone who broke the monotony of the show with his shenanigans...like Festus on Gunsmoke. No one has ever pulled the same sort of chuckle from my dad as did Festus. Now the Indians were a whole nother thing I'm not even gonna touch on except to say I loved when cowboys found themselves in the midst of teepees...another culture. I stared and stared loving the Indian villages even if they were portrayed in a hokey way.

Romantically, I was in love with Adam from Bonanza. He was the brother who was rarely on. I'd tell my dad to call me if Adam was gonna be on, but I always stayed for the opening music with that fire burning an opening in the screen. My sisters all went cuckoo over Little Joe, and I did too, but preferred my Adam. I was devastated when they replaced his character with another guy part way through the series. I was heart sick for the original. But who wouldn't fall in love with Little Joe on a floor rolling with uncontrollable, contagious laughter....my god what a handsome man with a handsome father..Lorne Green?! Another quirky character which showed up occasionally through the years is the wild, untame drifter, uncivilized, riding bareback, hair unkempt, sometimes remaining an anonymous hero unbeknownst to the towns people...he surprised them in the end with his unexpected behavior even though they were repulsed by his way of life. I always thought that would be the man for me.

The most predictable part of a western...the "orgasm" of the entire show would be some showdown between the bad guys and the good guys, be it one-on-one, one-on-many or many-on-many. Someone on each side would have this presence....this intimidating power about him that struck fear in and silenced others...be he good or bad. Close up shots of clinching facial muscles...beading sweat...crinkly animal eyes...hands poised mid-air near gunned hips, ready. Close-up view of gun barrel stealthily siting in from the rooftop or out a window...metallic click of gun being cocked slowly. The drama of that whole scene reminds me of my dad...how he used that power portrayed in westerns with us for daily life issues. I hated it. It was always dramatic and drawn out...some enjoyment of our fear and respect. Maybe that's where westerns lose their appeal with me.

What about the HATS! I know so many guys who are crazy about their hats. Hide beneath them. You aren't allowed to touch them...or they wore them so long, they're disintegrating right on their heads and they're in denial! Cowboy hats were used for drinking out of, hiding things in, sit askew on drunks, tilted comically on the love-struck. I wish more men would wear a variety of hats instead of these frickin frackin, danged, boring BALL CAPS...I say we have a ball cap burning party. We live in a ball cap society....cloned hats...the billboards up front are the only variance. They are so dorky! Multitudes of ball caps on multitudes of heads look like multitudes of dorks to me. I wunna see something different!
Remember water being pumped into tin cups or bare hands after dragging butt into town from some hot, dusty endless trail? Cowboys landing in the tub of water out front during a brawl? And I do believe there is an art to maneuvering reins down off of a horse and wrapping round the post before you enter the saloon. Snorting nostrils, flick of tail, a pat on the rear. Then later, saddling up. Telltale horses whinny that intruders approach camp.

Favorites westerns of mine are mostly not series, although I'd have gladly married Grizzly Adams. I love Jeremiah Johnson, Quigley Down Under. I love more westerns than I knew, come to think of it. I love a good storyline and characters with a sense of humor. I must be pleased in order to watch it clear through, for the makers of such shows cannot count on me being "easy" just because there will be a "chase-and-pursue", violence, gunfire and what-not. I loved the background story of Grizzly Adams being a fugitive whose circumstances were misunderstood so really he was righteous with no way of proving himself and trying to survive alone in that environment. Loved the mule on there named Number Seven. Jeremiah Johnson beats them all for me...it has appeal in all directions including visual. :) As does Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I thrive on such humor. Dances With Wolves and Legends of the Fall get two of my thumbs up!

The only remnant of a mind pervaded with westerns is a timely comment in my very best Mae West to a partner..."Hey cowboy...don't you owe me some money?" which always made him laugh.

I did learn one thing. I'd never accept the occupation of stagecoach driver!


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