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"Shorts, Outtakes and Rants"

Most weeks I write a column for my paper; occasionally my daughter writes one. Usually they're focused at local issues, but every now and then I come up with one that I think Spearfish Lake Tales readers would find interesting, so I post them on the Spearfish Lake Tales Message Board. Since I've been neglecting "Shorts, Outtakes and Rants" recently, I decided to repost a few of them here, like this one. I hope you enjoy it! -- Wes

Cowboy Music

November 6, 2014

My hobby of writing novels is fun, or I wouldn't be doing it -- and one of the reasons it's fun is that I often trip over things I never would have expected.

Partly as research for a story, I have been driving my daughter Amanda nuts the last few days by playing old-time cowboy songs I get off the Internet -- not modern country music, but things involving Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Patsy Montana and the like, straight out of the 1930s. The recording and production quality of those old songs just aren't up to modern values, and that sometimes makes them a little hard to listen to. The fact that Patsy Montana had a voice you could equate to chalk squeaking on a blackboard also doesn't help much to modern ears, although I think Gene Autry's voice is still pretty cool.

I can't take it all the time myself, so sometimes I clicked on other things that YouTube comes up with -- in fact, one day I was driving Amanda nuts by playing sound tracks from "spaghetti westerns." These are, well, a lot more musically advanced, but still it took me back to the heyday of Westerns.

Back when I was a kid, if you turned on the TV in the evening there was about a 50-50 chance that there would be a Western on. Some of them were iconic, like Have Gun, Will Travel and Gunsmoke. I would still rather see some of them than some of the jazz that's on the idiot eye today.

Another time when Amanda was getting tired of old-time cowboy music (and it doesn't take long) I clicked on another YouTube link that looked like a possibility -- this turned out to be a group of girls doing bluegrass, "Cotton Eye Joe" to be precise. Although it was obviously an amateur video, the girls were playing the old saw energetically and the crowd was having a ball. The lead singer was strutting around stage showing off, and it took me a minute to realize there was something strange going on -- to be precise, she wasn't exactly singing in a Tennessee accent.

That got me curious, and I did a little more investigating. The video was taken in Interlaken, Switzerland, and there was a good reason the girl's accent sounded a little funny. It was Slovenian!

Who would have ever thought that in this mixed-up world there would be such a thing as a Middle-European girl bluegrass band? Czech that out!

I guess American cultural influences go in places and ways we don't expect, and I have to admit that was one I wasn't expecting until I stopped and thought about it. You remember above where I was talking about spaghetti westerns?

For the benefit of those reading this who aren't old enough to remember such films as A Fistful of Dollars and The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, these were Westerns usually produced and written in Italy, and usually shot in Spain. Although usually set in the American southwest, they also usually had a level of brutality not often seen in American Westerns. The point is, that while they were Italian made, they certainly reflected at least a little of the American cultural experience, good, bad or ugly.

Now, I grant you, "spaghetti westerns" were a long time ago, forty years and more, but there is still an European and a worldwide interest in these uniquely American cultural artifacts, just as some Americans have an interest in other cultures, ranging from Japanese cartoons to German opera. Perhaps the popularity of Country-Western music in Middle Europe is the American way of paying back the influence of Richard Wagner.

What with the Internet, it's becoming a smaller world, and sometimes some strange influences take place.

But I'm an old curmudgeon, and I think I'll see if I can find a John Wayne movie on the 'net. I have to spend some time exploring my cultural roots, you know.

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