country

Cosmic Convoy: “Up For Grabs”

You’re no doubt looking for some new music to complement the new year, but without trying to get nostalgic over 2020 (how could you?) we’re actually going to spend the next couple days looking back at some stuff you might’ve missed. Enter Cosmic Convoy, an Austin-based quartet founded over a mutual love of vintage genres, whether it be it outlaw country, ’60s R&B-soul, or classic rock. The four began playing covers back in 2017 but have finally passed the limen and progressed into writing and performing their own tunes.

In November of last year Cosmic Convoy saddled up with their debut EP, Together Again for the First Time, channeling the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Son Volt, and Gram Parsons across six songs. We’re hoping that this is just the first entry into these fellas’ discography, so climb aboard the Cosmic Convoy with one of Together Again‘s boldest, “Up For Grabs”!

Texas: A State That Loves Its Flag

By W.F. Strong

If you were ever to start a new country, one of the first tasks you’d have to undertake would be to design a flag. Are you really a country if you don’t have a flag to advertise your existence – a flag that can fly atop skyscrapers, state houses, schools and ships at sea? Now cities and even corporations have flags, as do organizations and social movements.

I’m proud to tell you that according to Ted Kaye, one of the world’s leading vexillologists – a fancy word for one who studies flags – the Texas flag is the best-selling of all the state flags. It also rates almost perfect in artistic design. That’s the conclusion of one landmark study by the North American Vexillological Association (try saying that after three beers at sea). The study rated all national, state and territorial flags of North America and found that only New Mexico’s flag had just a smidgen of a better design.

Ted Kaye says these are the five rules of good design.: first, keep it simple – so simple a child can draw it from memory. Use meaningful symbolism. Use two to three basic colors – no more than three. No lettering. No words. The design should speak for itself. Do you hear it saying Lone Star State? Yep. And finally, your design should be distinctive. I know what you’re thinking – the Chilean flag. There are accidental similarities, but there is no evidence at all that the Chilean design influenced ours.

Not only is the Texas flag the best-selling state flag, it is also displayed more in all its forms than any other state flag.

Drive down any neighborhood street in Texas and you will see the flag flying proudly in the Texas breeze on 30 and 40 foot poles in many a yard.  It’s displayed from wall mounts on porches or over garages. You will see it over car dealerships and on top of skyscrapers in cities. In the countryside, you’ll see it at the entrance to farms and ranches, perhaps with the Stars and Stripes next to it.

It’s at the beach, fluttering and snapping smartly behind four-wheel-drive pickups. Or on boats and at makeshift campsites and even over children’s forts in the woods. It’s found in dorm rooms and in shopping malls. It’s everywhere.

And when it’s not in cloth form, you will find it displayed in many a medium.  It’s painted on barns. You can’t drive very far in rural Texas without seeing a barn flag. I’ve never seen a Nebraska barn flag. I see many a Texas flag painted on gates, too. Beautiful. Never seen a Michigan flag gate, either. And though it’s not the same, I’d like to point out that we’re the only state with our own toast. There’s no Oregon toast. There’s no Florida-shaped waffle maker either.

Yes, the Texas flag is everywhere: t-shirts, swimsuits, towels, bikinis, boots, belt-buckles, earrings and tattoos. We have Texas flag picnic tables, tablecloths and stools. And if it’s not a flag, we have the Texas star as a stand-in, on the side of our houses, hanging on the wall in the kitchen, or on the apron we’re barbecuing with. I have even seen a Texas star barbecue grill cover.

John Steinbeck pointed out that the deep love and commitment Texans have for their state closely approximates that of a religion. Based on the affection we have for our symbols; it seems that we are an extraordinarily devout people. As this is radio I can’t end with the flag, but I can play Willie. You can hear Texas in his voice.

Small Town Festivals

Almost every Texas town has at least one — and they happen almost any time of the year. So, really, it’s always “festival season” in the Lone Star State. That was the inspiration for this Typewriter Rodeo poem.

This Song: Warren Hood on “High Hill” by Uncle Walt’s Band

In the early 70’s Uncle Walt’s Band, the acoustic trio made up of Champ Hood, Walter Hyatt and David Ball came to Austin, TX from Spartanburg, SC. The band brought with them a unique acoustic sound that melded folk, jazz, blues and pop.  Though the music of Uncle Walt’s Band never caught on nationally, it continues to inspire countless Texas musicians like Lyle Lovett and Shawn Colvin.

Listen as Warren Hood, Champ Hood’s son, describes how hearing the song “High Hill” gave him a deep appreciation for the music of Uncle Walt’s Band while helping him process his grief around the loss of his father.

Listen to this episode of This Song

Check out the re-release of “Uncle Walt’s Band”

Check out the Tour Dates for That Carolina Sound

See Warren Hood’s Tour Dates Here

 

Listen to Songs from this episode of This Song

 

Ranch Words In Urban Life

The other day I was trying to pull out on U.S. Route 281, and the traffic was so steady that I had to wait about three minutes for an opening. As I was waiting, my father’s voice came into my head and said, “Somebody left the gate open down there.”

Dad’s been gone 30 years now, but those sorts of metaphors still live in my head, as they do for a lot of us Texans. We may have mostly moved from farms and ranches to cities, but our language is still peppered with these expressions of pastoral life. As T. K. Whipple, the literary historian pointed out, we live in a world our forefathers created, “but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, what they lived, we dream.” You cannot have the influences of the frontier or country life disappear in just a generation or two. It hangs on in interesting ways, in our myths and in our language.

One place that we can witness it with some vibrancy is in the farm and ranch expressions or metaphors that survive in our digital age. Here are twelve I’ve rounded up for you.

“I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it.” It’s used to infer the poor likelihood that a given investment or prediction will come true. “Well, yes, Congress might decide to work together for the greater good, but I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it.”

“To mend fences.” It means to make peace. “You might want to mend fences with Jayden. You’re likely to need his friendship one day.”

“Dig in your heels.” When cowboys were branding calves and roped one, they had to pull hard against them and were told to dig in their heels. Now, the phrase is used for any act of taking a tough stance. “We’re diggin’ in our heels on this contract.” Similar to “sticking to our guns.”

“Take the bull by the horns” is a good one. Face your troubles head on. Yet a similar saying warns against careless assertiveness: “Mess with the bull and you get the horns.” That expression was made particularly popular in classic films like The Breakfast Club and Some Kind of Wonderful.

“Don’t have a cow!” Bart Simpson made it world-famous. Of course, he added “man” at the end. It is about anti-empathy. I can’t validate your over-reaction. The earliest known printed use of “don’t have a cow,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was found in the Denton Record-Chronicle in 1959. The phrase appeared in quoting someone who said, “He’d ‘have a cow’ if he knew I watched 77 Sunset Strip.” Proud it showed up first in Texas.

“Till the cows come home.” That means a long time, long time. It’s almost as bad as waiting for “pigs to fly.” “Until the cows come home,” perhaps originated in the Scottish highlands. They let cows out to wander lush pastures in the spring and it would be a long time before they would make their way home. It also refers to cows coming home to be milked in the early morning hours.

“Maverick” is well-known. It is used to brand someone as a non-conformist. It is named after Samuel Maverick, a Texan who allegedly didn’t brand his cattle. That isn’t the entire truth, but that is what many have come to believe, and so that version of the story has stuck.

“All hat and no cattle” is one of my all-time favorites. I used it recently in a conversation with a teenager and he said he had never heard it before and didn’t know what it meant. I explained that it was similar to “all bark and no bite.” He didn’t get that one either. I guess trying to teach ranch metaphors to a teenager is like “herding cats.” In fairness, I didn’t understand his saying that I seemed “salty” either.

“Riding shotgun.” This started as means of naming the guy who rode on the stagecoach next to the driver, generally holding the shotgun to ward off bandits. It’s still being used 150 years later. Even modern teenagers still yell “I got shotgun!” as they run to the truck.

“Hold your horses.” Just wait a minute. Let’s think about this calmly before we jump right in and regret it. “Hold your horses, Jim. I can’t buy your truck until I talk to my wife, first.” I also like that we still measure engine power in “horses” – 400 horsepower.

“I’m on the fence about it.” Taking that new job in the oil patch in Odessa? Not sure. Still on the fence about that.

I guess the most popular metaphor of all from ranch culture is “BS,” meaning “nonsense.” It’s difficult to accurately trace its origins and attempting to do so leads us into a thicket of art form itself.

I used the word recently while giving a talk in the state Capitol building. I was asked afterward if I thought that was an appropriate term to use in such august surroundings. I said, “I imagine the expression has been used more than a few times here in the legislature, and probably, even more often, impressively illustrated.”

Getting Out

The Texas Standard asks listeners for poetry requests. This one is for Jess.

Texas Standard: May 25, 2018

The Lt. Governor mocked after the Santa Fe shooting for claiming Texas schools have too many entrances and exits, but is he right? After the Sandy Hook school massacre, the old building was raised and a new more secure building built in its place. One of the experts involved says Texas schools should reconsider their architecture too. And another year another season of glitches for Texas’ standardized public school testing scheme. Now penalties for the company behind the tests, and a reprieve for many students who didn’t pass, we’ll take a look. All that and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: May 5, 2017

Repeal and replace? Republicans are halfway there. Next stop the Senate. Who’ll pay the price, literally and politically? Plus in a state notorious for its use of the death penalty, a convicted killer is removed from death row. We’ll hear why, and what it means for capital punishment in Texas and beyond. Also fidgety kids? Some experts are recommending little hand held gadgets called spinners to help with focus. But some teachers say its a fad that’s gone too far. We’ll hear more. And you remember Waylon and Willie, right? Now Waylon’s better half breaks her silence: Jesse Colter on life as a musical outlaw. All of that and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: March 31, 2017

He said he would blow up NAFTA. But maybe not so much? Border leaders react to a surprise softening of the US position: details today. Plus two countries, one community, and a wall. In south Texas, protestors stake out positions on a bridge. Also changing the rules of engagement: for us forces fighting the war on terror, will it make a difference? A former white house security chief weighs in on a shift in when to pull the trigger. And after the fail on repeal and replace, states find a new health care opening under Obamacare. Will Texas be text to give it a go? Plus the week in Texas politics and a whole lot more, its Texas Standard time:

Threatening To Leave The Country

When elections don’t go your way, you might be tempted to seek out a change of scenery, perhaps a change of citizenship. But it’s important to remember that you are what makes this country so special. So put down your visa application and look around – this can still be your home.

Texas Standard: December 21, 2016

Texas officials fulfill a promise: no more Medicaid money to Planned Parenthood. The implications and what comes next. Plus a multi million dollar emergency infusion for child protective services. The plan: hire new caseworkers and give raises to keep others from leaving. But there’s a hitch, just in time for the holidays. We’ll hear about it. Also she was a full throated communist, cast as a a working class hero and a villain. And then her story was almost lost to history. A revival of interest in the lady called ‘the passionate one from Texas’. And veterans signing on to wage a new kind of war…in cyberspace. All of that and lots more today on the Texas Standard:

Vote

Today is the last day of early voting in Texas, and next Tuesday is Election Day. Forget the candidates, forget the talking heads on cable news, forget the social media arguments – remember that part of what makes our country special is our right to vote. No matter who you tick the box for, make sure you get your voice heard.

Texas Wines

Texas has queso, tacos, and barbecue – but you’ll need something to wash all of it down with. And while the craft beer craze is here to stay, Texas is also known for some fantastic vineyards.

Think There’s No Poetry In Texas? Think Again

A New Yorker told me that he never uses the words Texas and poetry in the same sentence.

He thinks Texas poetry is an oxymoron because he doesn’t see how such a refined art form could be produced in a macho culture. But he is wrong. Cowboys and vaqueros were reciting poetry in the warm glow of firelight on the Texas plains hundreds of years ago.

A modern inheritor of this tradition is Walt McDonald. He gives us this poem that celebrates country music in Texas. It’s called “The Waltz We Were Born For.”

“I never knew them all, just hummed
and thrummed my fingers with the radio,
driving five hundred miles to Austin.
Her arms held all the songs I needed.
Our boots kept time with fiddles
and the charming sobs of blondes,

the whine of steel guitars
sliding us down in deer-hide chairs
when jukebox music was over.
Sad music’s on my mind tonight
in a jet high over Dallas, earphones
on channel five. A lonely singer,

dead, comes back to beg me,
swearing in my ears she’s mine,
rhymes set to music that make
her lies seem true. She’s gone
and others like her, leaving their songs
to haunt us. Letting down through clouds

I know who I’ll find waiting at the gate,
the same woman faithful to my arms
as she was those nights in Austin
when the world seemed like a jukebox,
our boots able to dance forever,
our pockets full of coins.”

Here is another one I enjoy from well-known Texas poet, Chip Dameron. It is printed in the shape of Texas. You begin in the Panhandle and work your way down to the Rio Grande. The words celebrate the part of Texas in which they reside. It is called “A State of Mind.”

Last, here is Violette Newton, Poet Laureate of Texas in 1973. She wrote this humorous poem which speaks directly to the problem of getting respect for Texas poetry:

Up East, they do not think much
of Texas poetry. They think Texans
have no soul for aesthetics, that all
they do is pound their own chests,
talk loud and make money.
But every time I’m nearing Austin,
I look up at a painted sign
high on the side of the highway
that says, “Bert’s Dirts”
and to pyramids of many-colored soils
sold by Bert, and I swell with pride
at that rhyming sign, I puff up
and point to that terse little title
and wish we could stop
so I could go in
and purchase
a spondee of sand
to make a gesture of my support
for poetry in Texas.

Take that, New York.

W.F. Strong is a Fulbright Scholar and professor of Culture and Communication at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At Public Radio 88 FM in Harlingen, Texas, he’s the resident expert on Texas literature, Texas legends, Blue Bell ice cream, Whataburger (with cheese) and mesquite smoked brisket.