Regardless of what you think of Austin calling itself the “Live Music Capital of the World,” you’ve got to admit it is pretty effective branding. Even people who don’t like music, and who’ve never been here, equate the city with a vibrant scene.
To my mind, the signature song about longing for Texas is this one:
I wanna go home with the Armadillo;
Good country music from Amarillo and Abilene;
The friendliest people and the prettiest women you’ve ever seen.
That’s “London Homesick Blues” sung by Jerry Jeff Walker and written by Gary P. Nunn.
But there are dozens of songs that make Texpatriates (Texans forced to live outside of Texas a
while) a little misty eyed. Like “Amarillo By Morning” by George Strait:
Amarillo by morning, up from San Antone.
Everything that I’ve got is just what I’ve got on.
When that sun is high in that Texas sky
I’ll be bucking it to county fair.
Amarillo by morning, Amarillo I’ll be there.
And what Texan isn’t moved by these immortal words?
Let’s go to Luckenbach Texas
With Waylon and Willie and the boys
The theme of Texas homesickness is a common theme in our music, our folklore, and our literature.
Did you ever hear the story about the Montana cowboy who died and went to heaven? St. Peter was giving him a tour when the Montanan looked up to see a bunch of cowboys in jail, struggling to get out. The Montanan said to St. Peter: “I’m a little surprised to see a jail in heaven!”
St. Peter said, “Oh that’s not a jail. That’s the Texas Detention Center.”
Montanan said, “Oh I understand. I did some drovin’ with those ole boys. When they get to a new town they can do some damage.”
“That’s not the problem,” said St. Peter. “The problem is they get so homesick they keep tryin’ to sneak out the Pearly Gates to go back to Texas. So we have to keep ‘em locked up a while till they learn to like it here.”
We find the theme in Larry McMurtry’s work, too. In his little masterpiece of a novel, “All My Friends Are Going To Be Strangers,” the central character, Danny Deck, is leaving Texas for the first time in his life. He is driving just west of El Paso and about to cross the border when he says:
“It was strange, leaving Texas… It was all behind me, north to south, not lying there exactly, but more like looming there over the car… some genie, some god, towering over the road. I really felt it… I had left without asking permission or earning my freedom. Texas let me go, ominously quiet. It hadn’t gone away. It was there behind me.”
When he returned to Texas after several months, Danny realized what many a traveler has realized – that there is no place like home. He says:
“It was the sky that was Texas, the sky that welcomed me back… The sky was what I had been missing, and seeing it again in its morning brightness made me realize suddenly why I hadn’t been myself for many months. It had such depth and such spaciousness and such incredible compass, it took so much in and circled one with such a tremendous generous space that it was impossible not to feel more intensely with it above you.”
Reminds me of what my brother Redneck Dave once told me. He said, “I reckon everybody everywhere misses their home, but if there was a way to measure the mightiness of missin’, I’d betcha big that Texans would come out pretty much on top.”
I can’t argue with that.
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.