Legend has it that Stephen King once called James McMurtry: "The truest, fiercest songwriter of his generation."
Taking the stage this weekend at the Granada Theater in Dallas, McMurtry proved that he deserves such a title, as the Texas songwriter took fans deep into the heart of the Lone Star State, playing some of his greatest hits that highlight what it means to live in rural America: fishing, drinking and dancing.
Born in Fort Worth, raised in Virginia, living in Austin, McMurtry picked up guitar after guitar, alternating between electrics and acoustics, as he inspired a crowd of 200 people to move their legs while standing in place, although a few of the more wild attendees spun and danced in front of the stage.
Similar to his father Larry McMurtry, who is an award-winning, best-selling author - Lonesome Dove, The Last Picture Show, and Terms of Endearment - this Texas songwriter's lyrics tell stories of everyday life. Songs like "Choctaw Bingo," one of his more popular tunes; "We Can't Make It Here," Americana Music Awards' Song of the Year; and "Too Long In the Wasteland," a tune off his debut album, proved to be crowd pleasers.
And yet an awkwardness permeated in the atmosphere, almost as if the venue - despite its openness, helpful staff and drink specials - wasn't the right place for a man of McMurtry's Southern talents. Most of the concert attendees were wearing sandals, flip-flops and tennis shoes instead of scuffed cowboy boots; the hardness of living a rural life was missing.
But then maybe it's this call to the heartland that McMurtry touches upon in his music that appeals universally to people despite their upbringing, as if the Texas songwriter is connecting the audience to some kind of malevolent archetype of the activist that haunts each of our dreams, spurring our thoughts into actions while our bodies refuse to pick up the picket sign.
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During the early 2000s, when Bush and Cheney were sending our troops into Iraq instead of after the real perpetrators of the 9-11 attacks, this often unheralded archetypal force appeared in McMurtry's music as he composed songs for his album Just Us Kids.
In "Cheney's Toy," "The Governor," and "God Bless America (Pat MacDonald Must Die)," McMurtry spun words that caused many people in Texas to vomit anger and disbelief that one of our native sons would side against a president from Texas (not a native Texan mind you), but his ideas have eventually helped to ease some of us into acceptance and forgiveness for our president's actions.
"The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things but their inward significance," said Aristotle. And McMurtry's songs attempt to follow this line of reasoning: "Just us kids hangin' out today, watchin' our long hair turnin' gray. Not so skinny, maybe not so free. Not as many as we used to be." Or "The preacher drove by in his Cadillac. I waved at him, but he didn't wave back. It's a small town. Everybody knows your face. It's a small town, son, and we all must know our place."
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By the end of the evening, McMurtry's universal appeal was evident when the crowd not only chanted for him to play an encore but also when they stuck around after the concert and took pictures with him, bought his albums and asked for his autograph.
McMurty will be playing at the Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas, on October 5 before heading to Washington for the next leg of his tour.