If John Mellencamp is the American heartland’s Jackson Browne, singer/songwriter James McMurtry - son of novelist Larry McMurtry, of Lonesome Dove and Terms of Endearment fame - is surely its Warren Zevon. Last night, I had a golden opportunity to see McMurtry live – a friend with the Right Connections scored us complimentary tickets. And to boot, we got to shake hands with the man himself.
Being the marketing whore that I am, I naturally took advantage of the opportunity to give Mr. McMurtry a copy of the latest issue of Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!, as well as a Smile, Hon t-shirt and stickers. With these I included a hand-written note:
Dear Mr. McMurtry,
I was a month or two into chemotherapy, for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, when I discovered your music in spring 2007. With the doc pumping $8,000 worth of high-caliber poison into my veins every three weeks, your mordant humor and smart lyrics (which remind me quite a bit, if you will, of the late Warren Zevon) provided a welcome addition to my then-steady diet of prednisone, film noir, and Boost energy drinks. Indeed, hardly a day went by in the ensuing months that your “Lobo Town” refrain didn’t echo in my head: “You’re goddamned right, you got no clue, so don’t tell me I’m dying…”
Your gift for creating vivid characters and stories rivals that of the finest novelist – and in a sense is that much more impressive, as you can pack more of the human condition into a single song than many published writers can over the course of an entire book. (Striving for such efficiency is my publication, Smile, Hon, You’re in Baltimore!, a copy of which I’ve included herewith, should you be in want of something to read while on the road. It collects Baltimore-related stories, photos, poetry and other artwork – good, bad, and ugly.) I should also note that, Buddy Holly and Terry Southern notwithstanding, Texas never held much interest for me prior to discovering your work, as well as Cormac McCarthy’s NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN; I hope the local tourism bureau is paying you both a commission.
Today, I’m two-and-a-half years out from cancer diagnosis and – knock wood – remain in the clear. But my very life aside, your music, for me, remains one of the precious few rays of light from my otherwise darkest days…
And for that, I thank you.
William P. Tandy
Here’s James McMurtry performing “Choctaw Bingo”, a crowd-pleaser sung from the perspective of a man attending a family reunion for dubious reasons…