Willie & Wittgenstein Play Luckenbach

Whether it’s good beer, great music or a sense of history you’re wanting, Luckenbach, Texas is a fine place to find it.  Established as a trading post c. 1849, it rose, sort-of-flourished and then declined, nearly passing away before its retired postmaster, a descendent of the town founders named Benno Engel, put it up for sale in 1970.

When I waltzed into Texas in 1973, Luckenbach – a post office, a general store, a dancehall  and a collection of really fine shade trees – already had sold to a remarkable collection of people.  Certain Houstonians turned up their noses at buyer Hondo Crouch and his pals, calling them a collection of “eccentrics, oddballs and kooks”. The description was fair, but out in the country their eccentricity was a selling point, and Hondo’s town took a turn for the better.

Supplementing dominos and beer with a Mud Dauber Festival provided a certain je ne sais quoi, but when Jerry Jeff Walker waltzed into Luckenbach in 1974 to record Viva Terlingua, the Luckenbach nation was born. By the time Bobby Emmons and Chips Moman wrote their song about Luckenbach in 1977 Hondo Crouch had passed away, but Luckenbach was established, and Waylon and Willie and the Boys brought tears to the eyes of expat Luckenbachians around the world.

One of Luckenbach’s best qualities always has been a willingness to push the boundaries a bit, to accept whatever travelers come in off the road.  That helps to explain Kinky Friedman’s occasional appearances there, including political benefits held during his quixotic run for Texas governor.   I suspect no one who was around in the mid-to-late 70s will forget Kinky and his Texas Jewboys band, or his classic feminist anthem, Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns in the Bed.  

The Kinkster, as he’s affectionately known around the state, is more than a joke. Agree or disagree with his politics and proposals, his various campaigns for Kerr County Justice of the Peace, Governor and State Agriculture Commissioner were real.  His support of the Utopia Animal Rescue Ranch between Kerrville and Medina is equally real;  his name, his money and a portion of his family’s land have been dedicated there for years.

Still, irony and biting satire are his stock in trade, along with the careful cultivation of a larger-than-life persona. Given his style of humor and his love of animals, I can’t help wondering what he might have to say about the newly-established Journal of Animal Ethics during his current Springtime for Kinky tour through a clutch of Midwestern and Eastern states.

Edited by Professor Andrew Linzey, theologian and director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, the academic publication has found its first editorial widely reported in the press, condeming as it does the use of terms such as “critters”, “beasts”, “wildlife” and “pets”.

The editorial writer notes that Prof. Linzey and his co-editor, Professor Priscilla Cohn of Penn State University, also hope to see the elimination of  phrases such as “sly as a fox, “eat like a pig” or “drunk as a skunk”. Contending that such language is “unfair to animals”, they go on to suggest “we will not be able to think clearly unless we discipline ourselves to use more impartial nouns and adjectives in our exploration of animals and our moral relations with them.”

Once I stopped pondering whether “dumb as a rock” still qualifies as acceptable language, I did some exploring and found Pete Wedderburn, British veterinarian and newspaper columnist, mounting a defense of the editorial. “In a journal that explores how society’s attitudes to animals are changing, it makes sense to use the most objective language possible,” he says.  He goes on to cite the editorial’s contention that “language is [the] means by which we understand and conceptualise the world around us” and that “our existing language about animals is the language of past thought”.


Perhaps. But as an earlier academician and philosopher of language, Ludwig Wittgenstein, famously said, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world”.  The increasing propensity of academics, bureaucrats, politicians and promoters of various causes to declare this word or that phrase “unacceptable” for use results in a constriction of language, a diminishment of expressive possibility.

Certainly societies come to occasional consensus about the need for linguistic change – think of  once-common ethnic slurs which have nearly disappeared – but arguments in favor of “more impartial nouns and adjectives” or more “objective language” suggests a refusal of the natural ebb and flow of language, its natural complexity, its own existence as a living entity worthy of respect.  “The English language is nobody’s special property,” says Derek Walcott, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.  “It is the property of the imagination. It is the property of the language itself.”

Even in Luckenbach, where the philosophy sounds homespun and the academics are wearing the same bandanas as the bikers, they understand Wittgenstein and Walcott.  Hondo Crouch styled himself the “Imagineer” and said to the songwriters,  singers and poets, “Ya’ll come”.  The songwriters, singers and poets came, pushed the boundaries even more, and sent their words around the world.

And in the midst of it all Willie Nelson – rebel, raconteur and boundary-pusher extraordinaire – sang Cole Porter and Robert Fletcher’s anthem for the Imagineers of the world.  I don’t think either Willie or Mr. Porter would mind my little version, and I think Wittgenstein would love it.

Oh, give me words, lots of words that are crying to be heard,
Don’t fence me in!
Let me write with the wide-open style that I love,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me hear my Muses in the evening breeze,
Listen to the language of the cottonwood trees.
Never read a sentence, but I ask you, please,
Don’t fence me in.
Just turn me loose
with some rhythm and some rhymin’ underneath my Texas skies,
On my pc
let me edit and give credit till I just dissolve in sighs.
I want to write through the night til the dawn commences,
Polish my words until I lose my senses,
I can’t bear the prissy or “pretend” offenses -
Don’t fence me in.

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Published in: on April 30, 2011 at 12:53 pm  Comments (48)  
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  1. Hello Linda:

    Today had the signs of a boring day, and maybe it would have been, until I fired up my computer and stumbled into your blog post. Then the day brightened up as it always does, when I read your carefully chosen words of the English language. With people like you, the language is alive and well, no matter what academia says.

    Language is what people speak during their everyday life, people like Joe, the plumber or Joe, the Six Pack. It’s people from main street who keep the language alive and in constant evolution.

    I loved the song, “Don’t Fence Me In”, by Willie Nelson. He’s my favorite Country singer. I can’t get enough of his song, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain”.

    Kudos for this refreshing blog post. You’ve made my day. Thanks a bunch.

    Regards,

    Omar.-

    • Omar,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it! You’d enjoy Luckenbach, too. If you and your lovely wife ever get up this way, I’ll take you.

      Willie’s wonderful. It was a bit of a shock when he cut off his braid last year, but the music’s the same. One of these days he won’t be with us any longer – all the more reason to treasure him now.

      Interesting that you used the word “refreshing”. I felt a little refreshed myself once I’d written it. Luckenbach has that effect on folks, even when we travel there only in memory.

      Linda

  2. Willie, Kinky, the late Molly Ivins, my friend “Cheshire Bill” and Linda, in my humble yet biased opinion, are the only things worthwhile in Texas, though Governor “Good Hair” is always available for a head shaking “is this guy for real?” laugh now and then.

    And what can you say about people like Prof. Linzey and his co-editor, Professor Priscilla Cohn? Gee Zus! Remember a couple of decades ago when a bunch of crazy feminists were trying to eliminate the word “woman”?

    And now you have people re-writing Huckleberry Finn to eliminate the word “nigger” when referring Huck’s companion Jim. I don’t use the word but I also find the expression, “The ‘N’ word” extremely irritating. How stupid is that? Everyone KNOWS the “N” stands for “nigger,” for crying out loud and everyone says “nigger” silently in their minds when that vapid phrase “The ‘N’ word” is used.

    I went to college about 40 miles up river from Hannibal, MO, for three years and visited the town many times. It’s filled with “Tom Sawyer” this and “Huck Finn” that and “Becky Thatcher” something else. Heck, there’s even an “Injun Joe Trading Post.” But try as hard as I might, I never did find the “Nigger Jim Shopping Mall.”

    • oldsalt,

      Ah, Molly. The woman understood quotable language and, as she once said, “produced quotes with the regularity of a good laying hen”. I’ve always enjoyed this: “I dearly love the state of Texas, but I consider that a harmless perversion on my part, and discuss it only with consenting adults.”

      It’s interesting to me that, since coming to Texas, I’ve experienced the only two instances of true “language shock” in my life.

      I’ve mentioned the first somewhere – you may have read it. I grew up learning about a war that was called either Civil or Between the States. I’ll never forget the first time I heard someone casually mention “The War of Northern Aggression” – and mean it. I still remember my feeling: “What? Who? Me? Huh?”

      I still hear all three terms used in conversation, and have no problem with any of them. Different words, different perspective.

      As for “nigger”, the first time I heard it spoken aloud I was about 40 years old, and sitting in the living room of a woman whose parents’ birth certificates listed Oklahoma Indian Territory as their place of birth. She herself was born in Oklahoma and raised in the Texas panhandle.

      She was telling me about the trials of being a new bride and mother on the plains, and mentioned that she couldn’t have survived the first years if it hadn’t been for her “nigger”. As it turns out, the woman she was referring to lived with the family for a couple of decades, raising her own children along with her charges.

      It was a shock to hear spoken aloud a word I’d only read in print. On the other hand, had I grown up in a different place, the word might well have been part of my vocabulary. It’s a part of our history, after all.

      And that brings us to revisionist history, and the expurgation of Huck Finn. I nearly had apoplexy when I heard about it, and promises that copies of the original text would be available made me no happier. Twain wrote at a particular place and time, and what he wrote should be allowed to stand. Given what’s being promoted in the rap and hiphop worlds these days, I’m not too worried about some kid reading “Huckleberry Finn” and being tempted to verbal excess. ;-)

      Linda

      • “Twain wrote at a particular place and time”

        More significantly, I think, Twain wrote about a particular place and time (and specific classes of people). In other words, it wasn’t that Twain was a product of his environment (since, in so many ways, he transcended it), it’s that his characters were products of theirs. That Huck, in his journey, also managed to transcend his is one of the central themes of the book.

        Were he to write the same book today I hope Twain would feel free to use the same, historically accurate, language.

        • Al,

          I appreciate the comment. It’s a helpful expansion of the point I was trying to make.

          You also reminded me of something still in my files from 2008. A friend’s nephew had started writing. Since I’d been blogging for six months, she wondered what advice I might have for him.

          With the caveat that I didn’t have one clue what I was talking about, I still listed a few things. This was included: “Don’t be afraid to look at the world as it is. Just because you write about something doesn’t mean you have to live it.”

          Linda

  3. Amen! And, thanks, too. This post perked me right up out of an overcast day. Hope you’re enjoying a restful and restorative weekend!

    • anno,

      It’s always nice to have an Amen corner! And you’re welcome.

      There’s a lot of perking up that needs doing around the country these days. If my post helped perk you up, I’ll count my weekend a success right now. Thanks for stopping by!

      Linda

  4. One last reference to the dreaded “N” word.

    I don’t know about things in Texas, but in Florida and other places where there are large numbers of yachts the common term for those who work on them is “Boat Nigger.”

    There is even a group, complete with tee shirts, etc., called the IBNA which stands for “International Boat Nigger Association.” Now, if one wonders how such a term took hold, consider this…in what other occupation in the known world do the workers refer to their employers as “My Owner?” And what other group besides slaves ever referred to anyone that way?

    • oldsalt,

      I have bumped up against that term, but only in one or two mass-market paperbacks left in a marina book exchange, and once I knew a cruiser who seemed to enjoy throwing it around.

      Otherwise, in over two decades of working on boats I’ve never heard the word spoken aloud, and can’t imagine any boat owner I’ve met using such a term. I certainly wouldn’t apply it to myself, and wonder about anyone who’d wear such a tee shirt. Perhaps they mean it as a self-deprecating inside joke. Perhaps.

      Now, it may be that terms of employment make the difference. Crews attached to a single yacht could develop such a mindset, I suppose. But I’m an independent contractor, not an employee. I’m free to choose my customers and to set my fees and terms of employment. I can tell you I don’t know anyone on the Texas coast who’d work for someone who used such language, regardless of their craft.

      Linda

  5. Absolutely right on the mark! You have written the prose and the lyrics that describe one of my basic needs.

    All of my life I’ve felt constrained – first by convention, and then by political correctness. (Pffft.) Wonderful post!

    • NumberWise,

      I’ve been thinking about constraints while I made coffee. The aging process is a process of coping with increasing constraints, as our parents know. Giving up driving comes to mind, and the slow increase in physical impairment. You could add to the list.

      It’s also a fact that because of their constraints, we’re constrained. Can I just “pick up and go” as I used to? Not a chance. A three-day weekend has to be planned like a military campaign. Or, like military campaigns used to be planned. :-)

      But there’s something else – that “felt constraint” that may or may not be real. Sorting out constraints that have to be accepted and those that would go “poof” at the first breath of reality… Well, let’s just say I’m paying more attention to that sorting process these days.

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the read – and my little ditty. This is another section of Texas highway your Miata would enjoy, too!

      Linda

  6. I enjoyed the read…

    As for the term, “Nigger,” my mother taught me to count my toes in a rhythm using the word, “Nigger.” That was some 75-76 years ago. I think my mother in her grave in El Campo, Texas, told me, “Lots of white people are ‘niggers’ too.” Nowadays, we still call those kinds of people, “White Trash.”

    • Abe,

      My goodness. I’m going to have to amend my statement that I’d never heard the word “nigger” until moving to Texas. Better to say I’d never heard it applied to a person until moving here.

      In fact, we used the “eenie, meenie, minee, moe…” counting-out rhyme all the time when I was a kid. And the Christmas stocking always had some hard candy, an orange and Brazil nuts, which were universally called “nigger toes”. I’d forgotten both uses for the word – they simply have faded into the past.

      The willingness to apply perjoratives to those who differ from us is so deeply-rooted. When my mother was growing up in a “shanty Irish” household, the word that was hurled around was “Mick”. She told me once she hated Mickey Mouse from the beginning. She never could get past the first syllable of his name.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the read. I’ll think of your mother the next time I’m through El Campo.

      Linda

  7. What a great tour of Luckenbach! Sounds friendly and has still maintained its own character. This is unusual these days in this mobile and homogenous society that we live in.

    And speaking of changing or not changing, I love how language and word meaning changes. If it didn’t those who speak English would still be talking like the language in Beowolf. I’m very OK with political correctness in language when it removes offensiveness, especially towards innocent people. Can’t imagine why we wouldn’t do that.

    Good read, for sure, thank you.

    • Wild_Bill,

      Luckenbach’s maintained its character, for sure. I see from their website that they’re more commercialized than in the beginning, but that’s to be expected. It’s still a great place to go.

      Like you, I love changing language. I’m just not comfortable with attempts to impose linguistic change. We can model new ways of speaking, suggest, persuade – sometimes it will “take” and sometimes not. My mother, age 93, still refers to herself and her 80-something friends as “girls”. My most assertively feminist friend goes apoplectic when she hears it, but there’s no changing Mom.

      On the other hand, sometimes hurtful language changes on its own. We may not even realize it’s changed until something brings a word to mind and we realize we haven’t heard it in a while. When I was in third grade, I got my first pair of glasses, and for years I suffered taunts of “four-eyes”. I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard that word. Glasses are fashionable now, and the kids on the playground have moved on to something else.

      Glad you enjoyed the read!

      Linda

  8. You’ve made me so, so homesick for Texas. These are the things that remind me of quiet, easy days of summer in my Texas.

    • Snoring Dog Studio,

      What a wonderful compliment you’ve paid me. I can’t think of anything better than being able to evoke the pleasures of home for someone.

      I’m sure there are people who’d find it hard to associate “quiet” and “easy” with Texas, but it can be, for sure. And summer’s coming…

      Linda

  9. I’ve heard that song for what seems to be forever and never had a good “visual” to go with it! Thanks for that! (What wonderful photo ops in that general store – my macro would be going crazy.)

    As for the Kinkster (great name), I don’t know anything much about his politics, but for some reason I just love him. He’s one of those only in America things, and I love that — pardon the pun — kinky side of life! Thanks for another wonderful read!

    • jeanie,

      If we could just get you and your camera down to Texas (or Louisiana, for that matter), it might be a good long time before those northern folk saw you again!

      I remember someone questioned Kinky once about whether it was reasonable to think he could mount a serious political campaign, given the certainty that he’d end up offending a percentage of the population. As Kinky said, “Hell, I’ve already offended everybody in the state. What have I got to worry about?”

      I wouldn’t mind having just a touch more of that attitude, myself.

      Linda

  10. Holy cow! I am in the doghouse because of my faulty moral stance in referring to my Koko as my beloved ‘pet’. Yes, pet, a very demeaning word. I realize that I can talk about this subject until the cows come home and never improve the life of my pet unless I stop being a pussy cat and take the bull by the horns.

    Since I am willing to change my ways I hope that no one sets up a kangaroo court to find the proper punishment for me. I can assure the upright followers of Animal Ethics that this old dog can actually be taught new tricks. Please, give me another chance. I am not a dumb bunny and I do learn quickly. So in my case, please do not make a mountain out of a molehill!

    Because I really do not want to stir up a hornet’s nest I also promise never to demean wildlife by talking about critters and beasts usually found in areas where wildlife abounds. And so as not to break the camel’s back by referring to plants in a derogatory manner, I promise to never grow in my garden Dogwoods, Tiger Lilies, Elephant Ears, Butterfly Bushes, Lion’s Tails, Monkey Flowers, or Cat Mint. I will not photograph Cattails and zebra Grass. I will not eat Gooseberries nor use Snakeweed to heal snakebites. And I will not ever step on a Lion’s Tooth!

    It is too bad that not everybody has horse sense and will continue to use terminology such as ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ and ‘get off one’s high horse’. That’s because such people are bullheaded!

    Signed by a fraidy cat who does not want to stir up a hornet’s nest.

    • Maria,

      Now that I’ve (temporarily) stopped laughing, I have to commend you for being busy as a bee and compiling so many references for us. You’re not a ‘fraidy cat at all – or a silly goose. You do like to horse around a bit, but that’s fine by me.

      People would have to be blind as a bat not to see that you mean well, and that you’re not crazy as a loon!

      Well, all right. We’ll talk about that last one later. ;-)

      Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for your wonderful good humor!

      Linda

  11. Well, it’s going to be hard to beat Maria’s entry (I’m still laughing myself, and wondering how long it took her to think of all those animal related quotes!). I love Willie Nelson’s music. Took hubby to see him eons ago and my mom had her picture taken with him at a golf tournament down in Palm Desert long ago.

    But – Luckenbach reminds me of a little town in California called Rough and Ready. Yep, there really is such a place. I don’t think they have a shared history, and I don’t know why that town came to mind when I read this, but it just did!

    • Karen,

      I’m laughing nearly as much at what I found in the Wiki about Rough and Ready as I did with Maria’s comment. Just look at this:

      “Rough and Ready is the only mining town to have ‘seceded’ from the Union and then voted itself back in. Populated mostly by miners from the state of Wisconsin, the town hoped to rid itself of a recently-introduced tax on new mining claims and the prohibition of alcohol in Nevada County.

      It was decided in a town meeting in April 1850 to draw up articles of secession, forming the ‘Great Republic of Rough and Ready’. Less than three months later, when preparing for an Independence Day celebration, community members realized that they were no longer entitled to celebrate US independence, and the secession was rescinded by popular vote.”

      Look at the parallels. Texas was a Republic; Rough and Ready was a Republic. Certain Texans think secession’s the answer to every problem; Rough and Ready seceded. Kinky Friedman’s pretty crazy; there’s evidence of a certain craziness in R&R! They may not have a shared history, but they surely do have a shared mythos. Rough and Ready sounds pretty much like California’s Luckenbach.

      As for Willie, it’s amazing to think of how long he’s been around. His music is wonderful. I never can listen to Pancho and Lefty without tearing up.

      So glad to have you stop by. I may never hear the phrase “R&R” in the same way again!

      Linda

      • Wow! I had no idea! Maybe that’s why the town came to mind. We have driven through the town of Rough and Ready, a very long time ago, and I took a picture of their post office (way pre-digital – otherwise I’d post it…who knows where it is now!) just to capture the name of the town! I’ve been through some odd ones in my time. Historic Highway 49 is full of them. Frogtown is interesting in it’s own right. Take a look: http://www.frogtown.org/

  12. Oh, I wish I had time to read all the comments.

    But rather than put that off until I have more time, as I’ve been doing for too long regarding your arresting posts, I’m going to comment NOW.

    I couldn’t agree with you more about language. Down with homogeneity! Freedom is what it’s all about, within the limits of respect (like those white gloves we were thinking about).

    You’ll be gratified to know, I think, that in my English department, our linguist (who also retires this year, alas) is all about studying and exploring how language is, not how we might hope it would be. Linguistics is no longer about using the right grammar, but about studying the usages that exist in our various neighborhoods and regions. There are a few stuffy souls who still try to change back to some high-held ideal of language, but I am glad to see the real, strong trends more toward understanding the cultural movements and how to create literature, and understand literature, in those contexts.

    I really appreciate your spotlight on the slice of our American life there in Texas. Keep it coming (I trust you will).

    • This is not to say that English professors no longer care about proper grammar in essays and papers! They do, they do.

      • Ruth,

        The qualities you refer to – freedom, respect, an acceptance of what “is” rather than a continual demand for conformance to external standards – sound suspiciously like qualities that mark any good relationship. All of us know people who use others and never seem to love anyone. The same is true with language. There are plenty of people who use it, but not so many who really love it. You usually can spot the difference.

        There’s something else, which you clearly know. There’s a reciprocity between writer and words. We shape the words, but those words shape us, too. When that begins to happen, we can feel the difference. It may be only a sentence, a phrase, but it’s enough to keep us going.

        As for grammarians, they really do have it right. Learn the rules first, get the techniques down. The improvisation can come later. Spelling and grammar as scales and etudes – what a nice thought!

        Linda

  13. This is most excellent, Linda! Ingenious reinvention of the Willie/Porter number! Luckenbach and language, Wittgenstein and words… your imagination is fenceless. And I regret my late coming to this enjoyable post.

    But maybe timing is most important. I’ve just come across a review of the book: How to Write a Sentence: and How to Read One that makes me want to rush out and buy it right away. Well I don’t need to nowadays, as this will be my next item in my check-out basket at Bookdepository. I’m sure you’ll enjoy reading the review and like me, get it as soon as you’re finished. Here is the link.

    I don’t think the book is in anyway the opposite of what you’re advocating, lifting the boundaries of language. I haven’t read the book, but I’m sure the many examples it cites and the structure it illustrates can only free my imagination, and by no means fence me in. This particular quote from another review says it all: “Both deeper and more democratic than The Elements of Style.” Nowadays, don’t we all need to learn ‘democratic’ writing? ;)

    • Arti,

      I confess, when Strunk & White come into the room, I sit up straighter and check to be sure my pencils are sharpened and all in a row.

      Back in the day, when S&W and the Chicago Manual were a part of my life, they were fine. Now, I’ve moved on to William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well”, and have been plumbing the depths of that one for months. Zinsser’s practical and plain-spoken, but he addresses the art of writing as much as its craft and there’s plenty of encouragement to go with the advice.

      The review of “How to Write a Sentence” was a bit of a slow go for me until I came upon the phrase, “…perhaps it is enough if we simply attune ourselves to structure, rhythm, balance and precision”. That caught my attention, as did his contention that only within a sentence do words have meaning. Or within a phrase, I suppose.

      In any event, by the time I was done and saw that not only Wittgestein but my beloved Mr. Eliot had been thrown into the mix – well! I’ll be right there with you.

      But if you don’t know Zinsser’s book, you should. After all, one of its chapters is entitled, “Writing About the Arts: Critics and Columnists”. He draws some interesting distinctions between critics and reviewers. ;-)

      Linda

  14. Now you’ve got me singing that song. Love Willie….that mellow voice is so distinct.

    • sherri,

      Isn’t it a great song? It just has that rhythm – like “Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds”. He’s done so much that’s great – I guess I’d have to add “On the Road Again” to the list of favs, too. I think part of the reason I enjoy his work so much is that his songs lend themselves so well to singing along.

      Linda

  15. Dear Linda,

    I wanted to thank you for your nice note on my blog. I haven’t figured out how to have followers so it’s always good to get feedback. You have a lovely site yourself.

    Mary

    • Mary,

      I’ve always thought a comment better than “following” or clicking a “like” button – but that’s just me.

      Your blog’s really great. I enjoy reading good writing about Texas and travel, so I suspect I’ll always find something of interest there!

      Thanks for stopping by. You’re always welcome.

      Linda

  16. Linda,
    Great post and I loved the videos. Is Willie the greatest or what? That first photo of the sign made me laugh. “where everybody’s somebody.”

    • Bella,

      Glad you liked it! And that sign’s great – wouldn’t it be great if it was posted at the outskirts of every city and town in the country, and people took it seriously?

      As for Willie… I’m just wondering. Did you ever hear his great song? “You Only Meant to Break My Mailbox, But You Broke My Heart, Instead”? ;-)

      Linda

  17. Hi Linda,
    I am a little late getting here but the story was well worth the wait and the comments just as entertaining!

    I want to go see Texas so badly. I think I would like to take about a 2 week vacation across the state and see the highlights then eventually come back for more!

    Love the songs in your story and the story itself!
    so much fun!!!
    Patti

    • Patti,

      You’re one of the smartest people I know. There are folks who think you could do the highlights in two days and finish it off in a week. Heck, I live here and I’ve hardly begun to scratch the surface. I think about that now and then, when I look out across the lake from my window and see the Johnson Space Center – which I’ve never visited!

      Of course, the same is true for Florida. There was a time when I thought: Florida. Key West. Disney World. Oranges. The first time I drove through the state and saw dairy cows, I couldn’t believe it. Thus do stereotypes fall.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story. Now, if I could just get Willie’s song out of my head I’d be all set!

      Linda

  18. Texas the legend, the myth, the dry dusty truth.

    Without words that connect our imaginations to the subject, we don’t have communication, we have something like an operations manual.
    Words and artists; don’t fence them in.

    Keep painting ;-)

    • Nanette,

      Your comment about language as an operations manual is so true. I’ve always found the distinction between words as signs as words as symbols useful. A stop sign means what it says – there’s a one-to-one correspondence. Telling the nice officer that you interpreted the word “stop” as “slow down a bit while you figure out which way to go” isn’t going to work. Stop means stop, and everyone agrees on the meaning.

      That sign at the outskirts of Luckenbach – “Where everybody’s somebody” – is open to a little more interpretation. And the tagline in Willie’s song – “Don’t fence me in” – has to do with more than the barbed wire or wood that keeps a horse corralled.

      There’s a world of words out there. We might as well use them, even if we have to do something more than text or tweet to paint our pictures.

      Linda

  19. Very interesting point of views. One should take care of how we express things.

    In Sweden we have a type of chocolate ball that often is refered to as negro-ball. This is not politically correct today. Voices are raised that the word “negro” is used because the ball is black, not refering to a person with African orgin. “Negro” may mean “black” but the word “negro” has, in Sweden, never been used for anything but a person with African orgin.

    Now, when it comes to the use of words of this kind and other kinds of references that might be insulting, I think the important thing is if the refered group of people are offended or not. Not if I think they should be or not.

    When I “offend” an animal, like “drunk as a skunk”, the skunk isn’t likely offended since it is not likely that he or she has a clue what I’m saying.

    I do however express concern when we pass values on that could harm the skunks, or foxes or what ever animal or plant or man it concerns. I don’t think anybody think skunks are alcoholics, but there are other expressions that could be taken for truth.

    Thank you for a very interesting blog entry.

    • Désirée,

      I agree with you that the critical question is whether the person being referred to is offended, or not. If there is an offense, what to do in those situations can be tricky.

      I’m thinking now especially of language I hear used to describe women or to interact with them. The first time I heard “Yo, bitch…” and the dude was talking to me – well. Let’s just say I wasn’t about to engage in a discussion of proper language.
      But I worry quite a bit. The degradation of language and the denegration of people go hand in hand, and anyone who takes a stroll through the urban dictionary knows it’s getting worse.

      As for “negro” being used in Sweden, I wonder if that might be a residual effect of the “negritude” movement among black artists and intellectuals in France in the 30s. I did some looking around and discovered there are contemporary symposia being held in Sweden with names like “Diversity and Nationalism in a Post-Colonial Context”, and papers on negritude are being offered. It’s very interesting – apparently Europe still debates negritude, while we’ve moved on to rap and hip-hop. ;-)

      There’s one other thing worth remembering. We live in a time when people take offense easily. Sometimes it seems as though they’re just waiting to be offended. I once heard Melville’s Captain Ahab described as a man with an infinite grudge against the universe. I know several Ahabs.

      Linda

  20. Interesting blog post – I agree that political correctness can go too far, and language is a living thing that needs to develop and find its own new patterns and richness but I also think that the previous comment made a good point about the attitudes that can come with certain ways of using language.

    • Juliet,

      I don’t disagree at all with the point you and Désirée are making about the need for sensitivity, especially where other people are concerned.

      What does concern me is the manipulation of language for political ends, and the willingness of some to impose their values through language.

      For example, if a postal clerk at my local branch calls me “honey”, means nothing by it and I’m not offended, no one else has a right to come along and insist that we eliminate the word, or find a substitute. On the other hand, if someone calls me “honey” under quite different circumstances, I’ve every right to ask them not to do so. BUT – my decision, my request.

      It’s complicated and touchy, no doubt. But talking about it is a good thing – it’s a path toward greater sensitivity on all our parts.

      Linda

  21. I can’t help but love your song. Makes me smile.Moreover, having read many of the comments here, it’s interesting how much we all have to say about words and their use and usage. And how seriously we take them. How none of us, really, can stand to be tempered by any rules when it comes to expression.

    And how we keep layering our words and expressions, qualifying them, to be understood absolutely clearly. Cleanly. Impossible, really.
    Rock on!

    AND, I meant to add, write on! It is so compellingly absolutely necessary and important. You are opening doors all over the place!

    • oh,

      I do love song parodies. I don’t often set out to do them, but every now and then something comes to mind and I have the most fun with it!

      People do care about language – even people whom you wouldn’t imagine caring. I have a down-the-hall neighbor who just is obsessed with transparency/truth. It’s not a political thing with him – he’s just convinced that when a word like “transparency” suddenly gets inserted into the conversation, there’s something afoot. It can be a little Alice-in-Wonderlandish sometimes, in terms of the “words mean what I say they mean” business.

      I’m just thinking about the layering business. Sometimes when it seems someone is quantifying and qualifying to beat the band, there’s a reason beyond clear communication. ;-)

      And of course we’ll keep writing – all of us. How could we not?

      Linda

  22. The threads of thought that you weave through your pieces are a real delight. This time your mention of Ludwig Wittgenstein jumped out at me. I’d never paid attention to the name before I came upon it in the poem by Brad Cran (a Vancouver treasure): Reading Wittgenstein, which made me wonder what Wittgenstein had to say, and why a poet was interested. (Language, you say?)

    Then your post, which I didn’t have time to read properly, but meant to come back to, and have now.

    Then in the way these things sometimes go, last week the movie Wittgenstein jumped off the shelf at the library, so I’ve been watching it in small bits, trying to take my philosophy in very odd, theatrical doses.

    (I appreciate the link you’ve provided, to the philosophy encyclopedia, to fill in the blanks the movie assumes I’ve already filled.)

    It all makes my head hurt a bit, as really, the limits of my knowledge are limiting me here, but the more language at my disposal, the more likely I’ll get to clarity, or at least that’s my hope. So, yeah, don’t fence me in, because all this free-ranging allows for other viewpoints to come into focus.

    (And yes, song parodies are a delight. My first taste was as a child, reading Mad Magazine, which my mother, bless her, always bought.)

    • Shirley,

      Truth to tell, you’re not going to find me snuggling up with a nice merlot and a volume of Wittgenstein – or Kierkegaard or Hegel, for that matter. My head starts to hurt, too, and my eyes glaze over. But every now and then I find a gem like the quotation from Wittgenstein about the limits of language, and off I go.

      What’s a real gem is that poem you linked. The whole time I was reading it I was having little shocks of recognition – I was glad to see it was written by your poet laureate. I’d hate to think it was just some dude from the poetry slam down the block!

      The line that popped into my head even while I was still reading was from Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” – “between the idea and the reality falls the shadow”.

      I don’t know why I found it so compelling, but I think there’s no doubt it could be paraphrased as, “Between Wittgenstein and the Mississippi…” We do so love living in our idealistic, constructed worlds, and it can be a bit of a shock when physical reality intrudes. It seems to me that’s at least a part of what Cran was getting at in his poem.

      Thank goodness for sensible parents. It was my dad who introduced me to Mad Magazine and told my mother it was absolutely acceptable reading for her impressionable daughter.

      Linda


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