New Riders of the Purple Sage – “Lonesome L.A. Cowboy” changed my life!
Ever since some jocks used me as a spitoon for their tobaccey when I was in middle school, just because I scrawled anarchy symbols on my t-shirt, I’ve thought of myself as a true, spittle-on-my-torn-up-jacket punk rocker. Years have come and gone, and I’ve learned to work a day job, love my parents, and appreciate all kinds of delicate and sensitive music that’s not about sniffing glue. But whether I’m listening to soul music, glam, bubblegum, country, novelty records, or classical, I’m always drawn to the hard-edged snarls of rebellion–the Waylons, the Stravinskys, the Napoleon XIV’s. And when it comes to the beautiful music in my life, I think I prefer beauty with a little menace, a little foreboding (Love, the Impressions,”Sunday Morning” by the Velvets)–or at least something so god-awfully beautiful and precious that it spits on the convention of good taste.
In particular, I’m very proud of the punk rock legacy of Los Angeles, and its costumed anarchy that was so much more creative and gleeful in its early years than, say, the seven-minute poem-prayers of Patty Smith, or the cockney-Ramone riffs of most of England’s dreamers in ’77. Songs like “Take a Quaalude Now” or “Manimal” or “Los Angeles” or the Screamers’ version of “The Beat Goes On” kind of reach across the decades and slap the shit out of me, and make me dance like a spazz even now.
But goddam, I turned on my radio a few days ago while changing CD’s in my car, and damned if I didn’t find a song from L.A.’s early seventies Hollywood scene that touches me in a deeper, truer place than any L.A. punk song. It was called “Lonesome L.A. Cowboy,” and I was scared it might be by some band I hate, like the Eagles or something. Whoever it was, they’d taken a page out of the Flying Burrito Brother’s handbook, but with more of a contemporary (for its time) country angle as well as a Grateful Dead vibe.
And those lyrics–I couldn’t believe they could have had a radio hit about “smoking dope, snorting coke… trying to write a song…” The dude was singing about wasting money on girls at Barney’s Beanery, seeing shows at the Troubadour, and staying up until 6 a.m., rockin’ out and losing his memory. Move the whole scene just a couple miles east to Echo Park, and a couple decades later, and it could have been me singing about my life in my early twenties!
Anyway, I found out the song ain’t by no goddam Eagles, but is by none other than the New Riders of the Purple Sage. They started out with Jerry Garcia and Mickey Hart from the Grateful Dead in the band (so I was right about the vibe) but later became more of their own thing, and oh yeah, they created themselves out of whole cloth, seemingly completely separately from any Byrds/Burritos influence that was in the air at the time. It was more of a Merle Haggard/alt-country thing, with a little mescaline stirred in there, and it was good.
Tonight I ended up getting the album that “Lonesome L.A. Cowboy” was on, Adventures of Panama Red. I was a little bummed that the other songs weren’t nearly as good. But then tonight, in researching this piece, I learned that this band did a second song that reaches out and touches me in a place only the doctor has normally been before. Painful as it may be, I too am an Oklahoma born 34-year-old in a honky tonk, getting drunk on beer and whiskey and beating the shit out of hippies (sadly, that hippie is me).
Here’s a beer to you, amigos, for the good music and good times. I’ve only known you three days, and already I feel like old friends. I’ll see you at your next performance at the state fair or High Times outdoor pavilion, and you better play this here track: