Long Hair Turning Gray
Larry McMurtry probably ought to be considered a national treasure. He’s written a hell of a canon of the American West, like almost a hundred books, and The American West at its most raw, is America at its most honest. My own father is not a man of fiction but he loves Lonesome Dove and holds it dear to his heart.
General Custer and Crazy Horse have been written about so many times it’s annoying, even asinine, commonplace and cliché; but for my money, McMurtry did it the best, he’s provided us with the end-all-be-all biography of each man.
And he wrote one of the finest Texan coming of age stories of all time--with a father who’s hard on those he loves because he loves them, a wildcard and free willing and night-city seeking step-son, and finally the youngest son, the story’s protagonist who deals with existential crisis of this life as often as he has to deal with material issues and hard drama between his father and older brother--in his debut play, “Horseman, Pass By.” I’m not a man who cries, nor a man who easily relates to much, but I remember reading that play in high school and I tried but could not help myself from my eyes swelling up with salt water. I felt that story, big time.
But this post is about one song written by McMurtry’s son. And it’s not a great song, and I can’t explain why I love it. And I’ve tried listening to more music by James McMurtry and just don’t dig it.
I think I like this particular song because I can relate to mediocrity. The song is less than spectacular, and James McMurtry’s career is also well less than stellar, and I believe this song captures that essence pretty damn perfectly. Its opening line I especially appreciate so much that it makes me smile and chuckle to myself every time I hear it, “Sick of this small town bull shit, I’m not staying in school.” Then later on, it’s simple but it’s pure and true: “Meanwhile I got a gram [of weed most likely, maybe coke] and a real good ride [first time buying a car most likely] / And don’t you know I hurt way down inside.” I feel that, big time. It’s not that good a song at all, but it so easily portrays a certain struggle that I relate to so well.
It’s written by a man who must live in the shadow of his acclaimed father. It’s a difficult realm to live in. The song, called, “Just Us Kids” enunciates that certain pain and heartache, the misery and rare good-time feeling of forgetting that one might have to live up to some idea, that one might just have fun for a minute, that one might be themselves and that it might be okay, that even God might understand and might even appreciate it.