Stranger in a Strange Land: Howling at the Moon

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Howling at the Moon

“Baby, it’s time we got back to the basics”.

That’s what Waylon Jennings says, singing to me through the scratchy speaker of my out-dated Dell.

I wonder, “What are these basics he is singing about?” For some reason I envision a relaxed Midwest summer, the time of year when the sun warms up and the night becomes shy. I get a feeling Waylon’s basics involve getting drunk under twilight stars while dancing to the twang of country guitars. I decide to take his advice and seek out these basic comforts supposedly found in country music. Not new-age, pop-infused, Ford-truck promoting, candy-coated radio hits. I’m talking beer drinking, shit-kicking, tear-jerking, howl-at-the-moon classic country. The kind composed while drunkenly mourning Mama’s demise at the hands of a runaway train before backing your pickup over your dog Duke after a night celebrating your release from prison.

Yes, I’m talking real country music.

I saddle into my foreign-born S.U.V. and start driving, not knowing where I am going but guessing I would eventually end up somewhere. Then, somewhere along Bluff Street, I hear it:

“I’ve been everywhere man, I’ve been everywhere man...”

Cash, seemingly serenading me towards the Town Clock. I pull over and turn off my car. The music beckons me. I apprehensively approach the Dubuquefest stage and see a bona fide, vintage country band. Big hats, big belt-buckles and big country sound. A large crowd gathers under a rain-threatening sky. Most seem in the grasp of inebriation, many are dancing, and one couple is performing a questionable, alcohol-incited mating ritual. The Big City Honky Tonk band is cussing and Pupy Costello encourages the kids to “pay attention to the bubbles, not the words.”

Bearing witness to a general return to the basics, even if just for a night, I am ready to assimilate. I saunter up to the Jaycees’ beer tent and order two big glasses of Bud-heavy, take alternating swigs from each and howl at the moon.

Several beers later and lost in the depths of the philosophical lyric, “When I gamble I’m always losing but with drinking I win every night,” I realize I have stumbled back to the basics Waylon was singing about. Perhaps you do not need to go all the way to Luckenbach, Texas. Maybe the basics are right here in Dubuque, Iowa, where all it takes is a perfect combination of summer nights, live music, cold beverages, family, friends, and forgetting all things of fabricated importance.

Waylon was right. We live lives preoccupied with the complexities of careers, bank accounts and misplaced materialism. True happiness can only be understood when we find our way back to the basics of love and of life.

I found my way back through a night of classic country music; through the lyrical prose of a man whose name is pronounced “poopy” and whose twelve-step program to happiness begins with a trip to the bar “to get myself a PBR.”


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