The Aged P

…just toasting and ruminating….


An old cowboy went riding out one dark and windy day
Upon a ridge he rested as he went along his way
When all at once a mighty herd of red eyed cows he saw
A-plowing through the ragged sky and up the cloudy draw

Their brands were still on fire and their hooves were made of steel
Their horns were black and shiny and their hot breath he could feel
A bolt of fear went through him as they thundered through the sky
For he saw the Riders coming hard and he heard their mournful cry

Their faces gaunt, their eyes were blurred, their shirts all soaked with sweat
He’s riding hard to catch that herd, but he ain’t caught ’em yet
‘Cause they’ve got to ride forever on that range up in the sky
On horses snorting fire As they ride on hear their cry

As the riders loped on by him he heard one call his name
If you want to save your soul from Hell a-riding on our range
Then cowboy change your ways today or with us you will ride
Trying to catch the Devil’s herd, across these endless skies

Would a song about the punishment for sin come out of the modern music industry? I doubt it but those terrifying lyrics have a resonance that might make even the most urbanised record company executive or Hollywood icon hesitate before snorting that next line of coke…

There are many versions of this classic cowboy song, written in 1948 by Stan Jones, working then as a Park Ranger in Death Valley. It took Jones into a prolific song writing career in Hollywood, a career sadly terminated by his untimely death in 1963, aged 49.

The biggest selling version was by Vaughn Monroe in 1949 but it’s the voice of Johnny Cash that, to me, really brings out the true nature of the song as a warning of the consequences of not changing your ways – a message that probably always hit home to The Man in Black as he reflected on his own stormy life.

Actually it was Burl Ives who made the original recording but Monroe rushed to get his own version out first.

However, the Ives version has a more folksy intimate feel that seems better suited to the tale that Jones heard as a twelve year old in Arizona…..

An impressionable 12 year old rode to the top of an Arizona hill one afternoon with an old Cowboy friend to check a windmill. A big storm was building and they needed to lock the blades down before the wind hit. When finished, they paused to watch the clouds darken and spread across the sky. As lightning flashed, the Cowboy told the boy to watch closely and he would see the devil’s herd, their eyes red and hooves flashing, stampede ahead of phantom horsemen. The Cowboy warned the youth that if he didn’t watch himself, he would someday be up there with them, chasing steers for all eternity. The terrified boy jumped on his horse and took off for the the safety of home.

“they paused to watch the clouds darken and spread across the sky”……reminds me of my favourite Maynard Dixon painting…..

posted by david in Music and have Comments Off on A Song To Remember..”GHOST RIDERS IN THE SKY”

The Maynard Dixon Painting That Told Me To Go To The USA

During the late 1940s and early 50s my dad would sometimes buy a copy of the Saturday Evening Post from our local WH Smith in South London. It was a much better deal in terms of pictures and articles of interest than anything published in England at the time. I particularly remember being astonished at the advertisements for food and drink – this at a time when food continued to be rationed in a rather run down dilapidated post war London suburb, still pock marked with bombed out buildings.

As the years rolled by and prosperity returned Hollywood and Rock n’Roll crafted part of my own cultural outlook. As a history teacher and politics nut I developed a fascination for the American scene but never imagined crossing the pond for real, only in my imagination.

Then in 1990, browsing in a local discount bookstore I picked up a copy of “Exploring The West” by Herman J Viola and there, on page 240 was this picture, “Open Range”, painted by Maynard Dixon in 1942…..

the grim gaunt edges of the rocks, the great bare backbone of the Earth

I was hooked. I just had to go out there and see that for myself – the big sky, the majestic mesas, the sandy, scrubby landscape. I wanted to sense it, feel it, drink it in with my eyes. Moreover I wanted to stand in front of that painting which the book said was part of a collection of western art near the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver. So in the mid 90s we booked a fly drive and I took the car east across the Rockies to Denver, checked into the Brown Palace that night and, bright and early next morning, sauntered out of the hotel to where the gallery was supposed to be and – no gallery, no collection, no picture….apparently the whole project had been closed a few months before and the paintings scattered to the four corners of America.

So I have never seen the painting.

But we did see the landscape. We have driven all around Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. First year we drove from Flagstaff to Bluff, Utah and alongside Monument Valley and I saw it for real.

A few days later we drove to Moab and I stood at Grand View Point in Canyonlands – thinner and with more hair than now – and wanted time to freeze for ever……

….and I so much want to return.

Thank you, Maynard Dixon….

BTW – a few years later we did see many of his paintings at a glorious exhibition mounted at Brigham Young University…..but that painting, sadly, wasn’t there…..

posted by david in Art,Travel,USA and have Comments Off on The Maynard Dixon Painting That Told Me To Go To The USA

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