Monday, September 10, 2012

The Cowboy Way vs. The Rocky Mountain Way

September 10, 2012

In about 1963, I graduated from cowboys to rock stars as my guiding role model. I think this had more to do with puberty than anything else, but at the time I thought the cowboy was beginning to look outdated and corny (I was all of 15!). Rock and roll was, well, young and sexy.

I never completely abandoned the cowboy ideal but it certainly took a back seat to my new found love of living dangerously (at least metaphorically). Much to my mother's regret (which probably added some octane to the fuel) I quickly migrated from Cowtown to Underground.

Although it seemed to me at the time this was a major part of my life, this rock star infatuation lasted but a short time. Okay, maybe 25 years. In 1989 I rediscovered my prepubescent love—outlaws and gunslingers.

The Cowboy Way vs. The Rocky Mountain Way

In some ways the rock period of my life seems like an exception, a misspent youthful culdesac. Or was it merely an extension of the bad boy on horseback?

I read an excellent essay in the New York Times yesterday, "Off the Charts" by Jay Ruttenberg about how the rock star has gone the way of the cowboy:

"How has the rock star—a giant cultural figure who once so happily tangoed with groupies and seafood—come to symbolize all that is rundown, emotionally hampered and moralistic? it struck me as a sad fate: another American hero cut down. And it was certainly not without precedent. In particular, the rock star's fall from glorious licentiousness evoked the rough treatment the cowboy suffered at the hands of '60s and '70s filmmakers, eager to expose a previous generation's idols as nasty old coots wasting away in saloons before embarking on their doomed last rides. Now the baby boomer's heroes were themselves getting a comeuppance. Woe betide the fictional computer whiz 20 years hence."

Pretty profound, really. Here's the wrap-up:

"As with the beleaguered cowboy before him, the rock singer had somehow grown alluring through his woes. On stages large and small, the person gripping the microphone appeared to me a tragic figure, resigned to live forever in the shadow of our youthful dreams and missteps—rock 'n' roll star, sacrificial loser." So, perhaps the rock star and the cowboy are cousins? merely an extension of each other? Interchangeable?

"I'm a cowboy, on a steel horse I ride. I'm wanted, dead or alive."

—Bon Jovi