Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Buster Scruggs Sings A Pretty Tune

November 20, 2018
   Saw "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" last weekend in the theater (it's also streaming on Netflix at the same time). So, it's time to talk about the six stories included in the anthology, hopefully without giving too much away. You need to go see it for yourself, but here we go:

Tim Blake Nelson as Buster Scruggs

   It opens with a full blown parody of Gene and Roy and all those singing Westerns, although it's not really a parody, it's an authentic song, sung ALL THE WAY through, then quickly the scene devolves into a Sergio Leone parody, which gets the biggest laughs and deservedly so.

   Unfortunately, this is short-lived and we are off on other stories that do not connect. So, the title of the entire film is a sort of false front come-on, which in itself is kind of frustrating and satisfying in a I-sure-didn't-expect-that! way. Get used to it. It is a Coen brothers film, after all.

   According to an interview I heard the Coens have been writing some of these Western stories for "about 20 years" as stand alone stories without any concern about whether they are commercial, or not. This is a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that none of the stories go where you might think they should go, and the curse is, you will find yourself muttering, "Well, that was a long way to go for a half-assed ending."

   On the plus side, the Boys get credit for tying the stories together with a throwback to early Old West book covers and artwork.

   It's an homage to the clean and mean 1920s and 1930s designed book covers with duotone graphics. It gives all the stories told in the movie, a warm bath glow. And we also get a parallel view of the stories as the camera pans out from the first page, then in on the last page as the story ends (it is revealing in the dog story that the ride back to the wagon train is "ten miles" but in the scene, the train is just over the hill. This will make sense when you see it for yourself.

Full blown Leone homage

The bar scene with the full blown Sergio Leone Spaghetti Western characters, is my least favorite setup, although it's done well (see the wonderful, grizzled bastards, above). The story with the best arc, is of a prospector whose voice will be familiar to some of you.

Tom Waits shines as a hearty prospector

Plus, the bad guy in this story doesn't have one line of dialogue but it's so obviously Billy the Kid, it's not even funny.

   The quirkiest story, with the most amazing character is the dog on the wagon train story. The actress Zoe Kazan is simply amazing in her complex delivery, showcasing insecurity, hope and spilling-over emotion, often in the same scene, and in a few cases, in the same sentence! By far, she is my most favorite character in the whole film. Truly a classic pioneer portrayal with a sober message. 

Zoe Kazan shines in awkward glory

   There's more, but that should give you enough of a taste to check it out. Oh, and be sure to remind me how wrong I am in all of my appraisals.


BUTCH CASSIDY (Paul Newman): Then you jump first.

THE SUNDANCE KID (Robert Redford): No, I said.

BUTCH: What's the matter with you?

SUNDANCE: I can't swim!

BUTCH: Are you crazy? The fall will probably kill ya!

Bonus Butch:

BUTCH: Kid, there's something I ought to tell you. I never shot anybody before.

SUNDANCE: One hell of a time to tell me.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Castle Hot Springs Part II

November 19, 2018
   Had a great weekend working on narrative sequences, like this one:

Daily Scratchboard Whip Out:
"The Outcropping"

      Here's a couple more images from my trip, last week, out to the historic Castle Hot Springs:

Castle Hot Springs in its heyday.
The big building at right burned in 1976,
closing the resort for many years.
The new owners built casitas in that area.

   The new owners built casitas in that area and here is the view, looking the other way, last Thursday evening:

On the front porch of our casita
(#20) at sunrise

   The resort was built in 1896 and had many famous guests including John F. Kennedy in 1946. His father had sent him to the springs to recuperate after WWII. It was a long hike from the railhead, which stopped at Morristown, which was about 20 miles away and a long stage ride was the only way in for a long time.

The Castle Hot Springs Stage

   The new owners have refurbished the main building and added a swimming pool. It has a great, hidden away feeling.

The main Lodge at Castle Hot Springs

   They are having a soft opening in late December. Should be open in January. 

"It's okay not to know the reason for things."
—Alan Arkin

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Buster Scruggs & The Heart of Darkness

November 17, 2018
   We had a stunner this morning.

Ratcliff Ridge Sunrise at 6:55 a.m.

   Finally got to see "The Ballad of Buster Scruggs" last night.

Short review: loved the quirky, peculiar story turns. Funny in parts, hilarious in one or two instances, but overall, uneven. On the other hand, it never goes where you think it might and I loved that. Did not care for a couple of the endings (it's an anthology, not a single story), or rather, non-endings. Still, God bless those Coen boys, it's a full fledge Western.

   Working on narrative sequences this weekend:

Olive Sequence:
"Riders On The Talking Rocks"

   Meanwhile, it took me five years, but I finally finished reading a classic short story this morning:

"Kurtz discoursed. A voice! a voice! It rang deep to the very last. It survived his strength to hide in the magnificent folds of eloquence the barren darkness of his heart."

"...their multitude of secular trees looking patiently after this grimy fragment of another world [their steamboat], the forerunner of change, of conquest, of trade, of massacres, of blessings."    Joseph Conrad just summed up the march of civilization in one sentence. This totally nails the conquest of the Western United States.

"Perhaps all the wisdom, and all truth, and all sincerity, are just compressed into that inappreciable moment of time in which we step over the threshold of the invisible." In other words, when we die.

"I found myself back in the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams." Welcome home!

"She had a mature capacity for fidelity, for belief, for suffering. The room seemed to have grown darker, as if all the sad light of the cloudy evening had taken refuge on her forehead."

And the last lines of the story: "The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky—seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness."
—Joseph Conrad's classic short story, "Heart of Darkness"

"I'm not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing."
—Cormac McCarthy

Friday, November 16, 2018

Nobody Knows Anything

November 16, 2018
   Working on a tribute in our February issue of True West to this guy:

The Cowboy Who Wrote
The Best Rodeo Picture Ever

   The picture is "Junior Bonner" and the writer is Jeb Rosebrook.

Jeb Rosebrook at age 10 in 1946

   Jeb passed last August and he was a great friend (his son is our senior editor). Although Jeb knew a great deal about Prescott and cowboying and Hollywood and history, he agreed with a fellow screenwriter, who just passed:

“Nobody knows anything. Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what's going to work. Every time out it's a guess and, if you're lucky, an educated one.”
—William Goldman

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Maxfield Parrish at Castle Hot Springs

November 15, 2018,
   Had the pleasure of finally going out to Castle Hot Springs which is about an hour west of my house in Cave Creek. It is a very historic, old-school resort that was closed for many years after a fire burned the main building. New owners have invested millions of dollars to bring it back to life.

   I have driven by the turn-off for at least 35 years and every time I do, I say to myself, "One of these days. . ."

   Well, yesterday Kathy and I took off from work early and drove out to Castle Hot Springs Road and made the turn. It's paved for about five miles and then it turns to dirt for the last ten miles. The bottom line is, you really have to want to go there. It is isolated.

Sunrise over Castle Hot Springs, Arizona.

   This is from the front porch of our casita (#20) parked on the hillside below the hot springs. Kristin Atwell is doing a documentary on the history of the resort and she asked Marshall Trimble and myself to come out to the property to talk on camera about the place. I knew Marshall would cover the cowboys and the cavalry so I offered to talk about one of my artist heroes who found himself, literally, at the hot springs.

   In 1901 and 1902 a young artist with tuberculosis came to stay at the resort. He was impressed with the air and the skies. He claimed the vastness of the Arizona scenery transformed him and his career.

"Cowboys at the Waterhole"
by Maxfield Parrish

BBB at Castle Hot Springs

   I certainly saw and felt the inspiration Maxfield felt. By the way, the water behind me is 110 degrees, coming right out of the rocks.

   The irony is that a certain dentist with TB rode right past this place on his way from Prescott to Goose Flats in 1880. If only he had stopped here, he might have lived longer. We will never know.

   By the way, the third edition of the book on this same dentist just arrived at our door and it looks mighty fine. Over a hundred of the pre-orders went to the post office about an hour ago, so if you ordered one, it should land in a couple days.

"This is funny."
—Doc Holliday

"You never breathed such stuff in your life, it's right from the keg."
—Maxfield Parrish

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Sharlot Hall and Olive Oatman

November 14, 2018
    Here is a story that turns on one historic fact: A researcher contacted Sharlot Hall in 1906. Joseph Fish related that Sharlot Hall, herself a noted historian of Arizona, had informed him that "Olive had two children while among her captors, [and] that one a Mohave sometimes visited Fort Yuma. But in her own rather extensive study of the Oatman story, Hall made no reference to Olive's children." 


   This is a story I am working on for a special little booklet I will be producing.

   She saw him in the moonlight on the banks of the river. 

Daily Scratchboard Whip Out:
"One Handsome Mojave"

   I think it was because Sharlot felt Olive had suffered enough, but my hunch is that this would be a big, bitter pill to swallow for someone who seeks the truth in history.

"No story has a happy ending unless you stop telling it before it's over."
—Orson Welles

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Number One Collector of BBB Artwork

November 13, 2018
   It's time to praise people with great taste in art.
"It was 10 years ago this past March, I purchased my first BBB art work, the 'Digging Billy' cover, at Art Detour from Ken at Pravus Gallery on 5th street & Roosevelt! Ken, I believe, works with Ed Mell. I also happened upon your show on Whiskey Row and then paid you my first visit at the True West World headquarters."
—Craig Schepp

My number one patron, Craig Schepp,
with me at Bryan's BBQ

   I am holding an original BBB painting called "Mickey Free—Back With A Vengeance" (2016), a gouache which Craig bought that needed to be signed by me, so he brought it to the history talk at Bryan's last Thursday evening. He also took the opportunity to buy another original piece of mine, bringing his total to 70 original BBBs and three artprints. It's an honor to have someone so dedicated to collecting my work.

"The Red Light Patrol"

   I'm still trying to plow through "Heart of Darkness," and last night I ran across this passage that captures a certain captivo:

"She was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress. . .her face had a tragic and fierce aspect of wild sorrow and of dumb pain mingled with the fear of some struggling, half-shaped resolve."
—Joseph Conrad, "Heart of Darkness"

Monday, November 12, 2018

Show Me A Sign

November 12, 2018
   Went home for lunch and answered the question, "If you were riding across Monument Valley in a dust storm, what would you see?"

Daily Scratchboard Whip Out:
"Monument Rider."

Show me a sign

    In other scratchboard news, there's a prominent rock formation near Union Pass in Mohave County that I have long been fascinated with. 

Daily Scratchboard Whip Out:
"Finger Rock."

   I believe the Mojave In-dins consider it a sacred outcropping. Here are a couple more views of it, which Kathy captured on a rainy Sunday morning, right out the car window, on our trip back from Death Valley last month.

Finger Rock From Afar

Finger Rock Up Close

   Granted, it could be a falcon or, for that matter, a bald-headed monk kneeling to pray, but growing up in Kingman, when we were coming home from the lake, all of us kids giggled every time we saw it because, to us, it clearly seemed to be, Mother Nature, flipping us all off.

"Old myths, old gods, old heroes have never died. They are only sleeping at the bottom of our mind, waiting for our call. We have a need for them. They represent the wisdom of our race."
—Stanley Kunitz

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Crazy Connections on Old Route 66

November 10, 2018
   What happens when you put a moratorium on speaking engagements? Well, in my case, you get booked like crazy. I made myself a vow I would take a break from speaking so I could concentrate on my next book. 

   Well, let's see, I just did an interview on RFD-TV yesterday at the Buffalo Chip Saloon, and I'm doing another documentary as a talking head out at Castle Hot Springs next Wednesday. And, here I am at Bryan's BBQ last Thursday night for a talk on crazy connections in history:

BBB at Bryan's BBQ

   One of the crazy connections I covered during my talk at Bryan's is how my passion for Old West history began at my grandmother's house on Jefferson Street in Kingman, in 1957, when we were watching "The Life & Legend of Wyatt Earp," starring Hugh O'Brian, and how fifty years later I got invited to Hugh O'Brian's birthday party at his mansion in Beverly Hills, and, the guy who took this photo,  above, is the guy who got me invited there. That would be Pierre O'Rourke who was sitting in the front row.

   Small world, eh?

"Yes, it's a small world, but I wouldn't want to paint it."
—Steven Wright

Friday, November 09, 2018

Deadwood Returns!

November 9, 2018
   Yes, the rumors are true. A wrap up version of "Deadwood" is filming even as you read this.

   According to Entertainment Weekly, Timothy Olyphant will again star as Seth Bullock and Ian McShane is back as Al Swearengen, and series creator David Milch wrote the script and is back as showrunner.

  Here’s the first-ever description of the plot: “The indelible characters of the series are reunited after ten years to celebrate South Dakota’s statehood. Former rivalries are reignited, alliances are tested and old wounds are reopened, as all are left to navigate the inevitable changes that modernity and time have wrought.”

Here’s the confirmed list of returning cast members: Molly Parker (Alma Ellsworth), Paula Malcomson (Trixie), John Hawkes (Sol Star), Anna Gunn (Martha Bullock), Dayton Callie (Charlie Utter), Brad Dourif (Doc Cochran), Robin Weigert (“Calamity” Jane Canary), William Sanderson (E.B. Farnum), Kim Dickens (Joanie Stubbs) and Gerald McRaney (George Hearst). The film will also feature new cast member, Jade Pettyjohn (playing Caroline).

   Powers Boothe, who played Swearengen’s nemesis, the cruel Cy Tolliver, passed away last year.
"I don't collude. I don't cahoot."
—Al Swearengen (Ian McShane)

Talk Is Cheap But BBQ Is Great

November 9, 2018
   Had a history talk at Bryan's BBQ last night. They have this great oldtime cowboy poster in the party room next to where I spoke.

BBB and Rex Bell

   I believe that nothing changes more than the past, and I feel like it's my duty to speak to this phenom, especially as it relates to the Old West.

Tucson, Arizona Territory, 1874

   I try to make this fun and entertaining, but sometimes people reject my message.

"Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed."

—Friedrich Nietzche

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Red Dead Redemption Roll Call

November 7, 2018
   In our staff meeting today, one of the youngsters was raving about Red Dead Redemption II and how cool it is to be in the game and how realistic it is (you have to feed your horse and skin game!). 

   Is anybody playing this video game? Sounds like fun, actually.

   Oh, and here are a couple stats, I got off a piece in the The Washington Post: "Given that Rockstar’s prior game 'Grand Theft Auto V' is the highest grossing media product in history and that 'RDR2’' enjoyed what Rockstar Games is touting as the most lucrative weekend take for any media product in history, with $725 million in sales, one should hope that the company will use its resources to better things for all of its employees and inspire the industry at large. With tremendous fortune comes tremendous responsibility, as they say."
"I'd rather be dead than red."
—Old Right-Wing Slogan

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

My Punk Past

November 6, 2018
   There was a time in my long lost past when I played a style of music that upset almost all of the adults in the United States of America.

    Yes, I was part of the garage band phenom and over several decades I played a whole lotta love and a whole lotta top-forty junk. But, I wasn't alone and I wasn't the only one.

   Somewhere in those rockin' times I was in a band with Jack Alves, Hans Olson and Steve Denis, called The Razz Band and we liked to promote ourselves as the State's Most Mediocre Band. We bragged we hadn't practiced since the Bay of Pigs. And, it was true.

BBB In The State's Most Mediocre Band

  We played all the garage band anthems: "Gloria," "Louie Louie," "Satisfaction" and "Wipeout." And if you've ever picked up a guitar pick or a drum stick, you know each and every one of those tunes, in addition to "Why Don't We Do It In The Road?"

The Fab Four at The Crossroads

   Of course, some of these garage bands went on to everlasting fame:

ZZ Top From Bottom

A Blast From The Past
   My old bandmate, Jack Alves, drove out to Cave Creek yesterday to pay me a royalty check for a punk song we recorded in the 1980s. Evidently, "I Need Her" is climbing the punk charts in Japan and Jack wanted me to enjoy the spoils all these years later. I took him for lunch at Janie's and he ordered a Bloody Mary that had bacon in it. 

Jack Brings Home The Bacon

   If I remember correctly we did the song in one take.
"Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen." 
—Benjamin Disraeli

Monday, November 05, 2018

On The Border With Buckeye's Dad Buck

November 5, 2018
   I've got an artist pard who comes from a long line of cowboys.

Buckeye Blake's father, Bud Blake, on the left. On the border with the border patrol, near Lukeville, Arizona, 1952

   So what I'm saying is, Buckeye has the genes and the jeans.

"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
—Groucho Marx

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Seeking Narrative Truth

November 4, 2018
   This weekend I started on a journey to seek an alternative way to treat frame sequences in the graphic novel format.

Daily Scratchboard Whip Outs:
"Moon of The Mojave"

   In the West, we look at these frames from left to right, top to bottom. It's interesting that Anime and Manga comics have reversed this sequence, as I believe the Japanese comics go right to left? And, even back to front!? So, based on this crazy, modern mish-mash-smash-up, I've been collecting odds and ends in terms of narrative sequences, like this:

From my Odd Narrative Clipping File

   Is it possible to push the form this far and still tell a story? Or, put another way, could you tell an even better story if you broke the form and rebuilt it? What if there were scenes in the middle of the book that answered a sequence in the front of the book? What if the story ended on the first page and went backwards in the traditional, left to right, top to bottom way, but if you read it the other way, you would come to a different conclusion?

Airborne sketches: Germany to Atlanta

   I do know this: at the center of the story I want to tell there is a terrible secret, one that a certain captive has spent her entire life hiding from the public.

Daily Whip Outs: "Seeking Olive"

   Meanwhile, Sharlot Hall based her life on finding the truth. She detested a lie. To her there was the taint of death in a lie.

There's a story in here waiting to get out.

In the long run, it's better not to know. Olive had suffered enough. She had suffered the loss of two mothers, all but one of her siblings and, apparently, her own Mojave children. Which begs an even bigger question.

   Is it possible to tell a story that's so true, people are turned off by it?

"I liked it so much, I never saw it again."
—James Cherry, on "A Clockwork Orange"