For those of you who might not know of him, Dave Stamey is an acclaimed Western singer/song-writer who has been described by Cowboys and Indians magazine as, “the Charlie Russell of Western music.”
It’s a good and accurate description, but like all thumbnails, it leaves out so much more of the man, all the stuff that is not only fascinating, but that contributes so much to actually making him the Charlie Russell of Western music. Even Dave’s self-written bio on his website (http://davestamey.com ) merely states that he was once a cowboy, a mule packer, and a dude wrangler. True enough, but it’s a little like saying Sir Walter Raleigh was once a poet. Well, okay, that’s accurate as far as it goes, but what happened to the soldier, sailor, pirate, explorer, courtier, historian, spy, not to mention unscrupulous butcher of too many unfortunate Irish? Not to imply that Dave Stamey has spent any time butchering people, at least not as far as I know, but you see where I’m going with this.
One of things that Dave resolutely does not tell people about himself is that, apart from his song-writing, he is a damned good writer. In fact, he once wrote and published cowboy novels under a pseudonym, and he still writes what he describes as “an occasional newsletter” he sends out to friends and followers. This is his latest:
We don’t have television at our house. It was a decision we made several years ago after realizing we could click our way through a hundred channels and find nothing worth watching, and we were paying a good chunk of money every month for the privilege. It seemed a silly thing to be doing, so we pulled the plug.
Getting weaned was tough, especially for me, because, being a guy, I am genetically predisposed to sitting on the couch eating potato chips and staring at a screen where inane things are going on. It’s in every man’s DNA, right there next to the part that makes you want to scratch yourself in public or leaf through the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition at the news stand when you think nobody’s looking. But I struggled through, and got some distance on it, and can proudly say I’m completely cured of the habit. Until, when out on the road, I check into a motel room somewhere. The first thing I do is flick the dreaded thing on. I grab the remote and scroll through forty or fifty or a hundred and twenty channels, whatever’s available in the town I find myself in, and discover—surprise!—there’s still nothing on.
It’s all the same show. Every production is about a group of people between the ages of 23 and 33, living in a stylish urban setting, all of them very slim and fit with good teeth, teeth that are white and straight like chiclets, saying snarky things to each other. This seems to be the whole point. Everybody walks around with a curled lip, looking very fashionable and sexy, being caustic and snide, and at the end of the episode whoever the star of the show is gets off the snarkiest bit of dialog and the show is over until next week—or until the next program comes on and the same thing starts all over again with a different cast, all of which are interchangeable. Even if it’s a cop show, solving the crime is of secondary concern. The real purpose of the mystery is to allow the clever and biting repartee to occur between the characters.
The only variance in an evening’s line-up is the so-called reality show full of rednecks with scraggly beards and exaggerated southern accents. These rednecks are also interchangeable. They dig for gold or make moonshine or wrestle with alligators, and they all seem to be the same bunch of morons. I can almost hear the directors shouting at them between shots. “You’re not acting stupid enough!” Because everybody knows if you don’t live in town you are a hick, and hicks are backward and ignorant, and probably sub-human, and do and say stupid things.
Twenty years ago, when I was still in the “dude business,” I took a middle aged gentleman on a two hour horseback ride. He was balding, bespectacled, perhaps a little melancholy, but a nice enough guy. In an attempt to keep things interesting, for me as well as for him, I asked what he did for a living.
“I write for television.”
“No kidding!” I said.
He nodded grimly, as if it were something regrettable, and mentioned several things he had written. They ran the gamut, from sit-coms to dramas, even a couple Movies of the Week. I became immediately fired up.
“Mister,” I said, “You’ve got a lot to answer for. I know you’re not personally responsible for it, but you’re as close as I’m likely to get. Explain to me why it is whenever a character on TV is supposed to be from a rural area, he’s always a toothless, tobacco chewing rube.”
“Because,” the writer said, “the producers who run the studios honestly believe that’s how it is.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“I’m dead serious.”
Starling. But, considering everything, I’m not surprised they believe it. Of course they do. It’s not their fault, really. They’ve just bought into the same B.S. we’ve all been fed, year after year, decade after decade. Convenient characterizations are time-savers, because once we’ve got ‘em we don’t have to stop and consider actual people. And they’re lots of fun, too. Aren’t they! Judy Canova was hugely popular in the forties on radio, playing the goofy, gingham clad country girl with red pigtails and–as my friend John Reese once put it—an innocence so vast it was almost a form of stupidity. Simple people. Trusting people. Foolish. Think Ma and Pa Kettle. Think the Beverly Hillbillies.
On the other side of the coin, movie stars Ronald Coleman and Myrna Loy were the constant thrust and parry of rapier wits, as were the urbane Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, and weren’t they smart and wouldn’t we all like to be them, so erudite and glib with such nifty wardrobes to boot? City people, smooth and classy.
Convenient characterizations. The problem is, these days the characterizations have become mean spirited. The innocent and trusting are now portrayed as idiots. The smooth and classy are depicted as arrogant and cruel. Everything has to have an edge to it. Everything has to sting.
So we don’t have television anymore. I find that this has improved my attitude and lowered my blood pressure. Because when you go out there and start walking around, there’s just people. Very few Ronald Colemans, even fewer Judy Canovas. Just folks. None of them have writers feeding them dialog, witty or otherwise.
Thank goodness. I would never be able to keep up.
I wanted to run his “occasional newsletter” here because I see so much of this kind of convenient characterization by most of the political candidates and virtually all of the pundits discussing the political candidates. If you support Trump, you’re a knuckle-dragging, red-necked Neanderthal with a single-digit IQ and violent tendencies. If you support Hillary, you’re a slick, conniving, unscrupulous LGTB well-connected insider hoping to steal money from widows and orphans as soon as she gets elected. If you support Bernie, you’re a pampered, spoiled, ignorant college student who thinks everyone should get a gold star just for taking up space on the planet. Rooting for Ted Cruz? Clearly you’re a bible-thumping creationist who wants to take America back to the days when seven year old children worked sixteen hour days in the coal mines.
You get the picture. Personally, I used to be an angry, old, white, bible-thumping, gun-toting racist who believed in Dr. Ben Carson’s quiet civility and intelligence, but in politics quiet civility and intelligence have obviously gone the way of the one-horse shay and the ox-drawn plow, so I guess I’ll have to find another easy, denigrating characterization for myself.
In the meantime, just to cheer you up, I’ll leave you with some of the lyrics to one of Dave’s most hauntingly beautiful songs:
The horse I ride is old but he has served me well
Coat like old tobacco rich and warm
He is old but he is sound
My rein chains ring like bells
We fit well together as we glide above the storm…
The life I live goes on it fits me oh so well
Old and new together evergreen
I mount my horse at dawning
My heart rings like a bell
And we ride through the canyons
Where the air is fresh and clean….