A few thoughts about cowboys and truck drivers

In the middle of yesterday’s chaos, my package from Amazon arrived. In it was a new book I’d ordered on the American Transcendentalists and a piece of total whimsy: “C. W. McCall’s Greatist Hits,” an audio CD that contains some mediocre stuff and three or four of the truly best humorous folk tale songs ever written, IMNHO. I had this recording on cassette, and probably still do somewhere, but I never play a cassette player anymore. When I found out it had been released on CD, I bought it. Last night Ben and I listened to it while I was cooking dinner.

I suspect that most of my readers have never heard of C. W. McCall. In the ’70s, when there was such a mania for CB radio in the U.S. (yes, there was time before cell phones, children), this guy seemed to come out of nowhere (Chicago, actually, I think, draw your own conclusions there). He had a monster hit with a song called “Convoy” about a bunch of truckers defying the law. Then he disappeared again.

McCall draws most of his material from the world of the long-haul truck driver. I find this very interesting, because I’ve always been a great admirer of cowboys, expecially outlaws, and I think the driver of the cross-country 18-wheeler may be the closest thing we have in today’s culture. That’s not to call all truckers outlaws. By and large the ones I’ve met are terrific people (both men and women do this, you know). They just experience a different reality than the rest of us.

There are three or four songs on this CD that never fail to leave me rolling on the floor. It was also the most requested tape in my household when my daughter was 6, so that gives you some idea of the level of sophistication employed by my sense of humor. What makes these notable for me (the poet, remember) is the incredible level of specific detail in these stories and the colloquial style. I mean, we’re talking about ’37 Chevy pickup trucks that start with a rusty nail, Conoco gas stations (when was the last time you saw one of those?), CJ5 Jeeps rented by tourists who should never have left the freeway, running battles with the state police, and the incredible story of hauling chickens over Wolf Creek Pass, a story full of “ceegars,” broken shift knobs, too-small tunnels and chickens stacked too high. Of this bunch, “Wolf Creek Pass” and “Classified Advertisement” are my very, very favorites. But the CD ends with a completely different piece, a tone poem, don’t remember the title at the moment, maybe “Aurora Borealis,” about a night in the Rockies. It reminds me so much of summer nights out here, and the loveliness of it just makes me ache.

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