The Wind in Your Face
An eternal mystery of Texas life is how Lubbock can spawn so many creative people. Tonight three escapees from that Panhandle purgatory – Jaston Williams, Joe Ely, and Jo Carol Pierce – try to wrangle that riddle in Is There Life After Lubbock?
Described by Williams as "theatrical, but it's not really theatre" and "musical, but it's not really a concert," the show is something akin to old friends sittin' around in someone's living room, swapping stories and songs about the crazy town where they all used to live. Williams didn't grow up in Lubbock the way Ely and Pierce did, but he spent enough time there as a student at Texas Tech to know full well what living in that part of the high plains is like and how it shapes a person.
"It’s interesting," says Williams of his friends and that time in the late Sixties and early Seventies, "because their experience in Lubbock had everything to do with music and mine had everything to do with theatre, but the thing that we had in common was that we, by choosing to [follow the arts] and by making our friends within that world, we embraced a specific part of the counterculture in Lubbock. And the counterculture in Lubbock is very counter. [Laughs] And the wonderful thing about a Lubbock crazy is that once [they] realize that you can say things without getting struck by lightning outside the Church of Christ, they go pretty crazy.”
Williams, who returns to Texas Tech periodically to teach master classes in the theatre department, insists that he’s grateful for Lubbock every day of his life. “I’m not looking for property, you know, but every time I go, I have a wonderful time. And the crazies are still there. I look at the student body at Tech and look at some of those younger ones, and I go, ‘I have a feeling about that one. [Laughs] I have a feeling about that one. There’s something wild and off the mark about that one.'”
Whatever it is up there that keeps the "crazies" coming, Williams is pretty sure that it has something to do with the wind. "You know, the wind in Lubbock, it's like Patagonia," he says. "It drives you inside. It drives you in. Lubbock has more readers than any place I know – people content to just sit in the house and read book after book after book. Because, you know, you can go outside, and maybe you're thinkin' of somethin' or workin' on somethin' in your mind, and that wind will just smack you. Just jolt you. Like 'How dare you! You are so insignificant! You are so insignificant, and no matter how happy your day may be, I can fuck with you! And I'll decide whether or not I will.'
"I'm working on a novel now, and there's a section where I've got this wonderful character that I love – his name is Dondy Curry, and he's a fertilizer salesman, nice guy, lives just outside of town – and he sits out on his porch in the morning and practices his arguments that he's gonna have with his wife and his children while they're all gone. So this whole chapter is half of an argument. [Laughs] But he's workin' 'em over. And what distracts him is a cicada shell hits him in the face. The wind just whips a cicada shell right in his face, and he looks out over the horizon, and he hopes that he doesn't see this slight browning, because it's a beautiful morning. But if you see that half-inch of browning in the morning, then by afternoon the dust is gonna rise, and you're gonna have one of those days. Going outside options are gone. So get inside and figure it out."
Such an unforgiving environment can beat people down, he notes. "And yet at the same time, there are people out there – Michael Ventura writes those wonderful pieces from Lubbock. Just blows the mind. And you look at the others: Gary Nunn and Kimmie Rhodes and Butch Hancock and all the Maines family and Tommy Hancock and all of that family and the Supernatural Family Band and TJ and CK McFarland – I mean, it just goes on and on. You're kind of bent like a tree out there. The wind bends you and forms you and gnarls you, and the people do the same. Churches get ya, and relatives get ya, and the politicians get ya. And then you discover someplace like Austin, and you take all of that energy that's formed you, and you come to a place where, as I like to say: It's so wonderful when a Lubbock artist comes to Austin because you're not necessarily the craziest person in the room. [Laughs] It's just a wonderful feeling."
Is There Life After Lubbock? takes place Tuesday, May 28, 8pm, at Stateside at the Paramount, 719 Congress. For more information, call 512/474-1221 or visit www.austintheatre.org.