Matt and I have cultivated a taste for country music. He’s been a Dolly and Willie fan for a long time, and I’m guilty of enjoying some country-fried rock like Beachwood Sparks, but neither of us has gone deeper than that—unless you count Matt’s brief love affair with the contemporary country atrocity “Pontoon” a few years ago.
Two things changed that: driving through Texas, and Mike Judge’s show “Tales from the Tour Bus.” If you haven’t seen the show and you like good stories about bad behavior, I recommend it highly. The show focuses on outlaw country legends like Merle Haggard, George Jones and Tammi Wynette, Johnny Paycheck, and our new adopted favorite, Waylon Jennings.
Up until recently, all I knew about Waylon was that he sang the theme song to “Dukes of Hazzard” and regretted it the rest of his life. What I know now: he’s got a singular style, both in his performance and his songwriting. He hung with Willie through the 70s, the two of them performing and recording together. He partied as hard as he could with whatever was available. He did not give a wild fuck what anyone thought about him.
And he wrote this song called “Luckenbach, Texas,” and I’m thinking about it today. It goes like this: (and if you want to hear it, click this lil’ link below.
Is guitars that tune good and firm feelin’ women
I don’t need my name in the marquee lights
I got my song and I got you with me tonight
Maybe it’s time we got back to the basics of love
With Waylon and Willie and the boys
This successful life we’re livin’
Got us feuding like the Hatfields and McCoys
Between Hank Williams’ pain songs and
Newbury’s train songs and Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain
Out in Luckenbach, Texas ain’t nobody feelin’ no pain
There’s a great story in “Tales from the Tour Bus” about when Waylon and the band played the song for the first time. They were playing an outdoor festival show in Texas. No one outside the band had ever heard it before—it hadn’t been recorded or even played live. Waylon introduces it as a new song. As they play, the band can see the crowd melting into the song, starting to sway from the first chorus. By the second chorus, the crowd was singing along as if it were their favorite song.
On our way out of Austin, we picked up on the fact that we were going to pass about 10 miles from the real Luckenbach, so naturally we decided to stop in. It’s maybe four or five football fields in size, built in a loop, with a barn restaurant serving ribs and funnel cakes in the center, and a beer garden with plenty of seating in front of a music stage on the outside.
In other words, it’s beyond cute. It’s a country music fantasy.
So here’s my question: can you really go to Luckenbach, Texas? And if you can go, can you stay?
I’m not sure you can. I maintain that any place that sells funnel cakes is an illusion—you can go there once, maybe twice a year—not just because fried dough will kill you, but because it’s not how people live.
The successful life we’re living’s got us feudin’ like the Hatfields and McCoys
This is the line that pokes out at me, the one that makes me ask existential questions about even the trip we’re on: does work, as you get older, as you go deeper into it, as you try to get a bigger slice of the pie… does it always get just a little bit shitty? Do you need to be a cutthroat competitor? Do lawyers always get involved?
I think the answer is yes—so long as you want to be a player or make more money. I don’t need or even want to be a player, but I do want to make more money. And at the same time, I want the fantasy, even if I won’t eat the funnel cake.
Most of the rest of humanity seems to be content with the first part of that bargain—to strive for success even as stress and conflict make them miserable. I don’t want to come off as self-righteous (I never want to come off as self-righteous) but I will say that Matt and I are exploring the possibility of being able to stop by and visit Luckenbach on a semi-regular basis. We do have to go back to Houston, or whatever metaphorical city represents work, adult-life, and everything that isn’t Luckenbach. But we try to go to the metaphorical Luckenbach as often as we can. It’s working out just fine so far. It’s not paradise, and I definitively would not say that “ain’t nobody feeling no pain.” But there’s some joy available to us that we otherwise would not know we were missing.