Oct 5, 2016
Musical Map Of The USA: Texas—Lyle Lovett
Sometimes the Texas sun gets so hot in the summer that recess can’t happen on the playground. The plastic slides steam, waiting to burn the first pair of uncovered legs to plop upon them. The metal chains that suspend the swings are too hot to even poke. On these days, recess happens indoors with coloring books and heads up seven up. Summer hangs around like an overeager friend for so long that on one of these days when I was 8 we had an indoor recess right before the college football season started.
Football, of course, is more than Friday Night Lights in Texas. Friday night, the high school team plays. Sunday night, the Cowboys. And in between everyone roots for their alma mater. I was in the second grade, and everyone was talking about how the football teams they had inherited would do. I had inherited the wrong ones, and a girl named Bailey had told me right then and there what my problem was: I wasn’t a real Texan. My parents rooted for the wrong teams. And so I did too. But it wasn’t the teams that were the problem, it was the line on my birth certificate that said Birmingham, Alabama.
There are hundreds of ways to be from Texas. I am from Texas because I know how to slice a brisket, and I remember the Alamo, and I don’t sweat in one hundred degree heat. I’m from Texas because I graduated from college there, and had my first kiss there, and learned to read there. I can ride a horse, peel a cactus, and make my own salsa. But none of that makes me a Texan. Because to be a Texan, you have to be born there.
My mother drove a mini-van with a sliding door. It was new around that time, and one of its prime features was that instead of the tape decks, it had a CD player. Instead of listening to the Top 40 radio when we were in the car, my parents could bring their music. My dad’s grunge and punk rock. My mom with her Prince and Michael Jackson. But there was also a CD in the car that didn’t really fit into either of their aesthetics. Neither of my parents have ever truly listened to country music. But snuggled in next to our Britney Spears’ album in the holder that clung to the back of the sun visor, was a black CD: Lyle Lovett’s Live in Texas.
Lyle Lovett and his large band recorded Live in Texas over 4 years of shows from 1995 to 1999. The album itself is warm like the air, and Lovett’s voice is gritty like the dirt of West Texas. Later, I would learn that Lyle Lovett sounds almost the same in a padded studio as he does haphazardly recording in a Texas concert hall. It is an album for Lovett fans: with all his classic hits up until 2000 backed by his famed large band and a couple of vocalists.
But it was also an album for us. As kids we loved it for how silly some of the songs were. On “Penguins,” Lyle Lovett sings that “penguins are so sensitive to my needs,” which as a kid is just ridiculous enough to be intoxicating. But what brought our family into the Lyle Lovett fan club was a song called “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas).” My parents had heard a cover of it at a conference, and fallen in love. “The pride in Texas that Texans have is always so wonderfully over the top,” my dad told me last week, “That song kind of embodies that I guess.” And if Lyle Lovett has one thing it is a hell of a lot of pride in Texas.
“That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)” is a jive. It starts off with a horn and a rapid beat, and a pause before Lyle cooes into the microphone “You say you’re not from Texas/ man, as if I couldn’t tell.” The song is ostensibly a story about Lyle Lovett’s wife who was born in Georgia and therefore could never be a Texan. It’s 5 minutes of nationalistic pride sprinkled with a piano solo, a brass solo, and a beat that’s so fast you can’t help bounce in your seat.
Texas asks a lot of its citizens. It asks them to put up with searing heat for eight months of the year, and endless chain restaurants. It asks them to fight for gun rights and against women’s. More than anything, it asks for an undying, unshakeable devotion—that as a Texan it becomes your secondary duty to defend Texas.
Each day, at the end of the morning announcements before the school day begins, hundreds of thousands of children rise from their seats wiping sleep dust from their eyes, resting a hand on the corner of their desk for balance and placing a hand over their heart. They pledge allegiance to the United States of America, and the republic for which it stands. And then, where I grew up, they turn their bodies like tiny soldiers to the other side of the whiteboard where a tri-colored flag hangs, and they pledge their allegiance to the state of Texas.
“I sure do understand / even Moses got excited / when he say the promise land,” I sang with Lyle in the back seat of a minivan. But I didn’t feel that excited. Texas was the place I lived, where I secretly plucked wild flowers from a field. I said the pledge to my state because it was what I did for all 13 years of my public school education, but I didn’t feel pledged.
By high school, all I could think about was leaving. I wanted out. Out of the Bible Belt. Out of summer days with 105 degree temperatures. Out of the oppression that feels everywhere and unavoidable to everyone stuck in their parents homes. I applied to eleven colleges: nine out of state and two in. I wanted to leave still, but I didn’t. I ended up in Austin at a school with even more state pride than I had grown up with.
There’s a line in “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas)” where Lyle Lovett’s wife–in a conversation that only Lyle Lovett dictates–asks him, “How come you’re always going on/ about the Lone Star State?” When I moved to the east coast, I ended up talking about Texas almost constantly. Other states, apparently, didn’t pledge allegiance to their own flag. Somehow, no one else knew that you always go to a barbecue joint for lunch. I would try and tell a story I thought was normal, and see blank looks across the table from me. My new co-workers were brilliant, and funny, and they had no idea that if you held an armadillo upside down by its tail it blows bubbles.
When Lovett’s wife asks that question, though, there’s no time for him to answer. The song speeds right into its chorus of “That’s right / You’re not from Texas/ That’s right you’re not from Texas / That’s right you’re not from Texas / Texas wants you anyway.”
A month ago, I was at a bar with a new friend and as small talk she asked me, “You’re a Texan, right?” Truthfully, I have to say no. But before I processed it my two years of required Texas history snuck up on me and an old David Crockett quote came spilling out of my mouth. “I wasn’t born in Texas,” I told her, “But I got there as fast as I could.”
While I lived in Texas, “Texas wants you anyway,” felt like a line written just for me. Texas wanted me anyway. It wanted me to pose in its bluebonnets and down its frozen margaritas. It wanted me to remember the Alamo.When I found myself, in my first summer away from my home state, riddled with homesickness and loneliness, I went back to Lyle Lovett’s Live in Texas: the warmth of his voice, and the happiness of his melodies. But now, I am the one retelling the story of the Alamo, and teaching people the Texas state small mammal, and reminding others that Texas wants them anyway.
This is one of more than 50 posts that make up our musical map of the United States, published by region—the West, Midwest, South, and Northeast—by writers who have strongly associated a song with a state.
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