Colorado Songs

M John Fayhee: Smoke SignalsAuthor’s note: Though this represents a stylistic change of pace for Smoke Signals (I thought I’d give my liver a break for a month), a book project I have been working on for several years has given me the opportunity to research songs about/from Colorado, most of which have the word “Colorado” in their title and/or their lyrics. I have herein opted to share the fruits of that research. There is no doubt that there will be many reactionary exclamations along the lines of, “Fayhee’s a frickin’ moron! How could he not include [such and such a song] or at least something by [fill in the blank].” Well, I am all ears. Please send suggestions (as well as any corrections to this list) to mjfayhee@mountaingazette.com. I would also be interested to hear songs from other parts of the Rockies, especially those that contain state names within their titles or lyrics. • John Denver, who was born Henry John Deutschendorf, penned the lyrics of “Rocky Mountain High” (Mike Taylor composed the music) after watching the Perseid meteor shower with friends near Williams Lake, outside Aspen. It was recorded in August 1972 and released the following year. Because he lived most of his adult life in Colorado, a large percentage of John Denver’s discography hailed from the Centennial State. Many of his tunes make reference to his adopted home state, but, if you’re going to seek out a Denver song not named “Rocky Mountain High” that is about Colorado, your best bet is “I Guess He’d Rather Be in Colorado.” • Bob Dylan, another singer who, like John Denver changed his name (from Robert Allen Zimmerman), at one time maintained a second home in Telluride (maybe he still does). In “Man of Constant Sorrows” he sings: “I’m going back to Colorado/The place that I started from/If I’d known how bad you’d treat me honey/I would never have come.” And, in “Wanted Man,” he sings: “I might be in Colorado or Georgia by the sea/Working for some man who may not know at all who I might be.” (Note: Contrary to some published reports, Dylan’s “Romance in Durango” is not about the southwestern Colorado town that is home to Fort Lewis College, but, rather, the nice big city that is in Mexico.) • While still with The Flying Burrito Brothers, Rick Roberts wrote, “Colorado,” which was included on that group’s self-titled 1971 album. “Colorado” was covered by Linda Ronstadt on her 1973 album, “Don’t Cry Now.” Roberts went on to help found Firefall. Several versions of “Colorado,” as performed by both The Flying Burrito Brothers and Ronstadt, can be found on YouTube. • Stephen Stills’ “Colorado” is an example (of many) of a great mountain-based song with lyrics that you wonder how much pot these folkies were actually smoking back in the earliest days of the Rocky-Mountain-High era. To wit: “I am a man/I live alone/Don’t much bother me/It won’t be long/Come a woman who wants to be near/Me and my mountains, we’ll be right here/Colorado.” At least the tune’s catchy! • James McMurtry, the son of Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry (of “Lonesome Dove” fame) sang in “No More Buffalo” (“Live in Aught-Three”): “We headed south across those Colorado plains/just as empty as the day/we looked around at all we saw/remembered all we hoped to see/looking out through the bugs on the windshield/somebody said to me/no more buffalo, blue skies, or open road/no more rodeo/no more noise/take this Cadillac/park it out in back/mama’s calling/put away the toys.” This one also boasts a catchy tune. • Merle Haggard recorded two Colorado-based songs, “Colorado” and “Lucky Old Colorado.” • Townes Van Zandt’s “Colorado Girl,” from his “Rear View Mirror” album, is one of the most fetching songs about the state. Steve Earl does a wonderful cover of “Colorado Girl” on his “Townes” album, which is a tribute to the late Van Zandt. • If you are inclined to travel to the deep, dark, musical past — a past that was hilariously skewered by the 2003 movie “A Mighty Wind” — you might like the Kingston Trio’s folk classic, “The Colorado Trail,” which was written by Carl Sandburg and Lee Hayes. The fact that this song came out a solid decade before the Colorado Trail was even conceived, much less constructed, is perplexing. But any song that contains the near-Wordsworthian words, “Weep, all ye little rains/Wail, winds, wail/All along, along, along/The Colorado Trail,” is worth a listen, if for no other reason than to thank the gods that the early-1960s folk music scene was short lived. This toe-tapper can be found on “Melanie’s Melodies of the Rockies: Soothing Songs of the Old West for Home and Fireside” album. One listen to this dog and you won’t be able to resist lacing on your boots and running as fast as you can 500 miles from Denver to Durango on the Colorado Trail. It should be noted, as you’re scrambling to download “The Colorado Trail,” that no other album that has ever been produced contains the word “Colorado” in as many song titles as does “Melanie’s Melodies of the Rockies.” It should also be noted that, sadly, this is not THE Melanie (Safka), of “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain”) fame. • Even though it may be considered a mildly good-natured anti-Colorado song, National Lampoon’s “Colorado,” sung by, of all people, Chevy Chase, is actually a surprisingly melodic satire of “Rocky Mountain High.” “Colorado” is found on the 1973 “Lemmings” album. • Folk singer Chuck Pyle is often referred to as the official singer/songwriter of the High Country. His 2007 album, “Higher Ground: Songs of Colorado,” contains one song named “Colorado” and another named “Moonlight on the Colorado.” But it’s his “Little Town Tour,” which begins, “Bayfield, Cascade, Manitou, Palisade … ” that is most interesting in that it includes the names of almost every single mountain town in the state. • While, admittedly, its Colorado connection is somewhat oblique, Tom Waits’ “Nighthawk Postcards (From Easy Street),” which appeared on his seminal 1975 live album “Nighthawks at the Diner,” contains the lines, “Maybe you’re standing on the corner of 17th and Wazee streets, yeah, out in front of the Terminal Bar, there’s a Thunderbird moving in a muscatel sky.” Those words were penned long before LoDo  — which Waits would hate — spontaneously combusted. The Terminal Bar is long gone, but the building, which now houses Jax Fish House, remains. • One of the great musical shames of the past decade is that Denver-based DeVotchKa is not a household name from Maine to Australia. That changed a bit with the release of the Academy-Award-nominated film, “Little Miss Sunshine,” which was completely scored with DeVotchKa songs. It did not appear in the film, but “Commerce City Sister,” with its line, “You know I ain’t never going back to Commerce City,” expresses the sentiment of many people who have actually visited Commerce City, an industrial Denver suburb. Hopefully, “Little Miss Sunshine” will serve as a gateway drug for many future DeVotchKa fans. This is truly a wonderful musical ensemble. • No Colorado-based song list would be complete without mention of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, which spent a lot of time in the state. One of its long-time members, Jimmy Ibbotson, still lives in Woody Creek, where he performs often. One of the Dirt Band’s best-known songs that contains the state’s name is “Colorado Christmas,” which was actually written by the late, great Steve Goodman, who served as a mentor for folk/rock legend John Prine. (Goodman and Prine co-owned a bar in Chicago named Somebody Else’s Troubles, after one of Goodman’s best-known tunes.) • You’ll be forgiven if the words “Ozark Mountain Daredevils” have not entered your thought processes for many years. In the mid-1970s, this band from Springfield, Missouri, was one of the hottest acts in the country, and their “Colorado Song” (by Steve Cash and John Dillon) was released on their first album, “The Ozark Mountain Daredevils.” This song is highly recommended, despite its second-to-the-last verse, which consists entirely of “aaaahhhhh” being repeated over and over, and the last verse, which consists of “lalalalala” being repeated over and over. At least those lyrics are easy to remember. • So, OK, it’s technically a song about leaving Colorado, but that can easily be overlooked, due to the fact that Emmylou Harris’ “Boulder to Birmingham” is flat-out one of the best songs ever penned. It has been covered by many artists, including Joan Baez, Dolly Parton and the Starland Vocal Band (yes, they of “Afternoon Delight” fame). The lines “I was in the wilderness and the canyon was on fire/And I stood on the mountain in the night and I watched it burn/ I watched it burn/I watched it burn” are made lovely by Harris’ voice. • Folk diva Judy Collins was actually born in Seattle, but she grew up in Denver, where she attended East High School. Many of her songs contain references to Colorado. Few songs about the state are more accurately evocative than Collins’ “The Blizzard (The Colorado Song),” which contains lines that show the singer was intimate with the realities of life at altitude: “One night on the mountain, I was headed for Estes/When the roads turned to ice and it started to snow/Put on the chains in a whirl of white powder/Halfway up to Berthoud near a diner I know.” You never heard the Ozark Mountain Daredevils singing about chaining up in the middle of a blizzard. They would have just lit a joint and waited for the blizzard to pass. • So far, these Colorado songs have been a bit on the heavy, philosophical side. Fun needs to be part of the equation, and that’s where Bowling For Soup’s “Surf Colorado” comes in. With lines like, “She’s traded rattlesnakes for bunny runs in Colorado Springs,” it’s easy to overlook the fact that this song is essentially a rant by a Texan who’s angry that his paramour left the Lone Star State to move to Colorado without him. Also, the fact that the album upon which “Surf Colorado” appears is titled “Drunk Enough to Dance” ought to gain it some style points in the hedonistic High-Country resort towns. • There’s no denying that, when John Denver released “Rocky Mountain High” in 1973, it marked the first time that many Americans gave the Mountain Time Zone the mental time of day. Many people even believe that “Rocky Mountain High” was in and of itself responsible for drawing nationwide attention to Colorado, the same way Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire” drew attention to Utah’s Slickrock Country. But Denver was not the only person singing about the Rockies in 1973. While it does not mention Colorado specifically (and, hey, if the official state song, “Where the Columbines Grow,” doesn’t even mention Colorado, then all bets are off), Joe Walsh’s “Rocky Mountain Way” was in the top 20 at the very same time as “Rocky Mountain High.” Walsh was living outside Nederland in Boulder County when he recorded “Rocky Mountain Way.” The fact that it makes no sense at all does not diminish its place in musical history. • In the mid-1970s, Dan Fogelberg wintered outside Nederland, Colorado, otherwise known as Ned (its residents are known as “NedHeads”). A decade later, with his popularity definitely on the downslide, Fogelberg released “High Country Snows.” The title song will never become a mosh pit favorite, unless there’s irony at play, but it still does justice to life at altitude, as does “Nether Lands” — which is close enough to “Nederland” that we’ll call it good. • The Grateful Dead performed at least two songs that contained references to Colorado, “Me and My Uncle” (“Me and my uncle went ridin’ down/South Colorado, West Texas bound”) was actually written by John Phillips, of Mamas and Papas fame (Judy Collins and Neil Young were anecdotally connected to the song by way of extreme drunkenness in a hotel room in 1963). And “I Know You Rider” (“I’d shine my light through a Colorado rain … ”) is considered “traditional.” • Even though none of his songs contain the word “Colorado,” Elton John did record his 1974 album “Caribou” at the famed Caribou Ranch outside Nederland. The best-known song from that album was “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” but one of the lesser-known tunes was “Cold Highway,” which contains the lyrics, “Where the corners turn blind like the graveyard ground/Oh your black icy snare once cut down my friend/In the deepest dark winter when the world seemed to end.” Before it burned down in 1985, Caribou Studios housed record efforts by dozens of world-class acts such as America, Badfinger, the Beach Boys, Chicago, Phil Collins, Rick Derringer, Earth, Wind & Fire, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Waylon Jennings, Billy Joel, Carole King, John Lennon, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tom Petty, Rod Stewart, U2, War and Frank Zappa. Rumor has it that, in addition to its isolation, the main attraction to the Caribou Ranch was its altitude, which apparently allowed singers to hit, appropriately enough, high notes that they could only dream of at sea level. •  Any song containing the lyrics, “I didn’t kill that man, I called it self-defense/Now I watch the world go by through a twelve-foot barbed-wire fence” deserves to be listed, especially if it’s titled “Colorado.” That would be performed by 19 Wheels (from the album “Six Ways from Sunday.”) **Visit Smoke Signals for more content from M John Fayhee

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Way of the Mountain #185

Thanks to the forbearance of our long-suffering editor, I’ve been given the opportunity to forego the pittance in recompense that passes for reward to our star-studded (and variously tatted) mountain bards — whose work avalanches into these pages with all the ragged energy of an out-of-control skier but with the compact wallop of a lyric two-by-four. Instead of issuing barely enough bar bucks to buy a good night’s drunk, we’ll be entering each poem accepted for MG’s pages into two annual $100 awards — the Way of the Mountain Prize (to be selected by yours truly for the year’s poem best representing Dolores LaChapelle’s “Way of the Mountain”) and a Karen Chamberlain Prize (for the year’s best poem as voted on by our readers). Send your nominations from any poems from 2011’s issues of MG to: poetry@mountaingazette.com

And for those of you who live outside the distributed reach of our tireless bicycle pedalers, we’ll promise to toss you a hard copy of the issue with your piece in it. For official submission guidelines, click here.

— Art Goodtimes
Cloud Acre

Religion

Parched and staggering,
I have swallowed sweet draughts
from trickling desert springs,
prayerfully tasting
the liquid’s own journey
through cloud, stone, and sand.

Water, like smoke, like music,
moves between worlds.

There is no religion
like water in a dry land.

— Eric Walter
Portland

Morning Sun Through Glass

Segmented glasses on the sill,
yellow, red, green, blue,
pouring coloured light to spill
and drip on things beyond my view.

Like this, my heart, be pieced together,
pooling colour where you will
shine through, shine through like this forever
— yellow, red, green, blue.

— Cally Conan-Davies
Australian poet visiting U.S.
Manitou Springs

The Buddha´s Life

He shoved off gently from
the river bank and glided
through the water soundlessly.

The fish would have been
hard-pressed to bear witness
to his passing.

In truth if it were not
for this poem it
never really happened.

— Larry Grieco
Black Hawk

Blunt

Hope you all had a good time.
I was babysitting a genius.
Stupid young people.
Ignorant blessings.

Despite the signal fires of love
& intelligence by you all,
this Age of Endarkenment keeps
lapping at my feet.

Arab Spring, Occupy, are
sweet reactive threads…
But still, G. Benn may have
had it right:

“to live in the dark,
to do in the dark
what we can.”

— Jack Mueller
Creator of Budada
Log Hill Village

Endo

Head upside home fried
Champagne powder, I lip-smack
Fatback and ignore
Scores of dive judges above
Grinning from slack chair front row

— Uche Ogbuji
uche.ogbuji.net
Superior

Why The Man Wore Red Shirts

Fred carried a weasel under his jacket.
His friends thought its heavy
breathing was his heart.
But at meetings it would
gnaw on him, and in bed
it would hang from his left nipple.

— Jared Smith
Author, “Grassroots”
Lafayette

Mountain Media: Books #185

“Path of Beauty: Photographic Adventures in the Grand Canyon,” by Christopher Brown

Path of BeautyWhen you read a biography of a person, you hope that the writer has done his or her research enough to really know the subject of the book, the person he or she is telling you about. If you want to read the biography of a place, especially a monumental place like the Grand Canyon, you want someone like Chris Brown to write it: More than 30 years of hiking, rafting and guiding in the canyon, totaling 35 trips through the canyon on a boat, with a camera at his side all the time. His 115-page book is a love letter, filled with 75 photos and five essays on Encountering the Canyon, Adventure, Beauty and First Sight, Photography, and Reflection — my favorite of which is Adventure, about a mistake Brown made as a raft guide, requiring the rescue of everyone in his boat from a rock in the middle of a rapidly rising Colorado River, and his subsequent redemption. The photographs are stunning, and many of the scenes and colors will surprise anyone not intimately familiar with all the corners of the canyon. Brown is no slouch as an essayist and storyteller, and his passion for a very special place shows in his writing: “While it is always impressive, it is typically spectacular only for a few moments each day when the light is right and then it is sublime.”
$40, chrisbrownphotography.com

“100 Years Up High: Colorado’s Mountains & Mountaineers,” by Janet Neuhoff Robertson, James E. Fell Jr., David Hite, Christopher J. Case and Walter R. Borneman

100 Years Up HighIf you ever forget how much you love Colorado’s mountains, pick up a copy of this book. “100 Years Up High” is a photo-filled history of the Centennial State’s High Country, and the human involvement in it — from early exploration to later conservation, the fun of climbing and skiing and the hard work that resulted in our national parks and national monuments. Each of the bylined authors take on a topic or two in this six-chapter book: Creating a New Club and a New National Park, Reaching Higher, Climbing Harder, Borrowing from Our Children, Carving the Snow and Painting the Peaks. The book, partially funded by the Colorado Mountain Club and published on the CMC’s 100th anniversary, intertwines the story of the club with the history of Colorado’s mountains — a natural combination, given the club’s involvement in all aspects of Colorado’s outdoor legacy, including the 1915 establishment of Rocky Mountain National Park, and finding the original Arapaho names of many of the geographic features in and around the Park. The book’s 176 pages are filled with historic and scenic photos, making the reading very easy on the eyes.
$25, mountaineersbooks.org

“All That Glitters,” by Margo Talbot

All That GlittersMargo Talbot didn’t take a typical path to becoming a renowned ice climber and guide: childhood abuse, depression and drug addiction, drug smuggling and drug dealing, jail and finally sobriety and therapy. I’m a sucker for a good climbing story that’s more about life than it is about climbing, and Talbot tells her climbing and life stories with unflinching honesty in “All That Glitters.” Beginning with an emotionally abusive and traumatic childhood that led her into substance abuse, and following her into the Canadian Rockies, where she eventually discovered ice climbing, Talbot literally climbs out of the darkness of her depression over the course of several years. But not without a few bumps in the road — during her years of partying, then addiction, she found herself making bad choices, dabbling in drug smuggling and selling, until she finally hit rock bottom in a jail cell after one particularly serious mistake. Talbot eventually begins to find redemption through climbing and her friendship with climber Karen McNeill, whose 2006 death on Alaska’s Mount Foraker dealt a tremendous, traumatic blow to Talbot, but led to the writing of the material that formed the basis of “All That Glitters.” Her writing is without self-judgment, as she lets the reader interpret the events that form the arc of the story.
$20, allthatglittersbook.com  

Letters #185

Letter #185

Envelope: Aana

We’re in the market for decorative envelopes to help beautify our Letters pages. If you’ve got an artistic envelope bent, pull out your weapons-of-choice, decorate an envelope with our snail mail address on it, mail the resultant envelope to us, and, if we print it, we’ll give you a year’s subscription to the Mountain Gazette.

Thumbs up for “Pee”

Editor: I loved Jen Jackson’s piece on Moab (“When in Doubt, Pee on the Fire,” MG #183). It really captured the spark that makes living here great despite being inundated by goobs most of the year.

Thanks.

Bruce Dissel
Moab, UT

Wait, don’t pee on our fire

John: After reading the fine article, “When in Doubt, Pee on the Fire,” by Jen Jackson, I had a few thoughts on that flame of eccentricity burning out in Durango that she was referring to. See, I just moved to Durango within the year, and felt the call to defend, or at least comment on, what I’ve seen here. (I should add Jen’s piece kept me happily occupied as I waited in line at the Durango post office one afternoon.)

I rolled into Durango after living in Gunnison-Crested Butte, Colorado, for over a decade. Like many a mountain town residents, the surroundings of an area are essential to my enjoyment of the place, as well as the culture of the people. In Crested Butte, they have both — great rocks, trails and mountains, as well as frequent townie takeovers (a naked one caused quite a stir this summer, I hear), costumed/themed sporting events nearly every weekend (chainless bike race down Kebler Pass, anyone?) and characters that just wouldn’t quite make it anywhere else besides a funky little mountain town.

With this ingrained in my soul, I wondered if I could love Durango in a similar way. I rolled into town waving my freak flag high, with my 220,000-mile spray-painted red, white and blue Freedom Mobile Mazda MX 6. Much to my delight, Durango seems to have more graffiti’d cars per capita than anywhere else I’ve been in Colorado. “Oh, I’ve seen this car around,” is always an icebreaker when I meet new people out and about. One guy I met from Durango out at Indian Creek described my car as immediate probable cause, but, well, that’s Utah, and, fortunately, Colorado honors freedom more than Utah. (Really, a state that tries to bust people for bringing beer across a border? It’s 2012, people.)

Where do we look for companionship and camaraderie in a new town? We look for those that share our interests. I look to the climbers. One couple I’ve met is incredibly resourceful, and maybe a bit eccentric. They grow plenty of their own food, and even resole their own climbing shoes. The guy fixes his own vehicles (he’s also the new Freedom Mobile mechanic), and the woman knits all sorts of things, most notably a breast-shaped pillow (really impressive … you have to see it to believe it) and a penis-shaped mini-hat, which sits on top of a mini-Christmas tree (year round).

There are others I haven’t met yet, only heard about, for example, a woman who goes on epic hikes on the Colorado Trail, foraging for food along the way. There’s the woman I see all around who always carries hula-hoops (must be for sale?). Then you have the “23 Feet” crew, who embarked from Durango to make a film about “people living simply in order to pursue their passion for the great outdoors.” Check that one out (there’s a review in the last issue of MG).

There are funky bikes and funky cars. This is a town filled with funk. On Halloween, the funk was confirmed, though I didn’t necessarily agree with the winners of the costume contest at Carver’s. Four men dressed as Mennonites beat out the two sexy robot girls (sexy girls should always win over creepy dudes). The best costume of the night, though, one I saw while cruising the streets of downtown, was a trio of guys dressed as the Jabbawockeez dance crew. Challenged to prove their skills, they did, with some dope break dancing.

Anywho, I gotta go now, with some deadlines to attend to. Just thought I’d represent my new ’hood.

Sincerely Yours,

Luke Mehall,
Durango, CO

Following some sketchy tracks

Dear John: Just a quick note in the spirit of the week to say thank you for keeping it real. I have been a reader, nay, a worshiper, of the Mountain Gazette for as long as I can remember. I ran away from my home in Tennessee to come to Colorado as soon as I graduated high school, and have been living the dream you write about for 22 years. I’ve even tried to follow in your proverbial ski tracks so to speak. In fact, my girlfriend and I are even now living in Frisco. I’ve done stints in Steamboat Springs, Nederland and on the dreaded Front Range.

Regardless, I was inspired to write this morning after reading the current issue cover to cover, as is my practice, and stumbling upon the lamentations of the article entitled “Resurrection,” by B. Frank. “This place was once my hometown. It was one of the first destination ski resorts in North America, and like most last best towns betrayed by travel mags out to make a buck” … (the truth hurts) … “it suffers the afflictions common to other pick-your-poison elite retreat, real estate development zones that now dot the Mountain West. The streets are familiar but the stores are up-scale and mostly empty of shoppers, seasonal-worker safehouses I once hung out in are gingerbread restoration projects geared to flip on the next boom cycle, dogs are on leashes, and so are most of the people I meet. I’ve had about enough nostalgia for one walk and am heading back to my truck to get the hell out of town …”

The dogs are on leashes and so are most of the people I meet. Not that I’m all that bitter, just sometimes, but thankfully the Mountain Gazette still exists to remind me of how good it was, how good it can be, and that there are still some folks out there who get it. Take care, John, hope to see you out there some time.

Aaron Bible,
Frisco CO

Choking on Chile

Most Precious Fayhee, oh man, just gotta say… you are a national treasure. serious. I can’t even believe how many years/decades you’ve been making me crack up from a very real, gut-deep, high-mountain-zeal-for-living place inside. your Smoke Signals — The Discovered — in your November, 2011 issue had me choking on my green chile burrito and wiping laughter-based tears by paragraph three. and here is the thing … i haven’t even read past paragraph ten cuz, like, it’s such a glittery jewel of writing so far, it’s like I’m compelled toward delaying self-gratification in case the next fourteen (yeah, i counted) paragraphs don’t meet the standard set by the first ten (it should be noted, however, that this is tendency of ilgs …like, for instance, the fact that i haven’t been back to Yosemite in over 20 years because, well, we used just drive our little sport pick-up with a camper shell on it, right up to the base of New Dimensions wall and camp … it’s like, the present can’t compete with my imprint of the past, so why ruin it?).

honestly, i don’t know how you sustain the health of your creativity (or your liver and lungs!) … even as a two-time cover athlete of that tragic mag, OUTSIDE, ilg just bows to you as low as my paltry padmasana allows for your loving perseverance and stalwart support of deep-fiber mountain journalism. feeble ilg cannot even imagine sharing this plane(t) without Fayhee somewhere on it (or hovering near it, at least). dat’s all. now that i’ve finished my 2,000’ vert of snowshoe hill repeats in La Plata Canyon’s fresh November pow? i’m feeling ready to take on those next fourteen paragraphs of yours. but first, i need to grab me a local brew …

head bowed,

coach steve ilg
durango, CO

ps: LOVED the Bar Issue cover, ’cept that the Scarpa tele boots were too shiny and new … i coulda loaned you my beat up pair … just ask!   ;-)

Uncle John’s Band

Uncle John. Photo: Aaron Plant
Uncle John. Photo: Aaron Plant

John, I read your write-up on your story about 9/11 (“North by Northwest,” Smoke Signals, MG #182). Well, tonight I wrote mine about my trip up the Grand Teton on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 with Veterans Expeditions. I am not an English major, but here it is. I hope you read it. Edit the hell out of it and please share it with others. I will attach a picture of Uncle John.

For 30 years I had wondered what it would be like to stand on top of Grand Teton.  As a little boy, I daydreamed of my father’s own experience as a young 20-something atop the mountain as he told his story time and time again. He told me one day I too could reach the summit and behold all of what Wyoming stood for the vast freedom of our land.

Thirty years later, I awoke early. Steve at my side, ever ready, shot out of our tent into darkness fully prepared for what lay ahead and disappeared into morning that was still night. I moved quickly. Did I have what I needed? Headlamp throwing shadows as I placed this and that into my bag and took this and that out of my bag.

Into the cool night air I arose. My stomach calling, I headed toward voices below. Water for coffee was heating as quiet chatter emerged. Tents stirred as more people entered for caffeine and food. I sat with my thoughts of what was to come. My father’s stories turning in my head no longer daydreams, but a reality to come.

We set out into night with headlamps exposing a maze of boulders heading for the saddle like giant stirrups occasionally misplacing feet. We talked. I sang. It was not pleasing, but when I asked what I could sing, the guide only replied, “Make it the blues.” GNR Welcome to the Jungle, Blues, misquoted, but satisfying to my anxiety and fear.

I told them I was feeling anxiety. You know how you tell the party you’re with where you’re at. Well I did. Erica America stated that we could rope up. Now not a bad idea, but I have kids and a wife back home. However, I should not have said no. Next thing I knew, our lead guide Scott says, “Nick! Aaron! You two follow me.” “Follow you where?” I thought. “It is fucking dark out here and why are we leaving the group?“ “We are going through the Key Hole. You guys are going to love this.” In the darkness, I could feel his grin.

My headlamp immediately noticed the ledge and watched as Scott left center stage and disappeared behind stage left. “Put your hand here,” a voice said. “It is a good hold. Just grab on and swing around.” I looked down, down and down some more until my light petered out into the darkness. “Hell, yeah,” I thought to myself. Dad would be proud. We continued this way along the ledge, unroped, and as a key entered Key Hole. My inner soul had been unlocked and my anxiety lifted. I was ready to climb.

After that, it was like time flew by. Twilight began to embrace us as the dawn signaled a new day. There across the valley floor, a shadow stretched out with the new day. It was grand and as I moved the shadow grew. I stood atop the mountain. Our summit time was 8:03 Mountain Time. Ten years earlier, a same time for flight 93. Here we all were. Seven Veterans from different time periods and different life experiences shared that day on the summit of the Grand Teton. It had been a long time since I had held an American flag as first call to colors rang out in my head. It had been a long time.

We all had our reasons to climb that day. I chose to climb for my Uncle John. He didn’t die in the Vietnam War or receive the bronze star. He was young like the rest of us when he joined the military — Steve the Army, Nick the Army, Stacy the Army, Chad the Army, Jared the Air Force, Dana the Navy and I the Navy. He changed like the rest of us when we come home. However, he became really sick with schizophrenia and coped by drinking. I remember driving for hours with my mom and dad out looking for him as he wandered the streets, another homeless vet. He never came home and we left to our new home in Wyoming without him.

Here on the Grand Teton, I took out his picture that I carried with me on so many of the trips leading up to this one. I took one last photo of my uncle with the shadow of the mountain behind him. The shadow he and I were no longer in.

Aaron Plant
Laramie, WY

Mountain Gazette welcomes letters. Please email your incendiary verbiage to: mjfayhee@mountaingazette.com.

Cowsmic Justice

Cowsmic JusticeI’m running through a high pasture north of Nederland and east of the Indian Peaks. There are thirty or forty brown cows up here for the summer. If I were of an agricultural bent, I could name this type of cow, but to be truthful, one cow is pretty much the same as another; they are simply ambulatory meat delivery systems to me. These aren’t exactly “show-quality” cows or even “companion-quality” cows. You know what I mean, like those insufferable light brown bovines in Switzerland with absolutely clean coats and brass bells hanging from their necks. These are just a bunch of scruffy, raggedy-looking cows.

This brute with a line of drool hanging out of his mouth is standing next to the trail. He stares directly at me and asks: “What you looking at?”

“Who’s asking?” I counter.

“Fred Praeger.”

“That’s your name?”

“Yeah, what of it?” asked the cow.

“That can’t be your name. Fred Praeger was a self-proclaimed genius book publisher. Besides that, how did you learn to talk?”

“It is possible that you are simply imagining that I am talking,” suggested the cow.

It is at moments like this when I carefully review my mental and chemical state. There are a good number of benefits to trail running. In my case, sanity is one of those benefits. Should I not run for a week, I tend to get grouchy. A clear indication that I need to go for a trail run is when Blue Eyes moves my moccasins up close to the front door so that she doesn’t have to look around when she wants to toss them out into the front yard.

I’ve been running for an hour or so. I had a full charge of oatmeal with maple syrup and fruit for breakfast. I’m well-hydrated and most of my parts are painless. So I pass the mental checklist.

The chemical checklist is a tad bit more vague. Endorphins from running can do some fairly strange things to my chemical makeup. They tend to make me smile and act unreasonably cheerful. However, they don’t usually tend to allow me to hear a cow talking.

Full disclosure requires an admission of youthful experimentation with known controlled substances. There is the possibility that this talking cow is due to some level of flashback. And then again, this is a mountain cow, he could actually be talking to me. Stranger things have happened up here.

Not one to ignore the possibility of a new experience, I stop running and talk to the brute,

“I can’t believe you are the same Fred Praeger. He would have at least come back as a bull.”

“How about Ambrose Bierce?”

“No way, he had to come back as an eagle. You are just a steer.”

“Great, you don’t even know me and you’re making fun of my sexual orientation,” he says and starts to walk away.

“Wait, wait, wait,” I say, “So who are you really? And how did you end up as a steer?”

“Okay, so my real name is unimportant. I’m here because I invented the Master of Business Administration degree.”

“Wow, tell me more.”

“It’s not a pretty story.”

“So how did you come up with the idea?”

“There were these moderately smart kids at the university, not smart enough to be engineers or dentists, even though they thought they knew everything. We needed to do something with them to increase our enrollments in the business school.”

“Yeah, that sort of makes sense.”

“We knew that we had to put their arrogance to work, so we started telling them that they could become masters of the universe if they would apply a few simple principles to their work.”

“Yeah, let me guess what the principles were?”

“OK, give it a try.”

“You taught them that optimizing profit at any cost was their sole reason for existence.”

“Right, you are almost smart enough to have an MBA,” said the steer.

“You taught them that that lowering the quality of a product, demanding greater productivity from the workers and thinking only of short-term gain were all roads to success.”

“You got it,” said the steer.

“And you taught them to treat all their colleagues with sarcastic contempt, as if their ideas were useless.”

“You could have been a dentist.”

“Wow, that’s amazing. And for developing the MBA, God turned you into steer?

“Yup, she did.”

“What about all these other cows? They are just cows, aren’t they?”

“Nope,” he said looking around. “They were all professionals at one time or another.”

“You’re kidding?”

“Nope. See the cow over there with the really short legs?”

“Yeah, he’s a weird-looking cow.”

“That’s Steven Nordski from Seattle. He was the engineer for Boeing who invented the middle seat.”

“Wow, and who was that cow over there who looks like he has lost most of his hair?”

“Oh that’s Sam. God gave him a permanent lice infection.”

“What did he do?”

“I think he was the insurance executive who came up with preexisting conditions, but he might have been in charge of policy cancellations,” said the steer.

“What about the cow with particularly big ears and eyes?”

“That’s Darryl, who came up with playing three-minute ads in movie theaters. I could go on and on.”

“Please do.”

“Okay, the cow over there with the really big tongue, he got here for his work on industrial tomatoes. The cow who looks like a pig and has really ratty looking ears used to be a Senator.”

“You’d better explain,” I say.

“Earmarks,” said the cow.

“And the cow who is sitting down and doing nothing?” I asked, “Let me guess.”

“Go for it.”

“Okay, I’d bet he had something to do with starting public employee unions.”

“Good” said the cow. “Take another guess. How about the cow who is moving his hooves all over his own body?”

“Easy,” I said, “he obviously invented TSA screeners.”

“And the cow who is on fire? What did he do?” the steer asked.

“Piece of cake, he invented suicide bombers.”

“More?” asked the steer.

“Yeah, who is cow up to his neck in a huge puddle of his own shit?”

“He was a partner at Goldman Sachs,” said the steer. “Any other questions?”

“No, I get the picture. What profession is most represented in this herd?”

“I was mistaken,” said the steer, “You’re not smart enough to be a dentist. Any fool would know that most of these cows were lawyers.”

“Oh, yeah, right. How could I forget that? What about women? This herd is all steers from what I can see.”

“God doesn’t turn professional women into cows,” said the steer.

“But there are a good number of professional women doing dumb stuff.”

“Professional courtesy,” said the steer, who then ambled off.

Senior correspondent Alan Stark is a principal of Boulder Bookworks. His blog, “Mountain Passages,” can be viewed on mountaingazette.com.

Regrooving Country in the Rockies

Country music lyrics in action on the bar at Kochevar's in Crested Butte. Photo: Dawne Belloise
Country music lyrics in action on the bar at Kochevar's in Crested Butte. Photo: Dawne Belloise

You won’t admit it, even though your bluegrass friends might be more understanding, but you are secretly amused by the emoto-schlock lyrics served up by classic country music. Country music vocalists are basically soul singers, but what is it that makes country lament in ways that are deeply rooted in the same stuff as the blues? Hardship …  hard luck in life, love and unfulfilled expectations. Traditional country is a romance novel rolled into a reality show and set to music. Clever, vengeful, heartfelt and notoriously comical, the lyrics span content ranging from d-i-v-o-r-c-e and the habitually jilted to countrified patriotism and redneck validation. There are love songs about pickup trucks, philosophy for raising children, memorials for grandmothers and odes to dogs.

No other music genre does love songs, splitsville and misery better than country, except maybe Italian opera, where someone is always betrayed, lied to, murdered or foreclosed on, with spectacular flair. La Scala’s country cousin is in Nashville and called the Grand Ole Opry. Achy-Breaky as it is for diehards, the old genre morphed into mainstream Americana acoustic rock and the lyric writers of the three-minute joke became noticeably more poetic a decade or so ago.

Craig McManus, a knowledgeable country DJ of both camps, explains the transformation of the music. “What you’re not hearing anymore are the silly lyrics that country music was known for. It wasn’t catchy, it was just silly and contrived. Most of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson stuff was that way during that time. What it’s evolved into is from the real heart of soul.” Craig still sees two factions. “It’s almost split into one wing that’s God, country and family and the other has gone into actual human feelings that are more honest, more down to earth. What they used to call down to earth back then was a little lofty and not down to earth at all. In country, folk and rock today, some of the music is so similar, you can segue between all of those styles. The genres have blended so much that alternative root is alternative country, which is now a combo of folk country and acoustic rock.”

This month, you can witness the contrast of both modern and classic country up at the end of the road in Crested Butte. Although they’re calling it an inaugural event and even changed its name to the Crested Butte Songwriters Festival, the town hosted the wild hootenanny called Country in the Rockies for well over a decade. In 2008, during a remodel of the main accommodations for the performers, the hoedown was moved to the champagne snow slopes of Steamboat Springs and then to Nashville for 2009. However, by 2010, the clamoring arose to bring it back to CB with much of the hooting coming from the musicians themselves … perhaps it was all the local ladies unabashedly gyrating on the bar tops, coaxing donations into their collective cleavage to help the stars raise upwards of $50k in a single evening for the fundraising breast cancer research sponsor T.J. Martell. The newly renamed Crested Butte Songwriters Festival will stir up the sequins and glitter in a sea of cowboy hats, January 13 and 14, 2012, and build on the popularity of its former self without sacrificing the caliber of talent or fun, and still continue to raise big bucks for breast cancer research.

Country in the Rockies brought hundreds of visiting big spenders and jovial locals out to cruise the many different acts throughout the liver of Crested Butte. There were songwriting seminars with the stars, celebrity bartenders and concerts in the round for almost a full week. The stars got to shred the slopes alongside the town clan. The new event is starting out smaller for its first year, but will undoubtedly expand back into a party of extended workshops and concerts in the coming years as it gets rolling again.

This year’s raucous soiree has an impressive roster that includes some heavy hitters, all BMI-affiliated artists, like Texas roots country hero Robert Earl Keen (robertearlkeen.com); veteran troubadour Dean Dillon (deandillon.com); country icon, hit writer and actor Mac Davis (myspace.com/themacdavis) and Marti Frederiksen (myspace.com/martifrederiksen), who has penned songs for the likes of Ozzy to Mick and Sheryl Crow to Pink. There are newer talents being showcased, like Jake Owen (jakeowen.net), who happened to nail one of the coveted People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive slots; Kristen Kelly (kristenkellymusic.com); Nicolle Galyon (nicollegalyon.com); Emily Shackelton (myspace.com/emilyshackelton); Kristy Lee Cook (myspace.com/kristyleecook); and modern country hit songwriter Rodney Clawson (myspace.com/rodneyclawsonmusic). They’ve thrown some local music into the mix, with Tyler Hansen (myspace.com/tylerhansenmusic), Steve Snyder and David Paulik  — aka Dobro Dave (myspace.com/560454056/music).

The entourage starts at 8 p.m. on Friday the 13th at the rowdy Kochevar’s bar and moves to the Eldo Brewery at 10 p.m., with the admission a reasonable pay-what-you-can. If you prefer the less boisterous, Saturday night will feature a real concert ($50, crestedbuttearts.org). It’s just fine if you only have a few bucks to toss into Friday’s kitty because others will toss several thousand into the hat. So get on up and take an honest look at the real country music of dirt roads and hollow body guitars through its singers and songwriters. And the locals will even invite you up to dance on the bar.

For more info head to: www.bmi.com/events/entry/555143

Dawne Belloise is a freelance writer, photographer, traveler and musician living in Crested Butte. She can infamously shake it dancing on the bar. A feature writer for the Crested Butte News-Weekly, her musings and photography have been published in numerous mags and rags around the planet. Contact dbelloise@gmail.com 

In Pursuit of the Gnar

 Five generations of Pagosa Brewing Co.’s Nipple Mountain Nip barleywine style ale are served up at a “vertical tasting” for their 5th anniversary celebration on 11.11.11
Five generations of Pagosa Brewing Co.’s Nipple Mountain Nip barleywine style ale are served up at a “vertical tasting” for their 5th anniversary celebration on 11.11.11

Style. It’s how we define ourselves. It is also a fine method of establishing a common ground on which to meaningfully discuss beer. Tucked under the category of Strong Ales* lie three of the most beguiling and gnarly of all the creations in brewdom — the elusive Strong Ale (discussed in MG #184) and the fraternal twins of British- and American-style barleywine. As the name implies, these concoctions are created using an enormous amount of malted barley, which allows the final product to finish with an alcohol level akin to beverages produced from the fruit of the vine. British-style varieties feature an intense malt body and bready sweetness, with extended aging leaving a characteristic dried fruit signature on the palate. American varieties add piles of high-test domestic hops to the equation, aiming for a full-throttle mix of heat from the booze, sweet from the malt and a citrus hop rip to finish. Born brash and bold, subtlety of flavor comes with age for barleywine. The high level of alcohol and heavy hopping rates allow the potion to weather the ravages of time. Where a lesser brew will lose body and flavor complexity, the slow magick that yeast and malt begat in barleywine evolves over time, changing the flavor in a strange and persistent manner. Sharp hop notes and cloying sweetness may dominate a young brew, but the same bottle a few years later may exhibit sherry or port-like notes, with a moderate sweetness balanced by a subdued dryness from the hops. Barleywine is meant to be savored, and is best served on a cold winter evening where the stars shine hard and bright like diamond nails hammered into the midnight of heaven, and the icy light of the full moon echoes from the stellar blue blanket of snow covering the peaks around you.

A celebration of all things barleywine occurs in Vail on the 5th of January when the 12th Annual Big Beers, Belgians, and Barleywine Festival takes place at the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa. Featuring the “A” list of commercially produced beer over 7% ABV, paired with dinners, seminars, tastings and a home-brewing competition, this event is the festival to attend to experience all that is happening with high-gravity brewing today.

If you are lucky enough to ride at Wolf Creek this winter, do not miss the chance to stop at Pagosa Brewing Co. in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Doing this prior to or après soaking in the hot springs is your choice, but either way, a glass of the gold-medal-winning Nipple Mountain Nip barleywine ale is required. Brewed each year, the 2011 release is in the American-style and comes in at 10.5% ABV. To celebrate its 5th anniversary, brewer and owner Tony Simmons tapped kegs of the “Nip” from each of the five years he has produced it as a commercial brewer, and offered this side-by-side in a vertical tasting event that was a privilege to attend. Some of these prior-year releases may survive through ski season and should be asked for at the bar. Tawny, dry flavors of raisins and fig came through in some, with toffee and sweetness lingering in others. The 2008 was particularly well rounded, with each year exhibiting remarkable vitality in body and flavor complexity despite their age.

On a larger craft-brewed scale, the wizards at Full Sail Brewing Co. in Hood River, OR, have released the 2011 batch of Old Boardhead Barleywine Ale. Prominently featuring a bold palate of Pacific Northwest hops, the Old Boardhead is a heady hop treat to pour in the glass now, and should develop nicely if stashed in the cellar. In particular, the bright, faintly metallic notes from centennial hops accent the caramel flavor of the malts, and while tasting it, the thought of examining the changes that occur in the bottle to be opened next year is intriguing.

Head brewer Alan Simmons (no relation to Tony) at the Backcountry Brewery in Frisco also brews an American-style barleywine, which he named after the “beater” van that has proudly served as the Backcountry Brewery distribution workhorse since its inception. The Olde Beerwagon Barleywine is modeled after a West-Coast-style brew and features big-hop notes to balance the 10% ABV. Alan also has 50 gallons of the ’wine aging in an oak bourbon barrel and set for release during the ski season this winter. Aging in bourbon barrels imparts a lot of character to a beer, rendering vanilla and smoke components from the toasted oak itself, along with a solid dose of bourbon esters from the liquor remaining in the wood.

*All style references in this column are based on the Beer Judges Certification Program (BJCP) Style Guidelines found here:  http://www.bjcp.org/stylecenter.php

Erich Hennig lives in Durango, CO. He is an avid home brewer, a hobby for which he was recently awarded  “Area Man” status by the local newspaper. Further musings about all things beer in and around the San Juan’s can be found at beerat6512.blogspot.com