George Strait’s The Cowboy Rides Away Tour met its end over the weekend, with one final show in Arlington. All-Texas-everything magazine Texas Monthly gave the occasion the longform feature treatment, offering up a 6,000-plus word gem from John Spong that did the King justice. You should definitely read it now that it came out from behind the paywall. Here are a couple of my own takeaways:
1. The cover’s terrific. A straightforward and elegant introduction for the man who needs none. And to top it off that great Joe Pugliese photo was taken in Tulsa.
2. Cutting through the BS. Often when writing about storied musicians, writers spend too much time cataloging minor shifts in sound and temperament (see: the work of Chuck Klosterman) that nobody but music snobs and hardcore fans really care about. That would’ve been a dreadful mistake here, as Spong points out that:
Viewed as a whole, his catalog is monolithic, and that’s a compliment. It is one big, rock-solid block.
Instead, Spong writes as if Strait’s work is a constant, discussing how Nashville changed around it over time. It’s an effective reinforcement of his portrait of Strait as having existed, for the entirety of his career, as a man that women wanted and men wanted to be like by cutting nothing but great songs.
3. Dawwww. Spong dots the story with all these great personal anecdotes that shade his own relation to Strait’s music. He saves the best, most touching one for last, and in doing so perfectly captures popular music’s power to transport the listener to when he or she felt vulnerable, overwhelmed, thrilled or invincible.
4. Woah. I’d never realized how impeccable Strait’s record as a singles artist was. I mean I knew he had a ton of great singles, but to release 94 in 33 years and have all but ten of them reach the Billboard top ten is absolutely amazing.
5. Doing the legwork. Credit Spong big-time for tracking down a few of Strait’s songwriters for comment. Sonny Throckmorton (what a name, he’s got a credit on “The Cowboy Rides Away”) offers this look into Strait’s populist wisdom:
“A lot of singers get that big response onstage and start thinking they can do anything. But if you cut a bad song, that’s like a gut wound. You’re hurt and don’t know it until your career is dead. It doesn’t matter how big you are. God couldn’t have a hit on a bad song. George knows that.”
While you’re at it, check out these previously unpublished photos of Strait from 1984.