Unposted photos: May-April

More in the continuing series of how I've let you down ...

How Buddy's 6th birthday looked.

Grandpa and Peanut.

Bombardier view.

Bonk at the Farm.

Don't make Peanut angry. You wouldn't like her when she's angry.

Bonk molests the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center.

With Grandma at LJWC.

After much thought, we decided that this was our official WildFlower Photo of 2013. We've had some very nice pictures in the past couple years, but after struggling on two visits to get a nice photo for this year, we opted for this one because it illustrates where we were at the time.

Though I gave strong consideration to the moptop photo.

In their Alcatraz PJs. Bonk is holding a bottle of beer.

Unposted photos: Jan-March

In a few weeks or so I'm going to post a several-installment blog about the history of Texas beer. It will be long and nobody will care except for Bullworker.

But I realized I couldn't revive my blog without posting the photos I should have posted throughout the year.

Here are the best photos from January through March.

A. Some have already been on Facebook.

B. Bonk (aka "Ghostman") doesn't make much of an appearance yet. But he has a bunch of really good photos from later in the year. So hang on.

Sidewalk vs. Forehead.

Bonk is out of here.

With Grandma

Showing off the PJs that Aunt Julie got him for Christmas.

East Texas.

First bit of solid food ….

Preparing that first solid food diaper for Dad.

Seems like a long time ago.

Smooth criminal.

Playing in the dirt.


The real truth* about Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong fucking murdered and ate this kitten.

"I ate seven kittens today!"

"Wait, you ate what?"

"Bro! Toss me a kitten!"

"This is not what I meant. Fucking French."

"Feed me kittens! Rawr!"

"Here kitty, kitty, kitty!"

"I wonder if ferrets taste like kitten."


* By "real," I mean "completely made up."

10 things I learned at Willie's Picnic: 2013

Let's take it chronologically:

1. The Hotel Texas is probably the worst-reviewed hotel I've ever stayed at 6 times. But they pretty much outdid themselves this year when they told me their credit card machine was broken and demanded cash rightthefucknow (I'm guessing they were mad I made my reservation before they upped the prices for the Picnic and wanted to get out of the Visa fees). Also charming: The sole remaining key to the room was broken, so they had to let me in and out of the room with the master key every time I showed up at the front desk.

2. The Twitter experiment was a bust except for a single tweet from 11 p.m. on July 3: "Longhorn Salion. I yes I Jesus. I the walrus." If I knew what I had meant to say at that point, it would probably open up some deep universal secret. This also provides a little insight into how successful I was at getting lit up, pre-Picnic. Offering my services as a Flaming Dr Pepper adviser during dinner at Cattleman's was probably a mistake.

3. I'd been in the "Will Call" line to pick up my media credentials for almost half an hour when I decided to cheat just a little bit. I called up the Billy Bob's Texas official that I've been in contact with over most of the past decade and said "Heyyyyyy ... I've been standing in this line for a loooooong time. And that's OK. I just wanted to be sure I was in the right spot to pick up my media pass."

She said yes, but she would double-check. Five minutes later I get a call. "I"m sending a blonde in a golf cart to pick you up." From there, I got a free ride to backstage where the official was waiting with my media pass.

I kinda felt like a VIP. I guess that's the idea, but this doesn't usually happen to me. I could get used to it. Made it in just in time to catch Ray Wylie Hubbard do his "let's give them the four songs they want" set.

4. At a fairly inexplicable 2 p.m. show Kris Kristofferson sounded terrible, forgot words to his songs and tried to do the same song twice. It was a far piece from the evening show that was the highlight of the 2010 Picnic. Johnny Bush was alone in seeming ageless. Billy Joe Shaver seemed tired, but didn't hold back.

5. Ray Price had to cancel the day before, so I was left with a simple choice: Jamey Johnson and then Leon Russell outside or David Allan Coe inside Billy Bob's. Well, in my story for the paper I had urged everyone to show some love for Leon, who has always been underappreciated as a Picnic pioneer. Outside it was.

Jamey continued his Picnic tradition of setting his excellent 45 rpm songs at 33 1/3 rpm and letting the afternoon heat suck the life out of them. Leon? He was awesome. He limped to the stage in all white, like Santa Claus at a formal, sat down and blazed away for 25 minutes straight. He even said something! A small crack about how hot it was.

6. Never found out why Lukas Nelson canceled, but I heard just enough of Micah Nelson's latest band (Insects vs. Robots) to really, really miss Lukas. I'd been tromping in and out of the Billy Bob's offices, filing reports that nobody read. But they gave me free access to everywhere, let me leave the computer in the office (after 4 Picnics of carrying it in a backpack with me ... small progress). Once again, Billy Bob's was a first-class operation.

7. My first Ryan Bingham show. Was damn surprised to learn that other people love "Southside of Heaven" as much as I do. That album -- "Mescalito" -- has such as West Texas vibe to it. Terribly not used to watching and appreciating artists younger than I am. But I reckon I have to get there. Options will get limited quickly.

8. Because my other choices are asshats like Justin Moore. This guy has an elevated platform built on the stage so he can rise mysteriously into view -- cowboy hat visible from Dallas -- before a row of pulsing lights and thumping music. Then he goes on to tell us all what a real country musician he is. After opening with a song about how Obama can't take his guns, of course. To see Justin  juxtaposed with Bingham only serves to expose what a joke Justin is. All talk, all flash, all cliche, all hat and no badass jams.

9. After filing another report during the second half of Moore's disaster, I used Gary Allan's 75 minutes to take the computer back to the hotel (yes, they had to let me into my room) and then have a sit-down dinner at Riscky's before hoofing it back for Willie's closing set. This all felt very weird. But I wasn't going to suffer another $8 corndog just to listen to Gary Allan and make my feet hurt a little more.

10. Willie? He sounded rough before he got warmed up, but hit his groove and coasted to a sing-along gospel-heavy close. It was a fitting end to this Picnic and -- probably -- to all the Picnics. I know I wasn't there for the first 20 years of this tradition, but I've been around long enough to say it really lost something over the past decade when Willie could no longer come out and jam with his guests (and no blame here, of course – I understand he's 80).

What has kept the Picnic together over this past decade has been its core group: Ray Price, Leon Russell, Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Johnny Bush, Asleep at the Wheel. And, to a lesser extent, Kristofferson and Coe. Let's face it, though. The core group is geting old. The Picnic is getting old. And this year, it was awfully noticeable.

I was pleased that we had one more big, outdoor event. One more "Whiskey River." One more "Redneck Mother," "Jumping Jack Flash" and "Live Forever." I had a good time. But maybe we should say 40 is enough. I know it's not up to me, but I'd rather give it up than watch it morph into something else, with someone else.

I heard from a few sources that Willie feels the same. But you never know.

Only one thing is certain: My calendar will be clear for July 3-4 next year.

Just in case.

The 20 most bad-ass songs in my iTunes library

I'm a late-comer to the iTunes / iPod revolution — in spite of my buddy Bret telling me a decade ago how cool it was. What can I say? I been wrong before.

I totally get it now. I can think of a song, buy it in 20 seconds for $1, have it on my iPod in another 2 minutes and be driving down the road listening to it in my car 5 minutes after that. But I'm a slow-adopting, slow-moving technology outlaw. Most of my narrow, but deep, song library is still on CDs. I probably have more songs on vinyl than in my iTunes library.

But in the spirit of a totally unnecessary writing exercise, I got to thinking the other day (sparked by listening to "Copperhead Road," of course): "What are the most bad-ass songs in my iTunes collection?" Not the best, mind you. Not even my favorites. But the most bad-ass.

Here goes.

20.  "Ride Me Down Easy," Billy Joe Shaver, "Unshaven."
I'm a sucker for live albums, I guess. But I never understood why this album isn't worshipped by every music critic from El Paso to Atlanta.

19. "Casting my Lasso," Don Walser, "Texas Legend."
I always wanted to pair Don Walser with Monte Montgomery and have the big feller and the guitar wizard compete yodel-for-guitar solo. The goddamn ultimate call-and-response. It would have been awesome.

18. "The Ecstasy of the Gold," Ennio Morricone, "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly."
I loved the movie long before that Nike commercial — you know the one — but I'm not too proud to say the commercial moved me, too.

17. "The Randall Knife," Guy Clark, "Dublin Blues."
No, wait, I hate commercials. Fucking Taco Cabana commercials.

16. "We Can't Make it Here," James McMurtry, "Childish Things."
A protest song that absolutely should galvanize every American with truth that transcends politics … I mean if such a thing were possible for most people.

15. "My Cup Runneth Over," Johnny Bush, "Bush Country."
The other day on the radio I heard a Justin Trevino song where he apparently had invited his mentor, Johnny Bush, to sing backup. That's like asking Fred Astaire to be a backup dancer in your touring show. Like asking Daniel Day-Lewis to be an extra in your movie. Like asking Johnny Gimble to play second fiddle. This song is Johnny Bush at the height of his powers. But even all these years later, he still can't help but eclipse poor Justin.

14. Carmina Burana: "O Fortuna," London Philharmonic Orchestra
Seriously, listen to this. Then RIGHT after it's over, play ZZ Top's "I Gotsta Get Paid." It's meant to be.

13. "Wishing All These Old Things Were New," Merle Haggard, "If I Could Only Fly."
"Watching while some old friends do a line / Holding back the want to in my own addicted mind / Wishing it was a still a thing even I could do / Wishing all these old things were new."
Every would-be Nashville outlaw out there today might as well hand in their professionally battered cowboy hat right the fuck now. None of y'all can ever touch this level of bad-ass.

12. "For Whom The Bell Tolls," Metallica, "Ride The Lightning."
"Take a look to the sky / just before you die / it's the last time you will"
If you didn't do some air drums right after reading that line, you haven't heard the song. Or you're rolling your eyes at us stupid boys.

11. "The Messenger," Ray Wylie Hubbard, "Loco Gringo's Lament."
I bought a Rilke book. It hasn't changed my life yet. But I'm still holding out hope.

10. "King of Rock," Run-DMC, "King of Rock."
People my age, there's something: It surrounds us, flows through us, binds our galaxy together. No, not that "Star Wars" was the first significant movie we saw in the theater, but the fact that we grew up in the 1980s. You can take the most hard-core 1970s Cosmic Cowboy / Redneck Rock enthusiast (yours truly, for example) and play a scratchy cassette recording of "Rock Me Amadeus," and we CAN'T FUCKING TURN IT OFF. It's a sickness. The '80s are us. We are the '80s. It's incurable.

The other day I was walking through a hallway by the snack bar at work and I heard "Eye of the Tiger." I stopped. I looked. After awhile I found that somebody had left a small radio playing. But for a minute … for a minute I actually had to consider the idea that the "Eye of the Tiger" was playing in my head, completely unbidden, like some sort of "I Love the '80s Tourette's" or something. Jesus.

9. "Agua Dulce," Rusty Weir, "Don't It Make You Want to Dance."
Rusty Weir came out to Blaine's Picnic in San Angelo one year. He opened with an ambling verse of "Don't it Make You Wanna Dance" and stopped. He told us that was how he recorded the song originally. Then he said "this is how Jerry Jeff does it" and … we all learned a lot that day. San Angelo was a town on the rise with its own music scene, its own annual picnic and a growing sense of pride. But one old feller whom we hardly knew of could smile benignly at all that and then tell us, in so many words, "this is cute, but take a listen to how we invented this shit in Austin 30 years ago."

Rusty Weir blew us all away. Wish I could remember more of the show.

8. "Does my Ring Burn Your Finger," Solomon Burke, "Nashville."
For the No-Soul Simmons version of the song, take a listen to Charley Pride's "Does my Ring Hurt Your Finger." No, it's not the same song, just the same idea. Charley is beginning to suspect his sweetums isn't on the up-and-up. Solomon is beginning to feel guilty for burying that cheating bitch in a shallow grave.

7. "Copperhead Road," Steve Earle, "Just an American Boy."
I dig this version. Is it bad-ass in spite of the 2-minute mandolin intro? Or it it more bad-ass because of the mandolin? Remember what Ray Wylie Hubbard said about bluegrass: "In music, Ralph Stanley has killed more people than Ice-T."

6. "I Washed my Hands in Muddy Water," Stonewall Jackson, "Greatest Hits."
I'm always mystified by (and impressed by) the old-school country songs that stand the test of time. Ernest Tubb's "Waltz Across Texas" will be cool 1,000 years from now. "Too Old to Cut the Mustard" was cornball crap when he cut it. Did he know at the time? Stonewall cut "I Washed my Hands …" in 1965. Which is damn near a half-century ago. And it's still cooler than most anything you'll hear today.

5. "The Highland Street Incident," Todd Snider, "The Devil You Know."
So Todd Snider gets mugged outside a bar. He's having trouble writing a song about it … until he decides to write from the perspective of the hoodlums. I hate to compare eras. There's not going to be another Johnny Cash, not another Willie or Kris. But if he lives that long, I think Todd Snider is going to be one hell of an old man artist, with a catalog of impossibly original and significant songs. I worry about the guy, though. I hear success is hard to handle.

4. "Dead Flowers," Townes Van Zandt, "Abnormal."
OK, confession time. When I got to be friends with Bret, he set about improving my knowledge of classic rock, which was so pitiful that I can hardly admit to it. He was with me when I heard Townes do "Dead Flowers" the first time and I remarked that it was a hell of a Van Zandt song. He never stopped giving me shit over that. Of course it's a Rolling Stones original. And I've learned enough about the Stones to admit that they are one of the world's greatest rock and roll institutions (and if you listen to "Country Honk," you get the idea they could have been a great country band). And I was a fool for not knowing about them, even if I came of age in the '80s when they were pretty low-flying.

Still, Bret never understood properly, that when I said this was a great Townes song, I was paying the Stones the highest compliment I could, in terms of songwriting. Like Billy Joe Shaver doing an incredibly rare cover of Haggard's "Rambling Fever," I believe that Townes Van Zandt was a natural fit for "Dead Flowers."

3. Lonesome, On'ry and Mean," Waylon Jennings, "Greatest Hits"
This song swaggers through my iTunes library liked a coked-up West Texan on a three-bender. Balls like watermelons. '80s songs scatter like spooked deer. Shannon's songs get the vapors. Even the songs on this list, give or take one or two, still give this song a wary eye and a wide berth.

2. "Dagger Through The Heart," Sinead O'Connor, "Just Because I'm a Woman."
OK, this takes a little explanation. This song was on one of Shannon's CDs, a Dolly Parton tribute CD. I don't listen to Sinead O'Connor on a regular basis, but a good song is a good song. Dolly is a bit of a vamp for my taste, but you'd be a damn fool to confuse that with her songwriting skills, which are as sharp as a skinnin' knife.

Dolly's version, is of course, all Dolly. Full of warbling and hand-wringing. It's the song of a woman who is fixin' to pack up to go to mama's and will take some convincing to come back to her no-good husband. Sinead O'Connor's version feels completely different. There's a tinge of madness to her breathlessness. You can't tell whether it's going to be homicide or suicide, but there's a pretty fair chance that someone is getting their ass stabbed to death tonight.

1. "Hurt," Johnny Cash, "American IV: The Man Comes Around."
I hate to be laughed at. After that I hate to lose. After that, I hate to be predictable. But, yeah … Johnny Cash, "Hurt," that video ,,, what the hell are you going to say?

Christmas and New Years

This one doesn't have a tag ...

Buddy and Woody. Bonk and Spiderman ...

"Bartender! Captain Morgan!"

"Hold up! I have to open a new one!"

All those new toys and … Bonk is more interested in the old ones.

Buddy and Grandma ...

"Nobody ever takes me out and plays with me anymore."

Grandparents and grandkids ...

Would be a good one, except Peanut has apparently been targeted by the Predator ...

Happy 2013 everybody ...

Christmas outtakes

In case you ever wondered about what would happen if you crossed Santa Claus with the Marlboro Man …

Grandma momentarily loses composure with Peanut's propensity for puke ...

The gun owner's approach to gun control

Anheuser-Busch – the enormous beer company that gives us Budweiser – participates in all manner of social responsibility programs.

From fighting underage drinking to pushing for designated drivers and responsible drinking to helping alcoholics, the company sets aside some of its money to urge potential consumers to not buy its product yet, to consume less of its product now or, sometimes, to not give them any money at all.

The company might do this out of the goodness of their corporate heart, but I don’t think so. Anheuser-Busch, which survived Prohibition, knows full well it is in their best long-term financial interest to have fewer drunk teenagers, fewer drunk drivers and fewer full-on drunks.

When M.A.D.D. raises hell about the wide-mouth quart bottle (to use a mid-1990s example), Anheuser-Busch doesn’t remind us what a bunch of hard drinkers the founding fathers were and cry out “ … from our cold, dead fingers!” The wide-mouth quart bottle goes away quietly, but the beer keeps flowing.

You can see where I’m going with this, I hope: The NRA and gun rights supporters need to abandon the tired old clichés, the uselessly horseshit arguments and stop pretending that the world is not changing.

The NRA needs to lead the way on gun control. About the time of Columbine or Virginia Tech or Aurora or – for God’s sake, right fucking now – the NRA needs to say “Hell, yes, there is a problem and if you liberals would stop dragging your feet, we’re going to find a way to fix it.”

Let’s pause a moment here for some background, of course. I am politically independent, from a deeply conservative background, a gun owner and when I first heard someone had shot a bunch of children in an elementary school, my very first thought was “I hope they kill that motherfucker.”

Trust me, I am not writing from an imaginary wonderland of peace and flowers and rainbow butterflies.

But I also know damn well that ours is no longer a rural society at heart, lilly-white and peopled by hard-working, patriarchal types who ceaselessly instill safety and responsibility in their sons while using their guns as tools for honest tasks.

The world is changing. Kids today know much more of guns (through video games) and much less about guns – that is until their violent pixel-fueled fantasies meet up with the gun tucked back in grandpa’s closet.

It’s not that way with me, of course. Theoretically, I think I should have all the guns I want. I was raised right. My children will be educated firmly, thoroughly and I hope to hell beyond the reach of peer pressure. But you can’t legislate sense and there’s more than one fellow I know who has more guns than brains. The serious question: What the hell do you do about that?

I don’t have the answers.* But I do know the NRA is being plenty damn foolish to circle the wagons ever tighter, again, and say that more guns is the answer. That restrictions should never be imposed.

If the NRA wants to protect Americans’ rights to own guns, they should be at the forefront of the gun control discussion. And — just to let everyone know that they are serious — the first thing they should do is demand an end to civilian use of assault rifles.

Yes. The NRA should call for it. Jesus, talk about disarming (so to speak) your critics.

It’s a symbolic act, of course. Assault rifles won’t go away. They’ll still emerge in the hands of criminals and nutcases. But it has to be done. The line has been crossed – everybody pause here to imagine 20 kids gunned down in their elementary school – and America ain’t going back. This is reality. Don’t pretend the world isn’t changing.

Give up the assault rifles to keep your Glocks and your semi-automatic shotguns (which, shhhhh, are nearly as deadly). And if you really, really want to shoot an assault rifle, join the Army. If you are as bad-ass as you think you are, you’ll get to shoot things even bigger and badder.

(Yes, I have fired an assault rifle. It was fun. But I’m a far piece from having the kind of land or money where I could argue for owning one of my own, even without the, you know, dead-kid baggage. Also: let's dismiss the ridiculous stand that this is a political issue. If my father, who describes himself as somewhere to the right of Attila the Hun, can call for an end to assault rifle ownership, then, maybe just this once, we can rise above the right vs. left argument and work together on this.)

And don’t worry, NRA, about having already made your statement. A truly strong leader can admit he’s made a mistake, and drive on with confidence. Sure, the less-secure people who rely on volume and bombast might look at someone who re-thinks their position and call it flip-flopping. But I prefer to call it by its real name: Education.

Am I pissing in the wind? Almost certainly. I’ll bet you know somebody who works for a company that is cannibalizing itself from within, sacrificing its credibility, even its economic future to bring in a few extra nickels today. With that kind of attitude prevalent in the U.S., who would expect the NRA to embrace a short-term defeat in order to gain a longer-term win?

But there’s one thing I’m pretty sure of: There will come a time when the NRA wishes to hell they were driving the gun control bus, instead of getting run over by it.

-- Dave Thomas

* No, I don’t have answers, but I have opinions. Who wants to hear ‘em?

Thanksgiving at the Farm

Peanut and Grandma ready to go.

Bullworker and the boys.

Grandma entertains Bonk.

Peanut in the sunlight. Looks like a redhead to me.

Pretty sure.

Mama takes Peanut outside for a bit. Peanut: "What is this shit?"

Grandparents and grandkids No. 1 …

… and No. 2. I'm not sure which is better. Grandma, you decide …

Buddy and my new favorite place to take photos.

Eddie Bauer, just want to let you know Buddy is available for catalog work.

After a long two days at the farm, SOMEBODY could not wait to get in the tub and get cleaned up.