Page 21


Tish Hinojosa Hinojosa a personal history, but to anyone who’s ever sat in a South Texas kitchen and listened, Everywoman’s story. Though it is sufficiently biographical that Fort Worth StarTelegram reporter John Gonzalez heard it and recognized that it was his family someone was singing about, it is also a song about an entire generation in South Texas. Gonzalez had lost track of Hinojosa, his cousin, but the lyrics Felipe and Maria, the San Fernando Cemetery in San Antonio were enough for him to make the connection. The song works because it rings true; it is a collective biography of San Antonio, and Robstown, and Alice, and Kingsville, and ALAN POGUE Corpus Christi, and Hebronville, and Falfurrias about how all these places came to be what they are because of small individual acts of courage and desperation, as when 50 years ago a woman whose dream it was to travel to Saltillo, Coahuila, and take voice lessons, instead came to San Antonio looking for domestic work. “I wrote that song,” Hinojosa said, “because I wanted to say something to my children.” IF I WERE looking for a photographer to document James McMurtry’s Texas, I’d call Richard Avedon and ask for black and white. McMurtry has cast a cold eye on Texas, and the place he describes in his dark ironic lyrics is populated by misfits, unable to come to terms with domestic life and the drudgery of workaday Texas, or with garden-variety suburbanites who have bought the American okey-dokey but still now and then have to remind themselves that they “lead a good life.” You don’t have to listen between the lines of McMurtry’s songs to know that he hasn’t spent a lot of time in places you’d expect to find the son of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist who left Texas to go into the rare-book business in Georgetown, Virginia. So where has James McMurtry been hanging out? The answer to that question, or as much of an answer as an interviewer gets out of McMurtry, who is as economical in conversation as he is in his lyrics, is Virginia; summers and Christmases in Archer City; Benson, Arizona; San Antonio; and lately Austin, where he now lives with his wife Elena and their four-month-old son Curtis. A reviewer once said of McMurtry that he sings in a voice 20 years older than he is. The same thing can be said of his songwriting. McMurtry, 30, has obviously done some traveling, and spent a lot of time with his mouth shut and his ears open as he did in an interview on the patio of Las Manitas Restaurant in Austin. Asked how he feels about frequent comparisons to his father, novelist Larry McMurtry, McMurtry paused. In conversation, like in the often slightly off-beat lyrical meter in which he delivers some of his best lines, you get the impression that with James McMurtry timing matters. “There’s a lot worse people they could compare me to,” he said. There are. But the son-to-father comparison is valid. Not only do they work the same territory, James McMurtry and Larry McMurtry paint a similar picture. “Talkin’ At The Texaco” is a fine sketch of the cramped quality of life in small-town Texas. It is the first song McMurtry wrote, took four years to complete, and its raw material is one summer spent in Archer City, where, “there’s no entertainment except high school football.” “Texaco” penetrates the Friday-night reality of Archer City and a thousand other towns like it, where they don’t play rock and roll at the Legion Hall “cause it just ain’t right.” When this song finally came together, after four years in gestation, James McMurtry must have known he’d found his voice. “A small town is easy to get a grip on,” he said of “Texaco.” “There are not many characters involved. You hang around a small town a while and you understand the dynamics of it.” At McMurtry’s last Austin performance there were almost more journalists than normal people in the audience at La Zona Rosa. Because James McMurtry is something of a writers’ songwriter, his ear for idiom, for the way people in the small towns of this state talk to one another, is unique. And his work suggests that he respects that language. Ab 6 MARCH 22, 1991