Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Ride Hell Bent for Leather, Frankie!

Singer Frankie Lane died yesterday--I'm sorry to say that I didn't even know he was still alive. And now I'm sad, because I loved Frankie Lane.

Who is Frankie Lane? Well, his most famous song was the theme to the television show Rawhide.

(What was Rawhide? The fourth longest running tv western ever, and the show that launched the career of the Man with No Name, aka Clint Eastwood. )

But back to Frankie in the late 1950s and early1960s, US popular culture went through a western mania. There were western movies, and western tv shows, and western lunch boxes, and western serials, and western fashion and a lot of people jumped upon that western Conestoga wagon, including Frankie Lane. The singer, who had been previously known mostly as a crooner, sang the theme songs to several famous movie westerns, including Gunfight at the OK Corral, 3:10 to Yuma, and (later) Blazing Saddles. In 1961 he released two western themed albums: Hell Bent for Leather and Deuces Wild.

Now I was not alive in 1961, but my daddy was, and he, a huge cowboy fan, purchased these albums. When I finally arrived some years later, and, some years after that, became old enough to operate a record player, Frankie was waiting for me.

To this day, I think I know the lyrics of every song on both albums, and the cover art--Frankie posing in 1960s flat-top cowboy hat, hand nonchalantly resting upon the butt of his 45 in Hell Bent for Leather--Frankie pointing his 45 directly at his audience in Deuces Wild--is branded upon my memory. Can I over-estimate the influence that these albums had upon my youthful mind?

No, I can not. The songs, ballads about cowboy life and cowboy death (none of them traditional, I might add, but written to take advantage of the western mania) thrilled me. They were full of characters: gamblers forced to fun to Texas after a bowie knife fight goes bad; teamsters hopelessly searching for cool water in a hot desert; the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo; aces and eights, the Dead Man's hand; the man who must follow the wild geese; the man begging his wife not to forsake him on their wedding day; faithless women and faithful horses; and, of course, the ruthless gunfighter. His songs told stories--mostly melodramatic tragic stories. (Also a big influence on me--to this day, I prefer a sad ending!)

These songs fired my imagination. I played the albums over and over on my little plastic Fisher-Price turn-table, and practiced my quick draw. I was a cowboy for Halloween. I wished I had a Bowie knife. No matter that I had no idea where the Bank of Monte Carlo was, or exactly what a poker hand was, or even, for that matter, why exactly someone would follow a wild goose. All I needed Frankie's deep thrilling voice. My imagination supplied the rest.

Frankie got me started on the West, and he got me started on make-believe and on stories. I couldn't read, but I could listen to his songs, and listen I did. I'm listening still.

Happy Trails, Frankie.


Anonymous said...

Madama Wilce:

Hey, you like sad endings and want to know why guys follow wild geese? Sounds like you should read the novel "Flight of the Goose" by Lesley Thomas. It's one of the first books I felt compelled to review on-line (I absolute hate doing those because I'm so bad at coming up with erudite praise; I can never really explain why I love something.) Anyway, the writer is actually a distant cousin of mine and I'm SOOOOOO jealous of her talent.

Ysabeau Wilce said...

Thanks for the tip--I'll check the book out--I'm always looking for great books to read...One of my favorite guys following geese (birds) in literature is Famous Shoes from Larry McMurtry's "Streets of Laredo". Famous Shoes is an Indian scout who has always wondered where the birds go when they fly north. One day he decides to follow them and find out. Since this is a McMurtry book, this plan goes somewhat awry, tho' I don't recall that Famous Shoes himself has an unhappy ending. It's been a while since I've read the book--"Lonesome Dove" remains my favorite McMurtry novel.