Out of the Box

The chuck wagon is the most instantly recognizable symbol of the American West. Its silhouette, with its billowing canvas top and its fly stretched out over its drop-down table, epitomizes down-to-earth cooking, the hospitality of the open range, and the hearty companionship of cowboy life. Today no Western event is complete without a chuck wagon breakfast, and chuck wagons provide meals at weddings, calf ropings, farm auctions, church camps, state fairs, business conventions, and White House functions.

“Merry Go ’Round” (2012)

Several years ago Kacey Musgraves was on a ranch near Strawn, west of Fort Worth, writing songs with her friends Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne. She had put out a few indie albums in her teens, and now the 22-year-old was preparing for her major-label debut. While they worked, McAnally told a story about his mom, whose neighbor always had a bunch of cars out front.

“Tighten Up” (1968)

Houston music in the sixties wasn’t all psychedelia; there was a thriving soul and R&B scene too. One of the city’s prime movers was Skipper Lee Frazier, a DJ on the black-owned soul station KCOH. Frazier also managed bands, including R&B dance band the TSU Tornadoes and vocal group Archie Bell and the Drells.

The Secret History of Texas Music

It’s not that hard to write a song, really. Children do it all the time, humming tunes and making up words. So do countless songwriters in Nashville: melody, verse, chorus. Maybe a bridge. The world is absolutely cluttered with tales told in song, most under four minutes long.

But what about a great song, one you can’t get out of your head, with verses that seem to be written about your own life and a melody that makes your heart feel as though it’s literally aching? A song you wake up mumbling, sing out loud when it comes on the car radio, mouth the words to when you hear it at the grocery store—then laugh when you see the person in line next to you doing the same thing? Great songs haunt us and arouse us; they make us think and feel in a way that no other art can, taking us to places we long to go every time we hear them. These are not the songs being churned out by staff songwriters. They’re something else entirely.

So where do these great songs come from? The short answer—acquired after interviews with the writers of some of the state’s best-loved songs, the ones being sung at this very moment in cars and grocery stores all over creation—is that many of them began as happy accidents, spurred by a curious headline, a chance comment, a strange encounter. This happenstance led to a riff or a melody, maybe from an old blues ballad or a nursery rhyme twisted by memory. Then came a narrative, something about the girlfriend of a guy on the touch-football team or the fry cook who’s about to go fight in Iraq. Some of the songs, as the writers like to say, practically wrote themselves. Others were slaved over until the words and music were just right, the heart working with the head and the tune working with the lyrics to create a classic, a song that will live forever.

Meanwhile, in Texas. . .

  • A dog that was found cradled in its dead owner’s arms after a tornado in Van was adopted by a new family.
  • The Texas Legislature put a proposed amendment on the November 3 ballot that would enshrine the right to hunt and fish in the state constitution.
  • In Beaumont a Nigerian-born witch doctor was sentenced to prison for helping drug traffickers avoid law enforcement by, among other things, telling them to speak to magic rocks.

The Full Nowitzki

In the fall of last year, a documentary about Dallas Maverick Dirk Nowitzki became an unlikely success in his home country of Germany, prompting Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who also co-owns a film distribution company, to bring the movie here. This month, Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot will be released in select Dallas theaters and, nationally, through video on demand. For Mavericks fans, it provides an intimate look at a player who rarely pulls back the curtain on his personal life.

The Checklist

Television

The Astronaut Wives Club (ABC, Thursdays)
Lily Koppel’s best-selling 2013 group portrait of the women behind the men at the front of the American space program gets the small-screen treatment. The script isn’t cable-quality (every jacked-up conflict and dramatic reveal arrives with clockwork predictability), but if period clothes and decor are what you liked about Mad Men, this show will scratch that itch—all while showing some love for Houston.

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