One Friday evening last fall I went to hear a young Texas musician named Pat Green. At the time, the only thing I knew about him was that he sang country music. I hadn’t even heard of him just a few days earlier, when I was having lunch with some of my colleagues. I had launched into one of my speeches about how the new generation of Texans, age thirty and under, didn’t seem to care about Texas anymore. They were too homogenized, I pronounced. They were conditioned on the basic diet of cable television and standard pop music that made them no different from anyone else their age in other parts of the country. They didn’t have any sense of the Texas myth, I continued, my voice rising, and even worse, they didn’t care about acting Texan.
“Obviously, you haven’t heard about this Pat Green phenomenon,” said someone at the table.
“Pat Green?” I asked.
“He’s got a following among Texas kids that no one can explain.”
When I called Green’s managers, they told me that his next performance would be at Jesuit High School, a private Catholic boys’ school in the heart of North Dallas, not far from my house. “Jesuit?” I asked. The boys I knew from Jesuit were the prototypical new-Texas urban teenagers. Many of them were the sons of high-tech millionaires, downtown lawyers, and venture capitalists who themselves didn’t come to Texas until after they had completed their college education in prominent Eastern schools. These boys were drawl-free. They didn’t feel a need to drive pickups or use agrarian homilies. They didn’t know what a pump jack looked like, and they didn’t dream about ranches. They wore baseball caps, not gimme caps. Yet for the party that was being held after the homecoming football game, these kids had persuaded their parents to hire Pat Green.
I sat at a table in front of the stage with some parents and prominent alumni. The Jesuit boys and their dates—snazzily dressed girls in spaghetti-strap tops who attended other North Dallas private schools—were packed into the surrounding risers. Their eyes were locked on the stage. As they waited for Green to come out, they began chanting his name over and over.
Then he appeared, an average-looking young guy with short blond hair and a big grin. He was wearing an untucked blue baseball undershirt beneath an untucked flannel snap-button shirt, blue jeans, a faded baseball cap, and old-fashioned Justin work boots, which he kicked off almost as soon as he got onstage. “Here we go,” he shouted, and his band launched into a rollicking tune that began, “Now up and at ‘em, here we go. / I’m off again to the rodeo.” Suddenly from the risers came a wall of noise, a wild adolescent tumult that made me turn completely around in my chair. The concert was only seconds old, and already all of the kids were either screaming or singing every word of the song along with him. When he got to the line “Here I go again just singin’ in this dive. / Lone Star beer in my cereal is keepin’ me alive,” the kids were singing so loudly it was hard to hear Green himself. They kept singing when he got to the line about living “back in the times of the Dukes of Hazzard, / Listening to Willie and old Merle Haggard,” and they literally shouted at the top of their lungs along with him as he sang about the warning his mother gave him about Copenhagen snuff:
“That shit is gonna kill you if the women don’t get you first.”
The adults, many of whom had also barely heard of Pat Green, began trading quizzical looks. How in the world was this happening? The singer was not handsome in the music-star sort of way. He had no chiseled jaw or tight-fitting Wranglers to show off his butt. In all honesty, he looked like the typical guy you see at almost any college bar around Texas, the one who’s a little chubby and as cheerful as a big, frolicsome dog, drinking lots of beer, pounding people on the back, singing along with the jukebox, and telling everyone he needs to get home to study for a test—even though he, and everyone else, knows he’s not going anywhere. But as Green rambled around the stage, his shirttail flapping, his head tossing back and forth in time to the music, the teenagers acted as if he were the next coming of Bruce Springsteen.
“Yeah, I like Texas. / Ain’t it fine here?” Green sang. “Like to pick my guitar down in Luckenbach / And drink that Shiner Bock beer.” Once again, the kids roared. “How,” I asked myself, “do these students even know what Luckenbach is?” Up came another song: “I woke up this morning, Texas on my mind / Thinking about my friends there and a girl I’d left behind / The way she held me when we kissed, the loving that we’d done / And how I left her waving good-bye standing in the Texas sun.” I turned around to stare at the boys of Jesuit pumping their fists into the air.
The next day, my seventeen-year-old stepdaughter, Hailey, took a few minutes away from one of her marathon telephone conversations with her boyfriend, walked into the kitchen, and said, almost reverently, “Mom told me you saw Pat Green last night.”
“You know who Pat Green is?” I asked.
“Oh, my God, do you not understand that I play his CD driving to school every morning? That everyone who parks on Senior Row [the parking area reserved for seniors at Dallas’ Hillcrest High School] has to hear his song ‘Three Days’ before they begin their day?”
I could feel my mouth falling open. Hailey is the kind of girl who studies photographs of Cameron Diaz to pick up fashion tips, watches The Real World on MTV to understand the intricacies of human behavior, and then disappears into her bedroom to brood