John Spong's Profile Photo

John Spong writes primarily about popular culture. John was nominated for a National Magazine Award for his December 2009 story celebrating Texas dance halls, “Step Right Up,” and twice won the Texas Institute of Letters’ O. Henry Award for Magazine Journalism—for “Holding Garmsir” (January 2009), about a month he spent with a U.S. Marine platoon fighting in Afghanistan, and for “The Good Book and the Bad Book” (September 2006), about a censorship battle at an elite private school in Austin. He is the author of A Book on the Making of Lonesome Dove, and his stories have been collected in Best Food Writing 2012 and The Best American Sports Writing 2009, among others. He lives in Austin with his wife, Julie Blakeslee, and their two boys, Willie Mo and Leon.

Music |
October 8, 2020

Willie Nelson, Landlord

Most Willie Nelson fans know at least a little about his idyllic Hill Country world headquarters, home to his ranch, his golf course, his recording studio, and his Old West movie set, Luck, Texas. But lesser known in the lore is Willie World’s gritty urban prototype, a sprawling…

Sports |
June 9, 2016

The Shot Not Heard Round the World

Elmo Henderson’s entire life story can be summed up in a single moment: when he stepped into the ring in San Antonio one night in 1972 and knocked out Muhammad Ali. At least that’s the way he tells it. And tells it.

Travel & Outdoors |
February 24, 2016

Bloom of the Century

Big Bend roared back to life last year after spring rains unleashed a bounty of ocotillos, bluebonnets, and yuccas. Thankfully, photographer James H. Evans was there to capture it in living color.

Essay |
November 18, 2015

The Will of God

I always knew that the work my dad did as an Episcopal priest and grief counselor was important. But I didn’t understand how important until the birth of my son.

Film & TV |
May 14, 2015

Urban Cowboy Turns 35

It was part musical, part dance movie, and part love story, and in June 1980 it unleashed an unprecedented fervor for country music, Western wear, and, yes, mechanical bulls. More than three decades later, the film’s stars (including John Travolta, Debra Winger, Mickey Gilley, and Johnny Lee) and many Gilley’s regulars recall the movie that made America fall in love with Texas.

The Culture |
March 23, 2015

The Media Guide

To gain pop culture literacy, you could spend a long weekend taking in works produced for the big screen (Giant, Dazed and Confused) and the small box (Lonesome Dove, Friday Night Lights). But the quicker route would be an afternoon surfing YouTube. Search for the terms below, but don’t blame us if you end up falling down a…

Music |
May 16, 2014

The Last Ride of King George

After a career that’s spanned more than thirty years, George Strait is wrapping up his 48-stop farewell tour this month. For those of us whose lives he has captured so inimitably in song, country music will never be the same.

The Culture |
January 29, 2014

On Tour With the Sex Pistols

In 1978 Punk magazine sent photographer Roberta Bayley to Texas to chronicle the band’s tour through the South. Her photos of the two Texas shows capture the surreal collision of two radically different cultures.