Willie's Gay Cowboy Song

In the spirit of "He Was A Friend Of Mine" from the soundtrack of "Brokeback Mountain", Willie Nelson's latest I Tunes offering is "Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly (Fond of Each Other". It's a cover of an original that Ned Sublette wrote in 1981, intending it for Willie. Ned is interviewed by my friend Jimmy Patterson from MyWestTexas.com which I've posted belong, along with another article from the same web site reporting country radio stations in Midland will NOT play Willie's new song (as if they played his other recent offerings). There's something poetic about people in George W Bush's so-called hometown feeling uncomfortable. I should know. When Jimmy Patterson interviewed me last summer for MyWestTexas.com, I baited readers by saying I was a proud liberal. Sure enough, a reader raised my use of the word, saying that's a dirty word around the Petroplex. Here's Ned's Q&A with Jimmy:

02/17/2006
NED SUBLETTE >> The man behind Willie's controversial new song

Editor's Note: The following interview could contain some language and content considered offensive by some.

Ned Sublette was born in Lubbock in 1951. Now a writer and Cuban music expert living in New York, he is also the man who wrote "Cowboys are Frequently Secretly (Fond of Each Other)" ... these days otherwise known as "the Gay Cowboy Song Willie sings." Ned sat down for an email interview Friday with MyWestTexas.com editor Jimmy Patterson.


MyWestTexas: Why a song about gay cowboys?
Sublette: I was back visiting Portales in 1981. I had decided to start my own band and was working up a repertoire. It was the height of the urban cowboy thing and all the songs on country radio, which I listened to a lot in those days, were about cowboys. "My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys," "Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys," etc. I loved those songs and have been a big Willie Nelson fan since a long time before "Red Headed Stranger." Meanwhile, this was 1981, and no one had never heard of AIDS. It was a very different world. The image of the cowboy has, for obvious reasons, long been a part of the gay sensibility and in Manhattan, where I lived, there was a bar on Christopher Street, at the time the epicenter of New York gay, called Boots & Saddles, which I used to walk past a lot. I sat down at the piano and started playing that good old West Texas waltz feel and put those things together, feeling like a traveler between worlds. It practically wrote itself, very quickly. Being back in the small town I grew up in, I was in a reflective mood about what it's like -- not to be gay in a small town necessarily, but just to be different in any way. You know, big cities are full of people who left small towns because they felt somehow stifled or disapproved of, and often those are highly creative people. Apparently I touched a nerve. From the first time I ever performed the song, I got requests to sing it again. It took on a life of its own.


MyWestTexas: Do you mean for the song to be tongue in cheek? Or is it based on your perception of small towns and West Texas? A combination of both?
Sublette: It's a song for people with a sense of humor, written by a composer with a sense of humor. If you don't have a sense of humor, you might not like it. Thankfully, however, most people do have a sense of humor. Beyond that, though, I think what makes the song stick is that there's a tenderness to it. Willie understood that perfectly, and he brings it out marvelously in his interpretation. And there's a good moral to it: loving is better than hating.


MyWestTexas: Can you tell me about Willie's decision to cut the song? Did you know he was going to?
Sublette: Willie cut the song last year, but he's known the song since 1988. A mutual friend, the bassist Tony Garnier, who played on the recording I made of it that never came out, gave Willie a cassette of it back then, one night when they coincided on Saturday Night Live. Willie talked to me 10 years or so ago about recording it, but it just never happened. For me the amazing thing about this is, I wrote the song thinking of Willie singing it. I hadn't really achieved my own voice yet, so I wrote a song for his. And to hear it come back at me from my ideal interpreter -- complete with the perfect guitar part -- is an absolutely indescribable feeling.


MyWestTexas: Where are you from originally?
Sublette: I was born in Lubbock in 1951. I never lived in Lubbock, though. My dad changed jobs a few times, so I grew up in Natchitoches, Louisiana; El Paso (for a year, 5th grade); and did the rest of my growing up in Portales, New Mexico, a 100 miles west of Lubbock. My grandmother lived in Lubbock, and it was kind of the center of stability of my childhood. I have a lot of love for West Texas / Eastern New Mexico, the beautiful landscape and the wonderful music. Like Waylon said, "It don't matter who's in Austin, Bob Wills is still the king."


MyWestTexas: Are you gay?
Sublette: Who cares? However, since you asked, the answer is: no. Nor, for that matter, have I ever roped a steer. But we all know gay people, because gay people are everywhere, in every part of society, and I've certainly heard stories of what it was like being a gay or lesbian teenager in high school. You don't even have to be gay to experience this. If you're different from everybody else, which could be something as simple as moving into a town where everybody already knows each other, or not wanting to play football, or having a different opinion about something, or just being physically ifferent somehow, you get a real good look at the mindset of the bully mentality -- the kind of people who like to call other people "faggots" to make themselves feel less inferior. There are lots of those people in every high school. I think most of us have at one time or another been on the receiving end of what it's like to feel different. And I think that's part of the appeal of the song.


MyWestTexas: Have you heard from the gay community?
Sublette: For 25 years. And also from cowboys. Over the years, I've sung this song hundreds of times, sometimes to people wearing cowboy hats -- most memorably, in 1986, in Sam Houston Park in Houston, during a festival, to thousands of people. It's all good, and you can waltz to it.


MyWestTexas: Your world has been a little turned upside-down by all of this, hasn't it?
Sublette: Let's just say that days you appear on CBS Evening News are not like other days.


MyWestTexas:What are you doing?
Sublette: Since 1976 I've lived in New York City. I do a lot of things, all related to music. I was a bandleader for a long time. I put out a damn fine album on Palm Pictures called Cowboy Rumba:

http://www.rykodisc.com/RykoInternal/Features/435/menu.htm These days I write books: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1556525168/qid=1071716424/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/002-4247317-7473610?s=books&v=glance&n=283155

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