Cowboy Jesus

Sometimes I write a song and forget I wrote it. It was like that with "Cowboy Jesus." I actually Googled to find out who wrote it before Linda said, "You wrote that. You just forgot." I was impressed, and tried to get to know me better, as I'm not in the habit of writing songs about Jesus. Then I realized there is an image in my head which combines the American mythology of cowboys and Indians with imported mythology. Funny how people always think an import is better than home grown.

Today and tomorrow I'm going to be driving, so I'm not working on the novel until I get settled back in San Francisco for a few days. So I'm taking the fast lane today and reprinting "Cowboy Jesus," from March of last year. But first, here's the song:

Cowboy Jesus (©2004 Dan Lee)

My own personal Jesus looks a lot like Johnny Cash

little bells just cannot make that sound.

Little bells can’t stand the thunder,

when Cowboy Jesus rides to town.

Little bells all stop their ringing. (chorus)

Little bells can’t make that sound

Little bells just cannot stand the thunder,

when Cowboy Jesus rides to town.

When Cowboy Jesus rides to town.

My own personal Jesus looks a lot like Willie Nelson

little bells, can’t make that sound.

Little bells just cannot stand the thunder,

when Cowboy Jesus rides to town.

My own personal Jesus looks like the man in black,

or like a long haired hippy with his guitar in a sack.

He looks like a Cherokee on the trail of tears,

He looks like a fisherman, reeling in the years,

Little Bells all stop their ringing.

Little bells don’t make a sound.

Little bells just cannot stand the thunder,

When Cowboy Jesus rides to town.

(And here's the blog by the same name, as I continued to explore the image. The figure of "Indian Shadow" represents the instinctual darkness that is missing in the popular image of Jesus. The wholeness of the combined image would be something more evolved, and is suggested in the blog about Brother Klaus, the Swiss mystic who had an encounter with Woton in a shining bear coat.)

Indian Shadow contains a visual field in which time appears to have a nervous tic. "Tick tick tick" he thinks to himself, and then he laughs because it occurs to him that he is ticking like a time bomb as he heads out into the city. "Just what everybody is hoping to run into," he thinks, "a ticking time bomb that can follow you home." He has almost no power of self-reflection, and thus almost no memory. "Tick tick tick," he whispers a moment later. Something was funny and now he can't remember what.

Almost all of Indian Shadow's brainpower is focused into making his body. In compensation for his forgetting things, Indian Shadow picks up vibrations through his feet, and his sense of smell is like a dog's. He lifts his head and samples the air. There is a strong scent of petroleum: gasoline and motor oil and fumes. There is the smell of human waste, of tobacco smoke. A man passes who reeks of patchouli. It is such a foul scent Indian Shadow feels a surge of anger toward the man, who senses it and hurries past, avoiding eye contact.

Indian Shadow's ears vibrate with the pulse of the city street, the engines, sound systems pump bass that rattles windows, two scruffy looking Chinese women seem to be arguing in a loud sing song in front of a fabric store, a helicopter passes in one quadrant of the sky. He stops to look at an old Salvadoran woman eating a bowl of sweet potato. She slowly mashes butter into the pale yellow flesh of the potato, not making eye contact. She speaks to him in her native language. He knows what she is saying.

She is saying that he isn't real, that he is a spirit, a ghost. It is why she does not offer him part of her food, she says, because food is for real people, who have a digestive system, and an eliminative system. Still, he wants the potato. The old woman sees that he wants to eat. She speaks in Korean again, saying, "Desire good. You can't eat sweet potato."

"You're right," he says. He feels the desire for food as something he can't satisfy, a hunger without object that can focus itself on any object. A moment later he does not remember the encounter with the old woman, except for a lingering scent of sweet potato and butter that makes him salivate. "Imaginary food," he says, and laughs again. His laugh is like a sudden rupture in his surface, that reaches out and shocks his immediate surroundings, causing passers-by to either look away or pump themselves up and stare defiantly as he passes.

"What the fuck's your problem?" a boy says. He is a young teen, with baggy pants tied below his ass like a cartoon getup. He wears a black Oakland Raiders jacket with silver lettering.

Indian Shadow is oblivious to any threat. He sticks out his lips and rubs his belly in large circles with his right hand. "Ooga Booga."

"You fucking crazy mother fucker get your ass outa here fore I put a mother fucking cap in it." The kid pulls a surprisingly large pistol from the loose pants and cocks it.

"Cowboy Jesus!" Indian Shadow barks, pretending to draw a gun. He jumps toward the kid and points his finger at him. "Bang!" The kid is so shocked he pulls the trigger four times in rapid succession, filling the air with the smell of burning powder. All four shots go wild, threatening the other side of the street with random violence. Indian Shadow's unfamiliarity with fear unnerves the shooter and, throwing up a smokescreen of profanity to cover his retreat, he slides away.

Indian Shadow forgets most everything but he remembers Cowboy Jesus. He sees a vague picture of a little boy on a stick horse, with toy guns in a holster set strapped around his waist. He doesn't know who the little boy is and he doesn't try to put two and two together to find the caliber or the number of shots or the cardinal directions. He knows enough, though, to call Cowboy Jesus if somebody pulls a gun on him.

Indian Shadow, having never come apart, doesn't need to remember himself. He's like a child, without any sense of where he ends and other people begin. He feels their feelings and hears their inner talking as easily as he smells disease or desire in them. Cowboy Jesus came apart. He got beat to death and he still got back on his feet. "He's the King of the Cowboys," Indian Shadow crows loudly, as he moves deeper into the heart of the city.

Having no power to self-reflect, Indian Shadow has to rely on faith. That is to say, he has to assume that whatever is making the decisions inside the moment remembers things, and keeps track of everything. He has no idea what this powerful thing might be. He has heard that it is Baby Jesus and his cow, and that if the cow likes you then you have good luck, and if the cow doesn't like you, then your luck sucks.

He can't remember the whole story but he can remember Cowboy Jesus, and he knows enough to invoke him when he needs powerful magic. He can smell stale beer and tobacco mixed with gasoline fumes and Indian food as he passes Sixteenth Street, where a green Subaru station wagon has pulled to the curb and is discharging three passengers beside the BART station. They are from Folsom prison, being turned back into the outside world at a place where they blend into the crowd. Except for the little one. He isn't going to blend in anywhere. It isn't just that he's a midget, it's the cowboy hat and sheepskin jacket.

Indian Shadow is riveted on the little man. The station wagon pulls away and the midget is saying, "You making fun of me you big prick?"

A big black man, slightly stooped over, like he has an injured back, grins down at the midget. "What you talking about little cowboy?"

"You said you didn't want to stand around making small talk."

The black man grins and shakes his head. "Man, I tell you; I have to put you underneath a tub so the sun can come up in the morning, you so damned bright."

"You coming with us?" the other man asks. He seems without emotional contact, an outsider even with insiders. He is built like a bear, and looks like he's embarrassed about something. "We going to the airport or what?" he asks the black man.

"Come on with us," the black man says, but he's already reaching out to take the midget's hand; he knows this is good-bye.

"I'm staying around here," the midget says. "I'm taking a train on downtown to the library where I can find little women."

The other two men looked at each other quizzically. "Well ... good luck to you, Short." They disappear into the train station.

"Cowboy Jesus." Indian Shadow whispers, in awe. He can't stop staring.

Lou Short is fine tuned to know if somebody is looking at him and he's already picked up Indian Shadow leering at him from about ten feet away. The big lug is standing there like a dope, staring. Lou doesn't know the other inmates that well, and just because they got out at the same time is no reason for him to start cozying up to common criminals. Lou is a shooter. He was convicted of three counts of assault with a deadly weapon. He couldn't be convicted of murder because he never killed a man. He would just aim straight ahead and shoot his balls off. He is the most feared shooter in the west.

"You never seen a little man before?" He has turned to meet Indian Shadow's stare.

"Cowboy Jesus!" Indian Shadow gushes. "You're him!"

Lou is a shooter by trade but this big Indian looks like just what he needs most: muscle. He has the brains, but a little man has to be careful. Big people think they can push him around, and sure, he can come back after and shoot their balls off, but there's a price to be paid. What's best is having a partner who takes care of any rough stuff, and lets the little man do the thinking.

"That's right," he says, smiling. "I'm Cowboy Jesus. Who are you?"

Indian Shadow looks stunned. "I'm a bomb?"

Lou nods. "A-Bomb," he says. "You sound like a tough son-of-a-bitch, am I right?"

Indian Shadow nods. Cowboy Jesus knows things. He's not going to argue with him. "I'm a tough son-of-a-bitch," he agrees.

The midget pushes his hat back and smiles engagingly. This is working out perfectly, just the way everything has been working lately. He asks for something and it shows up so quick he's always surprised at the service. "Cowboy Jesus and A-Bomb. How cool is that?"

Posted: Sat - March 3, 2007 at 12:20 PM