Ain’t Nobody Feelin’ No Pain
Back when I had HBO I saw this movie, it was called Lost Horizon. It was about these people, they all had some kind of hole or emptiness deep inside their lives, and they wound up in this mythical place called Shangri-La. It wasn’t on any map, it was tough to find and in fact it may have existed only in some people’s imaginations. If you didn’t have the right kind of attitude, the right kind of feeling in your heart, you could walk past it all your life and never find it at all. There’s a place like that in Texas. It’s called Luckenbach.
Luckenbach is a town that has a history and a legend. The history is that the town started in the 1800s, and at one time it had about 400 people living there. It’s located in Gillespie County, near Fredericksburg, about 50 miles north of San Antonio and about 70 miles west of Austin. In the 1960s the place was for all intents and purposes a ghost town – it’s not located on any major highway and even then there were precious few road signs directing drivers to the place.
So here is where the legend kicks in: in 1970, the town (with a population of three at the time) was bought by a few people including an actor Guich Koock, and rancher Hondo Crouch. The town itself was little more than a small wooden store and a dance hall where they had big German dances and polka festivals. Crouch allowed some of the Texas country rockers to play there, and in 1973 Jerry Jeff Walker and his Lost Gonzo Band recorded an album in the dance hall: Viva Terlingua. That album became a classic of what was called at the time the “outlaw” music movement, or the “cosmic cowboy” movement in Texas. This was a combination of hippie rock and country music, as played by Walker, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Rusty Wier and others.
Anyway, after Jerry Jeff’s album everybody wanted to go to Luckenbach. The album had a number of classics, either written by Walker (“Gettin’ By,” “Little Bird”) or written by others (Guy Clark’s “Desperados Waiting For A Train”, Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall Redneck,” Michael Murphey’s “The Wheel”). And on the album’s finale “London Homesick Blues,” written and sung by Gary P. Nunn and recorded live in the Luckenbach dance hall, you can barely hear Walker singing in the background. When I was in college people used to plan their entire parties around this record, and the album Cosmic Cowboy Souvenir by Michael (not yet Martin) Murphey. At these parties people would make sangria wine (on Terlingua, Jerry Jeff’s song “Sangria Wine” pretty much gives the entire recipe) and get really shit-faced and do weird dances.
Ah, but it seems I’ve strayed far from Luckenbach. Not really – the little ghost town came back to life whenever a live music concert or dance was scheduled, and it still does to this day. The outlaw country movement eventually settled on Austin as its capital, and guys like Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings and Joe Ely and others took the music nationwide. When you go to Austin, you can still hear people play and sing that peculiarly Texas-centric mix of country, folk, blues and rock – in some ways that town never got out of the 1970s. Not sayin’ that’s a bad thing, not at all.
Even though Hondo Crouch died in the mid 1970s, you can still see his face everywhere in Luckenbach (not hard to do since there’s only about three buildings there) and at a fancy restaurant named after him in Fredericksburg. People now regularly steal highway signs so the state just stopped putting them up, and it’s just as hard as ever to find Luckenbach if you’re lookin’. It really doesn’t matter where in the world you are – if you really want to find Luckenbach all you have to do is put on Viva Terlingua. Close your eyes, and put yourself in that place.