This weekend, as the rest of the world catches Harry Potter mania for (perhaps) the final time, Houston gets a serious dose of Urban Cowboy nostalgia. Theater Under the Stars' production of the Tony-nominated 2003 musical - which The New York Times called "a conclusive demonstration that it's possible to be vulgar and bland at the same time" - opened Thursday at Miller Outdoor Theatre and continues through Tuesday; curtain is 8:15 p.m. each night. Discovery Green, meanwhile, is screening the original 1980 film at 8 p.m. tomorrow night.
Houston obviously has a soft spot in its heart for Bud and Sissy, which comes in handy because the rest of the world pretty much persists in viewing the nation's fourth-largest city as a bunch of bull-ridin', bare-knuckle-brawlin', boot-scootin' rednecks.
Naming Houston the 21st Worst-Dressed City In America in GQ this month, Stayton Bonner writes of a land where "Stetson and Wrangler-wearing good ol' boys stand alongside a younger generation sporting flat-brimmed baseball caps and Eminem ear studs," before going on to prove once again that no non-Houstonian journalist can write anything about the city for a national publication, ever, without incorporating the phrase "Houston, we have a problem." Yawn.
Anyways. Rocks Off has not seen the Urban Cowboy musical, and we were a little surprised to discover it only uses a handful of songs from the movie ("Lookin' for Love," "The Devil Went Down to Georgia") alongside original tunes by Jeff Blumenkrantz and Jason Robert Brown. Either for contractual or aesthetic reasons, the musical substitutes several (slightly) more recent country hits like "Boot Scootin' Boogie," the Dixie Chicks' "Cowboy Take Me Away" and Clint Black's "Something That We Do" for Boz Scaggs, the Eagles and Kenny Rogers.
Although the musical is still set at Gilley's, it does not have any songs by Gilley himself. (Note to GQ: Texans are quite familiar with the concept of irony.) In a completely unrelated incident, Rocks Off happened to hear the entire Urban Cowboy soundtrack last weekend. It's certainly a product of its time, but still goes down smooth, and got us thinking about the songs in some of our other favorite Texas movies.
Mike Judge's Dilbert-esque sendup of cubicle life got some of its biggest laughs from Peter, Samir and Michael Bolton's visions of gangsta grandeur set to the Geto Boys. The soundtrack also includes Ice Cube, Kool Keith, Slum Village, a couple of vintage Perez Prado mambos and "Shove This Jay-Oh-Bee," Canibus' reimagining of Johnny Paycheck's "Take This Job and Shove It" that's so bizarre it almost works.
Alternate: Jason's Lyric - The 1994 Fifth Ward melodrama's soundtrack is perfectly in tune with its period and its surroundings, from Scarface's "Jesse James" and Tony! Toni! Tone!'s "Just Like My Papa" to Buddy Guy's "This City Needs Help" and Oleta Adams' "Many Rivers to Cross."
Austin's Explosions In the Sky draw deeply on their West Texas roots to compose an all-instrumental soundtrack as majestic as it is forlorn, and perfectly mirrors the heartache, hardships and triumphs of the Odessa Permian Panthers' march to the Class 5A state championhip game.
Alternate: The Newton Boys - For Richard Linklater's 1998 true-life Texas tale of Depression-era bank-robbing brothers, Austin bluegrass bad boys Bad Livers turn "Milenberg Joys," "Jazz Me Blues," and many more into ragtime romps.
... and here it is. Non-Texans may be a little surprised at how light on country this soundtrack is. But with a guaranteed R&B panty-remover in Boz Scaggs' "Look What You've Done To Me," Bonnie Raitt's killer cover of Rusty Wier's "Don't It Make You Want to Dance" and one of Rocks Off's favorite Eagles songs in "Lyin' Eyes" - plus a pair of perpetually underrated tunes from Jimmy Buffett and Bob Seger in "Texas" and "Nine Tonight" - no late-'70s/early-'80s collection is complete without it. As for the honky-tonkers, we'll take Johnny Lee's "Cherokee Fiddle" over "Lookin' for Love" every time.
Alternate: Honeysuckle Rose - The soundtrack to Willie Nelson's 1980 star turn as a hard-touring musician with perpetual woman problems introduced the world to "On the Road Again," among many, many, many other Red Headed Stranger songs, but Honeysuckle Rose also has some dynamite Western Swing from Johnny Gimble and Kenneth Threadgill.
Peter Bogdanovich's adaptation of Larry McMurtry's novel of early-'50s teenage angst in a dying West Texas town has no score, just some of the time period's best music spilling forth from various pickup-truck radios and pool-hall jukeboxes: Hank Williams classic after Hank Williams classic ("Why Don't You Love Me (Like You Used to Do)," "Half as Much"), plus Lefty Frizzell, Hank Snow and several from a young man named Tony Bennett. If you like things that are great, this soundtrack is worth seeking out.
Alternate: Crazy Heart - Producer T-Bone Burnett illustrates hard-bitten honky-tonker Bad Blake's struggle to get his life together with an Oscar-winning original in Ryan Bingham's "The Weary Kind" (we actually prefer Jeff Bridges' "Fallin' & Flyin'") and deep cuts from Lightnin' Hopkins, Townes Van Zandt, the Louvin Brothers, Buck Owens and Waylon Jennings.
Legend has it that the biggest item in the budget for Richard Linklater's hilarious depiction of the last day of school at a Texas high school circa 1976 (and subsequent revelry) was the rights to Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion." It was worth every penny. "Sweet Emotion" sets the scene perfectly, and Dazed never looks back through Alice Cooper, Deep Purple, War, the Runaways, ZZ Top, KISS, Ted Nugent and Edgar Winter - all the way to the climactic mission to Houston for Aerosmith tickets, set to the one and only "Slow Ride." We would miss Tom Petty, we guess, but many is the time Rocks Off has wished the Arrow would just put the two-volume soundtrack on a continuous loop, turn out the lights and leave it at that. J K livin', man. L-I-V-I-N.
Alternate: Rushmore - Wes Anderson's 1998 black comedy about a bizarre love triangle at a St. John's-like academy basically sounds like a prep-school version of Dazed and Confused, with Cat Stevens (lots of Cat Stevens), Chad & Jeremy, and Donovan, plus quick ones from The Who and Rolling Stones to rough things up a bit.
BONUS: FIVE CLASSIC TEXAS MOVIE SCORES
Dimitri Tiomkin, Red River (1948)
Max Steiner, The Searchers (1956)
Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, Bonnie & Clyde (1967)
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Ry Cooder, Paris, Texas (1984)
Carter Burwell, No Country for Old Men (2007)