Going on three years ago Angie and I first ventured out to one of the most storied of places anyone ever dared to populate: Tombstone, Arizona. Famous for its high rollers, whores and a hella-load of silver, you can still sense the opportunity and desperation that once walked its dusty streets. Have a shot of whiskey in the Crystal Palace Saloon, buy obnoxious souvenirs at the sadly renovated Oriental or tour the mines that made, and broke, this proud town. Whatever you end up doing you simply can’t skip out on seeing the reenactment of only that most infamous of gunfights, the one that took place at the O.K. Corral. Behind it actually, if you’re being anal about the facts, but fifteen or twenty feet don’t make no difference when it comes to the overall quality of this current show.
I say “current” because the production has changed recently and for the better in rather immense ways. When we first saw the shootout (three years ago if’n you’re not paying attention) it was for all intents and purposes a one man show meant to highlight one Stephen Keith who portrayed John Henry “Doc” Holliday. “Crazy Fucking Steve” as I like to call him (because he’s fucking crazy) abused both Doc’s memory and the audience’s patience with diuretic aplomb. As writer, director and resident crazy fucker, Steve reigned in about 80% of the dialogue for himself. I was convinced that when the final confrontation began he was just going to soliloquy all the Cowboys to death. That’s if anyone was even left to see it as boredom induced strokes were an ever present threat. When I checked my watch at the curtain call to see how long the show had run it read “too goddamn long”. Why I even looked is a mystery as it merely confirmed what I already suspected regarding the tumultuous and tortuous length. To sum up, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral as it used to be brings to mind the words “nightmarish” and ”I feel like some of my soul is dead now”.
Mercifully, all this has changed.
Again, back to three years ago, upon first parking our horseless carriage on a side alley to then meander up Allen Street, the very first person I had any meaningful words with was this guy:
His name was Kyle and to this day he is still called as such. He’s a man’s man, an adventurer and a historical aficionado. We became fast friends, sharing a devotion to things past and a distaste for most things present. If he seems like a man out of time that’s because he is. His look, personal code of honor and general spirit of badassery that pervades him belie the fact he was born late last century. I’m fully convinced he was really birthed at some point in the 1860s. Alas, I have no proof of how he’s ended up here though I do have my suspicions:
Preposterous theorems aside, what isn’t up for debate is the fact that Kyle currently performs, in a multitude of roles as many of the actors there do, at the newly updated presentation of that solemn showdown. He bravely invited me back to give all of it one more chance.
You know the story. It’s Wednesday October 26th, 1881. About 3 in the afternoon. Shit’s about to get real. Real, real shitty. And all over the place. Maybe even in your mouth a little if you’re breathin’ hard like a lunger so be careful there Doc. Anywho, recollections of that afternoon vary but this fresh script makes sure most confirmed points of interest, moments of confrontation and their accompanyingly specific dialogue will be heard as the story unfolds. Like when Virgil Earp yelled “Hold! I don’t want (or mean) that!” in a failed attempt to cut the carnage off before it even began:
But no one listened, and the smoke wagons proceeded to smoke:
Thirty shots in as many seconds was a confusing mess but every performer positioned themselves well seeming even to slow time as to give us all a better grasp of what happens when harsh words lead to harsh action and ultimately a harsh end for some of those that spoke ‘em.
Once the dust settles and the blood begins to pool the scene freezes as Doc goes on to wrap-up the gunnin’-down. He educates us on the pertinent details about injuries and expirations both immediate and those on down the line for all the combatants. Surprisingly, this is presented without too much testimonial tilting favoring one faction over the other. Of course your average tourist expects for the ”good guy” Earps and Holliday to vanquish the “bad guy” Cowboy crew but no one was squeaky clean back then and this show, along with a memorial plaque conspicuously placed just outside the seating area by distant relatives of those who fell in that dingy alleyway, doesn’t seek to romanticize as much as instruct. This gunfight’s best not painted in crisp black and white, but rather in tangled shades of grey. Besides, if the Cowboys were all that bad would I have let Angie get so close?
Now see here, if you’d have ever told me I’d someday return to this show after that first forlorn review I’d have kindly asked you to open your mouth as wide as possible. And then I’d shit in it, filling your wanton maw with the very substance you’d been attempting to sway me with. Don’t talk it if you ain’t willing to chew on it every once in a while kid. Yes, such was the depths of my disapproval at what used to pass as entertainment within those hallowed halls lying next to Fly’s Photographic Studio. But now I stand relieved and thoroughly regaled.
Never have I seen an outfit go from suck ass to kick ass so wholeheartedly.
6 long delayed but now well deserved rounds in the cylinder for the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
It’s an admirable attraction, this show and it’s attached museum of sorts. So, if you ever visit Tombstone, spend a bit of time and some money there too. You won’t be disappointed to part with either. And even though Kyle’s my pal I have no need to blow smoke up any respective asses. All the cordials I’ve afforded the Corral are earned through the tears, blood and mostly sweat by the ensemble cast. Dressed in all wool under a beautifully unforgiving Arizona sky, this group of men work for little fanfare and even less money. They don’t ask for much ‘cept that you remember and honor the past.
Amigos, you’re a daisy if you do just that.
Howdy lads. Watched The Professionals this week when a ride here in Arizona was canceled due to inclement weather. We’ll get back to cinematic shenanigans in a few days I promise. For now feast your eyes on a painting Angie made during our vacation here in the desert. Allow it and this post to inspire you. For those who read these words, for those that love the West, get up and go find some bit of adventure in your life this week. And not this weekend, or tomorrow, or later tonight. Right goddamn now. Go hiking or throw a lasso or learn to shave yourself with a straight razor all 1880′s style. Try whiskey or a cigar or that girl at the end of the bar, try anything that scares you just a bit. But live. The point of this blog is to celebrate a Great Spirit. Sitting in front of a computer screen or television won’t do you nor it any good. So until we meet again to marvel at the heights and depths of cowboy celluloid, revel in the fact that many have gone before you called “pioneers” and that the only thing holding you back from being called the same are the decisions you make for yourself.
Get out there and ride true amigos.
This movie wasn’t too bad so I’m giving it 3 rounds in the cylinder. That is the least important thing I have to say this week. There were a lot of jokes in my head while I was watching and just as many thoughtful observations about the framing of shots, well written dialogue or heartfelt performances. But there was more sadness than anything else and while I know you all come here for a few laughs and nominal cinematic guidance this week the Watchins will hopefully serve a different purpose.
I Will Fight No More, Forever is a dramatization of Chief Joseph’s attempts to find sanctuary and safety for his band of Nez Perce Native Americans near the conclusion of the war that bore their tribe’s name. The title is based on a quote attributed to Joseph and while it’s up for debate whether he ever uttered those words or not as he finished his speech accepting surrender, what can’t be argued is that our great country was built at great cost. “Live and let live” seems just to apply to the victors and only after they’ve devastated who ever stands in their way. I’m no pacifist, not by a long shot, and tend to favor shock and awe in many of my interpersonal dealings but my heart aches for those people who once called this land home. Their descendants walk this world now mostly as sad shadows corralled in corners far from ancient homesteads. My grandfather would often try to share with me this history. Some of it was his history. But most of the time due to childhood’s apathy I failed to hear a single word. I can’t tell you then if this movie is accurate or just two more hours of Hollywood bullshit.
But I’m gonna change that.
I don’t plan on becoming a great scholar of all things Plains Wars related but I will make sure I’m no longer the naive bastard I currently am. And if you consider yourself a lover of Westerns the I challenge you to go a learn a little something you didn’t know before about the West too. Not because of white guilt (fuck that as hard as it can be fucked) but because you’re a human goddamn being.
I sit here swilling whiskey in my cowboy boots as I type away in air conditioned comfort in a life filled with all sorts of other comforts having never know that much loss and even less true need. I, nor I imagine many of you, can fathom what it would be like to have all you possess taken from you. To watch your family starve. To have your pride slowly strangled at the end of a rope named “progress”. I Will Fight No More, Forever is an average made-for-TV dramatization based on an amazingly powerful and equally sorrowful true story. Made me think about where we came from, and where we’re going. Made me think of where I’m from too, and where I need to find myself now. Keep on watching those movies amigos but take some time to learn some facts along with all our favored fiction. We all do that, we all might just ride a bit more true from this point forward.
Fill yourself with hate
And Life’s loveliest dances
You will never know