Feb 18, 2010

Casper to Big Timber

Wednesday 17th - Day 10

Montana. It’s another beautiful word isn’t it? I’m convinced the beauty of the names here in America helps when it comes to song writing. It’s just not cool to write a song called Derbyshire. Anglo Saxon words don't sound pretty. Better than Dutch though, but we don’t have towns with names like Missoula or Helena. Of course there are American towns named after British towns… but not many that get popularised in song. Besides the towns in Montana that are named in the British vernacular tend to lean towards that Native American tradition of plain speaking proper nouns… so they have a different charm from say Burton-on-Trent. Places like Twodot, Montana. Or Big Timber, which is a town in a county called Sweet Grass.

Now Big Timber, Sweet Grass, Montana sounds like a place I'd like to see. And not just because it reads like the cast list of a porn film. I also found three songs named after the place without even really trying. But it wasn't really on the route I wanted to take.

I confess that I didn't know all these songs and places before I started to plan this trip. (No shit, right?) So when drawing up a route I’d look for distinctively named towns on the map and then drop them into the itune shop or All Music Guide. (AMG often threw back songs by the sort of people who post videos of themselves covering songs on youtube. I don’t hold with the idea that the popularity of an artist, or the lack of it, is any indication of quality. Well, usually I don’t, but there are some lonely souls out there who have taken the time and the trouble to put themselves on AMG and yet they and their recordings don’t trouble Google in any other way. Those guys are usually unheard of for a reason. But I digress.) So when planning the journey north from Wyoming to Montana I wanted to go through Yellowstone, and there are more than a few songs named after that National Park. (Not so many called Lake District though.) However Yellowstone is closed for the winter. Mostly. The only road in that’s open in the winter time comes in from the north west and we were in the south east. So now we had to go round Yellowstone, Big Timber became a target. Albeit one that was 358 miles away from Casper. That's over 5 hours of interstate driving. But this is not the mid west. The interstate in Wyoming is gorgeous and thankfully Montana took over just where the Equality state left off. We stopped off at the site of Custer's Last Stand (I know the last song posted doesn’t fit the format but it just felt right). And we learned that those mountains that we had seen grown from pale shadows on the horizon to fully blown fir and snow covered beasts were not the Rockies, but the Big Horns. Which take their name from Big Horned Sheep. (Stop sniggering.)

Montana was snowier than Wyoming. (Yes we were going north, though we were still only a little further north than Bordeaux in Europe.) And as the sun was making the snow look all slick and shiny and the big blue sky seemed bigger and bluer than ever, Montana was pushing Wyoming for the title of most beautiful state so far. At least it was until we hit the outskirts of Billings. From there the I-90 west bound was pretty grim. Fortunately, night fell as we moved beyond a really grim-looking oil town called Laurel so we couldn’t see much apart from the lights of trucks driving towards and past us at 75 miles an hour. Or to put it another way... night fell, so unfortunately we couldn’t see much apart from the lights of trucks driving towards and past us at 75 mph. I tried to keep up with them because it meant I could see where the road curved, but as it twisted between what I now know are the mountains of Montana (it does what it says on the tin) I would lose a bit of nerve and ease off the gas only to leave us isolated in the darkness. If it wasn't for the satnav I wouldn't have had any idea where and which way the road turned next. (Am I starting to sound like the Woody Allen of drivers?)

Evidently we survived and pulled into Big Timber at about 8:00pm. It looked deader than all the skunks we’d seen (and smelled) on the edge of the highway that day. It was very, very dark. So dark we couldn’t see the Crazy Mountains which the town lies in the shadow of. And yes they really are called the Crazy Mountains. They used to be called the Crazy Woman mountains, but I can’t decide if they shortened the name to make them sound less or more scary. We passed on the Lazy J motel because it looked like a hybrid of the kind of motels I associate with Anton Sigur and the one run by Norman Bates. We also passed it by because we are pussies. We did settle on the Big Timber River Valley Inn, and the man behind the desk seemed nice enough. But I wasn’t going to let my guard down. This is the state where the Una Bomber lived. And this is the town that inspired Himsa, a “metalcore/melodic death metal band” from Seattle, Washington to write a song about it. Himsa are scary. Their name comes from the word Ahimsa, which in Sanskrit means "to abstain from causing harm". Removal of the "A" gives the word opposite meaning. Himsa literally means 'violence' in Sanskrit. That’s pretty twisted imho. As is the video to their song Big Timber. You might want to have an adult with you when you watch this.


  1. Ged,

    I really enjoyed this post, in articularly the porn name part.

    Cheers and safe hopes,

  2. I have all of Big Timber's films. They are great... from a purely ironic standpoint. I think Tommy Wiseau had a cameo in one. Oh, hi Tommy.