Feb 20, 2010

I'm Moving To Montana

Thursday 18th - Day 11

I might be movin' to Montana soon, Just to raise me up a crop of Dental Floss

I used to think the Frank Zappa song Montana was sort of taking the piss out of the simple cowboys of Montana. I thought it captured one of the intrinsic tensions in America, namely being home to communities as diverse as the liberal outlandish folk of big cities like LA and the conservative homely folk from the remote parts.

I don’t know, maybe Frank was just joking. By and large you don’t have to listen to the words Zappa sings. He himself said words were only used in songs to help people who were too dumb to really understand music. I’m not going to take him literally, but there’s some truth in it I’m sure. (Certainly the best bit of the song Montana is the solo. And Tina Turner’s backing vocals.*)

Even if Frank wasn’t joking, I can now say that Montana is much more complicated than that. And we just had a great day. (Possibly even a contender for the Top 5 vacation days of all time list.)

We woke to snow. But snow with sunshine and a big blue Montana sky. Big Timber looked like the setting of a Stephen King novel last night… now it looked like a rural paradise. The Crazy Mountains were a stunning backdrop to this little town. (That's it in the picture above.) Even the firearms in the local store looked amazing. There must have been 500 different kinds of rifles. And they all looked beautiful (to me, Carol disagrees on this). It must be easy to become a gun nut in a town like this.

Then we set off for a place called Chico Hot Springs.
No connection to music about America there… just pure self-indulgence. About 30 miles north of Yellowstone National Park, at an elevation of more than 5000 feet, in the wholly appropriately named Paradise Valley, is a resort called Hot Springs. Resort is too grand a word but I’m not sure what else to call it. It’s not a village, it’s a hotel and a bar and a spa and a pool where you can bathe in hot natural mineral water. We spent a couple of idyllic hours there just bathing in the open air, under a deep blue sky, in glorious sunshine, drinking in the views and a beer. The air temperature was below freezing but the water was close to 100 F Fahrenheit. The pool has been there since 1897. I can give you a money back guarantee that you would love it if you went. I can’t swim (gasp) and I don’t normally care for these sort of things but I’m so glad I went. And we really had to drag ourselves away.

We ended up in a town called Bozeman. What do you mean you don’t know any songs called Bozeman? There are four different acts with tracks called Bozeman on sale in the iTunes shop right now. (Other MP3 vendors are available.) Take your pick…

1) Bozeman by “hardcore punk/ noise rock” band Steel Pole Bath Tub who actually come from Bozeman (That’s another category of place name song the This Is Our Home)
2) Bozeman by Carolina Still; a band from North Carolina who play “old-time, bluegrass, hillbilly, Americana, honky tonk, rockabilly and punk.”
3) Bozeman by Donerail, a rock 'n' roll band from Portland Oregan
4) Bozeman by Tim Barry who is the lead singer of a punk band called Avail from Richmond Virginia but also writes (sort of sappy) Americana folk music.

(Actually pick Steel Pole Bath Tub. They are the best of the four by a long way.)

Now why would a town called Bozeman have four tracks written about it? Well because it’s bloody ace that’s why. I said Casper reminded me a little bit of Austin Texas, but Bozeman is way closer. In terms of the vibe and the population if not the architecture. It’s a small, buzzing, creative oasis in a rural state. But it’s even more independent than Austin. So instead of the awesome Whole Foods (the best supermarket I ever saw) Bozeman has it’s own just as awesome (only smaller) Bozeman Community Food Co-Op http://www.bozo.coop/ It’s a small town of just 30,000 people but it’s young and it’s growing. It’s full of people who look like they snowboard and it gave birth to Steel Pole Bath Tub.

It’s just a shame it’s named after it’s founder John M. Bozeman (1835 - 1867) who in 1860 left his home in Pickens County, Georgia and headed west in search of gold. But then in his own words saw it was more profitable to “mine the miners" than to mine for gold. So to grow his market he blazed what’s known as the Bozeman Trail, which was basically a massive fuck you, might is right, two fingered salute to the Shoshone, Arapaho, and Lakota nations. And we all know how that ended up.
Montana is very white. According to the 2000 census… 92.9% white. And Native American people are the next biggest ethnic group but they account for only 7.36% of the population. We Europeans sure did overrun this place didn’t we? (See previous Little Big Horn post.)

As much as I like Bozeman (and I like it a lot) it does concern me that the only Native Americans I’ve seen in Montana were at a rundown gas station on reservation land and working at the Big Horn Monument. I guess that’s how the reservation works. It seems a shitty deal to me. Up there with East St Louis… which reminds me that we haven’t seen an African American since we left Missoula.

Still I managed to suppress my liberal guilt and enjoy Bozeman with its shops and bars. And we especially enjoyed the motel we stayed at, The Lewis & Clark. I could go on about the banana bread breakfast, the free cup cakes and apple cider, the two cute cockatiels, the jigsaws and the steam room and all manner of things you don’t expect from a cheap motel. But I’d rather say just look at it.

All American readers know who Lewis & Clark were but I’m guessing most Brits don’t. They were two British explorers who mounted the first overland expedition undertaken by the United States to the Pacific coast and back. The only reason I ever heard of them was thanks to the Long Ryders.

This kind of awareness of a nation’s history inspires a lot of American popular music. Not so much British music. As we’ve been driving we’ve been listening to a lot of right wing talk radio. It’s repugnant to our left wing sensabilities but it’s also entertaining. But either way it's happening. At night on TV the news channels have more space for op ed pieces. America is so much more politicized. I think because it's still fighting over what America is. In Britain, I don't think we give a shit. Not nearly as much. Why is that?

Of course there are swings and roundabouts to this. Montana was home to the Unabomber and on the news tonight there was a story about a guy who lived in Austin Texas who flew his plane into the tax offices. People are closer to being agitated all the time. And some of the right wing talk show hosts like Sean Hannity and Glen Beck seem to think a revolution is coming. America seems so vast and so diverse that I wonder if it can hold together. I could live with living in Montana, not sure if I could live with living in America. (Hey that's a James Brown song!)

*According to legend, Tina Turner heard a rough cut of the song and volunteered herself and her girls The Ikettes to sing backing vocals. Afterwards she called her then-husband Ike into the studio to listen. After a minute Ike goes… "What the hell is this shit?", and left.


  1. A lovely week it seems.
    I can't believe I've never been to these places, and I've enjoyed reading about them.

    Also appreciate your thoughts on American agitation and polarized politics and right-wing radio.
    Some would like to blame the talk show hosts for that agitation. I would not do that any sooner than I would blame a metal band for the suicide deaths of confused, desperate teenagers.
    I will however reserve the right to accuse them of shameless exploitation and profiteering.

    None of this adresses the reason for that sense of agitation, we can save that for later though.

  2. The root cause of that agitation is something that fascinates my mind too Ward. I find it hard to disagree with anything this Ronald Wright fellow wrote in his book What Is America.

  3. aw come on, best by a long way?!