¡Verde Terlingua! part two

¡Verde Terlingua!
Life off the grid in a wild West Texas border town
Words and photos by Daniel Chamberlin

In April of 2009, Arthur contributing editor Daniel Chamberlin got down with the DIY homesteaders and off-the-grid outsiders of Far West Texas at the first annual Terlingua Green Scene. Find part one “No Winners, Only Survivors” by clicking here.

Part Two: Hot Tubs and Poop Buckets

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Shannon Carter and her sunflower hat.


Green Scene organizers Shannon Carter and Mark Kneeskern—both somewhere in their 30s—met in Terlingua seven years ago. Carter grew up in Baytown, a city located on the humid coastal plains east of Houston, home to several massive petrochemical industrial complexes. She recalls the year that the river behind her house caught on fire and their family had to be evacuated. In high school she got involved with Future Farmers of America, where she worked with calves, pigs, chickens, turkeys and lambs.

After two years at the community college in Baytown, Shannon moved to Alpine, one of the two small towns north of Terlingua—Marathon being the other one—that offer the last chance for ranchers, hunters and hikers to patronize anything resembling fast-food franchises or fully-stocked grocery stores before heading out into the West Texas wilderness. She tells me she wanted to get as far from Houston as she could while still paying in-state tuition, and Alpine’s Sul Ross University satisfied those requirements. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Animal Health Management and Wildlife Biology. She tried grad school for a minute, but soon dropped out and moved to Terlingua in the spring of 1999.

“I’ve lived lots of beautiful places,” Shannon says, and happily recounts an adventure-job-circuit C.V. that includes six seasons of sea kayaking in the Virgin Islands, four seasons as a river guide in Colorado and a year in Moab.

“But none of those places compare to the solitude and vastness of this desert,” she says.

Mark Kneeskern hails from Audubon, Iowa where he had what sounds like a fairly idyllic childhood, adventuring on the East Nishnabotna River and roaming the pastures around his parent’s farm. He got a BFA from a state university that he decries as “worthless.”

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Mark Kneeskern handles Green Scene traffic control.


Mark first came to Terlingua to visit a friend who was working in the Chisos Mountains, the high country of Big Bend National Park. They hiked and camped and Mark got to see a bear. His friend took him on a tour of the local drinking holes and they had what he describes as “crazy times” that left him “shook up.” He moved to Terlingua three years later to become a river guide.

“Terlingua is a hard place to live,” says Mark. “No running water or electricity on most properties. Flush toilets are rare. At first, these factors seem like obstacles, but when you get used to things, you realize that ‘simple’ is the best and happiest way to live. You learn to make it work if you have the will. When it’s nice, it’s paradise. When it’s not nice, it really is a living hell.”

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¡VERDE TERLINGUA! part one by DANIEL CHAMBERLIN

¡Verde Terlingua!
Life off the grid in a wild West Texas border town
Words and photos by Daniel Chamberlin

In April of 2009, Arthur contributing editor Daniel Chamberlin got down with the DIY homesteaders and off-the-grid outsiders of Far West Texas at the first annual Terlingua Green Scene.

Part One: No Winners, Only Survivors

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The entrance to Terlingua’s community garden.


The tiny settlement of Terlingua lays in the Big Bend country of Far West Texas, just north of the Rio Grande, a place that remains one of the most remote areas of the continental United States. In the interest of continuing to lessen the town’s ecological impact, in April of 2009 a group of local homesteaders and off-the-grid-types organized the first Terlingua Green Scene, a conference of sustainable living strategies, including demonstrations of cob house construction, solar cooking and desert farming. The events took place in and around the town’s thriving community garden, a refuge for vegetables, sunflowers and other plants that would otherwise quickly expire in the arid Chihuahuan desert climate. A sculpture of St. Francis of Assisi, created by a Vietnam vet named Spider and painted by local folk music icon Collie Ryan, looks on from a small ridge just to the west.

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The beneficent gaze of Spider and Collie Ryan’s St. Francis.


The Green Scene organizers’ aim — at least in part — is to strengthen community ties as well as to establish Terlingua as a hub of homesteading and DIY sustainability, and to give the town’s other legacies a run for their money: Terlingua has been a footnoted way-station in tales of smugglers heading from Mexico into the United States from the days of candellaria wax and sotol cactus moonshine up to the modern era of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and migrant workers. It’s also known for an annual chili cook-off that attracts thousands of Budweiser-swilling “chiliheads;” as a retreat for the Texas country and folk music scene; and of course there’s the world-class river rafting, mountain biking, birding and hiking of Big Bend National Park — over 800,000 acres of mountains, deserts, bears, antelope and alpine forests whose boundary is 10 miles to the east.

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Chambo's Internet Activity Pages for November 16, 2009

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Leonid meteor shower, Marfa, Texas 2008


• ON DARK SKIES AND FALLING STARS
The last time we wrote about a meteor shower here at Arthur, we lived in the middle of the sprawling, light-polluted metropolis of Los Angeles, where the only meteor-like streaks in the sky were the tracer bullets being exchanged between LAPD choppers and some of our gang-banging neighbors. Now we live in Marfa, Texas where we’ll be taking in the Leonid meteor shower — at its peak tomorrow night (that’s November 17) — as it rains across the dark skies of the Trans Pecos from the comfort of our back yard, frosty session brew in hand. Ahhh. Click here and a nerd will tell you where to look for the meteors. [Bad Astronomy/Discover]

• IT WAS HARVEST TIME AGAIN

Speaking of California, it was around this time last year that Arthur columnist Dave Reeves and I were … uh … “camping” on a nearly-destitute drug farm in Northern California. The paranoia, the backwoods misogyny, the nightly “who has the most bullets” shooting contests with the meth-head farmers over the hill … oh the memories. You can read all about it in his story — and look at my pretty, pretty pot pictures on my photo blog — from last year. But did you know that most people don’t have this type of extremely sketched out paranoid experience up on the pot farms? Redheaded Blackbelt writes about some of the less psychotic aspects of growing and trimming with “How long until you earn a million with marijuana and other things you can learn online,” a great jumping-off point for a variety of weed-head shop-talk blogs. And don’t miss the Redhead’s more recent posts, like the one about the time he accidentally sent his kid to school with a memory stick full of marijuana porn. Lotsa nice otter photos there too. [Redheaded Blackbelt]

• BEERS, STEERS AND AFGOOEY SUPER KUSH

Speaking of high quality marijuana, that’s one of the few things that the failed state of California has going for it these days, what with the quasi-decriminalization and all, and it’s definitely something it can hold over the weak produce and harsh sentences here in Texas. Though maybe not for long, as even mainstream Texas magazines are starting to get in line with long-standing Lone Star marijuanauts from Willie Nelson to Gibby Haynes, or at least that’s sure what this “Texas High Ways” (wokka wokka) article from the October Texas Monthly sounds like. [Texas Monthly]

• SPEAKING OF DARK STARS AND FALLING SKIES

We still get email about “Uncle Skullfucker’s Band,” my memoir of spending my high school years as a closet Deadhead, a lot of it looking for pointers on the noisier inheritors of their heavy improvisational legacy, or as Ethan “Howlin Rain/Comets on Fire” Miller put it in a follow-up article, you can listen to a lot of Dead and never “[mistake] it for Fushitsusha, ya know?”

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As it happens, audioblog Mutant Sounds just put this thing up that is more or less the ideal entry point for noise-heads that want to “get” the Dead: It’s the Leningrad Psychedelic Blues Machine doing a 21-minute cover of the Dead’s long-form psychedelic masterpiece, “Dark Star.” The Leningrad Psychedelic Blues Machine, of course, is a Japanese noise-blitz apocalypse supergroup including members of Acid Mothers Temple, High Rise, Mainliner and Zeni Geva, and their version is expectedly rough, rugged and raw in what sounds like a tribute to the best of the crackly, fuzzed-out late ’60s audience recordings out there. [Mutant Sounds]

• WHO WANTS A BODY MASSAGE?

Sorry for the long absence. Shortly after arriving here in Texas our pal Lil’ Earl sent us this GI Joe PSAs video from way back in 2006 and it’s pretty much the only thing we look at when we turn the internet on. “Porkchop sandwiches!

Heavy "Primal Dead" from October 12, 1968

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In keeping with the Grateful Dead thread that happily resurfaces every so often here on Arthur, I’m offering up one of the heaviest bootlegs in my collection: A soundboard recording of October 12, 1968 at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco. It’s a show that came up in our “Listen to the Dead” story from 2005, and it’s my favorite single-disc representation of how monstrously weird this band used to be. Legendary taper Dick “Picks” Latvala is quoted on Deadlists saying that this is among his favorite performances, calling it “primal Dead.”

It’s a short show by Dead standards — just about 80 minutes — comprised entirely of CRUSHING jams. No folky “Sugar Magnolia” sing-a-long first set, not much noodly Phish bullshit and almost no sign of the gentle rainbow twirly groovin’ bear nonsense. Instead it’s near ambient passages that slowly gather speed and intensity before exploding into massive psychedelic earthquakes of rhythm that leave aftershocks of cosmic guitar lines shimmering through the air. This is the fearsome and messy STEAL YOUR FACE sound that people who compare the Dead to Royal Trux or Comets on Fire are talking about. A Dead show where you can see why Greg Ginn and the Black Flag dudes were into these guys.

Check the annotated setlist below. FYI the “>” is taper shorthand for songs joined together by “a defined jam or contiguous transition” so you get the idea how loose things get:

Set One (1) [0:23] % (2) [0:37] ; Dark Star [14:53] > Saint Stephen [4:51] > The Eleven [9:58] > Death Don’t Have No Mercy [7:#52] ; (3) [0:31]

Set Two Cryptical Envelopment [#1:28] > Drums [0:10] > The Other One [7:08] > Cryptical Envelopment [8:30] > New Potato Caboose [3:28] > Jam [3:11] > Drums (4) [1:35] > Jam (5) [7:12] > Feedback [7:15#]

A couple notes: Some Deadheads like to talk about how maybe Jimi Hendrix was hanging out in the wings during the show. As rumor has it he snubbed the band’s invite to check ’em out the night before — there was this girl and she had some acid and yadda yadda — and so they failed to invite him on to jam or something. Who knows if it’s true, but like the shows these guys played with the Allman Bros later in the ’70s, it’s fun to imagine such a ridiculous gathering of guitar avatars in one place.

People also complain about somebody who is just cold goin’ bananas with some kinda wood-stick percussion thing on “Dark Star,” all “ritzy-rit-ritzy-rit” outta rhythm with the rest of the band from time to time. Whoever it is walks up to a mic at some point and it gets really annoying in the front of your speakers for about 25 seconds but then it fades out, so just chill about that. It’s also a show where beloved keyboard slob Pigpen is not on stage — probably off getting wasted with Janis or something. Good for him!

You can stream the show over at Archive.org, or download it by clicking below.

The Grateful Dead – Avalon Ballroom, San Francisco, CA – 1968-10-12 (320kbps)

More Dead on Arthur after the jump …
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New Riders' Marmaduke, RIP

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New Riders of the Purple Sage, live at Fillmore East, April 29, 1971. Click here for the setlist, or to download the whole thing as MP3s


Dilettantes dabbling in the genre of country music have always had a hard time, from hippies like Gram Parsons to his modern day alt-country hipster inheritors. There’s almost always an inevitable anxiety over class privileges and the fetishization of working class experience by cultural elites. That combines with the classic rural versus urban divide and adds up to an awkward night sitting in a bar in Silver Lake listening to delicate, good-looking dudes in fancy vintage Western shirts singing about CB radios and old pickup trucks. It’s airless tribute at best, unaware cowboy drag at worst.

John “Marmaduke” Dawson was the lead singer and main songwriter for The New Riders of the Purple Sage, the best of the hippie country bands that emerged from the West Coast psychedelic rock and rustic folk scenes, and one of the only bands — along with Commander Cody, Doug Sahm and Asleep At The Wheel [thanks for reminding me, Michael!] — that managed to merge roper with doper without apologies to either camp. He died on Tuesday in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where he’d been teaching English as part of the city’s established community of American expatriates. He was 64, and stomach cancer was the culprit.

Travel to Mexico is the subject of one of the New Riders best-known songs, “Henry.” Marmaduke often dedicated live performances of the song to anyone in the audience who “smuggles dope for a living,” and given that most of the New Riders best shows were during the early ’70s opening for the Grateful Dead, there were no doubt plenty of audience members who appreciated such recognition.

“Henry” is about the titular drug runner on his way down to Acapulco to find out why all the marijuana has stopped flowing to the United States. After navigating a series of twisty mountain roads, he finds his supplier’s farm and proceeds to get thoroughly obliterated on freshly trimmed crops. The song is about the drive back, as told from the perspective of an unnamed passenger, who is continually beseeching the seriously faded Henry to keep the brakes on as they careen through the mountain passes.

It’s a song that, like so many New Riders tunes, conveys a distinctly hippie experience using the language of country music. The band was an outgrowth of Jerry Garcia’s pre-Dead unit, the wacky bluegrass band Mother McCree’s Uptown Jug Champions. The Dead did plenty of country-leaning material, but Garcia still wanted an outlet for his pedal steel licks, and thus the New Riders of the Purple Sage came to be.

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