Tag Archives: james mcmurtry

James McMurtry: Wasteland Bait & Tackle “The Power of the Front Man”


“Some people don’t get metaphor at all”: The acclaimed Texas rocker/songwriter/raconteur on the innate power of words, and what it means when someone like Donald Trump knows how to twist them to suit his own ends. 


Whatever the front man says or does gives license to those in the crowd. A certain band used to play at the Continental Club in Austin, where my band and I regularly play when we’re home. When they played, a woman danced naked, or very nearly naked, behind a screen on which a light threw her shadow to the full view of the audience. Some of the staff that worked those shows are still working at the club. They tell me that during those shows some of the men in the audience became unusually and uncomfortably aggressive toward the women in the audience. I thought that was terrible.

Years later, while touring through Utah, someone gave me a small sticker that read “I love Mormon pussy.” It actually employed the symbol for a heart, rather than the word “love.” I thought it was funny as hell. I put the sticker on my ESP Telecaster. My label thought it was funny as hell, and put a picture of it on my website. After we got home, we resumed our regular residency at the Continental Club. Some of the staff soon reported that some of the men in the audience were becoming unusually and uncomfortably aggressive toward the women in the audience at my shows. I took the sticker off the guitar and had the label take the picture off the website and that shit quit happening. I didn’t feel so morally superior to that certain band after that.

When Donald Trump said he’d like to punch someone in the mouth, he knew there was a good chance someone would get sucker punched at one of his rallies, and someone did. Donald said it was ok, so someone believed him and made it happen. When Trump said some of the Second Amendment people could do something about Hillary, he increased the odds of Clinton getting shot at and he knew it full well. He’s a front man and he knows the power of the front man. For Trump to deny that he’s inciting violence is beyond full of shit.


But let’s just say, for the sake of devil’s advocacy, that Trump actually was speaking metaphorically, as his spinners say he was. Even if he was speaking metaphorically when calling for the assassination of his rival, he was still criminally negligent because he said those words from the podium. He said those words as a front man, speaking to his millions of followers, many of whom, statistically speaking, are unlikely to understand or even care that their Messiah was speaking metaphorically. Some people don’t get metaphor at all, so anything one says from the podium to an audience of millions must be taken at face value. Trump has crossed the line into unabashed thuggery and is dragging our electoral process down to the level of Augusto Pinochet, Idi Amin, and Joseph Stalin. He should share a room with them somewhere, metaphorically speaking of course.

James McMurtry blogs for Blurt with his “Wasteland Bait & Tackle” column. Find him on the web at JamesMcurtry.com.

James McMurtry: I heard Woodrow Wilson’s guns


For his latest installment of his Blurt blog “Wasteland Bait & Tackle” the Texas songwriter takes a look at US military policy and wonders if it has really changed any over the years.



I heard Maria crying

Late last night I heard the news

That Veracruz was dying 

——Warren Zevon

I was having trouble remembering the lyrics to Warren Zevon’s fine song, ”Veracruz”, so I went to the information superhighway for help. I found the lyrics and a bit of history on the subject of the song, the U.S. invasion and brief occupation of the Mexican port of Veracruz in 1914. It seems President Wilson didn’t like Presidente Huerta, and found an excuse to invade. Some US sailors had been arrested for wandering into the wrong part of Tampico. The sailors were released with an official apology, but the US Commanding Officer’s demand of a twenty one gun salute was ignored, so in went the Marines on Wilson’s orders. No doubt, there was more to it, something about a shady arms deal involving US, Russian, and German investors. This from Wikipedia:


After the fighting ended, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels ordered that fifty-six Medals of Honor be awarded to participants in this action, the most for any single action before or since. This amount was half as many as had been awarded for the Spanish–American War, and close to half the number that would be awarded during World War I and the Korean War. A critic claimed that the excess medals were awarded by lot.[15][16] Major Smedley Butler, a recipient of one of the nine Medals of Honor awarded to Marines, later tried to return it, being incensed at this “unutterable foul perversion of Our Country’s greatest gift”[citation needed] and claiming he had done nothing heroic. The Department of the Navy told him to not only keep it, but wear it.

 The Major retired as a Major General and wrote this about his service in his book, “War is a Racket”:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.


Given that Halliburton and its subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root were the major beneficiaries of the Iraq invasion, an invasion now threatening the presidential prospects of Jeb Bush due to the widening acceptance of the evidence that it was conducted on the basis of falsified intelligence, can we say that anything has changed in US military policy since 1914? By the way Mr. President, why are we still at war?

James McMurtry: A Tricky Question

GA 10-13

For his latest “Wasteland Bait & Tackle” blog, the songwriter revisits the guns issue.

 By James McMurtry

      I’ve been an avid reader of gun magazines since I was about nine years old.  Reading about guns was one of my favorite methods of putting off homework. I can’t remember when I first saw Dick Metcalf’s byline, but it seems as if he’s been writing for one gun magazine or another more or less forever. Continue reading

James McMurtry: Wasteland Bait & Tackle


From a windshield, through a scream…

 By James McMurtry 

    There are probably more gas wells and oil wells in the western part of Rio Blanco County, Colorado, than there are year round human residents. In a barren little valley just north of the town of Rangely, utility wires stretch in all directions, carrying electricity to run the oil pumping units and the “quads”, tan cubicle things about the size of small walk in coolers, that separate the natural gas from whatever else comes up with it. Multiple pipe lines and flow lines hang suspended above a creek just west of the highway. In the evening, the motel parking lots, empty during the day, fill completely up with welding rigs and white company pickups bearing the logos of various oil field service companies. Halliburton trucks are plentiful here, as are those of a company called Total Safety. Continue reading

James McMurtry: Gringo Nervous

James McMurtry

The acclaimed songwriter’s “Wasteland Bait & Tackle” blog goes South. In which our protagonist learns which rules work and which ones don’t – “gringo nervous,” indeed.

  By James McMurtry 

      It’s different down there.

     A friend of mine got married in Yucatan yesterday. I had a weekend off and my girlfriend, Kellie, and I needed to get out of our regular lives for a minute or two, so we caught the nonstop Airtran from Austin to Cancun, Quintana Roo, and drove to Merida, Yucatan. Continue reading


James McMurtry

A gun owner himself, the Texas singer/songwriter/rocker ponders assault weapons, crime bills, the Sandy Hook tragedy, mental illness, and the contradictions therein.


 I used to think I had a clear opinion on gun control. I didn’t much care for the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, the bill we now refer to as the “Clinton Crime Bill”, which included a ban on “assault weapons,” or was it “assault type weapons,” each a silly term in my view, one that seemed to be defined more by the cosmetics of the offending weapon rather than by the function. A semiauto variant of an AR-15, with its tall battle sights and grim black plastic stock, looks scarier than a Browning BAR hunting rifle, sleek, and stocked in fine hand checkered walnut. But they both function the same way: with each squeeze of the trigger one round is fired, one empty casing is ejected and one fresh round is chambered. The old argument that the AR is of no use to a hunter is now moot due to the advent of accurized versions with match grade barrels and good scopes. The coyote hunters and the feral hog hunters seem to love those things. So the criteria for rifles that can be termed “assault weapons” grows ever more murky. To me, an assault weapon is a weapon that happens to get used in an assault.

    On August 1, 1966 Charles Joseph Whitman killed fourteen people and wounded thirty-two others in and around the Tower of the University of Texas during a ninety-six minute sniping rampage. Whitman did most of his shooting with a scoped bolt action 6mm Remington, a rifle that looks and functions pretty much exactly like my deer rifle. Whitman also had an M-1 Carbine (not to be confused with the M-1 Garand, which chambers a much more powerful round), a fast-handling and reliable semiauto rifle that had been popular with soldiers in World War Two. Most accounts of the Tower shooting that I’ve read suggest that Whitman didn’t get much use out of the M-1, probably because the .30 Carbine round, for which it was chambered, did not have nearly the effective range of the 6mm Remington. The aforementioned AR-15, now considered an assault rifle, had been available for civilian purchase since 1963, but if Whitman knew this, he apparently didn’t feel the need to purchase one.

    On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb, made mostly from fertilizer, in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City. The blast killed one hundred and sixty-eight people, nineteen of whom were children in the second floor day care center. Four hundred and fifty more people were wounded in the blast. McVeigh didn’t even use a gun.

    I don’t know why the news of the Newtown shooting shook me up more than most similar events in my memory. Perhaps it was just one too many for me. It took a while to sink in. My local gunsmith told me the news as he was inspecting a revolver I had brought to him for repair. My first thought was “Here we go again.” I didn’t think about the children, or the parents, or anything to do with the actual tragedy. I only thought about the culture war that was about to heat back up. I didn’t worry that the government would come take away my guns, because that won’t happen. But I knew the NRA would fan the flames of such hysteria until the gun shops were swamped and the ammo shelves empty – which is what is happening.

      I tried not to watch TV that day; I didn’t want to see that show again, the police tape, grief-stricken people hoping to see their children, their hopes fading with the light of day….  too much. I didn’t want to hear the same old arguments, more guns, less guns, as if any course of action could really make us safe.

     I couldn’t quite avoid the TV; it was on in every bar. And I did see something different this time, something cold and practical that might make a tiny difference, might….

     I could barely hear the sound, but I watched a brief interview with law enforcement personnel who were explaining the changes in police tactics that had been implemented in the last decade or so. In the old days, first response police officers, when faced with a school shooting in progress, were told to wait for the SWAT team. Apparently, enough people died while the first responders waited for SWAT, as per their orders, that the orders were eventually changed. Now, the first responders are told to go right in, walk past the wounded and kill the shooter if he won’t be arrested. The sooner the shooting stops, the lower the body count. Sound philosophy I think, but a tall order for a cop who might not be as well armed as his or her adversary. And here, I find a crack in my old opinion on gun control.


 Another aspect of the Clinton Crime Bill that I used to think was silly was its restriction of a firearm’s magazine capacity to ten rounds. I didn’t see what good such a restriction would do. If we assume, however dubiously, that the shooter abides by the law and only carries legal magazines of the proper capacity, what’s to stop him from carrying a satchel full of extra mags with which he can shoot all day? Nothing’s to stop him, of course, but he will have to re-load more often, and here is where that silly old gun bill might finally have a practical application due to the evolution of police tactics. I was reading a gun magazine in a supermarket the other day. There was an ad for a company that makes extended high capacity rifle magazines. The ad said, “If you’re reloading, you’re not in the fight.” If a school shooter is not extremely well trained and has to change magazines under duress, he’s out of the fight for a second or two, and the highway patrolman, or the deputy sheriff, or the city constable who just happened to be there will have a second or two to fire at the shooter without risking return fire. If I were any kind of a cop in that situation, I would sure appreciate those seconds. The tragedy would still have happened, but the body count might be lower.

     Might…. might be the best we can do.

    Of course, the Clinton bill did not get rid of extended magazines. It left a loophole whereby the mag would be legal if it were manufactured before the ban went into effect. Gun companies rushed production on high cap mags and used them to sell piles of guns. Ads that stated, “Comes with two pre-ban magazines!” were common and effective. I don’t mean to suggest that these manufacturers were evil for doing this. The nineties weren’t good to gunmakers. Bankruptcy and reorganization were rife in the industry then. One of the economic problems with the gun business is that for the product to be safe to the user, it has to be too well built to ever have to be replaced. If one is to sell more of such a product, one must find a way to make customers want more. One of the best tactics when faced with such a situation is to scare the customers into thinking they’ll never be able to get any more unless they buy now – the tactic that seems to be the sole raison d’être for the modern NRA. It works. A shop I frequent had its best sales day of its history two days after Newtown, thirty-eight thousand dollars in sales, mostly in rifles of the sort now commonly referred to as assault rifles.

     One might justifiably ask if any restrictions on new weapons could possibly do any good when there is so much hardware already out there. Sometimes the attempt just seems futile and pointless, one more bill to make politicians look like they’re doing something. But what is a society to do?

     Now it’s gonna get real dicey.

     If we are to call ourselves a society, we will have to behave as a society. We will have to pass laws and make deals, and none of us are likely to be satisfied at the end of the day. This is a symptom of a condition known as Democracy.

    Some of my shooting buddies will howl at me for even considering the notion of gun restrictions and I don’t blame them. The vast majority of gun owners, even those with a penchant for high capacity semi-autos, even those with full auto permits, the vast majority never do anyone any harm. And I’ve always hated the “need” argument so often brought up by some who have never fired a gun. It’s true, no one needs an Uzi; but nor does anyone need a Porsche, and no one will ever deny a person the right to own a Porsche, even though Porsches are designed to run at speeds far exceeding most US speed limits, and if driven at such speeds on public roads may endanger innocent citizenry.

     It’s not an exact analogy, but perhaps worth noting. People I’ve known who have owned Uzis and various full auto weapons just used them to shoot up farm trash dumps and junk cars, an expensive but thoroughly fun past time which wouldn’t be the same if one had to change mags every ten rounds. I can’t blame a shooter who has always acted responsibly for being annoyed at gun restrictions, even if said restrictions could actually be proven to be good for society as a whole. Often it seems that the one bad kid on the playground spoils the game for the rest of us and our hard ball gets taken away, but that’s life, and we have to start somewhere. We have to try something, or at least talk about trying something without immediately descending into factionalized shouting matches, each person shouting the slogan from his favorite bumper sticker to which he has chained his identity.

    I don’t want to take away anyone’s Uzi. I don’t want to restrict anyone’s right to dig up a hillside with an AK-47, but I want that constable or deputy to have an extra second to make the shooting stop; that way, someone gets to see their child, someone who wouldn’t without that extra second. I don’t know of a fair way to make that happen. And no, I don’t know if the unfair way would work either, but it seems like it might, at least in a case or two. Might…. once again. One must try.


 Of course, it would be better if the shooting in the schoolhouse never started, a much taller order. We must remember that guns are just a part of the mix that far too often results in horrific tragedy. Guns are merely enabling tools for some killers. The desire to kill does not start with the gun. Timothy McVeigh killed more people with a truckload of fertilizer than any single American shooter has killed with a gun. The thread that runs through Tim McVeigh, Adam Lanza and Charles Whitman is not just mental instability, but rage, pure unfathomable rage. And we are an angry people these days. I don’t know why. I suspect that our world is changing faster than we are capable of changing. Some of us feel left out; some of us feel outnumbered; so we’re fearful and angry. Our societal anger needs to be acknowledged and addressed, perhaps diagnosed and treated, as do our individual angers. Our whole approach to mental health needs to be re-thought, and not re-thought in accordance with Wayne La Pierre’s moronic mental health data base insanity. We take our kids to the doctor for physical checkups on a regular basis, but rarely do any of us see a psychiatrist before contemplating suicide. We’re still scared of the stigma, the red brand of craziness, for which our relatives once would have simply locked us away and pretended we had never existed rather than attempt to grapple with the psychological complexities of the human mind and the chemical complexities of the human brain.

    We need to look at mental health as simply a part of health, toss away the stigmas and treat it, monitor it, and fund the treatment, a tall order indeed.


 James McMurtry is a Texas-based songwriter and musician who regularly contributes to BLURT, where you can read his politically- and socially-charged “Wasteland Bait & Tackle” blog. Recent topics have included life in Central America, green/clean energy, the iPhone and the Occupy movement.