I'm a huge fan of westerns. Those of you who know me know that and probably look the other way. When I was a kid I loved all the classics and GUNSMOKE and RAWHIDE and THE LONE RANGER and all of that. But my interest waned as I grew older. It was practically dead by the time UNFORGIVEN came out.
I saw that one in the theater. Amazing experience. At the time I believed it to be the last great western, and I gave up on the genre. So did most of America. Every once in a while we'd get something like, say, AMERICAN OUTLAWS, but for the most part the western was gone.
Fast forward a few years. I started reading PREACHER by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. They reawakened my interest in westerns. I looked back at the old movies and TV shows I loved as a kid, and it all came back to me. I loved the genre again, and I desperately hoped for a resurrection.
I think we might be on the cusp of a revival. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is back in headlines, and WESTWORLD is posed to become HBO's next greatest hit. Tarantino put out a new Django movie, and THE H8FUL EIGHT was fucking amazing, especially with a score by Ennio Morricone. That makes me so happy.
When I was a kid I didn't read westerns. I only watched them. When I rediscovered the western I started reading them starting with GONE TO TEXAS from BF Carter. (Side note: I recently discovered that Carter was a white supremacist. That came out of left field for me. His Josey Wales books are arguments for the fair treatment of Native Americans. I can't believe a racist wrote those two books. But, well, it's historical record that he was in the KKK.)
I dug into Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour and everything else. Fucking Larry McMurtry, guys. Read LONESOME DOVE. It'll change your life. By the way, if you're wondering I would choose L'Amour as my favorite western writer. Read his nonfiction book EDUCATION OF A WANDERING MAN, and you'll understand why. Frederick Faust, better known as Max Brand, was a beast of a writer. He could write novels in weekends. That's a pulp writer for you. But L'Amour was the best. Interestingly enough, he was a member of the Communist Party for a while with Jim Thompson, my favorite crime writer. Very unusual for a writer so many patriotic readers identify with.
Not too long ago I finished another collection of L'Amour's hard-to-find westerns from his pulp days. It reinforces something I've noticed in a lot of other westerns: many western protagonists have a history fighting for the Confederacy, and very few of them believed in the racist views. They looked at themselves as rebels. They wanted their own way of life. They didn't condone slavery; they just wanted to live free, and they didn't want to be under the yoke of the Union.
Also, just about everyone rode with Jesse James. From Josey Wales to Jonah Hex, they put on their gray uniforms and fought by the side of the boys from ol' Missour-ah. If Jesse James had really ridden with all of these fictional heroes (or anti-heroes, as per your perception) he would have whipped the shit out of the North.
Unless some of these guys are talking about the bank/train robbery days. In which case Jesse James would have beaten the daylights out of the Pinkertons. Never mind fuckin' Robert Ford.
If all of those protagonists existed in real life, Jesse James would have been Al Capone before Al was even born.
Something to ponder for those who give enough of a shit about the western.
PS: The character of Jesse James has been portrayed maybe a thousand times in books and cinema. My favorite, however, is the movie version of THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD. I haven't read the book, but from what I understand the movie is probably the closest we will ever come to the truth. If you haven't seen it, you should. Check out the masterful score by Nick Cave and violinist Warren Ellis. It's my second favorite score of all time. #1 is Ennio Morricone's THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. #3 is THE DARK HALF from Christopher Young. #4 is . . . I'm not going to sit here all night. Just fucking watch the movie. Enjoy the score. Remember the western. 'Cause it's coming back, and it might be here for a while. The blues and the birth of rock and roll. And the western. True American art forms.