Thursday, July 3, 2008

Urban Cowboys

I want to be a Cowboy
I got to be a Cowboy
I'm born to be a Cowboy
I want to be a Cowboy
A Cowboy! Uh-huh
Tonight we're taking me fast car
Were gonna go down to the Cowboy bar
I'm gonna wait till the club is full
and I'm gonna ride the mechanical bull
Cowboy look is the one I sought
Can't change now cause the clothes are bought
To be a true Cowboy was my fate
I can't help it if I was born late
All the Cowgirls in their Stetson hats
and their tight fitting jeans so they don't look fat
We'll all be listening to the Cowboy tunes
and stomp around like a bunch of goons
Cowboy look is the one I sought
Can't change now cause the clothes are bought
To be a true cowboy was my fate
I can't help it if I was born late
We're all OD'd on the Olden West
seein' who's Cowboy clothes look the best
I can ride that phony bull so damn good
Sometimes I think I'm Clint Eastwood
Cowboy look is the one I sought
Can't change now cause the clothes are bought
To be a true cowboy was my fate
I can't help it if I was born late
I know I'm a Cowboy deep inside
My hat band's made out of synthetic rattle snake hide
After a couple shit kickin' Cowboy movies
I'll check out the Cowboy scene down at Zubie's
Cowboy look is the one I sought
Can't change now cause the clothes are bought
To be a true cowboy was my fate
I can't help it if I was born late
Find out who all fights the best
We start fights with them punks at the Cuckoo's Nest
Those damn punks are crazy (though)
and meaner than a bull at a rodeo
Cowboy look is the one I sought
Can't change now cause the clothes are bought
To be a true cowboy was my fate
I can't help it if I was born late
You call me an Urban clone of course
A big deal if I'm afraid to ride a horse
With a broken nose and a fucked up knee
Maybe this Cowboy scene just ain't for me
Cowboy look is the one I sought
Can't change now cause the clothes are bought
To be a true cowboy was my fate
I can't help it if I was born late
Yee Haw
Cowboy look is the one I sought
Can't change now cause the clothes are bought
To be a true cowboy was my fate
I can't help it if I was born late
(I couldn't make it as a Punker)
-Lyrics to "Urban Struggle" by The Vandals


I've been somewhat fascinated by the trend in the past ten years in the urban cities of the Northwest to embrace what the Seattle Times recently joked as the "Grange" movement, a play off grunge. There seems to be a still growing trend to bring a small town, country, cowboy flavor into the big city, to the point where whole subcultures have evolved around it. Back in the late '70s and earl '80s we saw a similar trend through popular music, movies, bars and nightclubs. The phenomena was exemplified in the 1980 movie "Urban Cowboy," starring John Travolta, and movies like "Roadhouse" and "Footloose" only fanned the flames. At the time, you'd see guys walking down The Ave and Broadway in full leather dusters and cowboy hats and think, wow do they look out of place. The trend had a backlash, like in the song "Urban Struggle" released by The Vandals in 1982 that's quoted above. Soon the cocaine, neon, big hair, and synth-driven pop music of the 1980's seemed to take over and the whole country in the city trend faded away.

Now it's back. And truthfully, it's been growing steadily in Seattle and Portland for quite some time. 14 years ago Seattle entrepreneur Linda Derschang opened Linda's Tavern in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Linda's was decorated with animal heads and tables cut from giant logs, beer lights, had a jukebox filled with both country and indie rock and punk, and served small town diner types of meals. It seemed to capitalize on many of the aesthetics one would imagine a typical country bar might have, it almost felt like you were in a giant wood cabin restaurant, and it was a hit instantly. It was interesting to see what followed in Seattle's hipster scene. People to some extent began to dress the part of what they perceived people in a small town bar might. Trucker hats, cheap beer t-shirts, cowboy boots all followed. The Doug Fir opened up in Portland a few years later and seemed like an upscale version of Linda's.

Over the years, the fashion and trend continued to grow. "Coyote Ugly" came out in 2000, a pretty horrible movie, following the trials and tribulations of women working as waitresses in a cowboy bar. In Vegas at NY,NY, a Coyote Ugly bar opened, with all the aesthetics of the bar in the movie and added flash. It even feels like a movie set, with fake props and no bathroom inside the bar. Soon similar bars started to pop up around the country, including Cowgirls, Inc. in downtown Seattle and American Cowgirls Bar & Grill in Portland. And other bars started featuring mechanical bulls, like the Ballroom in Seattle's artsy gone trendy neighborhood Fremont.

They're servin' up poutine at Smith!

Derschang smartly capitalized on the country trend going mainstream, opening Smith on 15th on the backside of Capitol Hill and King's Hardware in the now hip neighborhood of Ballard. Both restaurants/bars were decidedly more upscale than Linda's, for the whole country style had begun to appeal to city-folk outside the hipster scene that packed Linda's each night. Yet each restaurant was filled with all the accouterments of what one might think a country diner would have, from animal heads and shooting range targets, to old farm tools and equipment. But where Linda's was more burgers and fries, Smith featured pork shank and English pea soup. Where most of the patrons of Linda's drank cheap PBR, the patrons of King's Hardware drank expensive microbrews. Both Smith and King's Hardware packed in the crowds, and odd mix of aging hipsters, Eastsiders, yuppies, and neighborhood folk, the broad appeal of their shtick was evident from the day each restaurant opened it's doors. While Seattlelites may love living in a big progressive city, they want to embrace what they think of as the homeyness and down-to-earth feel of America's small towns... even if it's somewhat of a bastardization their aesthetics.

Redwood on Capitol Hill opened in 2006 with the same sort of style as Derschang's establishments (animal heads, beer lights, and targets on the walls), but it somehow seemed a little more authentic and gritty, which drew more of the rock crowd in, especially since Derschang's restaurants were scaling up and courting a wider clientèle than just Capitol Hill residents. In the two years since, the country-in-the-city trend in bars, restaurants and fashion, has really started to also develop within Seattle's music community as well. Bands with beards and an urban-country look, playing music influenced by country, folk, and Southern rock (or as they would probably say, Americana, alt country and roots rock) began popping up everywhere. While KCMU/KEXP had featured shows like "Shakin' the Shack," "The Roadhouse," and "Swinin' Doors" for years and years, and venues like The Tractor always had a good turn out, suddenly it seems, the whole country in the city thing it the Capitol Hill hipster scene in a bigger way... the kids suddenly were taking notice, rockabilly and alt country weren't just for aging skinheads, punks and rockers anymore. Bands like The Fleet Foxes, Grand Archives, Moondoggies, Sera Cahoone, and Band of Horses (who relocated to South Carolina)... almost all seem associated with or signed with Sub Pop.

Personally, I'm not really into the bands Sub Pop is signing and that are part of the current trend. It's not because I'm more of a punk rocker, I just find the Fleet Foxes totally fucking boring. But I still think this trend is cool because it may turn some people on to different music and I do dig some alt country bands. Musicians like Neko Case, who I love, seem to be gaining popularity because of the trend. But what does annoy me to some extent is the country flavored restaurants and bars. There's just too many in Seattle now and it has been taken too far. One place is kitschy and unique, but 4 or 5 makes it seem... trendy. Maybe it's weird for me because I spend a fair amount of time in small town Washington and go to real country diners and bars, rather than the high-falutin' aesthetics of Smith or King's Hardware. But, complain as I may, I still seem all these bars for a drink once in a while.

Next up: Small town diner reviews!

3 comments:

$T said...

That movie was called Coyote Ugly, not Cowboy Ugly.

And yes, the Fleet Foxes are fucking terrible.

Dan 10Things said...

Thanks! I swear I need to get a proofreader.

howardx said...

the diner reviews kick ass, eat out more often!