I haven’t needed this song this year, but there have been years in the past that I could’ve used it, not so much the verse until the last couplet, but mainly the chorus.
Back in 1973 Jerry Jeff Walker recorded Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” and included it on his Viva Terlingua album. It’s a classic. But I never knew the story behind it until recently.
What inspired the song? Here’s the story Hubbard told to Texas Monthly:
“I walked in and there were thirty or forty people drinking, including one old woman,” he recalls. “The jukebox stopped and they all turned and looked at me.” He nervously asked the bartender for a case, and while he waited, he found himself getting baited by the woman and her son. “How can you call yourself an American with hair like that?” she asked. Her son added, “You want me to beat him up?” Hubbard got his beer and fled, but not before eyeing a pickup truck in the parking lot with a gun rack and a redneck bumper sticker. Once he was safely back with his pals, he picked up his guitar, strummed a G, and made up a song on the spot, about a redneck mother whose son was “thirty-four and drinking in a honky-tonk, just kicking hippies’ asses and raising hell.”
In the late 90s and early 2000s I was listening to a bunch of Outlaw and Red Dirt Country music. Singers gave call outs to other singers, and thanks to the magic of the internet, I kept collecting MP3 tracks and discovering music that I hadn’t heard on mainstream radio. That’s how I found Jerry Jeff. I went to see him play live at the Heart O’Texas Fairgrounds with my buddy Justin Newcom under a little tent with maybe five hundred people, and loved every minute of it. I’ve been a fan ever since. Here’s a picture I took back at the 2018 Texas Bash. Molly and I had a blast seeing him live.
I’m still keeping my eye out for a good “Goat Ropers Need Love, Too” sticker. If you see one, let me know.
This is a beautiful song, telling a simple story, allowing much room for imagination. Who is the traveler? Where are they going? Who is the father, mother, and child?
Do we seek the welfare of the stranger? Asking for God’s mercy upon those we do not know, that we only perceive from far away, perhaps only knowing that they are road-weary and in need of rest?
You could apply the imagery in this song to many scenarios, maybe even this one. There are others, not as politically charged, but nonetheless suitable, for wherever we see the stranger traveling the road, we must always remember mercy and never forget that we also were once without a home, without rest, until God chose to grant an everlasting mercy, rest, and hospitality to us.
I’m reading Jeff Tweedy’s memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back Again) because of my decade long listenership to Wilco. The book was a Christmas gift. My fascination with the band began with a friend named Clint Newlan, who was a shift manager and fellow barista with me at Starbucks in 2005-2006. I saw a Wilco show with Clint at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City on March 21, 2006, saw them again at Crossroads KC with my friend Mike Hibit on October 6, 2009, and then went to see them with Molly at Bass Concert Hall in Austin on October 1, 2017. I’m a fan.
In the book Tweedy comments on the purpose of art, and expands his thought by reflecting on art’s restorative power. He writes:
I think that may be the highest purpose of any work of art, to inspire someone else to save themselves through art. Creating creates creators. When I was in the hospital going through treatment for addiction and depression, they would have everyone in my group do art therapy. One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen was watching a catatonic sixty-three-year-old woman who had been hooked on heroin for close to thirty years become human again by holding a pencil and being asked to draw. I’m an agnostic by nature, but seeing that made me believe in staying close to the notion of a creator. The one we identify with most easily by finding it in ourselves.
I think that is about right. Art puts us back together; creating heals, connecting us with something that is elemental to being human. Art is not a self-salvation project, as Tweedy suggests, but it does have restorative potential.
There is a theological dimension to Tweedy’s observation as well, one Christian theology affirms. The Apostle’s Creed begins with the words, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and when God gets around to creating humankind in Genesis 1:27, we read, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
While Tweedy is an agnostic, his impressions point him toward a truth that Christians agree with: “Creating creates creators.” Human beings, created in the image of their Maker, make.
The creative impulse is stamped upon us, and creativity takes many forms. When it finds outward expression it is not only revelatory of something within, but also something without–the existence of a Creator who first created, making creatures who then, in turn, create.
Here’s Tyler, Texas native Paul Cauthen in Waco, playing Brazos Nights.
And here is a cool shot of my kids.