[Photo by Hugh McCarten]

It was sad to leave the Carneys’ beautiful ranch and so many good friends, so many good people, some of whom I’ve known since time out of mind, some of whom, like Corinne and Ella and Will, have just been born (relatively speaking.)  But . . .

The heart must pause to breathe
And love itself must rest.

So I jumped in The Ghost and headed, not south towards home, but north to Cody, Wyoming, the town founded by Buffalo Bill which now hosts The Buffalo Bill Historical Center, a museum I wanted to check out.  Cody is about four hours north of Jackson.

The Irma Hotel which Bill built back in 1902, named for one of his daughters, is still there in Cody, and not much changed outwardly, but it doesn’t welcome smokers — Bill and his cigars would be turned away, I guess — so I checked into a lovely, hospitable Super 8, had a few beers and crashed.

I was up bright and early for the opening of the Historical Center, which I soon discovered is one of America’s great museums.  It’s not only packed with artifacts from Bill’s life and Wild West show — the things I went there to see — but also has a superb gallery of Western art, another devoted to Plains Indian culture and a firearms museum that boggles the imagination.

The Western art gallery has several wonderful N. C. Wyeths, as well as fine works by Catlin, Russell, Remington and just about every other Western artist of note.  The Plains Indian exhibit has examples of exquisite Indian craft, some of them dating back to pre-Civil War days.

The Buffalo Bill galleries are filled with supremely evocative memorabilia.  You can stand near a skirt and jacket once worn by Annie Oakley and see how small she was.  You can see what’s left of Lucretia Borgia, Bill’s legendary buffalo hunting rifle.  Outside, you can even see the house where Bill was born, above, transported there from the banks of the Mississippi River in Iowa.

You can see the original Deadwood Stage used in the Wild West show, above, as well as a back-up coach used on one of Bill’s European tours, below — most of the crowned heads of Europe were given rides in this coach as a special treat:

Standing in the presence of these vehicles sent chills down my spine — they were part of the spectacle that created the legend of the Old West in the American imagination, and the world’s imagination.

Before leaving town I had a meal at the Irma.  The old saloon with the famous cherrywood bar, above, has been preserved, with the old cash register still in place.

But the saloon is just a restaurant now, a non-smoking restaurant.  There are Western knick-knacks lined up on the shelf behind the bar, under the big mirror, instead of bottles of spirituous beverages.

Overweight tourists in shorts line up at a buffet to load on more weight in a room where Bill Cody and General Phil Sheridan, hard-bitten princes among men, once drank Brandy and puffed on cheroots, talking over old times on the frontier.

Our strain grows weaker.

That afternoon I had an awesome drive through Yellowstone National Park on my way to Idaho Falls, where I stayed in one last motel before the final leg of my journey, a long haul back to Las Vegas.  It was good to be home again, filled with such memories.

At the heart of those memories was the music my friends played up in Wyoming, still echoing in my ears.


                                                                                                                            [Photo by Corinne Chubb]

The grand gathering began to disperse after the night of the big birthday bash — J. B. and Cotty, hammered by too much fun, seek mutual support, above, as they wait for a plane at the Jackson airport.

A small crowd remained for one more day of fun and a last night of music.

                                                                                                                  [Photo by Hugh McCarten]

I sat and dreamed on the patio, and tried to write the words for a song Eli was working on, without success.  The other remaining guests went for another float on the river.

Eli serenaded Elaine as she came into view around a bend.

                                                                                                                       [Photo by Hugh McCarten]

That night, John's cousin Marina (above, with the author) had us all over to her house for dinner.  She served us delicious elk steaks from elk she had shot herself on the ranch.  Impressive.

Eli, Hugh and John played some tunes in Marina's living room — the site of a now famous hootenanny seven years ago on the last occasion most of this crowd had been together.

It was a good way to wind down from the intense fun of the past days.


                                                                                                                         [Photo by Hugh McCarten]

The evening of our third day at the ranch was what we'd all come for.  Two birthdays, two birthday cakes and one hell of a party.

John's cake arrived with fireworks.

                                                           [Photo by Hugh McCarten]

Elaine's was all about the sheer drama of chocolate and sugar.  The cakes capped an amazing feast, and were followed by more music.  Elaine started things off with a song dedicated to John.  She said she never sang, even though John always asked her to — so she gave him the gift of singing a song called “Something Great”.  It was by far the musical highlight of the week, emotionally speaking — straight from the heart . . . right on target, so direct.

Among many other great musical moments was John's lead vocal on an old Dylan song, “Tomorrow Is A Long Time”.

John's cousin Marina, a veteran of many legendary gatherings at the ranch, and about whom more later, had rolled into town for the occasion — many local friends also joined the festivities.

                                                                                                          [Photo by Eli Dokson]

Above, the author with Cotty's daughter Corinne and John's son Will.  Will and I had some great conversations about stuff like film noir while others chattered on about subjects decidedly less cool.  Corinne contributed materially to the general hilarity by agreeing to read the touching spoken interlude of “The Salami Song”, a little thing John and I wrote on a drunken evening in New York, back when dinosaurs ruled the earth.  It's a number that never fails to bring a tear to the eye and to remind us all of the dangers of mixing alcohol and songwriting.


Our third day at the ranch was the day of Elaine's and John's birthday, but there was lots to do before the celebration got underway.

First, the gang drove up to Gus's cabin for a picnic.  (Teddy actually rode her bike up to the cabin — a trek that would have taken me several days of hard slogging.)

The food was good, the day was fine, the company was congenial.


Then it was time for a float down the Green River, which runs by the main houses of the ranch.  That's the “big house”, Teddy's house, in the picture below.  The structure to the left of it is the bunkhouse.  The moose are often seen sneaking down to the river for a drink.

                                                                                                                 [Photo by Corinne Chubb]

Boats and kayaks were driven upstream in a truck and launched there, so all the boaters had to do was float downstream.

                                                                                                                  [Photo by Corinne Chubb]

John brought along his fly rod and fished for trout but didn't catch anything.

                                                                                                                  [Photo by Corinne Chubb]

Halfway along the float we beached the boats on a sandy bank and some worked up the courage to swim in the icy stream.  I was not one of them.

                                                                                                                      [Photo by Cotty Chubb]

I remained, like a good boat, superficial, reluctant to get to the bottom of things.

                                                                                                              [Photo by Corinne Chubb]

A night of partying lay ahead, which would become the stuff of legend . . .


On our second night at the ranch, Elaine and John provided an awesome catered dinner at their house for the assembled multitudes.  (The assembling hadn't finished yet, either — there were more family members and local friends still to come.)  Afterwards, the musicians set up in the big living room for some equally awesome entertainment.  David Horgan got his pedal-steel going, adding immeasurably to the ensemble.

                                                                                                                                  [Photo by Eli Dokson]

Cotty, with crucial technical assistance from his daughter Corinne and John's son Will, had managed to mike the guys in order to record the proceedings on GarageBand, so I can share one of the performances with you:


This is J. B.'s new country waltz, played earlier at the hootenanny in Jackson and tailor-made for a pedal-steel accompaniment.  The lads join in sweetly with back-up vocals.  This is music that sounds like music, made by real people in a real place.  In this day and age, you can forget what that sounds like.


The crowd of friends assembled from around the nation to celebrate John's birthday was completed with the arrival of David Horgan, from Missoula, Montana.  Of all the musicians who met up and started playing with each other at Stanford, only David has made music his career, becoming in the process a world-class guitarist.  (He dashed off from the Wyoming gathering for a gig with Huey Lewis.)

David plays in a couple of bands in Missoula, including a salsa group and his flagship emsemble, The Big Sky Mudflaps.  He specializes in country swing, and brought his pedal-steel guitar to Wyoming, adding ethereal licks to the group's numbers.  The Mudflaps have recorded several CDs, which you can find here . . . and here's a link to a CD by Salsa Loca, the Latin band David plays in.  Reviewers tend to agree that it's ¡muy caliente!


On our third day at the ranch we were joined by two new characters.  One of them, Deane Evans — shown above in a portrait by Hugh McCarten, standing boldly against the Western sky — has been mentioned before on this site.  Like John, Deane is an architect but he has specialized in academic and consulting work, being one of the country's leading experts on sustainable building construction.  My impression is that people listen to him respectfully then continue erecting energy-inefficient buildings, because that's what builders do.  Quick up-front profits, leading to long-term disaster, is the cornerstone of America's corporate culture — the “Me Money Now” philosophy, or “Swiss Bank Account School Of Economic Planning”, which recently brought the world to the brink of financial Armageddon.

Deane visits Las Vegas regularly for conferences, so we get to laugh about all this over beers often.  I've known Deane since we were 14, when we laughed about other things, with no beer.  The beer definitely helps.


                                                                   [Photo by Hugh McCarten]

Our second day at the ranch was marked by the arrival of John's wife Elaine, who'd been back East visiting family when the revelers started rolling into town.  She and John share a birthday, but John's 60th was a milestone, and Elaine worked overtime to make it remarkable — first by letting such a crowd of John's mostly disreputable friends into her home and then by engineering two incredible evenings of great food, music and hilarity, about which more later.

That second day also provided the spiritual high-point of the gathering for me — a horseback ride into the hills above the ranch houses.  I rode a horse for the first time at this ranch, back in the early Seventies, and it was was one of the great moments of my life.  I felt instantly at home on the back of a horse, as though riding was something I'd grown up doing, and ever since then, time in the saddle has been precious to me.

                                                                                                                              [Photo by Eli Dokson]

But none of that time can compare to riding up into the hills of this ranch.  The view of its valley grows more and more awe-inspiring — then you find yourself crossing streams in high meadows, passing through aspen and pine groves, arriving finally at Gus's cabin, which once belonged to a homesteader on the property, a place to pause and rest the horses and grab a bite to eat, perhaps, before heading back.

I was holding a young mare by its halter rope while John saddled up horses for us — John told me to just let her go if she got nervous, but when she got nervous and started backing up I instinctively held on tighter.  She bolted suddenly and the halter rope whipped though my fingers like hot iron.  It took out a chunk of flesh and blistered my whole palm as though I'd held my hand over a fire until it was cooked medium rare.

It hurt like hell until we mounted up, and then I didn't feel the pain at all, until we got back from the ride.

[Photo by Eli Dokson]

Six of us started off.  Corinne, an experienced horsewoman, also has a bad back, and after our first gallop she had to call it quits, she and her dad walking their mounts home.  John, Eli, Hilmar and I continued on.  I hadn't been on a horse since my last visit to the ranch, seven years before, and by the time our nearly four-hour ride was over I felt about half past dead.

But exhilarated.

[Photo by Eli Dokson]

There's a spring with cold, sweet water up by Gus's cabin.  Near there, John's father's ashes were buried.  Otis Carney, who passed away a few years ago, was the guy who first dreamed the dream of this particular ranch, buying up parcels of land around it over the years to keep the area pristine and in the family.  He was always funny and kind and hospitable to the preposterous dudes —
including this one — who showed up to experience “the West” on his ranch.

He's still there, of course — everywhere, now.  At his grave I took off my hat and spoke some words that the poet Yeats had carved on his own tombstone:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.

Horseman, pass by!

I hope that the Big O, as he used to be called, appreciated the Irish of it, if nothing else.

Yeats's lines make a lot of sense, if you study on them a little.  Life and death on this earth are, you might say, pedestrian concerns, the concerns of people on foot — a horseman has other things to think about, business elsewhere.


John's mom Teddy, or Fred, or Frederika, had us all up to the main house for dinner on our first night at the ranch.  Teddy is in her eighties but tools around the dirt roads of the ranch on a bicycle on a daily basis, miles at a time.  She's the presiding matriarch and muse of the place and doesn't look much different from when I first visited it in the early Seventies.

                                                                                                                     [Photo by Hugh McCarten]

She remembers all the old songs and calls for them by name, and admires them graciously.  This probably has a lot to do with the fact that she raised three extremely talented sons — she's the best audience imaginable for creative endeavors.

Every thirty years or so I get a good idea for a song lyric.  On my last visit to Wyoming in 2002 I wrote a lyric for a song called “Wyoming Lullaby”.  When I got back to California, where I was living at the time, I gave it to J. B. to see if he might have an idea for a melody to go with it.  He did, and wrote a song that he performs regularly with his group The Household Gods in Ojai.

It was a fine thing to bring it back to Wyoming, where it was born, and J. B. sang it at Teddy's house after dinner.  His vocal is sublime in this performance recorded on video by Corinne, perfectly complemented by Eli's sweet guitar break:

“Wyoming Lullaby”

Teddy admired it graciously — a benediction from the original cowboy girl.


Patty Giovenco is Hugh's wife.  She works as a therapist for developmentally challenged kids and is also a mad enthusiast of outdoor sports.  When she took her first trip in a kayak on the Green River last month, dipped her paddle in the stream and shot forward, she raised her hands in joy and shouted, “This is so much fun!”  Hugh shook his head philosophically and said, “Oh, dear . . . a new 'activity'.”

                                                                                                                            [Photo by Hugh McCarten]

Patty flew into Salt Lake City the day we all moved over to the ranch but couldn't get a one-way rental car to come join us, so Hugh drove his rental car down to fetch her.

Hugh was pulled over for speeding on the return trip but they still got back in time for a dinner at the main ranch house prepared for us by John's mom, a report on which follows.


                                                                                               [Photo by Eli Dokson]

Hugh McCarten is another guy, like Cotty, I've known since I was 13.  Along with Deane Evans, a character who's about to join the cast in Wyoming, we were inmates together at a certain all-boys prep school in New England in the Sixties, an experience we are slowly starting to come to terms with.  When I met him, Hugh was already an accomplished musician, who introduced me to jazz and classical music and Broadway show tunes back when other kids were only listening to rock and roll.  He has throughout the years remained a great songwriter, though he makes his living as an editor and reporter for
People magazine.

Here's a YouTube video filmed and posted by Corinne Chubb which documents one of his more recent songs, played in Wyoming last week:

“The Piss-Punka-Hunky”

It's a politically incorrect evocation of this nation's Native American heritage.  It's funny, and heap big funky — we must give that to Hugh — but it's also simply wrong.

In a cast of very odd characters, Hugh sets new standards of eccentricity on an almost hourly basis, though I can give proof of this only on a need-to-know basis.


                                                                       [Photo by Hugh McCarten]

If you've been following this string of posts you have already lived — vicariously, alas! — the by now legendary adventures of J. B. and myself as we confounded the sharks and broke the hearts of the guppies at a large Las Vegas card room, sped through Utah evading wicked Mormons at every turn, all the while spending our ill-gotten gains at the finest fast-food restaurants known to humanity, and arrived finally in breathtaking Wyoming.

                                                                                                                            [Photo by Corinne Chubb]

As I've said, J. B. brought a couple of new songs with him, but here's an old one he sang in Wyoming, in yet another Corinne Chubb video posted on YouTube.

“Mother Night”

This one wowed us back in the day, when J. B. first composed it, and still wows us in our dotage.  It occurs to me that hearing all these old songs, so rich in memories, didn't make me feel young again — it made me feel old, in a good way.  It reminded me of all the twists and turns on the paths that led me to where I am now, and gave me an occasion to kick back and appreciate all of them, the bright ones and the dark ones equally.

It was a kind of blessing.

As James Taylor once sang, “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.”  It's quite a wonderful thing, when you think about it.


Above, Cotty Chubb lifts up his eyes unto the hills.  He's been written about before on this site — someone I've known since I was 13 and now a movie producer in Hollywood.  He recently produced a TV movie with a Christmas theme that will be airing just after Thanksgiving this year, The National Tree, which was written by J. B. White (with a little, a very little, help from Lloydville) and based on the novel by David Kranes.  It's tentatively scheduled to premiere on 28 November but check your local TV listings for broadcast times.

Like Hilmar and myself Cotty was one of the non-musicians in the crowd up in Wyoming last month, but he was often found managing the sound system for the gigs these guys used to play back in the day, and he got roped in to the same job at John's birthday gathering.  Plus ça change . . .

I hope to post some of the results in upcoming reports.


As I've mentioned, Corinne is Cotty Chubb's daughter.  She's a college student, majoring in marine biology at UC Santa Barbara.  She's a very logical person and so had some difficulty trying to manage a posse of old, eccentric fogies like John's friends, who tend to throw logic to the winds when gathered together.  Eventually she gave up and settled for laughing at us, adding her own brand of good cheer to the proceedings.

She was also a recording angel, filming the lads' musical performances with her little HD camera and providing expert computer advice to her dad as he set up to record audio on Garage Band.

It is very surreal that Cotty has a 19 year-old daughter — beyond surreal that he has a 19 year-old daughter who now knows all the words to “Brake Fluid Druid”, a song Eli Dokson wrote in the early Seventies.  Here's a video of it she took, on YouTube:

“Brake Fluid Druid”

Circles within circles . . .