Saturday, March 20, 2010

'Turf Paradise'

Close your eyes and imagine you can hear the army bugler corps playing 'First Call'. You know, it's that 'high' whistle of a song you remember from somewhere, as if it could have been playing in the hospital room when you where born? You don't really know what the song is called. It is called, 'First Call'. Now, while the music plays, imagine you are a seven-year old child, running over to the paddock to watch the horses come out of their stalls to parade around in a circle before the first race. Imagine the horses and the jockeys are wearing brightly colored or polka dot colored silks. Imagine nine horses, wired up, taped up, brushed up and getting ready to run around a mile track. Now picture cowboys in custom tailored suits, ladies in high hats, children running, hot dog ketchup already spilled on the front of new shirts. The air is breezy and just slightly warm. Now, open your eyes and listen again to that high whistle of 'First Call'. Except for the trainers, everyone is dressed in Sunday's race day bright colors. A lone red hat quickly moves to the front. A woman in white and purple dress lingers towards the rear. Children in small cowboy hats and shiny belt buckles squeeze through the crowd, cling to the fence, where a row of cowboys lean, smoking their cigarettes and are sternly looking at each horse. You examine each of the horses' numbers, expertly attached to each silk, both on the horse and on the jockeys back. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine…

The music of the 'First Call' fades, and as Hank Williams begins to sing a soulful song, the horses leave the circle and head out onto the track. The jockeys begin to focus now, feet go into the stirrups of the racing saddles. They hold the reins tightly, the horses' heads curving up, pushing up their necks to a full half circle. Snorts and turf dirt begin to fly up through the air, the horses are heading to the gate. The people begin pushing towards the front fence, or quickly finding a seat in the two grandstands. The cowboys shift to the front fence. You hear the sound of a horse distressed, rearing up before the gate. The jockey uses his quirt, once on the horses rear flank, the horse settles, but only to get the jockey and himself inside the gate. One by one, the horses enter their respective shoots. A hush moves across the crowd.

"The horses are in the gate," comes over the PA system.

"And they're off! Comes the sound.

You hear the sound of the gates opening, a flash of colors and horseflesh…and then you hear the pounding hooves…

You would be at the opening of the season at Turf Paradise, first race, in Phoenix, Arizona in 1964. These are images that never leave you. These are sounds that never disappear. These are the sights and sounds of life.

Last night, it was this image that began to make its way into my consciousness. All nine horses, running around the track, all nine horses, shifting on the first turn, then running a little wide on the second; one or two gradually making a little distance from the rest. Can they keep the lead down the straightaway? Do the horses really know when and where the race ends? Can they hear the roar of the crowd to the right of them?

Life does seem much like a horse race at times. The pressure is always on the leading horses as the last three of the nine drift into obscurity, gradually losing hope from the men that ride them. Of course, this is also when 'the long shot' comes into play. From out of the pack, a horse that no one thought could win breaks from the pack and shoots not one, but two lengths ahead. A horse that possessed marginal talent and training history, but on that particular day, this horse possesses a heart. This was a horse whose legs were to short, a horse with seemingly no pedigree. A common horse, or so its record shows. Everybody loves a long shot. Everybody loves a winner. Everybody loves 'the race'. Here I could talk about the time, the energy, the money, the research and development that go into training a race horse, but I'll let you use your imagination. Listen to the whistle. Listen to 'First Call'.

"The race is not to the strong nor the swift, the race belongs to he who possesses endurance." St. Paul.

Today, I will head down town to play my first full musical set in downtown Austin. It's only taken five months to get to this first curve. It's not a 'headlining' gig in the South by Southwest Festival, but it's a beginning of the musical race. There are large doses of irony of which I will not delve into right now, but suffice to say, God speaks to me in irony, but at least he is speaking.

Yesterday was a cool clear and perfect day, but last night, another cold front moved in with rain, thunder and lightning. I'll take a shower, practice my set for a couple of hours and drive down town for the show. I'll let you know how it goes. I'm feeling a little blue this week, I think because I feel the race part of things is winding down, and I may have to move back to the training and preparation part of things again, and its really hard for me to leave the track. I don't know where I'll find another trainer, I seem to have faded on the straightaway.

My address is: Raymond King Shurtz For those of you that were asking.

3600 N. Hills Drive #261

Austin, TX 78731

LaRena, I would love to have you send that book! Or you can send any books here, I'll be here for six more weeks and need books!


Gerry said...

I was wondering if you were describing what took place when you went to the race track with your Grandpa King as shown in that photo. I know you were upset when Pukkha got claimed. I was, too. The first good race horse in the family gone! I enjoyed your colorful description of horses racing comparing them to humans competing with one another as you are doing in Austin, the country music world of the west. I hope you have a great time playing your music and singing your songs. Somehow I think you will. Writing a song, composing the music, and playing your guitar and singing your song for an audience must rank up there to the top of great creative experiences. That kind of talent was denied me, but I am sure glad you are able to do it, thanks to some music genes inherited from your dad. But he never wrote any songs. I had a good writing day today, getting an event described in my Memoirs that I dreaded doing. It didn't go too badly. Now I am off and running. Looking forward to writing about other great horses I have known, great rides, and cowpunching in the most beautiful cattle country on earth, southern Utah canyonlands. I will expect you to keep up with me, describing your days on Arizona trails, exploring the hiking trails and getting to know a lot of strange Arizona varmints and outlaws and wannabe playwrights and actors. You herded them in a lot of stage corrals and that life was just as thrilling to me, if not more so than the cow punching of my younger days. The ranches had been sold when you came along, so you had to find your own wild west creating great dramas on stage, yours and other people's. Boy, did we have fun! I always wanted you to write songs and play one of those singing cowboys. You would never have to punch cows for a living (a dying out breed as your song says) if you could play the guitar, write songs, and sing 'em. You'd be a Bohemian Cowboy! said...

So glad to hear about your music gig. May you sell a few! Your day at the first horse track on opening day is so well written. Anyone who has gone, knows. I remember the horses!