In the collective psyche, Lubbock, Texas—the city where The
Flatlanders were formed in the early 1970s—will probably always be
associated with rock 'n' roll pioneer Buddy Holly. It's no wonder.
Situated in West Texas, it was the town that launched Holly's
meteoric ascent into rock history, a legacy that has had
implications the world over, perhaps most auspiciously in the
British industrial city of Liverpool within a year of the plane
crash that killed Holly in 1959. Teenagers George Harrison, John
Lennon, and Paul McCartney decided to name their nascent band after
a harmless insect in polite homage to Holly's Chirping
Musicologist and historian Ned Sublette remembers Lubbock fondly in
his recent book, The Year Before the Flood, about the
vibrant musical culture in New Orleans just prior to Hurricane
Katrina. During the author's adolescence in the '60s, his maternal
grandmother lived in Lubbock in a house on 19th Street; his dad,
also a scholar, had taken a job at a university in neighboring New
Mexico, precipitating regular family sojourns east into Texas. "The
drive from Portales to Lubbock was an endless two-hour trip,"
writes Sublette, "on two-lane state roads through mostly pure
flatness, punctuated by a couple of gentle rises and falls that
seemed breathtaking, especially if there had been a little rain in
June and everything had briefly turned from its normal yellow-brown
to a glorious green."
More than one writer has speculated about how the emptiness of
those sprawling West Texas plains sparked the imaginations of
singer-songwriters Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, and Butch Hancock.
At the turn of the '70s, each was a young adult who had found
himself back in Lubbock after rambling here and there. They were
sharing a house on 14th Street just more than 40 years ago, when
they decided to make a go at teaming up. The wider world kept
beckoning—much as it had Holly before them—and continued to follow
each Flatlander, even after their disappointment at the ill-fated
yet ultimately iconic Nashville recording session in 1972 that
eventually made the partnership legendary. (Tellingly, they've been
friends for life ever since, despite going their separate ways
until the '90s.) It's almost as if the universe was trying to fill
that mystic, undefinable space Gilmore searches for in one of The
Flatlanders' masterpieces, "Tonight I Think I'm Gonna Go
"I think I'm gonna look around," he offers, wistfully. "For
something I couldn't see when this world was more real to me."
Thankfully, the universe made the Lubbockites an offer to make a
mark on world culture that the trio couldn't refuse.
—K. Leander Williams has been around the block a few times and has
yet to tire of the scenery. He lives in Brooklyn.