What our staff has to say: “Fried out post-punk country spoken word about the history of America through the perspective of Choctaw poet. Brutal, honest & funny. At points, it feels too sonically weird to exist as cohesively as it does. RIYL if you like: Otis G. Johnson, Tom Diabo, Suicide, 80’s Leonard Cohen” – Cleo
Arrestingly singular and deeply moving, this 1988 album by Choctaw, Assiniboine, and Texan poet, journalist, artist, activist, and musician Roxy Gordon (First Coyote Boy) (1945–2000)—whose long out-of-print work has been acclaimed by friends such as Townes Van Zandt, Leonard Cohen, and Terry Allen—sets his cold-blooded, bone-lean reflections on the complexities and contradictions of American Indian (and American) history and identity to atmospheric, synth-damaged country-rock that skirts ambient textures and postpunk deconstructions.
The gatefold package of this first-ever reissue—a decade in the making and the first in an archival series—includes new and restored artwork and a chapbook, featuring forty-eight pages of lyrics, essays, photographs, and First Coyote Boy’s extraordinary drawings for each song. (The chapbook is included in the LP edition only and also available for purchase separately.)
“Roxy Gordon is a brother of mine. I don’t like the word ‘poet’; it is usually used too lightly. Roxy, however, is a real one. God bless him and the buffalo he rode in on.” – Townes Van Zandt
“His work is strong. The word goes out. Can a change come on dove’s feet?” – Leonard Cohen
“Roxy Gordon is one of the great outlaw artist American misfits. He writes like an angel and sings like livin’ hell. His voice is as stone, true as the history of blood and dirt.” – Terry Allen
“Someday maybe Steinbeck will be my favorite writer again but, right now, it’s Roxy Gordon.” – John Stewart
Everything exists and everything will happen and everything is alive and everything is planned and everything is a mystery, and everything is dangerous, and everything is a mirage, and everything touches everything, and everything is everything, and everything is very, very strange.
– Roxy Gordon (1988)
The Choctaw, Assiniboine, and Texan poet, journalist, visual artist, American Indian Movement activist, and musician Roxy Gordon (First Coyote Boy, or Tu Gah Juk Juk Ka Na Hok Sheena) (1945–2000) was above all a storyteller, known primarily as a writer of inimitable style and unvarnished candor, whose wide-ranging work encompassed poetry, short fiction, essays, memoirs, journalism, and criticism. Over the course of his career he recorded six albums, wrote six books, and published hundreds of shorter texts in outlets ranging from Rolling Stone and The Village Voice to the Coleman Chronicle and Democrat-Voice, in addition to founding and operating, with his wife Judy Gordon, Wowapi Press and the underground country music journal Picking Up the Tempo. Along the way he cultivated close friendships with fellow Texan songwriters such as Lubbockites Terry Allen, Butch Hancock, and Tommy X. Hancock, as well as Ray Wylie Hubbard, Billy Joe Shaver, and, most famously, Townes Van Zandt, whom he called his brother. Although his work covered a vast array of topics exploring strata personal, local, global, and cosmic alike, Gordon’s primary subject as a writer, musician, and visual artist was always American Indian culture, specifically the ways it collided and coexisted with European American culture in the South and West—and within the context of his own life and braided identity.
The ten songs on Crazy Horse Never Died, his first officially released and distributed album, were recorded in Dallas in 1988. “Songs” is perhaps an imprecise taxonomy for what Roxy captured on this and his other albums, all of which remain out of print or were released in instantly obscure limited editions of homebrew cassettes and CD-R’s. (Paradise of Bachelors plans to reissue remastered, expanded editions of his catalog; Crazy Horse is the first.) He only occasionally attempted to sing, and his musical recordings are primarily corollaries of, and vehicles for, his poems. His sharp West Texan drawl, tinged by formative years of reservation living in Montana and unmistakable once you hear it—high, lonesome, flat, and cold-blooded as a bare rusty blade—instead patiently unfurls in skewed sheets of anecdotal verse and discursive narrative rants.
Although Gordon’s music at times incorporated powwow style drumming, fiddling, or unaccompanied ballad singing, the majority of it hews to an idiosyncratic spoken word style, accompanied by atmospheric, sometimes synth-damaged country-rock that skirts ambient textures and postpunk deconstructions. His songs are essentially recitations over backing tracks of fingerpicked guitars, rubbery washtub bass, and buzzing, oscillating keyboards. On the stark yellow and red jacket of Crazy Horse, which he designed himself, Gordon describes these recordings as innately ambivalent in terms of form, content, and identity:
“These are poems and/or songs about the American West, white and Indian. My life has been Indian and/or white. Maybe there’s not a lot of difference—maybe. I guess that’s mostly according to which white person or which Indian you’re talking about. That’s probably what this album’s about.”
Crazy Horse Never Died comprises songs that span the personal and political arcs of his writing practice and the poles of his native and white ancestries. His introduction to the almost-title track in the strikingly illustrated poetry chapbook supplement to the album (included in the LP edition of the reissue and also available for purchase separately) draws explicit parallels between the oppression and displacement of Palestinians by Zionists and the similar treatment of Native Americans by Europeans, justifying the historical necessity of resistance to racist imperialism through terrorism. On “Junked Cars” he describes his lonely youth in rural Talpa, Texas amid the desolate landscape and the human wreckage of discarded American material culture.
“The Hanging of Black Jack Ketchum” and “The Texas Indian” confront the complexities and contradictions of Texas history and Gordon’s own family history, which included several Texas Rangers, infamous hunters of Indians and Mexicans. The frenetic, synth-spraying “Living Life as a Moving Target” and the chilling, sinister-sounding “Flying into Ann Arbor (Holding)” confront the complexities and contradictions of mortality, the blind forces that threaten and ravage us, collectively and individually, externally and internally. “The Western Edge” begins in Hollywood, at “Chuck Berry’s girlfriend’s house,” and then careens amiably right off the continent, over the Pacific Ocean ledge. Stabs of sly humor such as heard here punctuate the album with winks of recognition.
“I Used to Know an Assiniboine Girl,” the devastating centerpiece of the record, tells a tragic, elliptical tale of domestic violence and a young woman’s governmental punishment for defending herself, all refracted through the narrator’s deep regret and sorrow as a spectator to her brutalization. As Roxy bluntly explains in the spoken introduction, regardless of extenuating circumstances, “Indian girls up in Montana don’t beat up white guys and not expect to spend time in the penitentiary.”
In “An Open Letter to Illegal Aliens,” Gordon enumerates a litany of diseases—namely, capitalism, communism, materialism and money, Christianity, and Judaism—the “baggage” imported by European immigrants to “these American continents,” which had been doing “pretty well” for some forty thousand years before their arrival. This acid retort to conservative white America’s hysteria about immigration is, in the end, a rather compassionate and tolerant transposition. It’s the ideological baggage that is not welcome on “these American continents,” not those foreign human beings who bear it, who in Gordon’s estimation might be just “as native American as Crazy Horse” (note the lower case “n”), even if they do not behave that way.
In his 1984 essay “Breeds,” from the fine collection of the same name, he concludes with a note of hope:
“The voices of these continents are not stilled because, for a few centuries, this land is overrun by human beings who cannot hear. Over years of cultural and racial genocide, over centuries of lies and misdirection, That Which Is still calls . . . and the old American blood in us listens.”
Roxy’s friend and fellow poet-turned-musician Leonard Cohen had kind words for Breeds, writing: “It is strong. The word goes out. Can a change come on dove’s feet?”
Bestir that old American blood and listen.