SMOKE: How The West Won Me

Originally published: 30 November 2004

I've never had much of a cultural identity. I couldn't be arsed, really.

I know who and what I am and therefore require no recourse to the affirmations of where I came from and who - from a cultural perspective - I really am, at an esoteric level.

I'm me - that's all I need to know.

I consider myself South African because it's the country of my birth, but I have heritage roots in England, Ireland and Canada. I'm a second generation South African - my parents were born here, but their parents were born in other countries - and as such I have no family history or culture to bring with me.

I would therefore be one of the great pioneers of my family line in this country, were it not for the fact that I loathe kids. Therefore I am destined to remain a blip on history's radar. My brothers and sisters can keep it all going if they like.

So I have a very mixed and eclectic culture all of my own, comprised of my own South African roots and the cultural influences I've had since my youth, which have been largely American and British.

We get British and American television shows, movies, literature, music, fashion and more, and I have taken what has appealed to me and made it my own.

When I started writing and singing my own songs many years ago I discovered - after someone pointed it out - that I sing in an American accent. I don't talk in one - I just sing in one.

I struggled with the ethic of that for a while, until I realised that you simply can't sing a song in a South African accent - it sounds too ridiculous.

You can get away with a Manchester-style Brit twang if you're more punk-rock inclined (everyone wants to be Sid Vicious), but I find that no accent suits singing more than an American one.

There's a drawl to the vowels that gives great flexibility in terms of what you can do with your voice, and if you dropped the drawl - and went Eastern Cape Flat - you'd either get an appreciative round of applause for the joke, or you'd be booed off the stage by people actually wanting something decent to listen to.

When I was young and impressionable my songs contained references to places like Reno and the Sonoran desert, no doubt because of perhaps my greatest ever literary influence - Louis L'Amour.

In case you're not familiar with his work - Louis L'Amour is the greatest writer of western novels ever, with a couple of hundred titles and many films to his name.

I was spellbound by him as a teenager and would visit the library every so often and take out an armful of his books to devour. Knowing my love for his work my family would often cough up copies of his books for birthday's and Christmas.

I built up quite a collection, which sadly has dwindled away over the years as books have been borrowed and never returned.

I read the same books over and over again, reliving the vast expanse of L'Amour's memories of living out west (his grandfather was scalped by the Sioux Indians and L'Amour himself doesn't write about one single water hole or dry creek bed without having been there and seen it for hisself).

I have no idea how authentic his stories are in terms of what the wild west was really like, but the sheer repetition of certain concepts lead me to believe that he had a reasonably good handle on it.

Lots of my inspiration for writing - both literary and lyrically - comes from concepts and themes found in L'Amour novels and he definitely helped shape certain perspectives I hold on the world.

I am convinced that I was born into the wrong age - I would have fitted in just perfectly out west in the middle of the 1800s.

I could do without marauding Apaches and my horse breaking a leg out in the desert with no water either way for 100 miles (although I'd make it out alive - every L'Amour devotee knows that you can go quite a ways without water by merely sucking on a pebble), but there were certain values that made a lot more sense back then than they do now.

Things like the treatment of women, for example. I've always been very old-fashioned when it comes to gentlemanliness; L'Amour is the reason. In L'Amour's west you could be a gunfighter or a drunk or a general troublemaker, but so much as touch the hair on a woman's head and you were dead.

No prison, no arguments, no trials - you hit a woman, or in any way harm her, you would be strung up like the worthless worm you were. Rape her and you'd plead for death, because you would take a very long time dying.

I assume that back then respect for and protection of women was because they were the vital link to the future of someone's name and bloodline, and many men made the journey out west from the east, leaving their women behind.

They would fight for their acre of land, build a place that would be a comfortable home for a woman and children and only once they were done would they send for their wives, or go back and fetch them themselves.

These days you hand over your life for 20 years to the bank, get pissed and smack your bitch up.

There's something wrong with that picture.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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