Outside Brown’s Diner two men sat. They talked about Marty Robin’s “Gunfighter Ballads”
“He said it came to him like it was a movie. Like he saw it in a theatre.” Cars blew by on Blair Boulevard running the yellow light.
"Why the hell does he still write all those cowboy songs?"
"You should see his bank account."
Marty had woke early and spent the morning playing guitar in his garage. He walked around the front yard and leaned against the white columns of the porch. Thinking of the desolate landscape of Glendale, Arizona, the sharp green grass of Brentwood gave him a sense of abundance. The early morning blue sky filled itself in with the buzz of insects and lawnmowers. He was anxious. Today was the day Columbia Records had given him for his Cowboy songs. He was vexed they only gave him one day and he bet they hoped he got diarrhea. He thought to himself that he has sung these songs a hundred times. He threw a rock into the tree line behind his house and said, “All we gotta do is roll the tape.” He turned and entered the house by the back door into the kitchen. His wife, Marizona, was making eggs. The smell of frying butter energized his hunger. He came to her and kissed her on the cheek.
April 7th 1959, Bradley Studios Studio 2, Bradley Studios, Nashville, TN)
The E string of the Martin acoustic buzzed. Jim Glaser and Bobby Sykes hummed in harmony. Bob Moore stood beside his upright bass and thumped two notes in heartbeat succession as he tuned his instrument. He pulled it closer to him. He thumped two notes again and then swiftly bent over to move a piece of rug on the floor. He then straightened back up and began to play “Blues Stay Away From Me” to get loose. Jim and Bobby, had already heard the songs, as they rode through the Texas desert from one dance hall to the next. They knew them by heart. Grady Martin the guitarist and Don Law the Producer listened as the singer ran through the tune “El Paso.” Grady made a chart. He tentatively picked at his guitar, making decisions. He drew from his cigarette and ash fell onto his paper. He wiped it away. He took a swig from a Coca Cola with peanuts in it. Don said “Get me a good sound Grady” Grady didn’t even look up. He just blinked. He threw off a line or two of Mariachi jazz. “I hear Mariachi horns on this.” Grady said. “Yeah me too, me too,” Marty said. “Well what you see is what you get,” Don said laughing. “Anybody got a kazoo,” someone joked. Marty Robbins looked serious, he sang “I fell in love with a Mexican girl” The men all nodded their heads, closing their eyes. Someone said “Filena? How you spell that?”
Marty said “F-i-l-e-n-a.” Don said, “Where’d you come up with that name?” Marty paused and thought for a moment troubling over revelation. “ Filena, really it was Fidelina, was a girl I knew when I was a boy, in Glendale Arizona. She’d eat her lunch and I’d play the harmonica for her.” He was lost for a moment. He was a boy again. He ran through the desert. The high hills set up on either side of the valley dotted with green and brown. The evening was burning across the sky. The cold was at the edges. The warmth he kept in his hands. He thought about that day. He stood beside her black hair. He watched her eat tortillas wrapped in paper. She smiled at him. Her skin looked like caramel. She made him feel like a hornets nest. He could smell the flour of the tortillas and could see the powder on her fingers as she ate them one small bite at a time.
He ran all the way home from school on the road back to his neighborhood. He ran by her. She was walking down the road that led back to the poor part of town, where white trash and migrants lived. He passed her going 100 miles an hour. His mouth twisted for breath. He ducked his head and ran harder.
Marty looked up. No one had gone with him. Tuning. Sipping on Co-Cola and coffee. Smoking cigarettes. “Are we about ready to give this one a try?” Don was leaning back in his chair, his arms folded behind his head. “I got your levels. Let’s see what we get.” Grady nodded at Don. Don said, “Did you bring your cap pistol Grady?” He guffawed, “Ha, shoot yeah man, it’s in the trunk of my car. Want me to go get it and show you?” He laughed. They all laughed. “One two three, on three ok. One two three” Marty strummed off time. Grady started a run. “Woah woah, un huh,” Marty said quietly and he looked down. Don said calmly, “Let’s try it again.”
Marty dropped his hand as steady as a hammer on the E chord. The song started to roll. He saw himself back in Arizona. Grady played a few lines and Don said to himself, “Forget the horns.” Marty threw his head back and a shine hit his eyes and he sang-
A tale of woe and then it was done. Everyone was quiet. Everything was silent. No one moved. Grady choked the strings against fret board of his guitar to silence the echo of vibrations. Marty blew air out. Someone muttered something. Marty looked at the floor. If he was conscious he would fall over but he is lost in a moment. He is thinking back to the desert, he is thinking back to Marizona when she was a teenage girl working at a soda pop shop. He is thinking of her neck and the cross she wears. What the gold of the chain looks like against her skin. He whistles a bit. He looks up at Don and says, “Did we get a good one?”
Don says, “I think so, but let’s run it one more time.” And they did and Marty left the room in his mind again. He was running. He could see a horse on the highway. He pictured the song and he saw himself as the killer. He thought about pulling the trigger. He saw the smoke in his eyes. He had a black shirt on and black pants. He wore a jet-black hat and black boots. He did not drink anymore but he felt drunk.
He knew how many nights he spent driving staring at the highway with the feeling that it’s all going to come undone. There is some letter in the mail, some ass he kicked somewhere that’s coming back with a 2” x 4”. Some red light he’s going to run, something somewhere that says he messed up. He’s going to pay. He’s got a beat coming. He can see the road from his car and he is driving through the night. He takes a sip from his 7-Up and a drag from a cigarette, he finishes it off and pinches the filter between his thumb and fingers and touches the finished cigarette to the opening of the driver side window, where just beyond the night is passing by at 55 miles per hour and the filter is gone, vanished from his finger tips like a magic trick. Tiny sparks shake in his rear view mirror and extinguish. “I bought a new house, I’m going to buy another car soon. I keep Marizona in nice things. But I don’t feel settled. I feel like God could come down and blow me away at any moment. He looked to the passenger seat of the bus. His friend, Bobby, was asleep. He turned up the radio a bit. He was having trouble hearing it now that he was traveling faster. “Anyone awake back there?” he said over his shoulder not taking his eyes off the highway. “Hey” he said, and then suddenly he felt wrong for shouting. He sat quiet. The vinyl seats made sounds like window blinds opening. He finished his 7-Up. “Let’s sing a little something Marty,” he said to himself and he tapped the side of his steering wheel with his index finger. He furtively reached over and turned the radio dial, looking for a pop station. He was thinking of Frank Sinatra. “Catch a Falling Star” by Perry Como fell into the dashboard as if from ether. A reverie floated from the speakers. “Catch a falling star and put it in your pocket” Marty sang along, way too low on a goof. He then scatted a bit like a horn. He straightened up and started to sing the song in earnest and try to better Perry Como, as if he was there riding with having a contest. He carried each note strong and sure and then flipped them over his shoulder to show them whose boss. “It’s All In The Game” came on next. As the song faded the DJ said, “Coming to you from 1190 KLIF in Dallas. Hello everybody how you doing tonight? It’s time for all the gang to tune in.” Marty opened his eyes, and the room was silent again. All the men held the necks of their guitars choking them. Grady thought he could play the guitar part better.
“Ok fellas, on 3. 1 and a 2. 1-2” The chord came again perfectly. Time lined up. Everyone was on the money. There was no extra part of the chord, no string singing too long or too short. There was no part hiding in darkness and everyone followed. Marty dreamed again. He was driving a car late at night again but he was much younger. Marizona is riding with him. She was sitting beside him laughing that she used to pray for nice clothes and to marry a Cowboy Singer.