20 Questions: James McMurtry

James McMurtry
Just Us Kids
Lightning Rod

Author Stephen King described Ft. Worth native James McMurtry as “the truest, fiercest songwriter of his generation” (Entertainment Weekly). The son of acclaimed author Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment), James grew up on a steady diet of Johnny Cash and Roy Acuff records. His first album, Too Long in the Wasteland (1989), was produced by John Mellencamp.

In 2003, McMurtry released the universally lauded Live in Aught-Three. Childish Things (2005) garnered some of the highest critical praise of McMurtry’s career and spent six weeks at number one on R&R’s Americana Music Radio Chart. In September 2006, Childish Things and “We Can’t Make It Here” won the Americana Music Awards for album and song of the year, respectively. In 2007, McMurtry performed on PBS’ long running music program, Austin City Limits for the second time in his career.

McMurtry’s latest album, Just Us Kids, releases April 15.

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?

I think the last time I cried while reading was after I’d read a passage in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. The narrator, the sheriff, was recounting a dream in which he was on horseback, traveling through cold mountains in the dark. His deceased father rode past him without speaking. The sheriff could see that his father was carrying glowing coals in a horn, and he knew that somewhere out there in the dark the old man would be waiting for him beside a warm fire.

2. The fictional character most like you?

James McMurtry.

3. The greatest album, ever?

Rock of Ages, The Band.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?

Star Wars. Cooler costumes.

5. Your ideal brain food?

Heather Woodbury’s multi-character, one woman plays are excellent brain food. She elicits raucous laughter and pensive silence, nails all the accents and leaves you wondering how the hell she came up with that stuff.

6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?

A lot of talented people seemed to want to work on this record [Just Us Kids], and they later seemed happy to have done so.

7. You want to be remembered for…?

Oh, perhaps…not screwing up my son any worse than I was screwed up. Of course, we don’t get remembered for what doesn’t happen on our watch.

During the waning years of the Carter presidency, Israel invaded Lebanon. The often portrayed as spineless Jimmy Carter told the Israelis to go home if they still wanted spare parts for their jets. The Israelis pulled back and waited for Reagan, who let them roll into Beirut and create one unholy mess. Reagan sent in the US Marines as a “symbolic presence”. Over 300 of those Marines died when a truck bomb blew up their barracks and a few more died from sniper fire.

When Walter Mondale suggested that perhaps the intervention had been a bad idea, since the troops had been sent in more or less for the hell of it with no clear military objective, he was accused by the Reaganites of saying the troops had “died in vain”. Anybody remember what didn’t happen under Carter?

8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?

Those who have been enough of a threat to the status quo as to invite assassination, most recently, Benazir Bhutto. She was not the champion of democracy some of us claimed she was. When she was in office, her government was rife with corruption, but she was legitimately elected because she could inspire the people. The power to inspire is always dangerous to those who have it.

9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?

Angle of Repose. I believe Wallace Stegner won a well deserved Pulitzer for that book.

10. Your hidden talents…?

I’ve become a better cook than I thought I would.

11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?

“Return all your phone calls, even if the guy you’re calling is an asshole or a flake.” Duane Moore to his son, Dickie, in Larry McMurtry’s, Duane’s Depressed.

12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?

My best purchase was of an Old Town Sport Canoe. I’ve had that boat since about 1993 and it has required zero maintenance. It’s a square stern canoe with oar locks and a keel. It tracks well when loaded down, so I can haul a lot of gear over a lot of water. It’s made of polyethelene, so it’s quiet and extremely durable. And it’s just stable enough that I can stand amidships while bowfishing.

13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?

I’ve never worn Armani. I might like it just fine.

14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?

I assume this is some kind of celebrity crush question. Laura Dern comes to mind.

15. Time travel: where, when and why?

France, mid-1920s. A time of plenty and a culture that knew what to do with it.

16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?

None of these sound appealing. Deer hunting and spring Turkey hunting work best for me.

17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?

Coffee seems to be necessary. I can’t find my balance without it.

18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?

As much as I like to hunt and fish, I’d still rather reside in a city where I can walk down the block and enjoy a decent glass of red wine while conversing with a stranger. I think an apartment in the West Village and a woods cabin in western Pennsylvania would be ideal places between which to divide my time. Austin is improving, but it’s still not the city.

19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?

Who is the leader of my country? Does he have a name? Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Dick Cheney is our leader. To him I would say, kill all the pheasants you want, but please quit killing so many people.

20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?

I’m not working on anything other than the promotion of Just Us Kids.