Slim Whitman: January 20, 1923 – June 19, 2013

Slim Whitman Is Not Like the Others: Our First Cosmic Cowboy

This blog was originally posted on January 21, 2012. Tune in Sunday morning to KBCS 91.3 in Seattle or to this Sunday morning, June 23, 2013, for a tribute to the great Slim Whitman!

Every generation has a handful of country singers that just don’t fit the mold. Jimmie Rodgers, the Father of the genre himself, didn’t exactly fit in to begin with, so why not those that would follow:  Bob Wills, Floyd Tillman, Elvis Presley, Wanda Jackson, Charlie Rich, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller, Charley Pride, Sammi Smith, Terry Allen, Lyle Lovett. That’s the shortlist of course, but freaks everyone of them. Some, like many listed above, became stars despite their weird voices, phrasing and songs. Others have been largely lost to history and collectors. Singers like Jenks “Tex” Carmen, Marvin Rainwater, Bonnie Guitar. There’s never been another quite like_____. All of them fill in the blank.

One of my favorites turned 88 years old today. Otis Whitman, a lanky stuttering kid from Tampa, Florida who might have made a pretty good big league pitcher, but instead turned to music. We know him, if we know him, as Slim.

Slim Whitman says it was the folks who attended church with him that first pointed out that particularly unique voice. It’s one of those atmospheric warbles that spin around the ozone somewhere between Project Mercury and Sputnik.

There’s a bit of a divide between authentic cowboy singers like Buck Ramsey and Tex Owens and the romanticized prairie ramblers like The Sons of the Pioneers, Gene Autry and Tex Ritter. Slim’s ethereal yodel, his falsetto, that melodramatic quaver firmly puts him out in front of the silver screened prairie ramblers. Perhaps even above them. The first cosmic cowboy.

Slim’s voice is matched perfectly to his style. Thick, wavy hair greased down with a can of pomade, a perfectly groomed pencil thin mustache, white western suits adorned with stars, two-toned wingtips, sometimes spats, a two-toned big bodied Gretsch guitar with S.W. engraved on the base and stars sparkling at the corners.

Slim Whitman, born January 20, 1924

The next essential piece that made Slim Whitman was provided by someone else. Hoot Rains, Don Helms, Jerry Byrd, Sam Hodge, Tinker Fry all provided the quintessential steel guitar backdrop to Slim’s haunted records. I can no more imagine a Slim Whitman record without a high and shimmering steel guitar then I can picture him clean faced and shaved.

We’re left with the songs: Tears Can Never Drown the Flame, I’m Casting My Lasso Towards the Sky, My Heart Is Broken In Three, There’s a Rainbow In Every Teardrop, I Leave the Milky Way, At the End of Nowhere, In the Valley of the Moon, A Pedal From a Faded Rose. Yes, this happened, these songs were recorded and they’re every bit as great as you’re imagining them to be right now in your cluttered head.

End of the World, Slim Whitman

I’m Casting My Lasso Towards the Sky, Slim Whitman

I don’t really know that there ever was a time Slim did or even could have fit it. He’s this strange singer off in the shadows from center, like Roy Orbison or Edith Piaf. We need them though, these oddballs, these Slim Whitmans.

There’s a Grateful Dead lyric from a very Slim Whitman titled song called Scarlet Begonias that goes:

Once in awhile you get shown the light,

In the strangest of places if you look at it right.

That’s Slim Whitman to me.

Danny Boy, Slim Whitman

Post Script ~Slim Whitman is still riding those ponies, still lassoing the moon. His latest record, Twilight On the Trail, came out in 2010 and it’s a wonderful nod back to those gone, gone, gone days.

Blue Shadows On the Trail, Slim Whitman

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The Battle For the Basement


In the beginning of Jean Shepherd’s epic baseball rant “Balls” he tells us who he would choose to storm a German Pillbox in a sure bet suicide mission. It’s not the players, it’s the fans.

Tonight the battle for the American League basement really heats up. You could listen to it on the radio, but I wouldn’t recommend it, even if you’re an Astros’ fan.

Listen to Jean instead:

Jean Shepherd, Balls


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Clutter and Vinegar

egg tree

The room is cluttered. Whatever you’re imagining right now after reading those words double it. Triple it. Okay, ready? The room is cluttered. Let’s begin with the egg tree. The egg tree is a holdover from my childhood. On the Western Maryland farm where I grew up Pussy Willow grew wild and we would break of branches of the strange furry flowered plant and place them in mason jars tightly rubber banded together. On the branches we would hang eggs that we had been blowing out the yolks and collecting for weeks. The eggs had been dipped in different mixtures of vinegar and dye which left them pastel colored. Easter smells like vinegar to me. I remember from childhood Sunday school lessons that Jesus on the cross had asked for water to sooth his parched throat and the Roman soldier had lifted a cloth wet with vinegar to his lips instead. Easter has smelled like vinegar for a long time. There are no Pussy Willow branches to be found in the city. Our urban egg tree is a scraggly affair. It looks like a mash up of the Blair Witch Project and a Charlie Brown holiday special.

The Easter egg tree sits on top of a turntable which sits on top of a country chic cabinet painted rustic green. Beside it is a shelf filled with 50 or 60 LPs. Most of them are old country & western records. The covers gleam of rhinestones. Mixed in among that hillbilly heaven is the occasional Stan Getz or Edith Piaf album that gets played late on Friday nights after returning from a night out or early on Saturday mornings after rising to scramble eggs and make coffee. They are silenced now by the weight of the Easter egg tree.

The remnants of a 3 year old are everywhere. Hours after he’s been tucked into his bed his presence lingers in the form of matchbox cars, six out of ten jacks scattered across the coffee table and reined in by bumper guards, an electric guitar cord uncoiled on the carpet that earlier in the day had ceased being what it was and begun life anew as a fire hose.

There are four remote controls. Each lay on a different surface. All are purposed for the TV, yet each solitary in their function. It’s maddening.

There are many books; Books for school, books for pleasure, picture books, reference books. There are books that have been read, are being read, will be read and will never be read. British people were once taxed on how many books they owned. If that were still so, I believe my small three person family’s taxes would be greatly imbalanced to most of my countrymen. A TV tax would even that score I imagine.

The kitchen counter is covered in spice. It’s a homemade concoction of flour, garlic salt, cinnamon, and sprinkles not fit for human (or otherwise) consumption made by a 3 year old who likes to cook alongside his dad. Some of it made it into his bowl.

Each night the clutter, while never defeated, is held at bay. We bail out the living room like a slowly sinking lifeboat and hope it floats for one more day.

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Play Ball (with apologies to the Astros)

“For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”

Ernie Harwell (and King Solomon)

The Voice of the Turtle: Of Love and Baseball

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Rise Up


In November of 2012 Washington State voted to approve same-sex marriage. Shortly after election day I asked a friend of mine who had worked as a field director for Washington United for Marriage if she would talk with me about the experience. I recorded the conversation for KBCS radio.

First a small piece of personal history. The regular readers of The Real Mr. Heartache have perhaps noticed a decline in blog posts over the past few months. Well, after nearly 18 years I’m back in school. Truth be told, I’m a much better student now. Education was certainly wasted on my youth. The reasons I’m back in school are for another time, but life takes funny turns and I would not be the person I am now, had I not dropped out then – for better or worse.

In the years since then I’ve worked, not surprisingly, mostly in the service and retail industry. That kind of working life consists mainly of placating the insane and breaking down cardboard boxes. Whether school will be permanent relief or merely respite I do not know, but I am grateful for the current change.

That said, I will also always be grateful for some of the gifts working in the service industry has given me. I can touch extremely hot plates without burning my hands. I can drink endless amounts of coffee and still sleep soundly-ish. I can find my own book in a bookstore. Undoubtedly these are amazing skills, but the service industry also gave me a kick in the pants. I’ve worked alongside a wide swath of skin colors, legal statuses, genders, and sexuality. That changes a person. I can’t bust my ass next to an undocumented Mexican for ten hours a day in a kitchen who sends most of his paycheck to a family he doesn’t go home to at night and walk away thinking immigration is a cut and dry problem that a fence will fix. I can’t work alongside a gay man who’s been in a relationship for as long as I’ve been alive on this earth and not care that he and his partner don’t receive the same benefits I do after marrying my wife one year after meeting her. It’s heartening to see things changing. It’s sad to see spirituality held up as some sort of shield against these just and right changes. It’s bullshit really. This blog won’t change anyone’s mind. I’m not worried about that though anymore, because change is coming.

Change is coming.

A Conversation with Maggie Thompson, Field Director for Washington United for Marriage:

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Cheesecake Waitress Breaks Out


Today, January 28th, 2013 marks the 200 year anniversary of the publication of an obscure screenplay called Pride & Prejudice. The now widely praised, though little read script by Cheesecake Factory waitress and budding screenwriter, Jane Austen, languished in Hollywood limbo for close to 188 years before finally being made in 2001 into the classic we know and love: Bridget Jones’s Diary. Congrats Jane!

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Yawn. We’ve been through this all before, haven’t we? I must admit, and perhaps its my upbringing talking here, but this whole Mayan apocalypse just doesn’t have the drama of a good ol’ fashioned rapture. Where’s the moon turning to blood? Where’s the beast crawling out of the Sea? This end of days scenario can’t even decide what exactly is going to happen. Planetary collision? Alien attack? Black hole? Sloppy business, I tell you. They just don’t make apocalypses like they used to.

Anywho, I have nothing new to say about this particular one, so instead I’m gonna re-post some oldies, but goodies for your final moments of reading pleasure. Me? Well, no, I won’t be reading myself. I plan on looting. Cheers.

Seven Days Left

Six Days Left

Five Days Left

Four Days Left

Three Days Left

Two Days Left

One Day Left

The Rapture

The Second Coming, Redux

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