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Remembering Felina

Country Musings by Robert Loy, January 2007

Recently, I started going back and rereading books that meant a lot to me as a child or as a young man. Obviously, I'm a different person now than I was when I encountered these works, and it's interesting to compare my reactions now to my reactions then.

For instance, I used to just devour the Carter Brown Mystery books. I had dozens of them, and I loved them all, mainly for the witty repartee, the naughty parts and those gorgeous Robert McGinnis covers. Unfortunately, today I find them unreadable. The repartee ain't that witty, the naughty parts ain't that naughty and - worst of all - the books average over six adverbs a page (yes, I did the math), and like all good writers, I despise adverbs those little -ly leeches on the rear end of good prose. (I have however started collecting the books again because those McGinnis covers are even better than I remember.)

I've been doing the same thing with movies too. Whereas before when I watched something like "The Graduate," I identified with the Dustin Hoffman character and thought he was cool, now I identify with the parents and can't understand why they give that wishy-washy whiner a swift kick.

So, I wanted to see if it would work with music. It's a lot harder because most of the music I loved as a young person, I still have active access to, so I don't have that distance necessary to get a fresh look. Or if I happen to hear a song I haven't heard in 30 years, 9 times out of 10 I can still sing along with every word.

But through certain yoga techniques, I was recently able to clear my head of all preconceptions and listen to an old country classic like I'd never heard it before. I chose "El Paso" by the great Marty Robbins. It is probably impossible to underestimate this song's influence on me. My "type" of woman is one with dark hair and dark eyes and a certain Latin flair. And I think that's because Felina was my first crush. I'm still boycotting the Old El Paso company for desecrating this masterpiece in an ad campaign a few years ago.

Suffice it to say, I like this song a lot.

But listening to it as though for the first time, things are different. It's still a tragedy, but not because of the two young lovers kept apart by a wild, young cowboy, a hot temper and ultimately a bullet in the chest. It's a tragedy because that cowboy can't see that Felina is nothing but trouble. I guess his mother never warned him about Cantina dancers. I can see him getting angry enough to kill after she betrayed him - although maybe she didn't; maybe there's a perfectly innocent explanation; this fool never waited around long enough to find out - but who, oh why, would he risk certain death to go back to a girl he couldn't trust. It makes no sense. All of a sudden, my favorite song has gone from a sagebrush "Romeo and Juliet" to the male version of "Fatal Attraction."

Okay, whoa, whoa, I don't want to do this anymore. Music is too sacred to play around with like that. Next thing you know I'll be eating Old El Paso salsa and dating blondes.