The “Train Song” by Federale: Devil’s Tower and the legend of 19,000 foot trees

As I’ve been reporting, my son-in-law is on the final leg of a massive motorcycle ride across the United States that he started weeks ago.  Now he’s in South Dakota after snapping the picture of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming shown here which had my mind racing.  Devil’s Tower, some are saying these days is actually a giant petrified tree, a tree that used to be 19,000 feet tall.  While that might sound outstanding, and even outlandish, given what we are learning about our own hidden history its worth considering.  After all, we are talking about an area that Paul Bunyan’s legends started.  Who knows, but what we do know is that it’s a cool place and I’m very happy my son-in-law is finally in this part of the country.  It is the heart of the Old West and is an exciting place on earth full of legends, mystery and the culmination of human achievement unleashed for the first time.

Thank God for Pandora because I spend a lot of time in my garage these days shooting my Ruger Vaquero and practicing Cowboy Fast Draw, and my workout music is typically Ennio Morricone who is best known for his spaghetti western tracks conducted in the 60s. I have several reasons for getting involved with Cowboy Fast Draw—which has been quite a challenge for me because it has required a psychological shift.  The skills needed for it are much different from those for which I am known for, which is bullwhip artistry.  There are very few people in the world that can put out a candle with a bullwhip and I’m one of them, so it would have been easy to just sit on that skill and use it as a novelty item into larger opportunities.  But I was never quite satisfied with that.  I always wanted to become very fast and proficient with a classic Old West six-gun without really having a strong sense of why.  I’ve thought about it a lot and the articulation is pretty complex, and seeing my son-in-law’s photos from the Devil Tower region hit on something I have been thinking hard about for about 25 years.  Then I heard one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard on Pandora while I was reloading my Vaquero in my garage shooting range between practice sessions.  It was the “Train Song” by the rock group Federale.  Obviously they were very inspired by Ennio Morricone and it was refreshing to hear new, fresh music done in that style.  But that had been at the core of my thinking for a long time—why was that music so special to me and what was it about that South Dakota and Wyoming region of the world that has always meant so much to me?  If I had to be honest with myself I had joined the CFDA to go out west and shoot with other fast draw artists because I didn’t want to just visit the west from time to time—I wanted to become part of its mythology—and that is why I joined the CFDA.  And if I were to have a theme song for my journey it would be that “Train Song.”

Here’s where things get confusing since we are in the age of Donald Trump where the word fascism gets thrown around a lot.  Well, Trump isn’t a fascist and it certainly wasn’t a bunch of fascist white people who took over the west in the Dakota Territory and pushed the Indians off their land for evil intentions.  The people who inhabited that region of the world were fleeing the tyranny of the Vico cycle inherited from Europe and they wanted freedom from essentially the four-part cycle of theocracy, aristocracy, democracy and ultimately anarchy which had painted all known history. That battle was a clash between eastern and western ideas on the plains of America and became the legends of the Old West.  The Indians represented the eastern philosophy of collectivism whereas the cowboys and gunslingers of western legend represented mankind’s struggle for freedom.   Facism in Italian is a word meaning “groupism” or collectivism and it was precisely that which the “white people” were running from in westward expansion colliding with the Indian culture that had at that time inhabited the area.  Now I don’t consider Indians or whatever you want to call them Native Americans because they were essentially no different from the gunslingers of the Old West, they too were seeking freedom in another land from their ancestral heritage of South America, China, Russia and the Mediterranean region.    Perhaps even further back to a time when people were much larger and trees were a lot taller—more Pandora -like.  When I listen to Ennio Morricone’s spaghetti western tracks from the Sergio Leone westerns I hear people who were using their hope in American inspired imaginations to shake off their role in the fascism of Mussolini.   The music is very individualistic and in many ways Sergio and Ennio captured America’s westerns better than American filmmakers did because they had the baggage of fascism to shake off their culture and they used westerns to make their case.   The desire to not be associated with fascism I think is what makes Morricone’s music on those spaghetti westerns so special.

So I’m listening to Pandora in my garage and a Morricone song drifted off and I was ready to hit the advance button to get to the next one but I was putting shells into my Vaquero so my hands weren’t readily available to make the move when I heard the start of the “Train Song“ by Federale and I was captivated.  What a marvelous piece of music, nothing like it had been done since Ennio Morricone had done it for a movie soundtrack half a century earlier yet the song seemed more at home today than it would have back then.  The reason of course is the politics of our day and the human desire for an authentic experience.  It was the reason my son-in-law was on his massive motorcycle journey and why I had joined the Cowboy Fast Draw Association—the hunt for an authentic life.  Ultimately that is what came to war in the Dakota Territory where east met west and the west won.  The difference maker was two things, the equality that the gun gave to people for the first time in human history.

Anyone could shoot a gun so being a big man or a fast man didn’t have much to do with success in the west.  You just needed to know how to shoot straight, the gun did all the work.  Learning to appreciate that has been my difficulty in switching from a bullwhip to a six-gun as my preferred western arts point of focus. I enjoyed the exclusivity of working with bullwhips because not many people could use them the way I did.  And that was the mistake the Indians made; they relied on over specialization of their warrior class to keep the migrating frontiersman out of their land.  But it didn’t work, the frontiersman had guns, the Indians didn’t.  What they managed to steal from the white people they had to keep loaded with ammunition so they were always at a loss to the encroaching “whites.”  But is that the fault of the “whites” who settled the Old West.  No.

Having firearms to protect themselves and advance their position white settlers were free to mine for gold which gave America a much-needed jump in the world economy with the Gold Rush period.  The combination of guns and gold unleashed the human potential of the human race for the better and those two things were never better rendered than in the Ennio Morricone music of the 1960s.  Because of the Italian history with fascism he saw probably clearer than any other artist in the world what was going on in America and he captured all the hopes, dreams and pitfalls with his very crafty notes which have stood alone in our imaginations for half a century.  That is until finally a modern rock group decided to make new music in the same type of spirit, and they were actually successful.

On the surface westerns look incredibly simple, just like the landscape of Wyoming and South Dakota.  That is until you start thinking that perhaps Devil’s Tower wasn’t formed by high pressure magma from under the earth’s crust, but may have been a 19,000 foot tree at some point in the distant past.  Listening to old Indian legends such things take on new meaning if you really listen to what the world is telling us.   But for millions of years life on earth struggled to find its own footing without become tyrannies in and of themselves and long before the “whites” came to the West Indians fought among themselves.  Life was not in harmony before frontiersman settled the western territories of a young America.   The “whites” brought peace behind their war, and their guns and now in modern times my son-in-law can ride safely across that vast landscape without much worry.  That is because our American culture tamed the land to the will of human kind and the hopes and dreams that came with it.  Those lofty goals are what Ennio Morricone’s music has always been about and now the group Federale has captured that same spirit, refreshingly.  I know the “Train Song” is my new favorite and I will listen to it often—especially while I’m practicing Cowboy Fast Draw in my garage preparing for competitions all across America.  I can’t think of any song that better tells such a story and lends its weight to the philosophy of western expansion rising above the mess of conflict to the idea of a better day for all humanity.

Rich Hoffman

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