Cowboy Poetry

daniel thomas

The Minneapolis City Pages referred to the band from Cottonwood as art-dorks. Not wrong. We came by our love for poetry honestly. Emmett and Austin Dacey were raised by published poets with multiple Masters in English and Literature. And I pretty much grew up in the Dacey home where I fell in love with the titles on the family’s bookshelf. But let’s not forget that some of us were cowboys too. My father considered himself to be a cowboy-preacher, and the bookshelf in my house had titles by Zane Gray. My family had horses, cowboy boots, cowboy hats, and lariats.  

Chili Eating Contest

In the fall of 1989, several of the band members lived together in a single house in Minneapolis, and someone had a job at a VHS video rental store. Almost every night was movie night at THE SWOON house. Troy Baartman and I went through a significant number of Westerns, and we might have watched the 1988 Young Guns three or four times. Also a favorite was the 1970 They Call Me Trinity.

Troy and I made a cowboy’s wager to see who could go the longest eating nothing, and I mean nothing, other than canned Hormel Chili. We figured its what cowboys would do. The competition lasted for several days. I ate nothing but canned chili for about a week when I discovered fast food wrappers cleverly concealed the kitchen garbage and demanded payment of my $20.00. Troy conceded, but goll-dern, I don’t remember if he ever paid me.

Lariats and Laureates

Spoken Word performance and poetry were part of THE SWOON live show from early on—and back in those days, nobody was doing that kind of thing. Rock bands didn’t roll into a Minneapolis nightclub and start reading poems or telling stories. But THE SWOON did. I believed that rock & roll provided the only viable venue that remained for poetry in the modern era, and I intended to exploit it. On one occasion, we did a performance in which several poets (one of them a Poet Laureate from Nebraska) took the stage with the band to read their poetry accompanied by our music. The Dacey’s returned to that concept in STRONG MEASURES, a spoken-word performance group they did with their father, Phil Dacey, after the dissolution of THE SWOON. So, yeah, we were art-dorks. Cowboy art-dorks.

A Cowboy’s Christmas

All of that more-or-less explains the origin of the spoken word piece titled “A Cowboy’s Christmas.” I pulled it out for a live show not more than two or three times, and only when seasonally appropriate. By good luck, one of those readings got caught on video tape as Mark Derby recorded a show at the Minneapolis New Union Club. But I also mailed a copy of the poem to THE SWOON’s mailing list along with 1989 holiday greetings from the band.

I had not seen the forgotten poem since 1990, not until my father passed into the world of truth in April 2020. My sister discovered a copy of it in his papers and keepsakes. The old cowboy preacher must have liked the cowboy poetry because he held onto it for thirty years. So did THE SWOON super-fan Brad Swenson, whose original 1989 copy of the poem now appears in the video.

Happy Holidays from THE SWOON.

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