Banjo Jones, Brazoria County’s strongest and handsomest blogger, has brought to our attention the news that Dennis Kucinich, in what appears to be an oblique attack on the Obama administration for not pushing hard enough on a public health-care option, has invoked the memory of long-dead cowboy star Roy Rogers and his faithful long-stuffed ride, Trigger (perhaps he’s metaphorically equating O to a dead horse, it’s hard to tell, although that would suggest a heretofore unseen level of wit on the congressman’s part).* Banjo, whose upbringing apparently was similar to ours, confesses that as a very small person RR was his hero--perhaps second only to Jesus in the pantheon?--and that he was so eaten up with the man that he demanded to be called “Roy” and wore a cowboy hat nearly ’round the clock.
We, too, were besotted with Roy, we presume through repeated exposure to the Roy Rogers Show, which we must have been consciously viewing even before it was in the rerun cycle. Roy looms large in one of our earliest childhood memories/traumas: We were vacationing with our family in Galveston--the Jack Tar Inn being the preferred vacation destination until the rising affluence of the 1960s swept us to more exotic locales, such as Destin, Fla.--and playing on the beach with a set of small plastic figures (We called them “Little Men,” as in, “We’re gonna make these Little Men the Japs and these Little Men over here are gonna kill ’em all.”) that included representations of Roy and Trigger and possibly second bananas such as wife Dale Evans and TV sidekick Pat Brady. We had positioned Roy and Trigger, who must have been our prized possessions, atop a sand castle when an unexpected wave broke over the beach and swept Roy and his plastic steed out to sea. Forever. We have a faint Kodochromatic visual memory of searching frantically in the waves for the disappeared Roy while a sub-set of older relatives, sunning their flaccid and pasty skin on the beach, chuckled at the spectacle. We positively recall crying inconsolably over our loss. When our kids were younger and hung up on some piece of molded plastic from Wal-Mart our parents delighted in telling them the story of Roy’s disappearance at sea, an incident which of course we have now transubstantiated into a Grand Metaphor of Loss of Innocence, or sump’in. Jimi Hendrix wrote a song about it.
Looking back, we can’t fathom Roy’s widespread appeal, except for the fact that he always kicked the bad guys’ arses. From this vantage point, he looks to be just a square-jawed puffball of puddin' and virtue, nothing much to distinguish him, except from certain angles now his face definitely projects an Asiatic quality (seriously--check it out!). He lacked any semblance of edge, as compared to, say, Gene Autry, who as a younger man aspired to Sing Like a Negro and performed passably well at it, and who in the episodes of his TV show we catch on the all-Western cable channel looks more distracted than earnest, like he’s got business elsewhere and needs to walk through the scene as quickly as possible so he can get on with becoming an incredibly rich guy/baseball magnate. Our late ‘50s worship of Roy soon gave way to maniacal adulation of Mickey Mantle (a damnable by-product of which was a devotion to reading the sports page, which we trace to the Mantle-Maris home race of the summer of ’61), which then gave way to sublimated man-love of Bob Cousey, allegiance to whom we eventually shifted to another Bob, Dylan, who soon had to make way for Faulkner, William ... which was about our last stop for the hero worship route.
Then there was the always touchy question of Roy’s relationship with his ineffectual comic sidekicks, that hoary literary trope dating to Sancho Panza and beyond. On TV that role was filled by the aforementioned Brady, who never had a chick (or gal, as they were sometimes called) and instead spent his days riding an old jeep he called Nelly Belle, which often wouldn’t start or sometimes broke down when the bad guys were on his tail, while Roy consorted with Dale and never failed to shoot off his 6-gun. Hmm ... (To this day we cannot hear the Stones’ Start Me Up on a commercial for credit cards or an erectile-dysfunction medicine, whatever they’re using it to sell, without a picture of Pat Brady, struggling to fire Nelly Belle’s ignition, passing through our mind.)
Earlier, in the movies, Roy’s sidekick was played by the wispy-bearded George “Gabby” Hayes, perhaps the quintessential sidekick, a true exemplar of the Olde Weird America, much more fly-specked and funkier and easier to imitate than the smooth-shaven and TV-ready Brady. Gabby apparently was quite promiscuous in his sidekick duties, performing them under not only Roy and Autry but also Hopalong Cassady as well as John Wayne and Randolph Scott. That boy got around! We were never clear on on the true nature of Gabby’s relationships with these Alpha types, but check out the potential Brokeback scenario in this video segment, wherein Gabby and Roy are bivouacked in a room by their lonesomes while just outside some non-gay callebreros and their ladies jounce on the dance floor. The song these two sequestered cowpokes are singing? It’s called We’re Not Comin‘ Out Tonight ...
*Say what you will about Kucinich, but he far and away has the best-looking wife of any perennial presidential candidate, perhaps in our nation’s history, and that would include the late Mrs. Harold Stassen.