Sharp as barbed wire, this song by James McMurtry encapsulates the flat vast emptiness of West Texas. It illuminates the motivations of the original settlers, as well as those tangled up in lives of low expectations, contemplating escape.
Levelland sits 30 miles west of Lubbock, on the Llano Estacado, in or near the Texas Panhandle, depending on where you draw the line. The town gained infamy in 1957 as the site of a series of UFO sightings, including sightings by the sheriff and the fire chief. But Levelland was originally written about Floydada, Texas, which is located about 70 miles northeast of Levelland. It is easy to see how the name, Floydada could never serve as the inspiration for any song and would never capture anyone’s imagination.
McMurtry is known for his sardonic wit and his honest telling of pointed stories of life in the forgotten flyover regions of America. It’s no wonder that he is as well known for his lyrics as he is for his assertive guitar playing; his mother was an English teacher and his father is Larry McMurtry, the novelist behind The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment, and Lonesome Dove.
If you’re ever in Austin on a Wednesday night, be sure to check out McMurtry’s midnight show with The Heartless Bastards at the Continental Club.
“Levelland” selected lyrics:
“Flatter than a tabletop
Makes you wonder why they stopped here
Wagon must have lost a wheel or they lacked ambition one”
“And I watch those jet trails carving up that big blue sky
Coast to coasters watch ‘em go
And I never would blame ‘em one damn bit
If they never looked down on this
Not much here they’d wanna know”