“Oh I wish I was… oh-oooooh-oh-oh… a Wild West heeeeee-ro!”
Not my words, reader, but the words of renowned poet, philosopher and scholar Jeff Lynne, taken from ELO’s 1977 prairie rock anthem ‘Wild West Hero’. It’s the sort of song you’d listen to as you watch the summer sun sink through the bars of your fifth-floor isolation hutch after a hard day of tending to bed sores, auditing your dwindling supplies of gin and Starbars and watching the majestic clouds of supercilious centrists flock home to roost in the Labour party – and dream of being back out there.
Out there in the glorious wildlands of Greggs and knife crime, of sticky Metros and four-inch pint heads. Oh to gaze once more upon the shirtless he-stag tumbling from a Wetherspoons on Curry Day, or feel the breeze from a wide-open Waitrose automatic doorway on your sun-kissed cheeks. To be an urban cowboy again.
As a child I used to listen to ‘Wild West Hero’ and fantasise about what it might be like to “ride the range all the day ‘til the first fading light”, but I knew, realistically, I was about as cowboy as I was amphibian. So it was heartening to read last week’s NME Big Read interview with Orville Peck, country’s curtain-jawed S&M Lone Ranger, in which the masked crooner explained that being ‘cowboy’ doesn’t just mean grits and gunfights and getting caught in rope traps. It’s an attitude.
“I think the rap world always has a lot of cowboy energy,” he said. “Megan Thee Stallion, Tierra Whack, that new crew. Doja Cat, who I really like, and Rico Nasty. I think with the new crop of – especially female – rappers, there’s a lot of cowboy energy going on there.” Lana Del Rey made his cowboy cut too: “She has a real lonely melancholy solitary power – which essentially is a cowboy.”
Suddenly, the saloon doors swung open for all-comers. Going ‘cowboy’ doesn’t necessarily mean Brandon Flowers growing a gunslinger moustache, pulling on a shoelace tie and making like Long John McBrightside. Cowboys can butt-clap. They can shimmy around swimming pools. They can rope their steers with magnificent nails and herd cattle from the back of a tinted stretch full of leopards and Lambrusco. They can be whoever they rootin’ tootin’ wanna be.
Damn right I want in. I’ve spent 243 hours picking flowers in Red Dead Redemption II, I’m ready. The tricky part is working out exactly what makes these acts so cowboy. If Lana has cowboy energy because of her “lonely melancholy solitary power”, then I’m most of the way there, if you replace “power” with “drunkenness” or “back pain”. But as I sit here trying to exude every ounce of lonely melancholy solitary power into the mirror I’m seeing not so much cowboy energy as bucktoothed, scrawny-bearded outlaw gang idiot who’s first to die in the shootout energy. I’ll never have Lana’s air of troubled desert enigma, looking like Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall if he’d made a series called Return To Chicken Cottage.
But studying the array of rappers, crooners and synth-poppers that Peck namechecks, a pattern emerges. What they have in common is a hardy individuality, an unspoken, no-nonsense confidence and the sort of steely glint in the eye that tells you that, if the need arises, they would be able to survive three months in the Rockies with just three matches and a knife for critter splitting. Anna Calvi‘s got it, for sure. Liam Gallagher, in spades. Declan McKenna, on the other hand – instant wolf meat.
But it’s something that even a pasty gag monkey like me can cultivate. So every day, from this point on, I’m going for my daily jog to gaze longingly through the window of The Dog & Duck with my forelock raised to the wind, a gallop in my step and the prairie on my mind. Maybe I’ll even wear a Peck mask; it probably counts as personal protective equipment.