In 2016, “soundtrack for an imaginary film” is a notion long since exhausted. You drop the needle, you expect Gauloises noir, spaghetti twang or neon synth and invariably that’s exactly what you get. In 1975 though, when the concept was one yet unimagined, Terry Allen chose to not only write the rulebook at the first attempt but pretty much make every other imaginary score redundant with his country concept album, Juarez.
To best understand the impetus that drives artists ranging from the Neanderthals to an outsider artist like Judith Scott to a small town fellow like Terry Allen, consider this line: “Everyman he got to leave his mark/So I got my pencil and I got my chalk/and there ain’t a rock made I can’t make talk. ” It’s a verse from the piano-pounded “Writing on Rocks Across the USA” from Allen’s 1975 debut album, and in the next verse he scales a cliff in the midst of a Galveston hurricane with a pencil in hand, boasting: “I scribbled down some of the mysteries and I stopped that howling wind. ” Is there a more succinct image of artistic futility than graphite put to granite amid gale winds? That artistic impulse must have felt like an alien transmission for someone like Terry Allen, who was raised in a small Texas town.
Terry Allen is exactly the kind of artists who should have a cult-classic record (or two) under his belt. He has made some serious country-influenced, singer-songwriter records, the kind that are full of memorable lines and characters, full of death and sex and booze (not always in that order). But Allen is also an accomplished visual artist, with pieces showing in museums across the world.
Terry Allen—Juarez (Paradise of Bachelors)Terry Allen is a Texan, so it makes sense that his life sounds like a tall tale. Raised by a baseball player, he grew up to be a multi-media artist. Amongst his exploits are “Modern Communication,” a statue of a businessman with a shoe in his mouth, a tie blindfolding his eyes, and fingers in his ears, which was commissioned to sit in front of the Kansas City government’s communications center; “Trees” which he planted lead-wrapped eucalyptus trees wired to play records if poetry and music in a grove on the UCSD campus; a credit for helping pull together the soundtrack of David Byrne movie True Stories.
Although he’s yet to attain the stature of his more renowned Texas peers like Willie Nelson, Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, or Lyle Lovett, Terry Allen holds a special place in the annals of the Lone Star State’s musical lore. Widely respected as a songwriter, artist, visionary and collaborator (Guy Clark, Lucinda Williams and David Byrne are among those with whom he’s worked), Allen’s music always remained one step ahead of the masses, and therefore somewhat lofty and cerebral in terms of its set-ups. His first album, Juarez, was a typical case in point; both daring and descriptive, its original release in 1975 proved an auspicious if unlikely debut.