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National Finals Rodeo

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© Paul Zarzyski. All rights reserved. These words may not be reprinted or reposted without the author's written permission.

In celebration of the 54th annual National Finals Rodeo concluding in Las Vegas on Saturday, Dec. 15th, we offer the opening track of maestro, Wylie Gustafson’s 2009 CD, Hang-n-Rattle!  The song, “Ain’t No Life After Rodeo,” is taken, purt-near verbatim, from the kick-off poem to my 1996 collection, All This Way for The Short Ride:

Ain’t No Life After Rodeo
            The Polish-Hobo-Rodeo-Poet’s Commencement
            Address—To the Chagrin of Every Graduate’s
            Mother—At the College of Buckaroo Knowledge

There ain’t no life after rodeo
Sulled-up old cowboys will tell you so

So when you feel your spur-lick weaken
And your bareback riggin’ goes to leakin’

Bury your gripper elbow-deep
To hell with looking before you leap!

Fight for those holts, sight down that mane
Spit in the face of age and pain

Give that hammerhead a hardware bath
Dazzle the judges with 90s math

Spur the rivets off your Wranglers
A cappella rowels don’t need danglers

Rake like a maniac, tick for tick
Tip your Resistol, flick the crowd’s Bic

Fast-feet-fast-feet, gas-it-and-mash
Toes turned out with each jab and slash

Insanity, love, plus aggression
Call it passion, call it obsession

Adrenalined fury, 200 proof
Like guzzling moonshine up on the roof

Running on Bute, LeDoux songs and caffeine
You rollicking, rosined-up spurring machine

Too lazy to work, too scared to steal
Slaving for wages bushwhacks your zeal

So charge that front-end for those 8
You ain’t no rodeo reprobate!

Grit each stroke out with every tooth
You’re swimming the cowboyfountain of youth

Love that sunfish and love that high-dive
Believe you will ride ‘til you’re 95.

            For Wayne Bronson, Tracy Mikes, Jerry Valdez, Ted Kimzey,
                        Bob Burkhart, Bill Larsen, Del Nose, Deb Greenough…


I climbed down aboard my very first bareback bronc, summer of ’74, at the Flint Creek Valley Days Rodeo in Philipsburg, Montana.  The palomino mare I drew was named Sheba. I marked her out, fell off on the second jump, Sheba stepped ever-so-cautiously on my leg, the crowd cheered politely out of sympathy, and I was hooked for life. Or so I thought.

I continued my pursuit of the classic spur ride for the next 12-13 years.  I probably should say “seasons,” instead of “years,” as we seldom, aside from an occasional punkin roller north of The Medicine Line (up in Alberta), rode a winter show—unfortunately, never bankrolled enough winnings during the summer and fall to travel south for the big PRCA pitchin’s. Side-by-romantic-side with my poetry- and lyric-writing passions, rodeo was without a doubt the grandest adventure of my life.  Poetry-n-Rodeo, Riding-n-Writing. And so much common ground between the two, as evidenced by the dozens of poems and co-written songs hammered out at the creative forges of this brace of passions.

After hanging my hooks up in January of 1987, after competing at the Montana Pro-Rodeo Circuit Finals in Great Falls, I tormented in the sudden absence of such physical exhilaration.  Later, during that same month, however, I attended my first (of 27, so far) National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV.  From out of the chute into the rodeo arena, to out from behind the curtain into the poetry arena. And believe me, some stages have drilled my Polish-Eyetalian ticker in the dirt every bit as vehemently as did triple-rank broncs I forked—Reg Kesler’s Three Bars and Linger’s Strawberry, to name just a couple.

In the spring of 91, after turning 40, I entered my first Senior Pro Circuit show, in Tempe, Arizona, where I was booked to perform in a cowboy poetry and music show—in that very same arena—later that evening.  Made my ride, placed in the “cryin’ hole,” (check out the Wylie-Paul co-write, “Cryin Hole Blues,”) lost my entry fees, but won a boot full of soft, hot simoleons for spurrin’ the words wild. Life, for a Rodeo Poet, couldn’t get much better.  That summer, I wrote “Ain’t No Life After Rodeo,” and recall reciting it to 4-5 Roughies behind the bucking chutes in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Then, two years later, after a pathetic performance at the Senior Pro Finals in Reno, I called it quits “for good.” 

As I recently prefaced a recitation to my poem “The Bucking Horse Moon”—at the 2012 Monterey Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival—“it’s been 20 years since I forked a buckin’ horse on purpose.”  What I didn’t admit aloud to that audience is that it’s been at least 5 years since I lost the craving, altogether.  I can’t help but to be reminded of that marvelous S. Omar Barker poem, “Retired Bronc Rider” (Rawhide Rhymes, Doubleday and Company, 1968), the closing stanza of which reads:

Yessir, these broncs you youngsters ride (Ol’ Baldy kinder grins)
They ain’t got what it takes to make you sorry for your sins!
Seems like they lack the dynamite the old ‘uns had inside ‘em—
But just the same, I’m glad I’m old—so I don’t have to ride ‘em!

But I still sortta like to watch from the distance.  And reminisce.  

Paul Zarzyski

Ain’t No Life After Rodeo from the CD Hang-n-Rattle! by Wylie & the Wild West, is now available on SoundCloud [click here].

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© Paul Zarzyski, 2012-15
created 12.14.12