Bright Lights, Little City: James Hand 

The ongoing “Bright Lights, Little City” column is a place for our staff and customers to share their Austin anecdotes — no coffee required. This month, Little City’s Joel Shuler starts us off with the melancholy of Country music. 

In his revisionist history podcast, Malcolm Gladwell puts forth the hypothesis that Country music makes people cry because it is not afraid to be specific. And with James Hand, you get the feeling that he ain’t delving into self pity as much as he is just stating the specific facts of his life. 

"When you stopped loving me, so did I
Ain't it strange, now we both see eye to eye
Neither one of us, cares if I live or die
When you stopped loving me, so did I" 

Then again, maybe the only thing that could make me respect the guy more than his genuine authenticity is if the opposite were true — if he worked in Dell’s tech support department troubleshooting business servers during the day and at night could flip a switch and bam, out comes James Hand. 

I have two James Hand stories that I find myself going back to. When I first moved to Austin, I couldn't get a job. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could fill a day of an Austin tour of “places that wouldn’t hire me.” I would go to Ginny's Little Longhorn a few times a week to blow off some steam and drink through whatever spare change I had left from groceries, buying cans of Pearl for a buck. When I heard James play for the first time, I was so impressed I felt the need to buy him a beer. I offered to buy him a Lonestar, which, given my financial means at the time, meant I was likely going home a few sheets shy of my original intent. His response: "No sir, I am going to buy YOU a beer." It was the best damn beer I have ever had. 

About 10 years later, I took the Amtrak from Austin to Little Rock to visit my grandmother before she passed away. Knowing it was the last time I would see her, I was in a pretty morose mood, which was not helped by the rather gloomy view the Amtrak route gives you of the US - not so much A City of New Orleans picturesque Americana as it seems to be a run-on view of America’s back alleys and junkyards.  On the way back the train stopped in Fort Worth outside the stock yards, and who boarded the train with his guitar? He looked spent, and I was too. I didn’t feel the need to engage like I had a decade ago. It seemed like the best thing I could offer him was some space and peace and quiet. And I had all I needed. I was on a train, in Fort Worth, outside the stockyards, sharing a passenger car with a modern day Jimmie Rodgers. 

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