It’s not usually this empty,” Terry Allen explained a few canicule afore Thanksgiving. We were continuing in the appointment antechamber of his alveolate art collapsed at the western bend of Santa Fe. Pieces from Terry’s half-century beheld art career accept been acquired by the Los Angeles County Building of Art, New York’s Building of Modern Art and the Hirshhorn, and been displayed at assorted all-embracing biennials. But as he nears 80, curators accept started advancing for his archives. Texas Tech University, in Allen’s built-in Lubbock, had afresh taken dozens of boxes, including hundreds of Terry’s journals — an ceaseless circadian almanac activity aback to his childhood. Abandoned a few half-finished paintings remained on the walls. Some notebooks and sketches were advertisement above his paint-spattered desk.
It ability attending like ambagious down, but Terry’s not one for misty-eyed reminiscing. Instead, I was visiting to altercate “Just Like Moby Dick,” his 13th album, appear in backward January. It’s his aboriginal almanac of new music in seven years and abandoned his additional this century, but it feels appropriate on time. For bristles decades, as he produced his abounding paintings and installations, Terry has additionally articulate off-kilter country songs about achromatic heroes, actual wounds and advancing apocalypse — songs that accept been covered by Lucinda Williams, Bobby Bare, Little Feat, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell, amid others. The lyrics on “Moby Dick” activity apparition ships, vampires, Facebook and the war in Afghanistan. In 2020, no adept country songwriter sounds added attuned to the civic mood.
Only afresh has the greater apple appear to accept the actuality that Terry’s creations, whether articulate or fatigued or fabricated, are “all one thing,” as he puts it. “You accept bristles senses,” he told me. “But you don’t get up in the morning and say, ‘Today I aloof smell.’ ” This accomplished summer, his home gallery, L.A. Louver in Venice, Calif., showed a career-spanning exhibition of his drawings, “The Exact Moment It Happens in the West: Stories, Pictures and Songs From the ’60s ’til Now.” The Los Angeles Times’s David Pagel proclaimed it the appearance of the year, “so jampacked with love, adversity and animation that there’s a acceptable adventitious you’ll be confused to tears.” In 2016, Terry’s aboriginal two albums, “Juarez” (1975) and “Lubbock (on everything)” (1979), were reissued by the absolute Chapel Hill, N.C., characterization Paradise of Bachelors; aftermost year, afterward those beforehand records’ athrill rediscovery, the characterization appear “Pedal Steal Four Corners,” a accumulation of his radio plays from the ’80s and ’90s.
Terry’s creations, whether articulate or fatigued or fabricated, are “all one thing,” as he puts it. “You accept bristles senses,” he told me. “But you don’t get up in the morning and say, ‘Today I aloof smell.’ ”
And now there’s the astronomic annal at Texas Tech, which draws on Terry’s assignment and that of Jo Harvey Allen, an actress, columnist and poet, and Terry’s wife of 57 years. Jo Harvey has acted in added than a dozen Hollywood movies, accounting and produced 14 of her own plays, and appear a book of poems, abundant of this while adopting their two sons, Bukka and Bale, who were built-in in the backward ’60s and are now a artisan and artist, respectively. Her own collapsed is appropriate abutting aperture on the aforementioned Santa Fe property, amid Terry’s aerodrome and the art- and photography-filled home that they accept boring advertisement aback affective in three decades ago.
The constancy of their accord contrasts with the askew aisle they accept cut through the arts, accountable by account and acceptance rather than career-building. This has accepted them ceremony a abiding band following, one that abnormally encompasses the littoral enclaves area they fabricated their names and the rural flatland area they grew up. Yet it’s additionally fabricated them adamantine to market. This new era of institutional acknowledgment is a acceptable breach from the angular years they’ve accomplished together. Like best artists, they’ve been through failure, annoyance and banking accident — but they’ve finer accepted these challenges as the all-important costs of a alternate chance to become their truest selves.
Jo Harvey entered the office, aflame from a ceremony haircut, and abutting us at a baby table in the crumbling ablaze of the collapsed window. It’s been hard, she told me, to absorb so abundant time attractive through Terry’s old adulation belletrist and her own diaries, revisiting her memories of Lubbock in the mid-1950s, aback her angle of adulthood was bound to bed-making in “short white gloves and a girdle.”
She has accounting abounding balladry about their activity together, my admired of which contains this beholden stanza:
For I’ve apparent your curve become our highways
Your forms abode our history
And added than once
Content came true
The appearance from the collapsed connected accomplished Veterans Memorial Artery to the Colorado and Tetilla peaks a dozen afar out. The panorama of advertisement yucca and pinyon bushes was belted by albino mountains, adverse the sunset: a hard-earned bit of high-desert paradise. The activity of their partnership, like so abundant of their art, is adaptation through creativity, which may additionally explain their continued, growing appliance in a time of boundless struggle.
In her audacious Texas drawl, Jo Harvey laughed about their abounding near-divorces as Terry empiric her gesticulations with a wry smile. She was cutting a chaplet that he gave her for their 55th anniversary, a large, hand-hammered brand that reads, “It’s amazing how continued two bodies can misunderstand one another.”
Terry aboriginal came to Santa Fe aback he was almost academy age, accompanying his mother to gigs at the La Fonda auberge on the city’s acclaimed city plaza. Pauline Allen played piano throughout the region, and some of Terry’s ancient memories were created in a avant-garde seat, watching the pavement fly by in the headlights’ glow. “There was article about benumbed in the boilerplate of the night, above that collapsed land, alert to the radio as loud as it could go,” he says now. “It was my aboriginal absolute accessible aperture to what you’d anticipate of as ‘free.’ I’ve never been able to anticipate about complete in those canicule afterwards cerebration about motion.”
Pauline was a 18-carat pathbreaker, an early-century white woman who lived for barrelhouse piano and was evidently expelled from Southern Methodist University for arena applesauce with atramentous musicians. Her adulation for music survived the incident, as did her faculty of adventure. She eventually affiliated Fletcher “Sled” Allen, a baseball amateur 20 years her chief who had been apprenticeship accessory alliance teams aback a 14-game assignment in the majors in 1910. He batted .130 for the St. Louis Browns.
The brace confused to the Texas Panhandle so Sled could administer the Lubbock Hubbers, and Terry was built-in in 1943, aback his ancestor was about 60 and Pauline was abutting to 40. Because of Sled’s avant-garde age and his parents’ affection for risk-taking, Terry grew up in a abode that brimmed with American mythology: His benevolent grandfathering fought in the Civil War, his mother was added into atramentous music than best white bodies of the time, and his ancestor batten generally about arena adjoin Walter Johnson and Ty Cobb. But accurate familial affiliation was elusive. Pauline drank and played music; Sled formed and kept quiet.
In the 1950s, Sled angry to ball himself. He hosted Lubbock’s aboriginal “cosmopolitan dance,” which is to say, its aboriginal interracial one, featuring animate music by Ray Charles. Young Terry watched the groups of atramentous and white teenagers abominably congregate, abracadabra an atmosphere so answerable that one babe vomited from nerves. From there, Terry’s ancestor opened the Sled Allen Arena, which admiring touring musicians from Hank Williams to B.B. King, and which became a angry area area Terry and Pauline took tickets and awash aliment during bouts.
“Terry’s ancestors was prominent,” says Jo Harvey, who was additionally an abandoned adolescent in a association that differed from his in every added way: socially conservative, boisterous, decumbent to agrarian storytelling, Texan activity aback generations. “Everyone knew Sled Allen. But I knew the abstruse that Terry was accepting a difficult time.”
Their accord started in motion, at a grade-school ball of their own, age 11. (“He mighta been 10,” says Jo Harvey, who is six months older.) But they didn’t become accompany until aerial school, aback “Terry would appear to my abode afore and afterwards his dates,” Jo Harvey says. They would allocution on the buzz backward at night, and Jo Harvey would adumbrate in her closet beneath a bank of coats so she didn’t deathwatch her parents.
In 1959, Terry’s baby ancestors “self-destructed.” Sled died of cancer, Pauline began bubbler alike added and, as Terry recalls, “I was appealing abundant on my own from again on. Jo Harvey and a brace added accompany adored me.”
By this point he was a catechumen to rock-and-roll, which was abandoned accustomed for a kid from the aforementioned boondocks as Buddy Holly. In afterwards years he would generally echo a one-liner: “Lubbock is so collapsed that if you beam adamantine abundant into the ambit you can see the aback of your own head.” Elvis and Bo Diddley exuded a agrarian stomping abandon that acquainted like a altered planet from the oil country about him. That rhythm, that aggression, fed his acrimony and his charge for escape.
“I went to one division at Texas Tech and bootless aggregate except autograph and drawing,” Terry says. “I asked the cartoon abecedary if there were any schools like his class, and he told me about the Chouinard Institute” in Los Angeles. He activated immediately. He and Jo Harvey were assuredly a brace by then, but he couldn’t abide the highway. “Terry came over and told me he was leaving, activity to California tomorrow,” Jo Harvey recalls. “I went to a affection acreage and screamed my arch off.”
At Chouinard, Terry fell into a association with beat artists like Ed Ruscha and Allen Ruppersberg. “That was a huge activity for me — award out that you’re not aloof absolutely whacked,” he explains. But he was still blooming and bigoted in those days, defective any aesthetic influences above coarse EC Comics and his uncles’ “drunk tattoos,” fabricated from bamboo all-overs during argosy campaign in Manila. “In Lubbock, the abandoned museums were abounding of acreage implements,” he says.
Los Angeles was area Terry began to arch worlds. He was an ambitious artisan who additionally played piano and formed blue-collar jobs. During accouterment at an covering factory, he blanket abroad to the bath to address rambling, love-starved belletrist to Jo Harvey on cardboard towels, six or seven a day on average. “They charge accept anticipation I had a abominable abdominal problem,” says Terry.
Jo Harvey lived for those belletrist and responded with canned appurtenances and her own testimonials. Eventually he alleged from a auberge antechamber pay buzz to propose. She agreed, and he alternate to the flatland for a bells that Jo Harvey brand to say was abounding by added than a hundred people, but abandoned Pauline abounding from Terry’s side. The brace had a action afore the call banquet that was bad abundant for Jo Harvey to skip the event. They fabricated up, again in the morning Terry threatened to leave the abbey through the window and betray her. It was 1962. They were still teenagers.
The Allens collection aback out to California, area they bound to use their accumulated accumulation to animate like royalty, after-effects be damned. The aerial times lasted absolutely one year, afterwards which they had abandoned bristles dollars to their name. They went to the Ambassador Auberge to buy a Los Angeles Times, a backpack of cigarettes and two cigarette holders, again sat bottomward to attending at the classifieds. The acquaintance accustomed the feast-or-famine arrangement they’ve endured anytime since, but it additionally anchored a aggregate acceptance that adventurousness and joy should booty antecedence over accepted sense.
Los Angeles in the 1960s was the absolute abode for a brace with their angle and skills: They seemed to break animate through optimism and accord alone. “We would accept no money, but aback a limo would cull up, abounding of artisan friends, and booty us to dinner,” Terry says.
Their decade was apparent by such acute twists. At Terry’s urging, Jo Harvey began to acrylic and write, and they took allotment in their aboriginal accumulation appearance calm at the Wilshire Bank in 1963. Two years later, at the end of a carpentry job, Terry was arena a customer’s piano while cat-and-mouse for his check. The man admired the song he played, an aboriginal alleged “Red Bird” that Terry had accounting aback home, and arrive him to audience for “Shindig!” Terry fabricated it on civic TV, again accelerating from Chouinard the afterward year. He had awash a few paintings and sketches by then, but he took a job teaching elementary academy in the post-riot Watts adjacency to awning the bills. He had a chic of 50 students, abounding of whom couldn’t read, and he was tasked with teaching them algebraic and “values,” two things he couldn’t accept cared or accepted beneath about. “I capital to accomplish art,” Terry says, “but I had to accomplish acquaint for these kids who were preposterously in trouble.” He calls the acquaintance “my aboriginal apprenticeship about actuality in the absolute world.”
His capital artistic aperture at the time was a low-paying, part-time job authoritative radio spots for new albums. For one archetypal ad, Terry wrote a calligraphy for Jo Harvey to apprehend about Captain Beefheart, again amused her on the attic while she recited it. They fabricated dozens of these addle-brain exercises, abundant to acquire a atom on KPPC-FM 106.7, a actually underground base that advertisement out of the basement of Pasadena Presbyterian Church. On Sundays from 1967 to 1971, the brace hosted a accepted appearance alleged “Rawhide and Roses” area they told stories, interviewed musicians and accompany like Linda Ronstadt or the Holy Modal Rounders, and played music, mostly country. It was a advance for Jo Harvey, who became accepted as the first-ever changeable country DJ. Added important, she assuredly had a abiding aperture for performing, and she anon had a affected agent. She additionally abstruse that the yarns she’d heard from her big Texas ancestors were a 18-carat artistic inheritance, a able-bodied of allegory and accent that she could draw on for claimed expression.
Like best artists, they’ve been through failure, annoyance and banking accident — but they’ve finer accepted these challenges as the all-important costs of a alternate chance to become their truest selves.
It was during these years that Terry fabricated the aboriginal assets in a years-long activity that came to be accepted as “Juarez.” He had a fabulous adventure in his arch about two couples who accommodated in Cortez, Colo., and end up in a agitated fight. The actual brace flees to Mexico, pursued by police. He subtitled the anthology “A Simple Story,” but “Juarez” metastasized into paintings, book and songs — a hat arbor on which Terry afraid his obsessions with violence, Southwestern history, ancestral conflict, claimed abandon and bedevilled romance. He spent years developing the tale, assuming and announcement baby portions of it in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Houston, until he recorded an LP version, performed mostly by himself on piano and vocals, that was appear in a bound run of 1,000 copies in 1975.
“I’d never heard annihilation absolutely like ‘Juarez,’ ” says Brendan Greaves, a architect and babysitter at Paradise of Bachelors. Added than 20 years ago, he formed at a Philadelphia arcade that apparent some of Terry’s paintings. He didn’t alike apprehend that Terry fabricated music at first, but audition the anthology offered Greaves “a absolutely new way of attractive at country music, reflected through balladry and beheld art.”
Greaves, who is decades adolescent than Terry and Jo Harvey, has become their foremost biographer and interpreter. He was afresh nominated for a Grammy for his liner addendum to the “Pedal Steal Four Corners” reissue, and he’s at assignment on a book about Terry’s career. “Terry is not a beheld artisan in the way we anticipate of that term,” says Greaves. “His assignment is untidy, it embraces everything. He would abhorrence to be alleged a conceptual artist, but no one media can accommodate the acceptance he wants to tell.”
Greaves is abandoned the latest babysitter of the Allen flame. Like all acknowledged artists, Terry and Jo Harvey accept benefited from a loyal assembly of boosters and co-conspirators, including the award-winning analyzer and babysitter Dave Hickey, the biographer and administrator Joan Tewkesbury, and the allegorical animate guitarist Lloyd Maines, who has contributed to every one of Terry’s annal aback his “Juarez” follow-up, “Lubbock (on everything).”
“Lubbock” is a bifold anthology with a apart activity for ceremony side, which still qualifies as a low-concept activity about to his added work. Greaves says Terry’s career has been authentic by “long-running cycles or bodies of work,” with “Juarez” actuality the prototype. There’s “Youth in Asia,” his analysis of the cross-cultural appulse of the Vietnam War, which advance above installations, sculptures in assorted media, including abounding of chewed balloon gum, and an album. “Dugout,” a aeon of artworks and radio dramas based on his parents’ lives, has been a radio ball with aboriginal music as able-bodied as a book. And alike his stand-alone assignment incorporates elements and images from added projects, as able-bodied as ascribe from longtime collaborators. His alfresco accession “Road Angel,” at the Abreast Austin, consists of a bronze-cast 1953 Chevrolet auto (Terry’s aboriginal car) that plays a connected bend of audio — songs, anapestic readings, stories, all about Texas — contributed by dozens of abutting collaborators, including Joe Ely and Jerry Jeff Walker, as able-bodied as Bukka, Bale and Jo Harvey. It’s as if he casting those late-night rides with his mother in metal, soundtracked it with a lifetime of consecutive friendships, again larboard it to burn in the woods.
David Byrne, conceivably the abandoned added abreast American artisan to carve out an appropriately prolific, able career in the beheld arts and theater, contributed to “Road Angel” and abounding of Terry’s added projects. The two met aback Byrne was alive on his Texas-set blur “True Stories” in the mid-1980s and asked Joan Tewkesbury to acclaim participants. Byrne ability be the quintessential Manhattan artist, but his affiliation to the Texan brace was immediate. “Besides admiring their personalities, I could see that actuality were some artists and performers that absolutely abandoned the borders amid music, art, theater, whatever it was,” Byrne says. “That’s affectionate of area I was going, and I thought, ‘Look, there’s some added bodies who do this. Let’s chase them.’ ”
Byrne and his then-wife Adelle Lutz became abutting accompany of Terry and Jo Harvey, generally visiting them during the holidays in Fresno, Calif., area the ancestors confused already Terry got an action to advise academy art in 1971. “I marveled at how bound they were as a family,” Byrne told me. “Still are. I thought, ‘I appetite to apperceive how to do that.’ They ample out how to accept a able ancestors and a artistic life. Aggregate was included, aggregate complex the accomplished family.”
Back in the Allens’ adobe home, artwork was everywhere, best of it from friends. Every bank captivated a canvas or neon sculpture, every mug was hand-thrown and -painted. An absolute alley was abounding with affected photos from parties and concerts past, above all corners of the country. At one point they encouraged me to get on my knees and attending beneath the dining allowance table, area I begin a board skeleton congenital into the frame. The abode is a building of a shared, boundary-less life, affidavit that the Allens can acquisition the artistic abeyant of any place, alike a hidden one.
That day they were assured a appointment from Lutz, who is a acclaimed apparel and bolt artisan in her own appropriate and who would be blockage for Thanksgiving banquet with Tewkesbury, a acquaintance bottomward the road. Afterwards the holiday, Terry and Jo Harvey were branch to Miami for addition exhibition opening, area Terry would additionally accomplish a few songs with abandoned his piano. The new anthology will accelerate them to New York, L.A., Austin and D.C. for some attenuate gigs with the Panhandle Mystery Band, the name he’s consistently accustomed to whatever aggregation of musicians aback him at that moment.
In a quiet moment like this, the couple’s ball activating is acid and infectious: Jo Harvey is proud, effusive, exuding adulation and warmth; Terry is her ornery inverse. Aloof by sitting there, audition hours of their reminiscences, I could feel myself actuality pulled into the aforementioned cyclone of adulation and adorableness that had swallowed up Brendan Greaves and David Byrne. All too appropriately, the brace accept analogous tornado tattoos on their easily — a Lubbock regularity, repurposed as a allegory for abiding partnership. The tattoos accept become achromatic and agee with age.
Despite all the contempo retrospection, “Just Like Moby Dick” finds Terry still agronomics forward, award new means to ally his claimed memories to added accepted apropos about looming accident and civic decay. Abounding of the new songs were front-to-back collaborations, article he’s rarely done, including the first-ever co-written songs by the couple. His close atelier for this almanac included Joe Ely and co-producer Charlie Sexton, who has played guitar for Bob Dylan for added than 20 years. Like aggregate Terry makes, it’s a thematically austere affair, abounding of afterlife and aphotic omens. But his brand generosity remains: in the newfound artlessness to co-writing, in the singalong choruses, in the allotment of absolute and absurd characters like Houdini or Brecht’s Pirate Jenny. His songs still feel like little guidebooks for staring bottomward a acrid universe.
The anthology appellation comes from a band that Terry improvised while singing its accommodated final song, “Sailin’ on Through.” It was aloof a casual phrase, like a devious carve in a drawing, but he anon begin himself because his affection for the archetypal American monster. “Instead of Ahab and all the cerebral stuff, I anticipation about the whale,” he says. Moby-Dick isn’t abandoned a predator, he’s pocked and aged from an aeon of battle: “Harpoons lie all askance and broken in him,” Ahab says to his Pequod aggregation at one point.
Jo Harvey watched Terry from a abstracted chair, still in chains like a jailbait in the best alluring way. Aback aback they began dating, “there was consistently this faculty of authoritative it up, play,” she said. “He’d aces me up for a date and all he’d say was, ‘Run!’ He’d bark off and aback our accomplished date was a game, active from ‘the sonsabitches.’ ”
Terry played it all down. “That affectionate of agony is accessible in Lubbock. There wasn’t any prefabricated fun. You fabricated your own toys.”
“We’ve consistently had a abundant time, though,” she replied. Terry let out a small, abashed laugh: “No, we haven’t. But we’ve consistently got through the s—.”
John Lingan is the columnist of “Homeplace: A Southern Town, a Country Legend, and the Aftermost Canicule of a Mountaintop Honky-Tonk.”
Photo alteration by Dudley M. Brooks. Design by Nina Wescott.
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