Dallas at night, if not from a DC-9.

Dallas at night, if not from a DC-9.

A conversation today on Facebook reminded of a column I wrote back in 2002, about the classic Jimmie Dale Gilmore tune “Dallas.” It’s probably the most famous song ever recorded by The Flatlanders, a Texas trio of lifelong friends from Lubbock: Jimmie Dale, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock.

I’ve always thought the song nailed the character of Dallas in a number of telling ways. So here’s the column again… and if you want to hear the song sung by Jimmie Dale himself, here’s a YouTube link.

                                                                            ***
JOYCE SÁENZ HARRIS, Staff Writer  
Published: May 19, 2002
(c) The Dallas Morning News

The topic at lunch (and don’t ask me why) was: What kind of a beautiful woman would Dallas be?

Dallas is like a beautiful woman … with a hangover?

With a Bible?

With Manolo Blahniks in a Neiman Marcus bag?

We never quite decided. The conversation moved on to what the members of the Algonquin Round Table would talk about if they were around today.

After lunch, however, I realized that one Texan has already described the kind of beautiful woman Dallas would be. He did it 30 years ago, in fact. I heard him sing about it just last autumn.

Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s song “Dallas” never made it to the top of any charts in 1972. It was the lead-off tune and lone single from an album by a Lubbock trio called Jimmie Dale Gilmore and the Flatlanders. The project got a dismal, half-hearted release in eight-track format and promptly vanished from all commercial view.

But Jimmie Dale Gilmore and his fellow Flatlanders, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock, did not vanish. They went on to become three of Texas’ favorite singer-songwriters, each with his own cultlike following.

Meanwhile, fans in England rediscovered the trio, and the word spread back home. Eventually the Flatlanders album, a neglected stepchild of corporate Nashville, became the darling of music collectors.

Years later, the album – aptly retitled More a Legend Than a Band — was re-released on CD, in slightly reconfigured form, by Rounder Records. (Sun Records, which had produced the original release, also released the album on CD but called it Jimmie Dale Gilmore and The Flatlanders “Unplugged.”) Jimmie’s song “Dallas” probably got its widest exposure when he sang it as a duet with Natalie Merchant on Jay Leno’s Tonight show.

Today, the Flatlanders’ music is widely recognized for the traditional jewel it always was.

The band began performing together again in 2000 and at last has another CD, Now Again, being released Tuesday.

The trio is scheduled to play the Granada Theater on June 26 and will also be part of the “Down From the Mountain” tour at Smirnoff Music Center on July 20.

I saw the Flatlanders play at the Texas Book Festival last year in Austin. The literary crowd loved them; historian David McCullough, among dozens of others, two-stepped up a storm.

But a clear favorite among the Flatlanders’ tunes was “Dallas,” for the fans hummed and sang along with that one. This is how the opening chorus goes:

Did you ever see Dallas from a DC-9 at night?
Dallas is a jewel,
Yeah, Dallas is a beautiful sight;
Dallas is a jungle,
But Dallas gives a beautiful light.
Did you ever see Dallas from a DC-9 at night?
 

A careless listener might mistake this song as a hymn to our fair city. In a way it is, for if anything, Dallas is even more spectacular by night now than it was 30 years ago.

But the reference to “a jungle” should tip you off that something darker is coming. And sure enough, it does.

 
Now Dallas is a woman who will walk on you when you’re down,
 
 But when you are up, she’s the kind you want to take around.

Now Dallas ain’t a woman to help you get your feet on the ground,

And Dallas is a woman who will walk on you when you’re down.

That’s the kind of a beautiful woman Dallas is, according to Jimmie Dale Gilmore.

Any number of local heroes and has-beens would likely agree with him that Dallas dearly loves winners and is mighty tough on losers.

The “middle eight” verse of the song could be sung by many Dallas newcomers, legal or otherwise:

Oh, I came into Dallas with the bright lights on my mind;
I came into Dallas with a dollar and a dime.
 
Then the song gets really dark:
 
Dallas is a rich man with a death wish in his eyes,
 
A steel concrete soul with a warm-hearted love in disguise;
A rich man who tends to believe his own lies.
I say, Dallas is a rich man with a death wish in his eyes.
 
And all this, mind you, was written years before anybody invented J.R. Ewing or the savings-and-loan scandal.
Ever since I first heard “Dallas,” I’ve thought it really should be our unofficial city anthem.
 
Of course, it never will be. It is much too dark, too subversive, for a city that habitually directs its feet to the sunny side of the street.
 

 

 

If we do have an unofficial anthem, it’s probably Frank Loesser’s 1956 Broadway hit, “Big D,” from The Most Happy Fella.

You’re from Big D,
My, oh yes,
I mean Big D, little a, double L, A-S.
And that spells Dallas,
my darlin’, darlin’ Dallas;
Don’t it give you pleasure to confess
That you’re from Big D,
My, oh yes!
 
 Of course, the talented Mr. Loesser caught the way we Dallasites like to think of ourselves — my, oh yes.

 

But I suspect our fellow Texan, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, may have caught more of the way we really are.

 
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