Friday, June 13, 2008


By S. Derrickson Moore
Sun-News reporter
LAS CRUCES — Ah, Billy. You lived so briefly, so long ago, but it seems there’s no getting over you.
With so many sterling souls to choose from — heroes, authors, artists, playwrights, filmmakers, musicians, even scientific pioneers who discovered whole new worlds — in the end, our leading icon and claim to fame always seems to end up being a kid from New York who lived a fast, rough, life.
I love “Prairie Home Companion,” and was delighted that they came to do a live broadcast from Pan Am Center, but I must admit I was less than thrilled at some of host Garrison Keillor’s characterizations of our local culture: “If you’re looking for a place where ... you can drive your all-terrain vehicle around at high speed late at night, naked, drinking a beer and firing a shotgun...or maybe you just like to blow things up...this is the place.”
No, no, Garrison. Maybe you were thinking of Texas?
As regular readers of this column know, I am no fan of ATVs. I think they are a lousy way to “appreciate” nature. They waste fuel, have shattered the tranquility of both rural and urban neighborhoods where I’ve lived and are unconscionable in a desert environment so fragile that isolated areas still bear the scars left by the passage of ancient wagon trains.
But even I concede that, in all my years of paying very careful attention to the menace, I have never seen a naked, beer-swilling, shotgun-wielding, explosives-hurling ATVer anywhere in New Mexico.
And then there’s Billy, who rated not one, but two songs from the PHC cast and guests.
I’ve been thinking, ever since, about William “Billy the Kid” Bonney, who died, most agree, in 1881, but who still rates a 2008 Google total of 2,900,000 “personalized results.”
By contrast, our late, great Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto, rates 102,000 Google online references, and Clyde didn’t get a single PHC musical tribute.
I talked this week with Pauline “Pola” Chiavone, who two years ago discovered what she thinks is a rare photo of Billy with her maternal grandfather José Dolores Lueras. She’s copyrighted the photo, stashed it away in a bank safe deposit box and is awaiting news about further authentication efforts from a museum official working on the process. My story about her discovery ran on page one of the Sun-News on July 23, 2006, and Mrs. Chiavone and I are both still getting occasional inquiries from Billy fans around the globe.
So Billy still has groupies, clamoring for fresh images. And Garrison Keillor, warbling sympathetic songs.
And while we’re at it, Prairie Home Companion, why oh why, with all the talent around here, from a Tony-winning playwright to a world-renowned mandolin player, a terrific symphony orchestra and a whole slew of fantastic performing artists, did you pass over all our local stars in favor of folks from Albuquerque and Texas?
But oh, well. At least you came to the chile capital of the universe and appreciated our salsa. And you managed to pointedly make all those rather disparaging allusions to the wide open spaces of New Mexico. (Fair enough: though I don’t recall that you got specific, we are the fifth biggest state in the union, but 36th in population.) But with that and all the singing about Billy Boy, you didn’t have time to even hint, really, at the true perks of life in the Land of Enchantment.
You did a pretty fair job of upholding the stereotypical view of New Mexico as a lawless, forsaken wasteland of yahoos and desperados, instead of focusing too much attention on the scintillating mix of innovative art, spicy agriculture, burgeoning academia, cutting-edge science, fascinating filmmaking and diverse cultures that we fear too many are coming to know. So there is a bright side to it all. You didn’t blow our cover.
Mil gracias.
S. Derrickson Moore can be reached at

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