Joe Lansdale and why I think I like Westerns
I first picked up a Joe Lansdale book back in when I was trying to find my place in the metropolis – skint and living in over-priced rental land in what was, the 0181. I used to buy books based on the covers, and whether they were sold in the book shop in the mall that had the coffee bar inside. I was aching for city-cool, so why I was taken with what I now realise was a modern-western, I have no idea.
I started with the Hap and Leonard series. Two guys who life has kicked repeatedly through the rose fields of East Texas. I’ve never been to East Texas. Lansdale paints a picture of a hot and dry landscape – where the dogs only move when strictly necessary. I don’t remember if I started with book one or whether it was Mucho Mojo that got me hooked. There was a line of justifiable and morally righteous violence that threaded through the stories. Not exactly black hat / white hat but definitely hatted, to keep the burning sun at bay.
Having wandered in an out of that Croydon book shop over the course of (maybe) 2 years, I had amassed a reasonable shelf filling amount of Hap and Leonard books. I liked them. I liked the characters. I liked the hard-boiled edge of world-weariness that Lansdale presented. East Texas sounded languid, wild; it sounded hot and oppressive – a melting pot of simmering violence.
This was the early days of the internet. Dial-up. Pay by the minute stuff. AltaVista and Excite. Crappy search engines and worse content. No Amazon. No streaming. Not very much apart from opinions. I think Lansdale was in there. Certainly his characters were mentioned in a few GeoCities sites.
He is an amplifier rather than a broadcaster via his Twitter feed and releases some works via the Noisetrade platform too.
I found out that he wrote horror – I wasn’t so engaged by these stories (except for Bubba Ho-Tep)- but he also had a couple of stories out there that pre-dated Hap and Leonard, and cars, and progress, and enlightened (if they are yet) racial views… Suddenly La Borde, Nagadoches and the Sabine River, the rose fields and the deep, impenetrable, trees had a back story. The writing is more languid (not a criticism) but just a feeling that these stories are a land without occasional air-con. A Texas of blistering heat and fanned morals. A Texas where even the dogs lie low and move slow.
Lansdale is an interesting character. He lives in the place he writes about and seems to have a passion for encouraging those around him to be the best they can be. He has that cool, seen it and done it, cowboy-esque persona – a keen martial artist and facilitator of writers. He seems genuine and authentic – much like the flawed and world-weary Hap and Leonard, whilst also capturing the wild innocence of the new world of historic Texas.