During these years, the Southwest also reached me through music, photographs, and literature. Growing up in New Jersey, I was never far from a radio, and I enjoyed, on the pop music stations, the country-and-western “cross-over” recordings of such artists as Roger Miller, Leroy Van Dyke, Bobby Bare, the Statler Brothers, and Tammy Wynette. In Denver, I naturally gravitated to an AM station that played nothing but country music, and soon I was purchasing country albums. I particularly loved listening to Marty Robbins’s ballads set in El Paso, Texas, the “badlands” of New Mexico, and the remote town of Agua Frio, Arizona; Johnny Cash’s “You Wild Colorado,” his spare acoustical paean to the major American river of the same name; Johnny Rodriguez’s musical tale of hitchhiking to Mexico; and tenor Freddie Fender (born Baldemar Huerta) singing, in Spanish as well as English, “Before the Next Teardrop Falls.”
Photographs had interested me ever since I was a child and first opened Life’s Picture History of World War II, which stood tall and weighty on my parents’ bookshelf. So, one day at the main branch of the Denver Public Library, I marveled at Ansel Adams’s Photographs of the Southwest─109 black-and-white “plates” that reveal the strange landscapes and rugged peoples of the Southwest from Texas to California and Mexico to Utah. Yet, for me, a more lasting feature of this book is Lawrence Clark Powell’s introduction, entitled “An Essay on the Land.” It is an evocative, poetic piece that is particularly sensitive to the Southwest’s fragile natural beauty and threats to said beauty by blind development. A librarian as well as a writer, Powell also identifies a number of authors─lesser known, certainly, than the authors I’d read as a college English major, but, in Powell’s estimation, often no less talented─who had for over a century produced memorable fiction and non-fiction about the Southwest. Later, in New Mexico, I would read Powell in depth; no writer wrote with greater love, knowledge, and eloquence about the Southwest.