“We’re in the fun business. If we’re not having fun, we’re not doing our job.” —Cowboy Jack Clement
We can easily imagine the giddy astrophysicists — Talented Mr. Ripley eyeglasses, pocket protectors, maybe bolo ties —
jostling each other at the press conference microphones to announce the world’s first stable wormhole: our ticket to a vast realm of otherness called the “Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa.”
The mayor/emcee/potentate of this parallel reality, a man known as Cowboy Jack Clement, thrives on music, corny jokes, videotaped hijinks, and cigarettes. Like your crazy uncle with the Super-8 camera, (but with much more famous friends) Cowboy Jack Clement’s “home movies” capture decades of himself and his crew in all their goofy glory, proving, long before YouTube came along, that the undocumented life is just not worth living. And these guys love to hang out here — it looks like half the town has keys to Jack’s home/recording studio/romper room.
Cowboy Jack’s professional credentials, impressive enough to usher him into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, are not the point here. Sure, he discovered Jerry Lee Lewis, Charley Pride, and Townes Van Zandt. And yes, he wrote a string of chart-topping hits for the likes of Elvis, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Cliff Richard, Charley Pride, and Tom Jones, to name a few. He produced the spectacularly forgettable 1975 horror film Dear Dead Delilah. And what if he is Artist in Residence at the Country Music Hall of Fame? Not the point. In this film, it’s all about Cowboy knowing how to have (and share) a good time.
I watched Shakespeare Was a Big George Jones Fan (Shout Factory) the first three times just to make sure I had actually seen what I thought I’d seen. The next half dozen times, I watched it again just to revel in the contact high.
“As Shakespeare must have said at one time or another, I could have said that better if I had wanted to,” says Cowboy Jack.
In this documentary, filmmakers Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville pulled together a lifetime of Jack Clement’s enthusiasms: the half-finished, sometimes half-baked, projects gathering dust on some shelf at the Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa, Jack’s home in Memphis. Shakespeare winds up a grab bag of nuttiness that channels the antic spirit of Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night and shotgun marries it up to a honky-tonkin’ sense of romance. If the film is ever called into court as evidence of Cowboy’s greatness, it will feature a perp-walk that could only come out of Music City, USA: Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Waylon Jennings, Charley Pride, John Prine, and even Bono (Cowboy produced two tracks of U2’s Rattle and Hum).
All told, many pleasures are to be found on this off-the-wall DVD, especially for, but not limited to, the country and early rock ’n’ roll fan.
“I’ve got a bunch of people who say I’m a genius,” Cowboy Jack Clement once said. “That don’t make me a genius. But you’ve got to be pretty smart to get all them people to say that on cue.” —Jon Santiago