TALKING PICTURES: THE COWBOY CLAUSE

It’s a cold Tuesday in Reno, Nevada; election day in America.

Ranger Doug and Joey the Cowpolka King—exactly one-half of the yodeling, slapsticking band of singing cowboys known as Riders in the Sky—might have elected to stay back in their hotel rooms, watching the Republicans take over the country. But instead they’ve done what any self-respecting cowboy would do with a day off in Reno: they’ve gone to see Santa Claus.

“The Santa Clause 2″ is the unexpectedly-popular sequel to the 1996 comedy in which Tim Allen killed Santa and took over his job. In the new film, he is contractually-obligated to find a Mrs. Claus by Christmas Eve or stop being Santa. There’s a subplot about an Evil Santa who’s hell-bent on delivering coal to all the kids of the world, and it ends with a rip-roaring, high-speed sleigh ride over the North Pole. Yeehaw.

“You know,” says Ranger Doug (aka Douglas Green, the guitar-playing trail boss of the Riders and the author of the new book Singing in the Saddle), “It seems like every sequel these days ends with a chase scene like something out of an old western. They did it in Toy Story 2, of course, and now in ‘The Santa Clause 2′.”

Not that Doug would say anything bad about Toy Story 2…among its many impressive features, that film included the Riders, distinctively performing the theme-song to the fictional “Woody’s Roundup” T.V. show. The performance helped boost the 25-year-old cowboy band to its highest level of popularity since forming in Nashville in 1977. They followed-up with a best-selling Disney CD—also called Woody’s Roundup—which earned the Riders their first Grammy award–and recently released two new CDs: Ridin’ the Tweetzie Railroad and their second Disney album, Scream Factory Favorites, with songs inspired by “Monsters Inc.”.

Yeehaw again.

As for the aforementioned chase scene in “Santa Clause 2,” Ranger Doug was actually quite impressed.

“This was a perfect western chase scene, even though Tim Allen can’t ride a reindeer very well. But it was exciting. It could have been John Wayne riding up in ‘Stagecoach’.” Doug has just ordered up a plate of seafood at the casino eatery across from the theater, as Joey—he plays the accordion in the band—busily butters a piece of bread while joshing around with the group’s affable road manager Billy Maxwell, who tagged along.

“So,” I ask. “Which one of the Riders do you think would be best qualified to take on the job of Santa?” 

“Let’s see . . .” muses Joey. “You work one day a year, you sleep for three months at a time . . .”   

“Sounds like Woody Paul,” they all state simultaneously, referring to the band’s reigning King of the Cowboy Fiddlers. Speaking of Woody—where is he? Too Slim, the bass-playing fourth member of the group, is in Nashville, not due to arrive in Reno till the following day. But where’d Woody go? 

“Nobody really knows,” says Joey. “We lose him every now and then.”

“He just wanders off and we don’t see him again for a few days,” explains Ranger Doug. But back to the movie. “One scene I really loved,” he says, “was the one where Tim Allen shows up at that School faculty Christmas party, and gives away all those toys—a Toss-across, a Rock ‘em-Sock ‘em Robot—and he just warms the hearts of all those jaded grown-ups. It’s such a cliché, but it’s true: Christmas is all about being a kid again.” 

“With that in mind,” I ask, “What’s the one present that would bring up those childhood feelings for you?” 

“Santa brought me a guitar when I was about 15,” says Doug. “I didn’t really believe in Santa at that point, but it’s what I really wanted, so I took it just the same.” 

“I wanted a go cart, really badly,” says Joey.

“But instead,” says Doug, “he got an accordion.”

“Well, that would have been my second choice,” Joey replies. “But I really wanted that go-cart. Later on, when I was older, I wanted that one-man gyrocopter I’d seen in Popular Mechanics. You’d never have to drive, you could just fly to work. That’s what I wanted. What about you Billy?” 

“I wanted a go-cart too,” he says. “But I got one.”

“You got one?” repeats Joey.

“Yep.”

”You got a go-cart? That’s so unfair.” 

“It’s enough make you stop believing in Santa,” observes Ranger Doug.

“Well, I’d stopped believing when I was four or five,” Joey admits. “I recognized my Uncle in a cheesy Santa suit–and it was all over.”

Appropriately, we pause a few seconds to reflect on the inherent sadness of Joey’s tragic loss of innocence. After a moment, Doug speaks up again.

“I can’t believe, after all these years, Tim Allen hasn’t gotten his teeth fixed,” he says.

For several minutes, we discuss Tim Allen’s teeth.

“So, in the Santa Clause movies,” I remark after a while, “Tim Allen becomes a good guy by becoming Santa Claus. Maybe that suggests a whole new course of psychotherapy. Call it Santa Therapy. Take a bunch of nasty people, turn them into Santa for a while, and let the magic happen.”

“Might work,” nods Joey. “Or, you could get a person and let ‘em travel with Riders in the Sky for a while—and see what happens then.” 

“Make ‘em keep an eye on Woody,” says Billy. “That’ll change a person, I’m tellin’ you.” 

“It’s worked for me,” says Joey, adding, “There’s an old joke about why Santa doesn’t have any kids—but I won’t get into that right now.” 

“It wouldn’t be the Cowboy Way,” Doug agrees. 

“I’m sitting here wondering,” I ask, “what kind of Santa would a singing cowboy make?” 

“A yodeling Santa,” replies Joey. “One who could actually ride a reindeer.”

“You know, fellas?” says Ranger Doug, “there could be a new song in this.” 

____________________________________________________________

Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to the movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This is not a review; rather, it’s a freewheeling, tangential discussion of art, alternative ideas, and popular culture.




Posted on December 4, 2002 in Features by

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