‘The English’ wants to critique the blood-soaked Old West. Instead, it revels in it.
by Mark Dowie
I should know better than to talk about the “Old West” in the context of America. I should know better than to use a phrase describing something that has since been renamed “the American West.” Yes, I talk about the Old West, but I talk about a different Old West and a different America.
The Old West and American West, and the name they have been given in the English-speaking world, are the same thing.
When a cowboy is riding into a town on an unsuspecting horse in “Cowboy Be-Bop,” a musical that played for decades of American audiences, he is doing nothing more remarkable than what horses would expect or want. I could probably write a list of shows set in the early part of the 20th century that take place over the territory the American West and the Texas and New Mexico region we know as the Old West.
In “Mozart in the Jungle,” a musical set in the early 19th century, two brothers embark on a life of adventure in the American West. Both are musicians, musicians who, along with a trio of brothers, sing and play guitar, banjo, accordion, and mandolin. The story of these two brothers is told in two languages: English, which they speak, and Hungarian, which they sing.
In “The Old New Land,” two brothers, Paul and James, come together as young men in the Texas and New Mexico region to make music as they experience the same experiences as the musicians in “Cowboy Be-Bop.” Like their cousins in “Cowboy Be-Bop,” the two brothers sing and play guitar, banjo, accordion, and mandolin. The show opens with an American cowboy singing an English song. The lyrics to this song, sung in a mixture of English and Hungarian, are about the land of America, the Old New Land. Throughout the show, the two brothers sing about the Old New Land: music, the land, friendship, love. While most shows in the American West take place in the land of