Wild Country: Take the Cowboy Bowling

by Max Sparber

As a native of Minneapolis, I share my city's odd relationship with the sport of bowling. Minneapolitans have always been passionate bowlers, but we've also treated the activity as something vaguely comical, and approached it with something like irony.

I used to read a zine called "Baby Split Bowling News," which claimed to be published by an organization called Deviant Bowlers of America, and was really a punk zine, but actually offered bowling advice. There was RABL, a political organization also known as the Revolutionary Anarchist Bowling League, which gained fame for throwing a bowling ball through the window of a military recruitment center as part of a protest in 1988.

Of course, the Coen Brothers used bowling as a jumping off point for their Los Angeles fringe noir comedy "The Big Lebowski." Later, a locally produced satire of "Cowling for Dollars" called "Let's Bowl" went national for a year when it was picked up by Comedy Central. That one I feel the greatest affinity for, as I was a part of it: I was a frequent extra.

Country music shares the same ironic affection for bowling as the average Minneapolitan, and so, in that spirit, here is a list of country songs that have addressed themselves, in whole or in part, to spares, gutter balls, and splits.

“Bowling Ball Blues,” Mack Fields (1964)

The song is essentially a Hank Williams tune, including his pained, yodeled wail, but entirely in service of Mack Fields complaining about how bad he is at 10-pin.

“Brand New Country Star,” Jimmy Buffet (1974)

A genuinely effective harmonica-driven 70s country song from Mr. James Buffet, the king of Island Pop. Here he sings about a newly minted county chart topper about to open a chain of signature bowling alleys.

“People Who Read People Magazine,” Kinky Friedman (1983)

Another of the unexpectedly sweet sounding, deeply scabrous tunes by Mr. Friedman, either celebrating or parodying country audiences, including bowlers.

“Yellow Bowling Shoes,” Lefty Jones Band (2005)

A weirdly pretty, primitive song over a muddy banjo part, half-whispered, and circling around a recurring collection of images of love, death and madness. The singer addresses himself to a woman in the titular yellow bowling shoes.

“Royal Jelly,” John C. Reilly (2007)

During Dewey Cox’s Dylan phase in “Walk Hard,” he produced an utterly incomprehensible steam-of-conscious, perfectly whined song that touches on mushrooms, stovepipe hats, and bowling pins.

“Berkshire Bowling League,” Angry Johnny and The Killbillies (2017)

A murder ballad on the form of a country rock shouter about a jealous man who beats another man with a bowling pin in a jealous rage, and the trouble this creates for their league.


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