Travis Whitelaw, Sexarkana
Comic country-and-western troubadour Travis Whitelaw has a dirty mind. It’s downright filthy. Could be he’s sick. Or, maybe he’s just a lazy hack. Real funnymen can find absurdity in the day-to-day, so why does he have to work blue?
At first blush, Whitelaw’s bawdy roadhouse rockers and ballads are Larry the Cable Guy simple. He gives it to a snooty feminist (“She Likes It Rough”) and invokes the old chestnut “As Long As I Have a Face (You’ve Got a Place to Sit).” None of those seem terribly crafty, and some have that red-state stank—especially in their country context. “Reel Cowboys,” for example, concerns a Larry-esque character whose wife bamboozles him into seeing Brokeback Mountain, which, he opines, insults the sacred tradition of uber-manly Western films.
Yet “Bristol’s Baby Daddy (The Ballad of Levi’s Johnson)” ain’t the work of a blue-collar hack—it’s a Sarah Palin slam. And “Tits or Tires” (either one’ll break your heart), “Viva Mexico” (singin’ the praises of BJs in TJ) and “My Bozap” (euphemisms are universal) are pretty funny despite being misogynistic, xenophobic/hypocritical (if America’s so great, why do we have to go to Mexico for a donkey show?), and a dick joke.
Whitelaw’s songs epitomize puerility, but we laugh just like when we first heard “Barnacle Bill the Sailor,” “My Ding-A-Ling,” “The Plexiglass Toilet Song” and “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow.” It’s because everyone, sometime, is horny, fascinated with their own genitalia, or has to do Numbers One or Two. It’s funny ‘cause it’s true.
Whitelaw’s work goes beyond that, though. There are salient social and political points in his music, not just on “Bristol.” Why, he asks, aren’t we as sick of humorless femi-nazis as we are of tight-assed conservative housefraus? One’s as shrill as the other, and often extreme in their views. Are we missing the joke in “Reel Cowboys”? Of course it’s not at all funny when Mr. Manly’s bigotry colors his vote and impinges on the happiness of gays, but watching him get dyspeptic over an offense to something he considers high art—and the thought of him squirming like a slug in a salt pile—is comedy gold.
And as for faces and places to sit, that’s just sweet devotion.
So it could be Sexarkana is some kind of utopia, where everyone is held accountable for their B.S. “I give everyone hell,” Whitelaw says. “That’s my business. On this record, I have fun with Mexicans, feminists, rub n’ tug girls in Korean massage parlors, and dumb rednecks—Ain’t nobody safe.” Whether that leads to actual social progress remains to be seen. TravisWhitelaw.com