This past January, The Decemberists released their new album The King is Dead which has a song on it titled "Rox in the Box" that is set in the Granite Mountain Mine in Butte, Montana. Awesome song that makes me miss Butte.
I spent this past summer in Virginia City, Montana performing for the Virginia City Players and our first show, "Fire From Within" was about the Granite Mountain Mine disaster of 1917. From the time I first visited Butte in the winter of 2002, I knew this was without a doubt one of the most interesting towns I'd ever been to and that intrigue led to me living there for the summers of 2005 and 2006 to help run the Buttenik Ensemble in the Covellite Theatre.
The Covellite Theatre, December 2007.
Although it's not always been an easy place for me to live, there's a very large redeeming quality about Butte that's made me love it unconditionally and has drawn me back to it time and time again and I'll have the memories and the friendships I've made there for the rest of my life. I even proposed to Ciara on top of the M.
My interest expanded last year when I completed my new full length play, "Squalor" about a homeless couple living in the rugged alley behind the Party Palace bar on the corner of Park & Main in Butte. The play has yet to be produced and it is my hope that it finds a home very soon.
The alley where "Squalor" is set.
But I'm not the only one to have been inspired to write about Butte, many others have as well from the recent Decemberists album to movies, books, plays, paintings, poetry and this article by my personal favorite, Jack Kerouac, published in the March 1970 issue of Esquire Magazine titled "The Great Western Bus Ride" which includes his experience at the M&M:
"I slept en route to great Butte...over the Divide, near Anaconda and Pipestone Pass...Butte of the rough geographies. Arriving, I stored my bag in a locker while some young Indian cat asked me to go drinking with him; he looked too crazy. I walked the sloping streets in super below-zero weather with my handkerchief tied tight around my leather collar and saw that everybody in Butte was drunk. It was Sunday night, I had hoped the saloons would stay open long enough for me to see them. They never even closed. In a great old-time saloon I had a giant beer. On the wall was a big electric signboard flashing gambling numbers. The bartender gave me the honor of selecting a number for him on the chance of beginner's luck. No soap. "Arrived here twenty-two years ago and stayed. Montanans drink to much, fight to much, love too much." What characters in there: old prospectors, gamblers, whores, miners, Indians, cowboys, tobacco-chewing businessmen! Groups of sullen Indians drank red rotgut in the john. Hundreds of men played cards in an atmosphere of smoke and spittoons. It was the end of my quest for an ideal bar. An old Blackjack dealer tore my heart out, he reminded me so much of W.C. Fields and my father, fat, with a bulbous nose, great rugged pockmarked angelic face, wiping himself with a black-pocket handkerchief, green eyeshade, wheezing with big asthmatic laborious sadness in the Butte winter night games till he finally packed off for home and a snort to sleep another day. I also saw a ninety-year-old man called Old John who coolly played cards till dawn with slitted eyes, and had been doing so since 1880 in Montana...since the days of the winter cattle drive to Texas, and the days of Sitting Bull. There was another old man with an aged, loving, shaggy sheepdog who ankled off in the cold mountain night after satisfying his soul at cards. There were Greeks and Chinamen. The bus didn't leave Butte till dawn. I promised myself I'd come back. The bus roared down the slope and looking back I saw Butte on her fabled Gold Hill still lit like jewelry and sparkling on the mountainside in the blue northern dawn."
With Springtime right around the corner, if that excerpt doesn't spark your wanderlust, I don't know what will. Here's a copy of the article:
It's always great to see Butte pop up in these songs and stories and such, and I hope that artists continue to use it as the backdrop for their work. I know I have a few more that are on my list to write.