By Chris Daigle, Contributing Editor and Houston Historian
There are very few distractions when you work from home, so you tend to notice things close to your heart. For me, one of them, along with the ice cream man in the afternoon and washing off sand at a Galveston beach, has to be the Astrodome. That’s all you have to say to a stranger who grew up in Houston. The Astrodome. Just stand back, because memories are going to come out like a fire hose. Way in the back of my mind, I always wanted there to be something to represent how we collectively felt, and still feel, about this place, and I’ve recently stumbled upon it.
Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis recently recorded and made a video for their song, “Astrodome.” They get it – they really understand what the Astrodome meant to us. Together with Texas songwriter/singer Jack Ingram, they take us on a journey of deep introspection, and get right to the bullseye of Astrodome culture.
Texas Monthly calls this newest song from Robison and Willis’s album Beautiful Lie “touching.” In my opinion, that comment is on par with calling the ocean “damp.” Robison and Willis travel back to the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and wipe the dust off fading memories.
Fortunately, my memories aren’t fading. Every minute of my time in the Astrodome was spent mentally remembering every detail of the spectacle in front of me: The smell of the smoke from the destruction derby or watching Evel Kneivel about to jump several cars on his motorcycle and wondering if he was going to make it. Oh no, my friends…nothing’s faded. I don’t remember what I wore last Tuesday, but I remember everything about the Dome.
Robison and Willis draw on familiar Texas music legends in their mixture of memories and harmonies. “There’s something familiar in here,” was my thought. Sure enough, Robison cites Roger Miller and Jerry Jeff Walker as huge influences on his style. The styles of Emmylou Harris and Waylon Jennings come along for good measure.
Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis really did it this time. They were just fine with songs like the slow waltzing ballad, “Beautiful Lie,” the crushingly sublime “Lost my Best” and the album closing, “Heartache to Houston.” But they really put the pedal to the metal with “Astrodome,” going right to the center of all our nostalgia and reminding us there was a place like none other, and a time like none other. We may be older and we may not live in Houston anymore, but we were there to see Elvis in a Jeep waving at us or to see George Strait supersize his career at the Rodeo on a moment’s notice. The Dome is a shrine to Texas “Can Do” spirit, which is a part of us, like a nostalgic tattoo never to be removed.
I was lucky. I did sit in the Astrodome and wonder whatever became of that version of me so many times. I became one with the dream that this building represents; a tireless effort by one man to make something unforgettable, and to create a legacy for a city. The stadium next door [NRG Stadium] never quite achieved that. It just made us sit on plastic seats and pay a fortune for food.
Robison and Willis have brought us all together in the field boxes again, and we remember.
Thanks to them from the state of Texas.