Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Uranium and Cigarettes

Moab, Utah

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Coming up through the Navajo reservation, which is mostly in the northeast corner of Arizona but also spills into Utah a little, I was convinced that the Indians had the best scenery all to themselves. But Utah is no slouch when it comes to photo opportunities.

I said southern California looked familiar, but it turns out this spot is almost as much so. With its red rocks, snow-capped mountains, and natural bridge formations, southeastern Utah has been used in movies for years. The director John Ford first filmed Stagecoach near Monument Valley in 1939, then did several more around Moab, including Rio Grande, in 1950. If you saw Thelma and Louise or Once Upon a Time in the West or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade or City Slickers II, you saw Moab. And also The Greatest Story Ever Told, which is either about Jesus or the invention of Viagra.

The real boom took place when they started mining uranium here for nuclear bombs and electricity in the 50s, and Moab began to call itself "The Uranium Capital of the World." Not sure that's what I'd want my town to be famous for, but there it is. Then those pinko wide-eyed one worlders and tree huggers started scaling back the weapons and power plants and the radioactive bubble burst. Now Moab is back to trading on its scenery.

In terms of media exposure, perhaps the most familiar images of the Moab area are from the Marlboro Man advertising campaign. It was here that the rugged cowboy, astride his horse, paused to survey the breathtaking scenery and light a smoke. For a whole generation of TV watchers this was cigarette central, and the theme from The Magnificent Seven was the musical accompaniment to pure rich tobacco pleasure.

When the town was first settled back in the last quarter of the 1800s and given the name Moab, some folks objected because in the Bible the city of Moab was known for incest and idolatry. Feathers were ruffled and petitions were signed. Evidently, though, the cooler heads of the golden calf worshippers and sister rapers prevailed, and the name stayed the same.

1 comment:

Billie Bob said...

I wanted to respond to the last entry, but I am a day late and a dollar short. However your comments about Southern Cal outsiders reminded me of a James McMurtry song:

I'm not from here
I just live here
grew up somewhere far away
come here thinking I'd never stay long
I'd be going back soon someday

it's been a few years
since I got here
seen 'em come and I've seen 'em go
crowds assemble, they hang out awhile
then they melt away like an early snow...
I'm not from here
but people tell me
it's not like it used to be
they say I should have been here
back about ten years
before it got ruined by folks like me...

And your comments on Las Vegas, which were right on, reminded me of another tune, one by Doc Pomus: the famous Viva Las Vegas. But not the Elvis version. Check out the way Shawn Colvin sings it (on the tribute to Doc Pomus CD)...rather melancholy and wistful, the way it should be sang.