Before this journey began, back in Newcastle, when we could stand no more packing, organising or communal screams of frustration we would settle down in front of the TV. Time was short so our choice of viewing was strictly monitored. The really rather good “Treme” was abandoned because it was too slow and long, “The Sopranos” would have meant the expense of buying the last two series and what chance of watching all seven in two months. “The Wire” at five series was pushing it too much, so down time was celebrated with an episode or three of “Deadwood”.
As time ran out we were spending up to four or five hours a night engrossed in this astonishing three series HBO tale of a Western Frontier town from around 1876. So immersed did we become that even though we had seen it before (twice) it haunted our waking and sometimes sleeping hours.
Deadwood is a truly staggering piece of television and not just because of the extreme profanity within the dialogue. The characters are superb and deeply complex, even the seemingly minor players. The ongoing struggle between morality and practicality, that allows murderers to go unpunished yet minor insults to brook serious retribution, makes the brain swirl. The way scenes are acted without dialogue or with characters saying something, when clearly talking about something else entirely, is breathtaking. Ian McShane as proprietor of the Gem saloon Al Swearengen, acts his f***ing face off. You spend the first three episodes hoping he is brought to justice for his seemingly evil machinations but you soon come to understand he is the best thing in the show. Hilarious, perceptive and deviously pragmatic to Machiavellian proportions he has many of the show’s greatest lines (“Sometimes that’s what life is. One vile f***ing task after another.”).
Yet repeated views lead you to adore nearly all the other characters however flawed. Charlie Utter, Wu, Trixie, Jane – sorry if these names mean nothing to you but the box-set is available and you will thank me if you watch it (unless your kids pick up on the language).
So we have had Deadwood in our minds for months. We arrived on Thursday and stayed in the area for three days. We went to the cemetery where Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane and Seth Bullock are buried. In the Adams museum we learnt that many of the characters from TV were based on real people: Bullock’s Jewish friend Sol Star, newspaper man A.W. Merrick and theatre impresario (played by the superb Brian Cox) Jack Langrishe.
In neighbouring Lead (pronounced Leed) we went to the mine that George Hearst bought from the brothers Fred and Moses – a mine that turned out to be the richest in the world.
We learned that there were 200 men to every woman in the hills in 1880, that only 1% of residents died from natural causes, that fire virtually destroyed Deadwood twice, (the original Gem theatre burned to the ground), saw a photo of your actual Al Swearengen and we ate a lot of Mexican food.
In fact we ate so much Mexican food at That Big Burrito Place in Lead that the couple who run it invited us for dinner and drinks on Saturday night. Their four amazing kids seemed to be under the impression that in England we live next door to Harry Potter and all tried to copy our accents. In The Blue Cactus we avoided the obnoxious drunks, Karaoke machine and Nintendo Wii to have a brilliant night.
I don’t know if we expected to feel as though we had been in an episode of Deadwood and the town itself bears no resemblance to its 1876 version but the well documented local history sparks your imagination.
Right Song at the Right Moment::
Thursday: “Quincetera” – Mariachi El Bronx
Friday: The theme music from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” (Ennio Morricone) which was on TV at the motel. Although with adverts and storm warnings every ten minutes it must have gone on for five hours.
Saturday: “Wild Orchid” – The White Stripes