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First Person

The Experience Questionnaire: James McMurtry

Texas-based singer-songwriter James McMurtry is an Americana musician in the vein of Townes Van Zandt and John Prine. His latest single, “State of the Union,” premiered on Rolling Stone Country and is available as a free download from his website. His father is the novelist and screenwriter Larry McMurtry.

Where do you come up with your best ideas? 
It’s random. 

What is the best non-material gift you’ve received?
Some advice I gleaned from my dad’s novel, “Duane’s Depressed.” There’s a scene when Duane tells his son, “Return all your phone calls, even if the guy you’re calling is an asshole or a flake.”

What is the best non-material gift you’ve given?
I don’t know. These questions kind of stump me.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Staying out of my own way. I don’t have any real adversaries, I don’t think. I don’t need any. 

I used to think I’d like to be a trucker, but there’s too much math involved.

If you had to choose a different profession, what would you do?
I used to think I’d like to be a trucker, but there’s too much math involved. I’d be a fishing guide, but I don’t like to deal with clients all that much.

What is the most useful mistake you’ve made? 
Yesterday I flip-flopped a chorus in a song, and it worked better.

What’s the strangest experience you’ve had?
Opening for a Christian rock band. It was one show in Nashville years ago, but it was pretty strange.

What opportunity do you regret passing up?
I could’ve bought a house in Austin [Texas] for $40,000 in 1989, and I had the money. That house would be worth half a million now.

How do you relax?
Lately, I watch my dog cavort around the yard. That’s pretty relaxing.

If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
New York City. I could use some fish and chips.

What is your most indelible childhood memory?
Playing with a Quaker Oats can that was about as big as me at the time.

What’s the most valuable thing you learned in school?
In poetry class at boarding school, my teacher said, “When writing verse, opt to imply rather than state directly.”

When you’re stuck how do you get unstuck?
Just wait.

What is your proudest moment?
I don’t know. Wouldn’t reveal it if I did.

What would you like to experience before you die? 
Too much to choose from, really. Right now my goal is to catch a big flathead catfish. Never done that.

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Photo by Paul Marotta/Getty Images

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