“So you think that you’re a failure, do you? Well, you probably are. What’s wrong with that? In the first place, if you’ve got any sense at all you’ve learned by now that we pay just as dearly for our triumphs as we do for our defeats. Go ahead and fail. But fail with wit, fail with grace, fail with style. A mediocre failure is as insufferable as a medicocre success. Embrace failure! Seek it out. Learn to love it. That may be the only way any of us will ever be free.”
This morning I ran across this quote from Tom Robbins’ wonderful novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (via McGarr’s World).
It brings to mind a couple of other quotes concerning failure. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “Whatever else we are intended to do, we are not intended to succeed; failure is the fate allotted. Our business is to continue to fail in good spirits.” And for the philosopher Buzz Lightyear, a failed attempt to fly was “falling with style.”
It’s been a very long time since I read Cowgirls and I’m wondering if I should dig it out and read it again. I might, but I’m guessing that it won’t have the same effect on me now that it did 30+ years ago.
But on the subjects of success and failure, I like this passage from the book even better:
(P)lans are one thing and fate another. When they coincide, success results. Yet success musn’t be considered the absolute. It is questionable, for that matter, whether success is an adequate response to life. Success can eliminate as many options as failure.
I can attest to the truth of that.
Tom Robbins graduated from Hargrave Military Academy, which is about 10 miles from here, worked in Richmond for a while and ultimately graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University (having been tossed out of Washington and Lee). Back in the late 70s and early 80s, while I was in college, we thought of him as a Virginian, even though he’d long since moved to Washington State.
I was in school when the artistry of Tom Robbins (and specifically Cowgirls) intersected with that of Robbin Thompson, another VCU grad and transplanted Virginian. In 1978 I was a first-year student at UVa when Robbin Thompson (who had done some time with the predecessor to the E Street Band) released “Sweet Virginia Breeze,” a song recorded with fellow Richmonder Steve Bassett. It was a big hit on the Virginia college scene and has become an unofficial state anthem. Have a listen (pardon the annoying video, but this was the only one I could find):
A couple of years later, the Robbin Thompson Band released the album Two B’s Please. I saw the band live many times that year and it seemed that everyone bought the record. It’s a very fine album and still a favorite of mine. I highly recommend it.
It is filled with great tracks (including a remake of “Sweet Virginia Breeze”). One of the best is “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.” Word on the street was that the song was going to featured in an upcoming movie version of the book, and that Robbin was on his way to stardom. It’s a truly outstanding song, especially for those who know the book. Check it out:
Alas, the movie never happened until many years later. When it was finally made, it was a notorious flop. And Robbin’s song wasn’t even in it.
Robbin Thompson wasn’ the first or only songwriter to take a stab at “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.” Rodney Crowell wrote a beautiful song with that title which appeared on Emmylou Harris’ 1979 masterpiece Blue Kentucky Girl. The song featured harmonies from Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, foreshadowing their amazing Trio records. Here’s Emmylou, albeit without Dolly and Linda (youtube isn’t allowing me to embed this one, so just follow the link):
As much as I love Emmylou’s song, for me “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” will always be a Robbin Thompson song. Had things gone differently, maybe it would have been on the soundtrack of an Academy Award winning movie. Maybe it would have been a smash hit. It might have even been planned that way. If so, that plan didn’t coincide with fate.
Somewhere there’s a little girl putting spurs on her Sunday shoes…. Even cowgirls get the blues.