Every Which Way But Loose: Remembering Denver the cow town

I shouldn’t be writing this – I really don’t have the time, but I’ve found that if I don’t write about something when inspiration calls, it quickly dissipates and is then lost for good. POOF! It evaporates into the ether and then I regret it. And this isn’t anything earth-shattering or even related to publishing, it’s just some thoughts I wanted to jot down about the Clint Eastwood film, Every Which Way But Loose

The film, which I am quite fond of for several reasons, came out in 1978. I originally saw it at a drive-in theater in Denver, Colorado as a kid, long before Denver became a destination. So, for starters, this film reminds me of going to the drive-in to see movies, which in itself is a lost art form compared to the high-tech, über high def world we live in now. I miss those days – the days of coolers with soda, popcorn and homemade snacks under the stars.

The drive-in was a blast. You would load the vehicle up with food and drinks, blankets and whatever other creature comfort you wanted and then camp out at the drive-in theater for hours to watch multiple films under the sky. It was fun. The films were fun and it was cheap entertainment.

The Denver Brick Factory

Drive-in films were not “objets d’art,” they were, instead, just fun movies you never thought about too hard or over analyzed, struggling to find meaning and or depth. In my opinion, Hollywood was much more enjoyable when a good portion of their films were simply fun and didn’t try to beat you over the head with an opinion.

Every Which Way But Loose was a drive-in flick. It has a ridiculously thin plot, lots of fist-flying action and a ton of laughs. That’s it. There’s no deep meaning to be found and nothing much under the surface, which is part of the charm. But for me, I relish what it reminds me of and it reminds me of a lot.

Believe it or not, the film is polarizing, but what isn’t these days? People either love it or hate it. It’s hilarious reading people’s reviews who expected…I dunno, a Kubrick masterpiece?? And I can’t imagine this film being made today in our hypersensitive, scared-of-its-own-shadow, sorry excuse for a culture…again, these are reasons I dig this film. It’s unapologetic about what it is. I miss films like that. But I digress.

This film, for me, represents where I’m from; old Denver. It is a tiny snapshot of pre-weed Denver, pre-hipster Denver, pre-insane home prices Denver, pre-gentrified Denver and pre-being on the map Denver. Every Which Way but Loose represents shitkicker Denver, and that’s the Denver I remember and where I’m from.

Writing about my hometown has become a pastime for me and somewhat of an obsession, mainly because it no longer exists, at least not the way I remember it. I struggle to document my experiences there as I watch what’s left of the old city get demolished in favor of “progress.”

Zanza Bar, shitkicker bar in old Denver

In fact, in my new book, I have a 10-page piece about the street I grew up on in homage to a version of Denver that no longer exists.

Shitkicker Denver was a cow town, that’s what everyone from either coast called it back then and that’s why they featured it in Every Which Way But Loose. The city was filled with shitkickers, rednecks and working-class stiffs. There were factories on the outskirts of downtown, industrial pollution, dingy steakhouses and shitkicker bars with cowboy neon signs as far as the eye could see.

It was a blue-collar stronghold in the middle of nowhere without much identity other than the smell of cows, the pollution, the mountains, the shitkickers and the Denver Broncos, who, back then, kicked shit as well.

Clint Eastwood’s film captures the shitkicker aesthetic of old Denver beautifully. It also shows three things that no longer exist from that era: Mile High Stadium, McNichols Sports Arena and the old Denver skyline. These three iconic things are prominently displayed in the film for a brief panoramic moment and it’s enough to fill me up with a sense of pride as well as loss when I see it because none of them exist anymore.

That Denver is long dead and that’s where my memories are from, so it’s an odd sensation to say the least.

The other parts of the film are in Georgetown, Colorado, L.A. and Albuquerque but it never loses its sense of working class culture. The people in the film, even the extras, are people I can relate to because that’s who I grew up with: factory workers, blue-collar men and women and people who sweat for a living and enjoy cold beers, fishing and good fist fight on the weekends. No one got caught “in their feelings,” no one knew what the fuck a hashtag was and absolutely no one was “doing it for the Gram.”

Though the film is fictional, the people it features (and their values) are familiar to me; that’s the cloth I am cut from, those characters are a reflection of my core.

Much of the movie was filmed on Colfax Avenue in Denver, mainly East Colfax, which used to be notorious for hookers and crime. But in the film, you can see old motels, liquor stores and even old porno theaters from the old days. And true to form, there’s a fight scene in one of Denver’s old shitkicker bars and another at an old Denver brick factory. Seeing this stuff brings back memories, not only of the era but of the people from that era.

East Colfax, Denver Colorado 1978

It’s funny – I hated the city back then, not as a child but as a teen and young adult. Once I discovered that people weren’t laughing with Denver but at Denver I started to hate city’s identity.

I resented the cow town moniker and tried my damnedest to try and live my life in old Denver as if it were a big city. Myself, and others, pined for “big city” life and tried to shun as much of the shitkicker identity as we could, but we weren’t fooling anyone.

Things started to shift in the mid nineties with the advent of gangs and crack cocaine, but even through its wannabe L.A. gang phase, Denver still remained a cow town and shitkickers were still prominent. Alas, no mas.

And now, decades later, after the engineering and tooling of many a politician, Denver is no longer a cow town. It is finally a destination. It’s no longer part of flyover country or a place to make fun of. It’s the place everyone wants to be now. It’s hip. It’s happening. It’s expensive as fuck and it’s pissing all over the grave of its former self.

The Denver I knew is no longer there. It’s been usurped by hipster millennials and the hobo chic. It’s been co-opted by corporations and Hollywood elitists and flocks of young people from other cities who could give a flying fuck about Denver’s shitkicker roots. Denver is a “tech city” now. I would also say it’s soulless, but I am biased.

Even still, somewhere deep inside of itself, beyond the glitz and glamour, beyond the weed smoke and food trucks, are the memories of when it was just a sorry-ass shitkicker cow town, with nothing more than tumbleweeds blowing through the downtown streets and neon signs on the extreme ends of Colfax Ave tempting shitkickers from all over the state to raise some hell.

I don’t know where the city of Denver is headed. Is it better now? It depends who you ask. I do know that it is unrecognizable (and un-affordable) to me in many ways and that tends to fuck with my head. I also know I can revisit it from time to time on the silver screen and have a laugh about the old adage about never knowing what something is worth until it’s gone.

Who knew I would miss the cow town? I no longer recognize Denver – not physically, not culturally and not even spiritually. It has shed its old skin (and charm) in favor of being a destination.

I may have loathed shitkicker Denver but watching Every Which Way But Loose made me realize how much I miss it now. As I get older, I pine for simpler times and pleasures in world gone mad. Life’s funny that way I suppose.

Who knew?

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