Artist C. M. Russell carefully chose the subjects of his art based on personal experience. He, more than any other western artist, painted what he knew with great longing and nostalgia for the cowboy way of life he lived and loved so well. In 1925, a year before his death, Russell painted Laugh Kills Lonesome, a tribute to this vanishing cowboy lifestyle. He depicts an evening campfire scene, one that he probably recalled from his youth. He painted himself into the picture as an old cowpoke stopping by the warm and friendly circle for a cup of coffee and a hearty laugh at the end of a long day in the saddle. The title has been hailed as fine as the painting and several contemporary artists have used it and further interpreted Russell’s famous scene. One of these is poet Mike Logan. Another is musician-songwriter Michael Nesmith of the 1960s pop rock group The Monkees who went on to a stellar career as a songwriter and musician. His insightful, lyrical song “Laugh Kills Lonesome” plays upon the camaraderie and the universal power of humor. His lyrics tell the story that Russell meant to convey. The lyrics read in part:
All around the campfire stood seven dusty men
The cook was drinking applejack, the cattle were all penned
Someone must have cracked a wise one because the men began to grin
Their smiles shot out like sunbeams and made the night give in
Laugh kills lonesome every single time
That's why Charlie Russell painted it
And why it looks so fine
Laugh kills lonesome every single time.
And Nesmith’s lyrics still ring as true as the subject of Russell’s painting.
|Montana Historical Society Museum Collection x1955.01.01. Click on the image for a big version.|