No, it’s not the name of an English pub. It is, rather, the headline of an attempt to explain Montana culture to an Easterner. Whether said attempt is deadly serious or not, well-documented or not, is for the reader to decide.
Montana has its own culture, its own set of principles, even its own language, to a point. Because I grew up in Montana, I signed only one contract in my 33 years as a recording studio owner in Atlanta. All my business was done with a handshake. Because that’s how it was done in Montana. Now the language part… I need to explain that. The everyday language in rural Montana can be, and often is, fairly rough. It’s an Arian state, folks, run by ‘real’ men who work hard, play hard, and talk rough, mostly because they can, and because it’s manly. For some weird reason, a Montana man sounds rougher, tougher when he swears well. And many of them do swear well. It’s so common there that modest swear words stop sounding like swear words after awhile, and begin sounding like everyday polite society conversation. Now that’s all well and good as long as you talk that way in Montana, the Dakotas, Idaho and Wyoming. Outside of those states, common Montana language can grate on the more refined ear. I tell you this now, with a gentle warning, so you can stop here if you think you might be offended by a little Montana color. Because that’s what this blog post is about…
Bull vs Horse
His name was Dick. I don’t remember his last name. He was a jazz drummer, studying at the Berklee School of Music, as was I. We had a few classes together and occasionally got together for coffee after class. He looked, sounded and acted more like an accountant than a jazz drummer. An East Coast guy from Rhode Island, he was a fairly buttoned-down dude whom I liked, though I wasn’t sure why. Probably, in hindsight, it was his sense of humor.
Somehow, he had found out that I was from Montana. For some reason that intrigued him, and he would bring it up nearly every time we got together. He was one of those Easterners who had never been West, and didn’t believe that Montana actually existed. He would ask me silly, tongue-in-cheek questions like, “Are there actual cowboys in Montana? Do they still ride horses? Do they rope cows? Can you rope a cow?” Stuff like that.
One morning over coffee and donuts in the Berklee coffee shop, Dick started on me, all in fun, of course. “So all you Montana guys ride horses and rope? Heh, and I suppose you all play country music on guitar. Why don’t you play guitar, Hulse? I thought everyone from Montana played guitar…”. Smile.
“Ahh, that’s bullshit, Dick,” I winced. “There’s a lot of good jazz players in Montana…”
“Wait, ‘bullshit?’ What does that even mean??”
I couldn’t believe him. “It means that’s not true, man. It means you’re messing with me and I don’t believe it.”
But Dick wouldn’t let it go. “But ‘bullshit…” he smirked. “Do all you Montana guys say ‘bullshit?’”
“Sure do, Sometimes we even say ‘horseshit.’”
“Hahahaha!” Dick was laughing out loud. ‘Oh my god, I’m not believing this! Bullshit! Horseshit! Hahaha! This is too good!”
Now it was my turn. “What’s so damn funny, man? Haven’t you ever heard anyone say bullshit before?”
“Oh yeah, on occasion, I guess. But horseshit?? Hahahaha!”
I decided to get up and leave, I didn’t think it was funny. He saw that and said, “Wait! Nono, wait! Here, let me get you another cup, I need to know more about this.” Still smiling.
I sat back down, and he brought me another coffee. “Now, let me get this straight,” he said, trying not to smile now. “There’s bullshit, and then there’s horseshit, right?”
“Right.” I should have said, “Yup.” That would have probably really set him off.
“So is there a difference between the two?”
“Why hell yes there’s a difference!” I thought everyone knew that…
He was smiling again, but it was too late to stop now. Besides, the coffee tasted good. Dick leaned forward in the booth. “Explain it to me.”
I took a big breath. Jesus, these Easterners… “Okay. Bullshit means you’re kind of kidding, not really serious. But horseshit… that’s a serious lie. Not good to try to make you believe something that isn’t true, that is just plain wrong.”
Dick thought about that. “So how does that work? If someone tells you something you don’t believe, you call that bullshit or horseshit?”
Now I had to say it. “Yup.”
“No no no…” Dick frowned. “There has to be more to it than that…”
“Sure there is. If you say “bullshit” to someone, it’s more of an acknowledgement that he’s pulling your leg, and you’re not buying it. But “horseshit” is a serious challenge, basically calling the other guy a liar. In that case, the would-be liar has to either defend his statement or admit he was wrong. If you’re in a bar in Montana, and you hear someone say, “That’s horseshit!”, all conversation stops and everyone looks over to see what’s going to happen next. A lot of times a fight breaks out right after “horseshit” is heard. So you see, big difference.”
Dick now sat there quietly, his eyes looking a little dazed. My coffee was gone and I was ready for our next class. I grabbed my books and was sliding out of the booth. Dick held up his hand. “Just a sec. I have one more question for you. What if I said “bullshit” to what you’ve just told me?”
“Well hell, I’d probably tell you it’s not bullshit, it’s true.”
“But what if I said all that was horseshit?”
Sigh. “Then I guess I’d have to beat the cowboy dog shit out of you!”
Dick didn’t laugh. So I slapped him on the back as we were leaving for class. “Don’t worry, man. I was just bullshittin’ ya’.”