The History of Trees

By Nathan Payne | pablosmoglives | 19 Feb 2023

"Many years I've been away,
Talking 'bout you night & day,
Tellin' people 'bout my country" 
Dean Reed


While watching Adiós, Sabata recently, I became annoyed with the gringo thief Ballantine, played by Dean Reed.  After faking his death, Ballantine takes the entire wine barrel full of gold across the bridge, leaving nothing for his friends Yul Brynner and the grungy gang of spaghetti Mexicans with whom he has recently defeated the Austrian army.  Fortunately, Yul Brynner & Co. shoot holes in the wine barrel, and all the gold spills out as Ballantine is driving away.  After he makes it across the bridge, Ballantine shoots the dynamite with which the bridge has been wired, blowing it up and ensuring there is no way for his pursuers to follow him across the gulch.  He turns to his bounty, only to realize it has spilled out on the other side of the now-destroyed bridge.  His sense of frustration is deeply entertaining to watch, and the film ends with one of my all-time favorite final frames.  Here he is, cursing the amigos he tried to rip off, and who now can split the gold amongst themselves:


"Pablo Smog Lives," of course, is an archaic, 19th-century way of saying, among other things, "Who is John Galt?"  According to Wikipedia, and my own imagination, Pablo Smog "believes in the power and glory of the human mind, and the rights of individuals to use their minds solely for themselves."  Ayn Rand stole her entire philosophy from the wooden tombstone of a 19th-century gringo expat named Pablo Smog, changed the name to "John Galt" to suit a more cosmopolitan audience, projected an individualistic New York philosophy onto the dusty spaghetti character who lived most of his life in a covered wagon with expired tags, and wrote some books about him, to much controversy and acclaim.

The original tombstone was covered with the illiterate, misanthropic ramblings of some guy who was learning the art of woodburning while awaiting his execution by one of Pancho Villa's lesser generals in a small jail in the state of Zacatecas, and who used the lit end of a cheap cigar to burn his last words into the wood.  Which were, of course, "Pablo Smog Lives."  This legendary tale inspired Townes Van Zandt to capture it like a dusty butterfly in song.  Though the prisoner had to finish the cigar while standing before the firing squad, instead of wasting the final puffs on any further explanation of his individualistic philosophy, both Ayn Rand and Townes Van Zandt knew what the condemned man really meant when he said "Pablo Smog Lives."  It was a cry of bitterness, of anger, of unrequited desire and love and mercy that is wasted in a world of outlaws, bad overdubs, and pain.

The Hillbilly Moon Explosion actually killed individuality (symbolized once again by Pablo Smog) and stuffed him in a trunk of a car with Zacatecas plates in the Gothic Rockabilly crime drama "My Love For Evermore."  Dramatizing the kill-crazy exploits of 2 European hair-product enthusiasts who famously slashed their way through central Mexico in search of alcohol and animal prints in the early 2010s, "My Love For Evermore" is an excellent Spaghetti Documentary with a 21st-century Rockabilly twist.  Perhaps in homage to Pablo Smog's entertainer roots, they dress the legs of the corpse in some fancy Mexican show pants, studded with diamonds and bottlecaps, and put him in some pretty badass buckled cowboy lizard boots.

But did they say "Pablo Smog Lives," at any time during their tequila-soaked rampage of murderous, red-party-bulb-lit mayhem?  

Not even once.

It's as though the original, individualistic meaning of "Pablo Smog Lives" has been lost over time, buried in a wave of stylized truckstop detritus.  Has all the misanthropic, monosyllabic rage of the original hombre ridículo libre truly been lost?  Shall the soul of the free, ridiculous individual be stuffed forever into the trunk of a world that is perpetually lit like the parking lot of a 1950s drive-in diner, and where people hang out with an air of stylish ennui, playing vinyl records in roadside hotel rooms?  

Which, y'know.  I guess it could be worse.

But if nobody carries the torch, the cheap cigar of linguistic tradition practiced by the homeless outlaws of the Old Spaghetti West, what will happen to the adopted individualism of Ayn Rand, the philosophical genius who was born in the same town as Vladimir Putin and whose family fled to Crimea, of all places, to get away from the Bolsheviks?  Will "Pablo Smog Vitas," as it is said in the original Latin, be prohibited from being used in the woodburning exercises of men condemned to die in the Old West gulags of the future?  Will the cry of individual freedom be relegated at last to the mass grave of collectivist anonymity in the Killing Fields of the Dumbass Region in Eastern Ukraine?

Or will the collectivist killing fields be in Detroit this time?  New York?  Chicago?  Ohio?

Who's the collective, anyway?  Russia?  Or a coalition of nations who undermine and sacrifice their own people on an altar of abstract ideology, again?

¿Quiénes son los nuevos bolcheviques?


"I don't think that culture is an enemy to any people.  I don't think that the American culture is an enemy to the people in Socialism.  I don't believe that the Soviet culture is an enemy to the American people.  I think that all people should have the right to see the culture of other foreign nationalities and countries and also defend their own culture at the same time."
Dean Reed


Who's defending what here, anyway?  Is Russia the reason Western musicians are starving in the cultural gulag tenement imposed on them by their entitled collectivist countrymen?  Are Russian musicians actually on the defense against an encroaching blitzkrieg of artificially-talented NATO songwriters?


"If the whole world were musicians,
there wouldn't be any war."
Phil Everly


I don't want to talk about it.  If you want answers, read the story of the world.  It's written literally everywhere.  I prefer the peaceful joys of emotional surrealism, in which solid, well-adjusted forms are comprised of broken glass.

But if you want answers, here's a clue:


That's Jeanette.  She's in her 70s now, and plays occasionally in Latin America and a small handful of select cities in the United States.  She lives in Spain.  I'd go to one of her shows in Mexico but I would feel weird, the single, solitary gringo in all black, tall enough to be standing on stilts, in a concert put on by a woman known for so-called "sad girl ballads."  I love her music though.  I had difficulty deciding which Jeanette to book for the tour of Mexico I had planned with Biggie Smalls in 2019.  We needed some kind of soft, Spanish girly glue to balance the tour out.  Who should I book?  70s Jeanette?  80s Jeanette?  Cougar Jeanette?  You can decide for yourself after reading about it HERE.  Tickets go on sale tonight in your dreams:


Those were some good shows.  I wish I woulda been there.

Anyway, what interests me is the story of Dean Reed, the guy who played Ballantine in the Spaghetti Documentary Adiós, Sabata.  Also known as the "Red Elvis," Dean Reed was a huge music star in South America and Eastern Europe during the Cold War.  An American from Colorado, he finally found his way to East Berlin, where he lived with Estonian movie star and sex kitten Eve Kivi.  At the time of his death, he had been working on a Soviet/East German co-production of a film about the armed occupation and standoff at Wounded Knee in 1973, which was to be filmed in Crimea, of all places.  Days before filming was to begin, his body was found drowned in a lake near his home in East Berlin.  The official story is that he committed suicide.  His family thinks he was killed by the KGB.

He was 47.

He seems to have been a pretty individualistic guy.  Did he become a Socialist because he really believed in it, or because he was so radically loved and accepted by the Socialist nations of Latin America and the Eastern Bloc?  As the Jeanette lyric in the graphic above suggests, did he become an American rebel because "no one gave him love" in the States, and so he embraced the politics of the people who did accept him?  Did he convert to the religion of Social Justice, while never really being ashamed of his true American roots, the rugged individualism and revolutionary spirit that has defined the reigning culture north of the Rio Grande for hundreds of years?

Cuz a Socialist anthem, really this ain't.  Did he sing it because he meant it, or because he thought it would sell?  Maybe he just liked the song.


"How can you arrest a man for singing a song?"
Dean Reed


If the suspicions of his family and friends are correct, and it seems likely that they are, then perhaps it isn't wise to ask "how you can arrest a man for singing a song."  Perhaps, the KGB won't bother with arresting you, and will hold your head underwater until you commit suicide.


"I believe that artists, and sports, and science
are international. Those are the things
that go across border lines."
Dean Reed


It's a nice thought, and in fact I agree, but the story of the world is the story of people who profoundly, violently disagree.  Don't forget the "Freedom Speech" scene in the Spaghetti Documentary Easy Rider:

"What you represent to them, is freedom.  They're going to talk to you, and talk to you, and talk to you about individual freedom.  But they see a free individual, it's gonna scare 'em."

"That don't make 'em running scared."

"No.  It makes 'em dangerous."

If God created every tree in the history of trees to be different (and therefore individual), and if He created every snowflake in the history of snow to have its own pattern and shape, does it make any sense that He would want us all to look, think, or be the same?  If we're all individually created by God, and "rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft," (1 Samuel 15:23), doesn't it stand to reason that individualism is NOT rebellion, and that COMPLIANCE AND CONFORMITY TO A DEMONIC WORLD, are?

Is being a free, created individual self that respects the individual created selves of others actual rebellion?  Or does the devil just want us to think it is, so we don't exercise the individual freedom hidden within the apparent paradox of making an individual choice to comply to the will of God?  (a choice no one else can make for us).  The same God, incidentally, Who created us to be different, and Who gives us the freedom to choose our own path?  Presumably because freedom and individuality are things He likes, and perhaps will therefore encourage and provide.

As opposed to the devil, who is all about conformity and compliance.

And so, if "stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry" (1 Samuel 15:23),

Who are the stubborn idolaters, exactly?

The people who resist and let go of their appetites, and who individually surrender to the obedience of God? (as opposed to surrendering others to the obedience of their false, compliant god for them)

Or people who comply to the rebellious mandates of their flesh, 

like everybody else,

Who mandate the participation of others in their stubborn idolatry and rebellion,

and who therefore drown the world

in bombs and endless appetite?

How do you rate this article?


Nathan Payne
Nathan Payne

I am a songwriter and bandleader who travels the world in search of the golden ticket.


Replacing my blog at

Send a $0.01 microtip in crypto to the author, and earn yourself as you read!

20% to author / 80% to me.
We pay the tips from our rewards pool.