True Outlaws & The Devil's Surrogate Christs

By Nathan Payne | pablosmoglives | 25 Mar 2022


"The moment you cross the little wire gate and you're in Mexico, you feel like you just sneaked out of school when you told the teacher you were sick, and she told you you could go home."  Jack Kerouac

Not only do you feel like a kid who just got out of school early, but when you cross into Mexico, a strange outlaw odor hits you, like the smell of someone making bread in a dirty bathroom, or a thousand dusty dogs, sleeping off a tequila hangover under a leaky oil pan.  The smell of law and order, clean and crisp, reliable and organized is behind you, receding quickly, and the wide-open scent of lawlessness drifts through the windows, settling on your skin and hair until you are caked with it and don't smell anything.  A hundred miles, at the most.  Before you get to Monterrey, the smell of lawlessness will have enveloped you completely. 

Bienvenidos a la bestia bonita.

Welcome to the beautiful beast.  You made it.  The land of cops who pull you over because you swerved slightly in your lane while putting creamer in your coffee is no more.  The land of cops who not only have no concept of "lanes," but who also wear high heels and don't ask for ID or insurance papers is before you.  Enjoy.

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Mexico is outlaw country.  It's an outlaw culture.  I've talked to more police on average than I ever did in America, and have never been asked for insurance papers.  You want insurance; if you get in a wreck and don't have it, they immediately take you to jail.  Which is crazy outlaw justice of the highest/lowest order.  But they never ask.  Most of them don't even ask for ID.  They're just checking you out.  I've seen major highways diverted to the shoulder by masked men with assault rifles, who are looking for.... what, exactly?  Who knows.  Are they legit?  Who knows.  Is the guy at the gas station legit when he scams me for a certain amount of the hi-octane stuff, when I asked him for the regular grade, pretending he didn't understand me and charging me for more gas than I received, looking at me with eyes out of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, half-drunk on Tecate?

He's not legit.  But if you let your guard down long enough to allow yourself to be scammed (2 seconds), you asked for it.  Welcome to outlaw country.

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In fact, the guy at the gas station looks like Tuco on a fairly regular basis.  All the gas stations in Mexico are full-service, so you have to deal with somebody.  If not Tuco, then Joaquin Cosio from Narcos: Mexico, who offers to change your oil for $100USD because he doesn't respect you enough to believe you're too smart to actually pay it.

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You have to look all those guys straight in the eyes without the slightest amount of flinching or fear.  Not to "prove yourself" or "earn their respect;" nothing so ingratiating or remedial.  You have to look them straight in the eyes to communicate to them that their disdain for you has been registered, received, and filed away in the bin of no importance.  All you have to say is, "I see you."  That's all.  They have to know that you see them.  If they can see that you don't see them, then yeah, you might be in some kind of trouble.  Not necessarily mortal danger.  But you will get fleeced, at least.

I've never been to Ireland, but their music is full of fighting, underdog outlaw spirit.  From the early IRA ballads, written before the IRA became a drug cartel who lost their moral high ground by smuggling arms to and/or from the Palestinians, back when they were still merely fighting for independence from British rule,

To the haunted gaze of the unkempt ghosts performing the song below, Ireland seems like an outlaw culture to me.  The band below looks like a bunch of guys who might have drank with Billy The Kid, and got along with him.

I can see them saying to Billy The Kid, while drinking him under the table and making him feel afraid to use his weapon, "what's your problem, punk?  What kind of 19th-Century white-trash tweeker trip are you on, anyway?  I hope you don't rap.  If you want to be really hardcore, sing traditional music, like Chalino Sánchez, filmed here reading his death-note, delivered by hand to him onstage, hours before he was shot dead in Culiacán."  And then The Dubliners would play this Chalino Sánchez video for Billy The Kid, and Billy The Kid would take note.  Chalino Sánchez was warned by his patrons in one cartel not to perform in enemy territory, but, being an outlaw, he disobeyed.  He was killed that same night.

Look at the fear on his face, after reading the note, and his outlaw determination to continue the song anyway, like a badass.  Hardcore.

So, when did America lose its outlaw spirit?  When did the spirit that went to war against the British Empire, held its ground at the Alamo, and even produced such dubious legends as Billy The Kid and Bonnie & Clyde turn into a rule-happy, policy-drunk secular religious gathering for humorless legalists?  I do not know.  Maybe the legalistic spirit has always been there, and is simply stronger now than ever before.  I just happen to like Mexico, and I like Mexican and Irish music, which seem to have something in common, somehow.  Something nebulous seems to hold these disparate, unrelated cultures together, to the point that even though their music isn't the same, there's a thread of underdog rebellion that runs through it, which appeals to me.  I get the same kind of enjoyment from Mexican music as I do from Irish music, for what feels like the same reason.

There's something unvarnished about a culture that produces a band named after a type of ammunition and writes about the phenomenon of childish hitmen.  Not to puff itself up and show everybody how hardcore it is, but because it's one of the day-to-day topics at hand.  In direct contrast to .38 Special, who I'm not including to make fun of them, but merely to highlight the difference in spirit.  Even though both bands are named after a type of ammunition and/or weaponry, one band has an outlaw spirit, the other does not.

And don't forget one of the most likeable supporting characters in film, the outlaw Irishman from Braveheart.  It seems the Irish have been fighting English rule for centuries.  There seems to be no shortage of haunted underdogs from the Emerald Isle.  If it's an archetype, it exists for a reason.

So, who are the haunted underdogs who have been elevated to the status of secular sainthood?  Bonnie & Clyde, Chalino Sánchez, Emiliano Zapata, William Wallace, the defenders of the Alamo, George Washington, Johnny Cash and other "outlaw country" musicians, Sid & Nancy, "El Pípila," and who knows how many others?

Were they heroes?  Sometimes.  Not necessarily.  But they all were outlaws.

So what makes an outlaw?  Who are the true outlaws?

Moving beyond the surface definition of outlaw as "a person who has liberated themselves from the restrictions of society, possibly to the point of becoming criminal," it becomes clear that the word itself is appealing for one reason:  It liberates mankind from being bound to the law.  The word literally means, "out of law," or "outside of law."  Not "above" the law, like a corrupt politician, but away from it.

An outlaw is someone who has chosen to not only disregard the law, but to discard it.  Like a used napkin, or a dirty towel.

There's something in each of us that longs for the state of being unbound, unchained, and no longer subject to the law. 

After all, "the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression."  (Romans 4:15)

According to this verse, the outlaw condition is one of being free from transgression, or sin.

If "I had not known sin, but by the law" (Romans 7:7), then being outside the law, is being outside of sin.

If sin is the law (1 Corinthians 15:56), and freedom from sin is true freedom from law, then the true outlaws are not those who break the law; they are those who are no longer subject to the law. 

Which makes Christianity the ultimate outlaw creed.  Literally.  Christ made it possible for us to live "outside" of the law.  He is our way out of the law.  Christ sets us free from the law.  Christians are no longer under the law, but under grace.  Like outlaws.

To follow this line of reasoning, the worldly outlaws are therefore the devil's surrogate Christs.  Billy The Kid, Chalino Sánchez, Bonnie & Clyde, Sid & Nancy, and assorted other musical and artistic libertines are the facsimile saviours from the burden of law we've elevated to legendary status, like saints.  At some level, we admire them because they are free.  Free, from the constraints of the law that our hearts rage against all our lives (hopefully).

That's what being an outlaw is all about.  Freedom.  But without Christ, the law will gun you down, eventually.  You can't outrun it.  The law of sin is irrevocable.  It will detain you in the back of its SUV, ambush you on the back roads of rural Louisiana, torture you to death in Medieval England, or shoot you down like a dog in Culiacán, or New Mexico.  That's what the Bible means when it says "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed" (John 8:36). 

It means that through Christ you shall be free of the law, at last.

Jesus Christ is the ultimate outlaw.

Something to think about.

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Nathan Payne
Nathan Payne

I am a songwriter and bandleader who travels the world in search of the golden ticket. http://www.pablosmoglives.com


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