Find a back issue

D Magazine’s 40 Greatest Stories: Behind the Scenes at Billy Bob’s Texas

Barbara Adair was the backstage waitress at Billy Bob's Texas.
Barbara Adair was the backstage waitress at Billy Bob’s Texas.
Amy Cunningham was a young editor on the staff of D Magazine when her boss, then-editor Rowland Stiteler, came to her with a “dream assignment.” She was to go undercover at Billy Bob’s Texas, the “world’s largest honky tonk” in Fort Worth, which had opened earlier that year.

It was thrilling to tackle a story modeled after Gloria Steinem’s famous stint at the Playboy Club and almost as pleasurable to know that she wouldn’t have to show up at the D Magazine offices to do any other writing or editing for seven whole weeks. All she needed to do was land a job as a waitress and take notes on cocktail napkins.

Her effort resulted in the feature “Honky-Tonk Angel,” which appeared in the March 1982 issue of D and ranks among the 40 greatest stories ever in the magazine.

I asked Cunningham, who spent many years more as a magazine writer but is now a funeral director in New York (more on that career change here), to reflect back on the piece, and on her interactions with the women she worked with at Billy Bob’s and wrote about — none of whom knew they were speaking with a journalist. Her response:

I just re-read the piece for the first time in twenty years. I think I’m best with those poetic drink orders. I’m less impressed with my girlish portrayal of the class divide.

I did not stay in touch with any of my waitress friends and only spoke to Tammy once after the piece was published. I think she was puzzled why I never “came out” to her as a journalist.  I would have tried to be a better friend today, and not roll up and go home to my neat life and cute Dallas apartment, as I did.

Perhaps the most fun aspect of the assignment was all the great music she got the chance to hear while serving drinks.

I saw Willie, Merle, June and Johnny Cash. For a fleeting time I stopped being the bookish person I was and navigated the boozy world of the big bar business. In truth, as I look back on that whole period, I was tormented by my own ambitions at the time, working so hard to be some kind of nationally recognized writer that I couldn’t connect with real people of any kind, thought only of writing and who was on top.  Even when I read other people’s things, even the work of my friends, I was reading in a competitive manner. I don’t operate that way anymore I am happy to say.

As for any lingering after-effects of the experience:

Everybody on the  editorial team, by the way, called me “Amy Bob” once the piece was published, and the name within that intimate, most beloved, sweetly cherished circle–Fred, Chris, Liz, Rowland, Hansel, Matt, Lisa–still sticks.

 

7 comments on “D Magazine’s 40 Greatest Stories: Behind the Scenes at Billy Bob’s Texas

  1. The editor of D Magazine should always be named — and I’m assuming this was an alias to begin with — “Rowland Stiteler,” sort of like the way the Dread Pirate Roberts moniker was handed down from captain to captain. Anyway, just a suggestion.

  2. Along those same lines, I think we should always have a contributor named Brantley Hargrove. Can you imagine Rowland Stiteler editing a 7,000-word Brantley Hargrove story?

  3. Really interesting comment. I am looking at my driver’s license and and my birth certificate and the both say “Rowland Stiteler.” And I WAS editor of D and Amy Culbertson worked for me. What ya’ smoking Zaccrain” Your ignorance seems limitless,

  4. Usually they don’t put photos of people with pseudonyms in the magazine. When I was editor of D in the early 80s, my picture was on numerous editor’s pages. Have you ever seen any old back issues of the magazine, by chance.? I exist, and I take exception to your lack of intellect causing you to assume the name on my birth certificate is a made-up name.

  5. Rowland,

    1) To answer your question, yes, I have seen a lot of old back issues of the magazine. Right now, they’re sort of hard to get to, as they are all stacked up on a desk. I know! I think it’s sort of a pain, too, but you have to choose your battles, right?

    2) I wish you were still here, as you have a fantastic sense of humor and — I’m just guessing, but I think I have enough evidence to make what I believe is called “an educated guess” — you really seem like you’d be a delight to work alongside. That’s right, I said it — a delight. You just don’t take yourself too seriously, and that is refreshing.

    3) House style is ’80s, not 80s, but if you come back, we’ll get you back up to speed. Unless you meant you were editor in your early 80s, in which case I stand corrected. (Though, if you meant it that way, it’s a little unclear so you’d maybe want to give that sentence another look.)

    4) Regarding your comment below, my ignorance only seems limitless. Speaking of, have you seen the Bradley Cooper vehicle Limitless? With Robert DeNiro? Where he — Cooper, that is — takes this pill that helps him access the parts of the brain most people don’t use? DECENT FLICK.

    5) I still think your name is fake.

    Good rapping with ya,

    Zac

  6. Rowland, Zac is a total pain in the ass to work with. Thank you for calling him out.

    Quick follow-up question: what’s your middle name?

  7. Rowland, my name is and was Amy Cunningham! Still love you though. What happened to Mr. Shropshire?