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Michael Corcoran’s LAWN

Posted by mcorcoran on October 28, 2017

I TRY PRINCE’S 5X HOT CHICKEN AND… DOWN GOES FRAYZHUH! DOWN GOES FRAYZHUH!

You ever wake up in Kentucky and wish you were home? Then, outside is not a taxi to take you to the airport, but a Nissan Altima with three weeks of funk and a shriveled wardrobe in the trunk. Yesterday was supposed to be spent exploring Lexington, KY and then bedding in Nashville, but I was more set on eating a chunk of the hours between me and Austin. It’s been a great 23 days on the road, but you know what would sound great right about now? My old life. My morning routine. My favorite grocery store.

Lexington had some great architecture on the way to the horse wagering den. Unfortunately, there a big, dumb college in the middle of it, so you’ve got these beautiful buildings with “Go Cats!” signs on them. There’s a great record store on Limestone called CD Central and I had a good grilled summer vegetable sandwich at Stella’s Kentucky Deli. The people were noticeably friendly. But a move from Austin to Lexington would be like dating your ex-wife’s less talented and not-so-interesting sister. And there’s construction everywhere.

My best friend from Nashville was still out of town, so I just buzzed into Prince’s Hot Fried Chicken, in a strip mall of North Nashville, then headed towards Memphis. When you eat at a hot chicken place in Nashville and say it’s not so great, everybody tells you that you shoulda went to Prince’s. It’s in what some people would call the ghetto and I think it may have started the hot chicken craze.

“Mild?” the woman at the counter asked, sizing me up. No, hot, bitch, I said. Maybe not all those words. I got a half chicken for $11 and was carrying that thing out to the car like it was a football and I had nothing but end zone in front of me. I plopped the bag on the trunk and started digging in right there. “Eat that shit!” a woman yelled out from a passing car. “Tear that chicken up!” said her male companion. I didn’t care. I was hungry and this was not Rodeo Drive.

OK, I have to say I was not quite prepared for the heat. Holy shit! My lips were burning, my tongue was on a spit. The first bite was so good and then…thousand one, thousand two… your tastebuds are in a firefight. Has seasoning ever caused a heart attack? In Hawaii they have an expression “broke da mouf,” which really describes anything delicious. Prince’s literally broke my mouth. Last night was the first time I’ve ever taken a painkiller over something I ate.

Lunch today in Memphis, always a disappointment. Me and that city have never really gotten along. New Orleans either. Growing up in Hawaii, I’ve seen how tourists can ruin a good thing. But scenery is one thing. Please stay away from the soulful music.

 

Don’t you start me cAARPing

Considering I’m such a Thrifty Lazar, it makes no sense that I’ve waited until I’m 59 to buy an AARP membership. You pay $16 a year to save about $150- there’s no debate. But I’m allergic to the hard sell and AARP bombarded me with mail-outs and such the day I turned 50, so I was determined to do this without them. And I have, to a certain extent, devising my own discount systems. I didn’t have AARP, but I did have RCW, the reimbursement ceiling walkaway, which is when you go into the motel, ask the rate and then say “shoot, my employer will only reimburse me for ($10 less).” In about 75% of the cases, the clerk will give you that rate before you hit the door out, but you have to be smart about it. Usually doesn’t work if you smell curry at check-in or if the parking lot is full of cars. And don’t try the RCW if it’s the only motel around. They’ll just laugh at you.

But what really convinced me to break down and get the old timer’s card was watching a man about my age check-in right ahead of me at the Motel 6 in Hagerstown, MD a couple nights ago. He asked for a 2 p.m. check-out and got it. When it was my turn, I got the usual 60+ discount, but he wouldn’t give me the late check-out or free wifi. “That’s only for AARP members,” he said. I went online ($2.99 later) as soon as I got in the room and signed up. Do you know how many columns have been wrecked over the past 9 years by the 11 a.m. checkout? This is a game-changer.

NOTES FROM THE ROAD

* Day One of my “You’re Not Homeless If You’re On the Road” tour found me driving through a horrible storm just north of Dallas and doing something I never do when I’m traveling on my own dime: I checked into a Holiday Inn Express instead of my usual $39.99 Motel. I think I’d rather have 103 degree temperature than pay $103 for a hotel on the road, but there was no driving through that flood warning and the H.I. Express was the only thing off that exit in Royce City.
Gosh, was it worth it! I was reminded of that Eddie Murphy clip on Saturday Night Live when he experiences life as a white man. So, THIS is how the rest of you do it? Best sleep I’ve had in years- and then a “breakfast buffet” that had real food, not just cereal and stale muffins.
Dinner tonight in Memphis, then maybe a Patel 6 on the way to Nashville. I don’t want to get spoiled, so I’m gonna stay at a nice place every OTHER night. Some sleep ’til Brooklyn!

* Day Two of my “YNHIY On the Road” tour was rather uneventful, but I just checked into the Motel 6 on exit 66 to see if I can change that. Was looking forward to eating at the Cozy Corner BBQ in Memphis, but they closed at 6, about half an hour after I got there. Downtown Memphis was full of tourists, so I got back on the freeway and ended up eating at a Waffle House. Listened to a bunch of Otis Gibbs podcasts on the nine-hour drive today, including the one where he reads from my Blind Willie Johnson article from 10 years ago. And then the next couple hours I kept thinking about how I’ve gotta give that Blind Willie research another try. I’m going to D.C. sometime during this sojourn to go through some African-American newspapers at the Library of Congress. In Texas, the Dallas Express and the Houston Informer were the big papers, but there were several smaller publications that would be great to find. You never know.
Tomorrow: lunch in Nashville at Epice, this Lebanese place Callie Khouri told me about (she’s another famous Lebanese from Texas). If it’s not open, I’ll try a Taste of Cuba by the Fairgrounds, which is fantastic! I ate there every day when I stayed at the Red Roof Inn during Americana Fest in September.
I’m thinking I might end up in Asheville, NC tomorrow night. Then DC Monday.

BEFORE AUSTIN

Honolulu’s most famous concert promoter Tom Moffatt, who started off as a radio guy and promoted some of the famous Elvis Presley shows in Hawaii, has a column called (unfortunately) “Uncle Tom’s Gabbin’,” which is a mix of gossip and memories. Every week he finds some old clipping and pulls quotes from it. This one is about my review of an Earth, Wind & Fire concert in 1975- 40 years ago!-when I was 19. Since EW&F was one of the biggest acts at Bonnaroo this weekend, it seemed a fitting time.

I was a music critic for about 9 years before I moved to Austin in 1984. This piece from my personal website will catch you up on my writing life Before Austin and also give you a juicy tidbit about the EW&F show, which I believe was my second concert review. Definitely the first time I bought drugs.

Going through Manhattan to talk to a neighbor

I’m like the Cat Lady of pet peeves I’ve got so many running around. One of my big ones is when an Austin musician hires a high-powered NYC publicist that you have to go through to set up an interview. I’ve been emailing back and forth six times, like a negotiation, to talk to someone whose house I pass on the way to HEB. This is the kind of publicist I hate, the one who wants to make sure you focus on what they want, which, in this case, is a new album coming out in a couple months. (I should point out that I’m not trying to interview Beyonce, but someone who plays the Continental Club.) Normally, at this point I would say “forget it” and move on to the next story. But I’m having fun toying with this woman. She kept asking me how much of the article is going to be about the new album (how the fuck do I know?) and I either ignored her or was intentionally vague. She was persistent because, you see, it makes her day when the story comes out and she can harangue the writer about how it ended up different from how he or she “promised” it would be.
After the third email, in which she specified emphasis points on the LP release, I almost emailed back “what album?” but I caught myself.
I’m not going to tell you who the Austin artist is, but if you read a 2,000-word article that mentions an upcoming album, without naming it or giving the release date, you’ll know they have a pushy NYC publicist. God, I love my job!

 

Found out the hard way

If you use a pair of scissors to cut open the package of tilapia, you need to use a different pair to trim your moustache, even hours later. The woman at HEB looked at me like I’d just raised my head from between Angela Lansbury’s thighs.

HOW DO YOU KNOW A BIKER IS FROM AUSTIN?

Austin may have the lowest number of biker gang members, per capita, of any city in Texas. APD reports that there are only 50 outlaw bikers in this city of 1.4 million. At first I thought that number was way low, but I can’t remember the last time I saw a vest-wearing 1%-er in Austin except to protest helmet laws or go to a David Allan Coe concert.

But here’s how you know it’s an Austin outlaw biker:

1. He cooks crystal in a food trailer called “You Do the Meth.”
2. He “got his wings” by eating an airport breakfast taco at 3 p.m.
3. He and his gang were once hired to do security at Old Settler’s for all the gingko tea they could drink.
4. He won’t go to a Hank Williams Jr. concert because of his politics.
5. He complains that the ROT Rally was so much cooler when it was about new bikers trying to sign with gangs. Now it’s all corporate, like the Doritos Bandidos Stage.
6. He has nearly 100 ‘likes’ on his “Let’s Get Ramsay Midwood Booked on ‘Austin City Limits'” Facebook page.
7. He rides a Harley Prius.
8. He volunteered at SXSW, got his badge, and never showed the fuck up!
9. His favorite way to pass the time on long rides is to rate Gourds albums first-to-worst.
10. He helped his MC brother Bird strongarm his way into the Austin barber shop business.

The MAHU STATE

Oahu was an oppressive place to grow up. Lotsa bullying and locals “hijacking” your change or punching you out for a laugh. Every day was Kill Haole Day somewhere. But the Islands were surprisingly accepting of transvestites. At Aiea High School we had three or four guys who dressed and talked like girls and nobody really bothered them. It was a part of Hawaiian culture, where if you had all sons, one of the boys would assume the daughter role in helping the mother.
Anyway, all this stuff about Bruce “I Am Woman” Jenner brought me back. I can imagine a Hawaiian family watching the Diane Sawyer interview and going. “So da guy like be one mahu? So wot!”
Some dummies have wondered if Jenner’s revelation would taint his gold medal in the 1972 Olympics. Instead, I think it ranks Jenner as one of the greatest athletes of all time. Could you imagine if a woman won the men’s decathalon today!
(Yes, hehheh, I said “taint”).

I’ve hated crawfish boils since about halfway through the first one. Eating mudbugs is like cracking a safe for $876. But I’ve finally understood the appeal. It’s a feast without food or fuss, and everyone’s  got something to do with your hands. Plus, it’s an excuse to get as nasty and drunk as you’d like. We in Nawlins, darlin.’

Ripper and Rex

I’m not complaining, but sometimes I wonder why I turned out to be such an abrasive, prickly, contrarian. Believe me, I don’t do it for the reaction. Who wants to be hated? But I just can’t help myself.  This all might have something to do with my two greatest influences as a teenager: professional wrestler Ripper Collins and acerbic movie critic Rex Reed. King Ripper was an obnoxious bleach blonde heel, doing that Andy Kaufman insult-the-natives bit back in the late ’60s. He would badly mispronounce all the Hawaiian towns and street names, which really pissed off the Hawaiian people. They hated that effeminate insult machine, but he was my favorite. Nobody can make me laugh like the queens, which is why I record every episode of Modern Family, but fastforward through all the scenes with the old rich guy and the hot Colombian wife.

Rex Reed, also gay, was the king of bitchy one-liners. My favorites were when he called the Liv Ullman remake of Lost Horizons “Brigadoon with chopsticks and criticized Lady Sings the Blues by pointing out that “Billie Holiday didn’t get famous singing like Diana Ross.” When I first started writing reviews I tried to come up with lines like that. Reed was the first talk show guest who talked shit about big stars and huge Hollywood productions. I dug his fearlessness.

Pro wrestling was big in the Islands when I moved there with my family in 1971. The whole thing fascinated me and I’d watch the matches every Saturday afternoon on KGMB-TV. Even better than the action from the ring were the locker room interviews. (Actually not a locker room as we found out when one wrestler punched a “locker” and the whole studio facade fell down.) Ripper Collins and Mad Dog Mayne were the biggest villains and tag team partners, but they had a falling out and fought in a “Loser Must Leave Town” match, which Ripper lost. So he was in my life only a few months.

But something exciting has happened in my life today. I found this new web site, dedicated to 50th State Big Time Wrestling. Anybody else out there who grew up in Hawaii in the ’60s or ’70s will be very excited about this.

The Accidental Plagiarist

I was on the staff of the Austin American Statesman for 16 years, from 1995 to 2011, when I took a retirement buyout. But I could’ve been fired in May 1998, or at least I lived in fear of that for a couple weeks. I kept waiting for someone to realize that I had lifted a couple short paragraphs from the New York Times without attribution for a front page obit. I wasn’t trying to pull anything over, and my editor saw me take the words of Stephen Holden, but I didn’t put the NYT credit line at the end as I should have. Maybe I would’ve just been reprimanded, but I worked on my resume anyway.

The day Frank Sinatra died was a big one for me. I had not been much of a fan in the ’60s, when my beloved Top 40 charts were infiltrated by “Strangers In the Night” and “Something Stupid,” and never really got Frank until the late ’80s. I was up in Chicago, trying to get a job with the Chicago Sun-Times, and when I found out the arts editor was a dyed-in-the-wool Sinatra fanatic, I did every Frank piece imaginable. I interviewed Sammy Cahn, the Sinatra songwriter who had a one-man show in town. I did a big Sunday arts section lead on Sinatra at 75. I talked Frank with Chicago writer Bill Zehme, who was working on a bio. I became a 34-year-old Sinatraphile in about two months. Then, when I was hired by the Dallas Morning News in ’92, my first Katie Award was for a Frank Sinatra appreciation.

Now, a lot of folks don’t realize that in my 16 years with the Statesman, I was only the “pop music critic” for the first three years. After that I was titled a “feature writer,” though I specialized in music profiles. On the sad day of May 14, 1998, I came to work to find that another writer had been assigned the Sinatra obit and I took it away with such force that I even surprised myself. “The fuck you are!” I think I said, before delving in fully, completely. This obit was going to be great, and I had several hours to write it.

When it was done and I handed it in, the editor said it still needed something, so I looked through the available sources, the Associated Press, New York Times and the like and found what he was looking for. Like this, I showed him, and he said “perfect,” so I cut and pasted and then went home to crack beers and listen to that magnificent voice.

Got a call from the copy desk, which was almost mandatory for A1 stories. There were no credits at the end of the story. Did I write the whole thing? Usually the editor put those in, so my first thought- the fatal thought- was that the three or four sentences I borrowed from the NYT had been deemed insignificant for attribution. I told the copy editor that there was no need to give credit to any other sources. Then I spent the next half hour- it was getting close to the 11:30 p.m. drop dead deadline- debating with myself on whether or not to call back and say, “come to think of it…” but I didn’t. Huge mistake.

The next morning I left the newspaper sit on the driveway for hours before I got the nerve to pick it up. I read the obit and it was worst than I thought it would be. The lifted NYT piece was on A1 before the jump. My editor had better love the sight of gear boxes and exhaust pipes, I thought, because I was going to have to throw him under the bus. But how would I justify lying to the copy desk in that moment of weakness and clouded judgement. Hey, I could also blame the beer.

But nobody ever brought it up. I guess nobody noticed. Or maybe the editor had been called in and took the blame for the oversight. I just put the whole thing out of my mind. But recently I was sorting my old boxes of clippings and I came across my Sinatra obit. But I just quickly tossed it in my A1 obits box. It was one of the best obits I ever wrote and I couldn’t stand to look at it. And that’s punishment enough.

 

Staci

When I was coming up, older women had names like Gertrude and Dorothy. But if you were born in 1950, you’re now 65 and you might have the name of a young person. That just messed with me on Facebook. I’m not using her real name, but it was something like Staci Seymour, and she’s been “liking” alot of my posts and leaving cute comments, so I clicked on her name. Staci Seymour is an old lady and she’s got one of those “I give up” short haircuts. 95% of her photos are of kids and dogs and what looks like an office retirement party. And for a few seconds there I thought we might have something going on. Listen, I know I’m hideous, so if my real name was, say, Wes Starr, I’d probably change it to Michael Corcoran on facebook. Just so no one gets the wrong idea.

“Raised” by ignorance

We are always being asked to try to understand the motivations of criminals. What in their upbringings brought upon such violent and/or selfish behaviors?
Could we accord the same empathy to racists? No one is born a racist. How did they get there? Maybe if we understood that better we could work on ways to eradicate the trait.
It’s not against the law to be an everyday racist, so we can’t try and rehabilitate them in lockup. But since it usually starts with parenting (as with criminals), we can hope the next generation is raised by people who have experienced the beauty of diversity.

A NIGHT ON MARS

A spotify question. If someone was to play, I don’t know, say “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars, 11 times in a row, there’s not a way for anyone to know, right?
When I was growing up in Hawaii, they’d make a huge deal about anyone local making a big splash on the Mainland. Yvonne Ellison was a supastah because she had that one hit from “Jesus Christ Supertar.”
And now Hawaii can boast the President of the United and the world’s greatest pop star. Bruno Mars, who went to Roosevelt High like Ellison, is a big star, but with his talent you wonder why he’s not bigger. Some of his stuff aims too low, but he’s a great singer and writer.

TEXT TO THE BISHOP: ‘WE DID IT!’

 

If Bishop Fred Jones of the Mount Zion COGIC in Markham, TX didn’t already have a sermon about patience, he surely has one now. Three years ago, Austin filmmaker Alan Berg and his wife/business partner Kristin Johansen-Berg (their Arts + Labor film/media company hosts this web site) came to see a gospel showcase at SXSW that I’d invited them to. They were especially drawn to my favorite act, the Jones Family Singers from Bay City, who are as inspiring offstage as they are on.

This year’s SXSW features the world premiere of Berg’s documentary “The Jones Family Will Make a Way.” Three years is not especially long in the making of a documentary, but this project seemed like it was never going to end. In the middle, the Bergs paid for the family of gospel musicians to make a CD at Jim Eno’s Public HiFi studio. And they seemed to dispatch an Arts + Labor camera crew to every podunk gig. And they kept interviewing me. Although my dream for the movie was that it would be a Jones Family Singers concert film, with some backstage and at-home stuff sprinkled in, it was becoming clear that I was a big part of the narrative. I was the gospel enthusiast and JFS champion who wouldn’t give up. I really don’t like anything that comes out of my mouth, especially in public, but I was so grateful that someone else cared about the Jones family. Someone who could get down their story for posterity. If it was good for the Jones Family, I was going to do it without complaint.

Last night I watched “The Jones Family Will Make a Way” and it far surpassed any expectations. It’s about the realities of a family gospel group trying to stay vital while playing a style of “hard gospel” that hasn’t been especially popular since the Sixties. But it’s also about why people do what they do, even if the rewards may not be here on Earth. I’m the atheist in a movie about a Pentecostal preacher and his deeply religious family. But during the course of the movie, a greater theme comes out. People from completely different backgrounds and ideologies can have more in common than you’d think. Especially when great music brings them together.

“The Jones Family Will Make a Way” plays Wednesday March 18 at 11:30 a.m. at the Paramount Theatre, Friday the 20th at the Marchesa (11 a.m.) and Saturday the 21st at the Vimeo Theater (1:30 p.m.) in the Austin Convention Center. These are all huge theaters, so the public will be able to buy tickets to see this fantastic film. And since the doc is part of the 24 Beats Per Minute segment, those with music badges can also get in.

You’ll laugh out loud at least once and cry at least once. Any more of either is up to you.

 

 

GOSSIP IS NOT FOR WIMPS!

A week after my ranking of the “25 Most Powerful People on the Austin Music Scene” made higherups at the Austin American-Statesman uncomfortable, I unleashed this column that got me called in on the carpet again. From Feb. 24, 2000 XL.

 

A few months ago, several music critics held an intervention of sorts on me. We were all sitting at a table at the Bitter End and I was updating everyone on the status of the Farrah Fawcett-Greg Lott romance, when suddenly they all turned on me. “Man, what happened to you?” said one guy. “Do you actually like writing a gossip column?” asked another. “Is that any way for a grown man to make a living?” These friends of mine were concerned that I’d gone over the edge, pushed to insanity by having to review one too many Lyle Lovett concerts. They couldn’t understand why anyone with a job as a music critic would suddenly decide to shift focus to a column about parties, local celebrities and inside media dirt.

But I think sharing secrets is a much more personal and worthwhile pursuit than listening to a record four times in a row and then writing if it’s any good. Music critics should have term limits and so, even though I still keep my hand in on the music side, I decided to try something different.

In a 1994 bio of Walter Winchell, who popularized the three-dot format to connect the tidbits, Neal Gabler wrote that “(Winchell) understood that gossip, far beyond its basic attraction as journalistic voyeurism, was a weapon of empowerment for the reader.” When I started my “Austin Inside/Out” column a little more than two years ago, I felt like a National Guardsman called into active duty.

The response was instant and often intense.

“Invading the lives of the famous humanizes them,” Gabler continued, “and in humanizing them demonstrates that they are no better than we are and in many cases worse.”

A theme of such lauded recent films as “Happiness,” “The Ice Storm” and “American Beauty,” is that if you go deeper than the facade of the good life you’ll find dysfunction. “Blue Velvet,” the pioneer of Hollywood’s new social pornography, laid it out with an opening that showed a beautifully green lawn, but then the camera zoomed beneath the lushness to show a couple of insects grappling. A good gossip column operates with a similar eye for the grimy truth.

But I don’t see the role as a three-dot columnist as digging for dirt as much as it is to be the great equalizer, building up those who deserve it and knocking down those who have too much. I’m the drawback to being rich and famous. In this game of pop culture, celebs are the quarterback and I’m the linebacker. If I get a good, unblocked hit/item on them, I can’t feel guilty if they lay there in pain. The fans/readers demand that I don’t hold back, though sometimes I do.

Writing gossip is a risky business and I’m constantly asking myself if running a certain item is going to be worth the screaming phone message or the call on the carpet. I try not to print anything that could have a profound effect on someone’s life or livelihood, so all you married philanderers are safe. But sometimes I just have to forge ahead and go with my instincts, prepared to deal with the consequences.

That this can be an emotionally hazardous occupation has been recently exemplified by the flap caused when Austin Internet movie newshound Harry Knowles posted what he believed to be the Oscar nominations the day before they were officially announced. In a remorseful, apologetic follow-up, Harry related that his list, which he touted as “deep from the halls of the Academy” a day earlier, had actually come from the computer of an ABC.com researcher who was digging up bios on probable nominees. Though Knowles’ list of eight names per category contained all the actor and actress nominees, it didn’t mention “The Cider House Rules,” up for the best picture nod, so Knowles was left with bits of omelet in his beard. Oscar’s head man Ric Robertson told Variety that the Academy was considering charges against Harry’s aint-it-cool-news.com pending an investigation to discover “how Knowles knew to hack into that particular database.” Knowles insists that he received the list from a first-time source and no hacking was involved.

I’ve also been burned by trusting a source who, it turned out, overstated their access to the truth. In the firestorm that followed, I just kept running all the details through my mind, like a football team watching film after a painful defeat, and in the end I became a better columnist because of that setback. Hair grows back thicker after a head is shaved.

I’m committed to the gossip biz, no matter how sissy such a job may seem on the surface and I hope to continue writing “Austin Inside/Out” until it’s no longer fun and challenging. Or until the day my son comes home from school all bruised and tattered and says, “Dad, the kids at school said you’re a gossip columnist.” If that happens, I’m back to asking the 17-year-old kid sitting next to me what song Bjork just played.

 

WHAT’S WITH ME AND THE DIVAS?

 

“Dear Dad, I have some startling news: Your eldest son is gay.” That was my lead in the first draft of a Celine Dion concert review from ten years ago. The show was a schmaltzy smorgasbord of bombastic ballads, over-the-top production numbers and more costume changes than Isaac Mizrahi getting dressed to meet Jude Law . . . and I just ate it up.

It didn’t seem possible that I could be heterosexual and at the same time get goosebumps when Celine did a video duet with Barbra Streisand on “Tell Him.” My comedic writer’s voice has always been a gay male (Paul Lynde on “Hollywood Squares,” to be exact), but did it go deeper than that?

I’m not attracted to men, except for Johnny Depp who, let’s face it, is just a woman with a moustache, but that didn’t seem to matter when tears welled up during “My Heart Will Go On.” Later that night, typing away at a San Antonio motel, I was ready to emerge from the closet of denial.

The next morning, however, I chickened out and gave the delete key a workout, sending in a more standard review. (My catty comment that Celine could be dubbed “Edith Pilaf” for a French number that was as bland as rice flew in under the gaydar.) I headed home with thoughts of chicks and Budweiser and AC/DC. Never liked show tunes, I rationalized. Hated “Mommie Dearest.”

But on the drive back, I traced my affinity for gay musical icons, now commonly called divas, and wondered if maybe I had hit a suppressed nerve. I go way back with the boys, even before seeing Bette Midler in 1973, when I was a senior at the same high school Miss M had graduated from 10 years earlier. I’ve been one of those people, people who need Barbra, since the late ’60s, and, of course, there was sweet, tragic Judy Garland pandering for my love and devotion before that.

Could it be that only my ears are queer? Why was I so into Cyndi Lauper, who’ll turn local gay bars into ghost town saloons Monday night when she plays La Zona Rosa? Tina Turner is an incredible singer — of course, I applauded her. But Debbie Reynolds? Eartha Kitt, Tallulah Bankhead, Marlene Dietrich, Liza Minnelli — I’ve loved all the gals in the Oilcan Harry’s Hall of Fame.

 

Cher’s different, OK? I’ve been hot for that girl and her bronzed tummy forever, so when I went to review Cher’s show at the Erwin Center a couple years ago, I had no idea she had such a gay following. At least 80 percent of the audience that night would’ve rather dressed Cher than undressed her.

But then I started thinking: “Of course!” Cher meets the three main criteria to be a queer icon.

No 1: She’s what many of the gay men I’ve known aspire to be: a strong woman. She’s tough, but not hardened. She’s not afraid to cry (witness the Sonny Bono funeral). Streisand is the queen here, but Pink is the current princess of the bold, vulnerable feminine type.

No. 2.: Cher uses bawdy language and makes randy analogies. If gay goldfish could name themselves, Bawdy and Randy would be leading monikers. Midler’s not a big star because of her singing voice. There are women doing Wal-Mart commercials who could bury Bette vocally. But nobody’s naughtier, nobody’s more outrageous onstage. You’ve gotta be outspoken if you want to headline over Gloria Gaynor.

No. 3: The third major component of being put on that feather-and-rhinestone-covered pedestal is that you have to be easy to impersonate in drag shows. Here’s where Dolly Parton got in. And Josephine Baker. And Grace Jones. Barbara Mandrell will never be a character in one of those “Boys Will Be Girls” revues because she doesn’t have an instantly recognizable look. Diana Ross is a gay icon. Martha Reeves isn’t. Paris Hilton: gay icon. Nicole Richie: not.

Fiona Apple was so close to becoming a queer hero, but then she broke up with magician David Blaine and he made her career disappear. But Joss Stone could end up Soundscanning some big CD sales numbers in San Francisco if she follows some or all of these steps:

Marry badly and often, at least once to a gay man who’s fooling no one.

Develop an addiction to painkillers. Make a controversial appearance on David Letterman’s show (cigar optional). Don’t marry Bobby Brown.

But most of all, spread the love, baby. Give the audience everything you’ve got and look absolutely fabulous doing so.

Did I just write “absolutely fabulous”?

Dear Dad…

BILLY RAY CYRUS, I OWE YA ONE

I became a pretty decent obit writer because of my time at the Dallas Morning News (’92-’95), which didn’t really hold entertainment writers in high regard unless they consistently landed on 1A. And the easiest way to get a front page byline was writing a celebrity obit. The Morning News didn’t use a single AP obit for a musician in the three years I was there.

When Conway Twitty died, however, I was busy as hell and kinda hoping my bosses would let me outta that one. But I was the country music critic at the time and CW was a major dude, I guess, so I had to fit it in. The reason the day was so stressful was that I had a phoner with Billy Ray Cyrus that took me two weeks to set up. It was during that period, right after “Achy Breaky Heart” came out, when Cyrus was the biggest thing in all of music. His first LP “Some Gave All” debuted at #1 on Billboard and stayed there for 17 consecutive weeks, a maiden run that’s never been matched. He was a sensation who hardly did any interviews, but since the DMN stories were picked up on the wire, his handlers felt they could just do mine and that would cover the country. It was a major coup. But then Conway Twitty died and I was distracted.

I was finishing up my Twitty obit when Billy Joe called for the 15-minute phoner. He politely asked me how I was doing and I said I had been gutted by the news of Conway Twitty (not really) and then Cyrus, very poignantly, told me how listening to Twitty when he was a boy made him realize that country music could also be pop and rock n’ roll without losing its twang. Boom, there was my lead quote on the obit! The next day I got all kinds of congratulations from the big editors, who thought I’d moved mountains to get a quote from the biggest star in the music biz. Today, this would be like Patti Labelle dying and getting fresh quotes from Beyonce. Even the New York Times couldn’t get ahold of “the new Elvis of country.” My Cyrus story wasn’t scheduled to run for another two weeks so they were sixpence none the wiser.

 

GRAMMYS 2015 COMMENTS

* When they said “Here’s Ariana Grande to sing Just A Little Bit of Your Heart,” I hoped she had a song called “Your Heart.”
* Am I the only one who thought Rihanna, Kanye and Paul McCartney in silhouette with the music starting were The Band Perry?
* Why does every Nashville backing band these days look like they had a Monday residency at Steamboat in ’89?
* Call me a ’60s burnout, but I think a better use of Paul McCartney’s time at the Grammys would’ve been speaking about Lifetime Achievement Award winner George Harrison rather than playing rhythm guitar for Kanye and Rihanna.
* From now on when a great artist makes a cameo that makes no impact on the song it’ll be called doing a Herbie Hancock.
* “Eh, mate, I’m on the Grammys Sunday can you finish this forearm tattoo?” Sorry, Ed Sheeran, I’m leaving on vacay. “I’m rollin up me sleeves anyway.”
* What’s that Kanye/McCartney collaboration called, “Ego and Ivory”?
* Watching with the sound off. Did Michael Cera just win Album of the Year!?
* Well, there it is “Music’s Biggest Night,” and tomorrow morning anyone with half a brain will still be talking about Bob Dylan’s speech Friday.
* Nobody ever talks about Kanye’s charitable side. He’s raised millions for narcisstic fibrosis.

 

BOO FOR ‘YE

I think Kanye has talent and I like his overall weirdness, but he should be banned from the Grammys next year. Imagine if a football player ran onto the field from the stands to protest an official’s call and then went on TV to rant about how the winning team was a disgrace to athleticism and should give the trophy to the losers.
Beck’s album was written and produced entirely by Beck. Beyonce’s album had 34 songwriters and 16 producers. No knock on Beyonce, who’s so gracious and a tremdendous performer, but who’s the true artist?

A DATE WITH CAROL BURNETT

For a few months in 1978, I lived in a studio apartment in Pico Rivera, a suburb of Los Angeles that looks like it sounds. I slept on the couch and my friend Kathy slept on a futon on the floor. We were separated by a small dining room table and two chairs.

Next door was a Rodeway Inn, which had a lounge where bands played songs by Merle Haggard and Bachman-Turner Overdrive. I was over there just about every night. Kathy was a tattoo artist who worked during the day and so at night I’d give her the place. Sometimes she came with me to the Rodeway.

That’s where I met a small girl with short hair and a cute face named Carol. I didn’t know her last name for awhile, but after a couple weeks she said she was married to a guy whose last name was Burnett. “Wow, Carol Burnett,” I said and she sighed. But you couldn’t let that one go by.

Carol said her husband left her because he decided he was gay, but she had a one-year-old boy. They shared a room with her uncle, a truck driver who rented by the week. I used to see Carol at the Rodeway every time I went, but sometimes she’d just pop in for a minute, then go back to her kid.

I didn’t see her for about a month so I asked her uncle where she was and he told me that the boy was diagnosed with leukemia and Carol was with him at the hospital. When they came back to the Rodeway, Carol didn’t tell me much and I didn’t really ask. She was scared, though.

One day I was looking through club ads and I saw that there was a show at the Troubadour starring Jackson Browne’s brother Severin Browne on Monday and the cover was only $2. I didn’t have a job and had come to L.A. from Honolulu with about $80 to my name, so the price was right. I asked Carol if she wanted to go see a concert and she said yeah.

We rode the city bus from Pico to West Hollywood- a 90-minute ride- and had cheeseburgers at Barney’s Beanery on Santa Monica Blvd. before the show. We walked by the Tropicana Motel and I showed her where Tom Waits used to live and she nodded.

At the Toubadour, a club I’d heard about for years, we sat in the balcony, right at the rail. I didn’t know any of Severin Browne’s songs, but I remember thinking that some of them were as good as his brother’s. Carol listened really hard to the lyrics, her chin on the rail.

On the bus back to Pico, she nuzzled her head in my shoulder and I put my arm across her back and we didn’t say a word. When we got back to the Rodeway, she said it was the best night she’d had in months. Then there was a long kiss and she headed to her uncle’s room to see her boy.

When I got back to the apartment, Kathy said she had a guy coming over soon. She gave me a blue valium, but I couldn’t go to sleep for a long time.

 

CONFESSIONS OF A HUNGRY, DRY DRUNK, BROKEDICK MUTHAFUCKA

The other day I met a woman who I found so attractive. She was age appropriate- about 10 years younger- and talented and driven and kind. It was cool to hang out with her. But then I went home without another thought.

The first thing that was taken away was intercourse. About six years ago I got this thing called Peyrone’s Disease, which you can look it up, it’s not so bad. Peyrone’s means “son you’re a lesbian.”

Then, it was alcohol. I got socked by the doc, who told me I was done and I listened.

The latest ex-joy of my life is food. I’m on the road a lot and the last half hour of coming into Austin all I would think about was where I was going to eat. Do I take this route, which goes right by Via313 Pizza, or maybe I could get drive-through from Dan’s Hamburgers over here and then take South Lamar home? I’ve gotta admit, I’m been a fucking Hoover, but that’s how I am. I’ll do something that’s bad for me as long as I can, as hard as I can, and then I know when it’s over.

The sex thing taught me that really well. Oh, I coulda went to this doctor in San Antonio named Tyrone Jones (this is not a stupid sixth grade routine), who would stick a needle down there every two weeks for a few months (at about $1,200 a shot), but I decided against that. Who wants to drive to San Antonio twice a month?

I just told myself, OK, that’s not going to rule your life anymore. In fact, you might as well be dead in that area. Fine. I can deal with that. Beautiful ladies: this is why I’m always so professional. And, to tell you the truth, it takes away a lot of stress and wasted energy.

But it made me drink a lot.

Which takes us to food. Post-alcohol, my greatest temptation was the bakery section of a grocery store. They have these carrot cake cupcakes at Trader Joe’s that are so addictive I’d have to eat one in the parking lot before I even started the car. Two years of that brought a diagnosis of diabetes, which I knew was just a matter of time. So, now there’s barely anything at all in Trader Joe’s that I can eat. Now, this is the toughest one of them all because, unlike sex and booze, food is a necessity. I’m not going to cut it out entirely, just the good stuff.

Anyway, I’ve lost 20 pounds in a month, just eating vegetables, fish and chicken. And I’m going to keep losing more. This is me now. Pizza’s not an option. The constant thing, through all these changes, is that I want to live as long as I can. That’s been my #1 goal as soon as I heard about death. Life is just dealing with whatever comes your way.

Not having a choice is not as bad as not having a life.

 

GRAMMY STORIES? YEAH, I GOT ONE

I’m not a great talker. I couldn’t sell earmuffs to an Eskimo. But I talked my way into the Grammys once. It was the night after I crashed Clive Davis’ A-list black tie party at the Beverly Hilton. Something was going on that year- 1995.

The Dallas Morning News sent me to L.A. for five days to cover the Grammys because this was back when big newspapers had a lot of money for shit like that. But I had to write different stories every day. I reviewed club shows by Lucinda Williams and Guy Clark, did a party scene report and hung out in the lobby during Clive’s big bash, just taking note of all the celebs for my daily column. I knew the publicist for Arista, Clive’s label, who was at the entrance checking credentials, then she came over to me and said, “Carlos Santana is coming on next and his new album (Supernatural) is going to be HUGE (it was). Clive would want a critic to see this, so I’m gonna turn my head and you’re gonna walk right past me, OK?”

So I did just that. I scooted by her in my black t-shirt and ripped jeans and found myself in a huge ballroom, full of big stars. Jerry Seinfeld, Mike Tyson, Puff Daddy, Bobby DeNiro, Will Smith – they were all sitting 10 feet away from me. Whitney Houston was onstage singing “Heartbreak Hotel” and then she was off and Santana came on with Wyclef from the Fugees. As soon as their song was over, I was being led out of the room by security, but I was grinning. I’d be able to write about attending the most exclusive Grammy party of them all, as if I was invited. Also, I talked to Dallas native Erykah Badu for 10 seconds when she was walking through the lobby, so I had a quote from a big local. Shit, man, I was gold.

Which was a relief because I had kinda fucked up a couple weeks earlier. I sent in my request for press credentials to the Grammys a little late and there was no room for me. But I’d covered the Grammys before and spent most of the time in the press room watching the show on TV. They’d parade the winners by every minute or so, but the quotes were hardly ever any good, so I figured that I could just cover the show from my hotel room and no one would be the wiser. The Associated Press had a file of backstage quotes I could pull from. Just had to give them credit at the bottom.

So I was getting all set up in my room. Beer on ice, joints rolled, just had to find what channel the show was on. This was about an hour before the Grammys were to start. I went to the channel menu for 5 p.m., which was 7 p.m. Dallas time, and no Grammys. I scrolled to the right and it said that the show aired at 8 Pacific. FUCK! They delayed the broadcast on the West Coast. I wouldn’t be able to watch it on TV and make my deadline. WTF! I didn’t know what to do but throw on some clothes and run down to the lobby and get a cab to the Shrine Auditorium.

Here’s a detail I don’t really need, but I’m gonna throw it out there to show just how fucked my day was going. About three blocks down Hollywood Boulevard I saw Elvis Mitchell on the sidewalk. My friend who was a bigwig in L.A. “Pull over!” I told the cab driver and I went over to Elvis to see if he had any suction with Rogers and Cowan, the Grammys publicists. Only, it wasn’t Elvis Mitchell. It was a black guy with long dreads in expensive clothing and black horn-rimmed glasses, but it wasn’t fucking Elvis! I turned around to see my cab leaving, so I had to run back to the hotel lobby and get another cab. I’m dripping with sweat, heart palping, all the way to the Shrine.

Every road was blocked off for about a quarter mile except for limos, so I had to run the rest of the way to the Grammys. So, I finally got there. Now what? I couldn’t get credentials a couple weeks ago; how were they going to let me in, sweating like a dopesick junkie, 10 minutes before the show started? But I didn’t have any other choice.

Luck shined on me, however, when I saw my old friend Chris Morris of Billboard. “Chris, please, could you send someone from Rogers and Cowan out here?” I said from outside a chain-link fence. About five minutes later there was some guy in a suit, looking at me with the right amount of skepticism. I told him my story and how I would probably get fired if he didn’t let me in. “There’s no place for you,” he said. Just let me watch the show from a monitor somewhere, I said. I don’t care if it’s in the men’s room. The guy, whose name was neither Rogers nor Cowan, said, “OK, but you owe me, big time.” Brother Theresa led me to the press room, picked up a big bowl of lettuce on the catering table and said “sit here.” And I did, for the whole show. Press folks would come by with their plates and fill up with cold cuts and carrot sticks and the like and then they’d get to me and turn around.

But I was in heaven. The adrenaline of just getting there had my fingers flying on the keyboard. I was sending all these great dispatches from backstage at the Grammys. Got a few short one-on-one interviews even (Chris from Soundgarden, Don Was, Booker T, Tony Bennett in the men’s room). Bruce Springsteen was winning everything for his “Streets of Philadelphia” song and so during the commercial break before Record of the Year, I finished my A1 recap. Just needed to hear the name “Bruce…” and I’d be sending before they got to “…steen.” I had really kicked ass.

“And the Record of the Year goes to…” My finger was ready. “Sheryl Crow for ‘All I Wanna Do’!” Are you fucking kidding me?!! Goddammit, man. Now I had to rewrite the whole first part of the article. And my final deadline was in 10 minutes. But I did it. And I was done. Shit, man, I even talked my way into the A&M Records party, just two blocks from the Roosevelt Hotel, where I was staying. What a motherfucking day!

That’s kinda like how every day is. I mean, not insanely hectic or heart-racing. But we just take things as they come- bring it on-  and do the best we can. But sometimes you look back and go “how did I pull that one off?”

THE GREAT GADFLY REVISITED

They say 110 new people in Austin every day never heard of “Don’t You Start Me Talking,” but it was one of the things that made this burg cooler than other cities in the ‘80s. We had breakfast tacos, Roky and Daniel, bock beer, the Sessums family’s Black Cat Lounge  and the funniest, most irreverent music column in the land. I’m not just blowing smoke up my own ass, though if that could make you high you can be sure I would’ve done it in the ‘80s. I moved to Austin when I was 28, with nine years of fanzine and throwaway rag experience, and found my soulmate in a scene that had stories and personalities and creativity and innocent energy and, then, methamphetamine because that much fun didn’t want to stop.

I don’t have to wonder what it must be like to be Jay Z because I had that life in the ‘80s. I was a celebrity wherever I went, respected by the street and feared by the straights. Never had to pull out my wallet for anything. And I had my hot Houston chick Suzoncee. That’s how it was in my mind, at least. The Thursday that the Austin Chronicle came out, the delivery guys would drop those bundles of Corky meat like they were feeding hungry lions and a pack of people would grab their fill.

I hadn’t reread those columns in over 25 years because I was afraid they wouldn’t measure up to my memories and I was right. Research for a book project has required me to spend hours at the Austin History Center, where old issues of the Chron are kept in boxes, poring over those old columns, and these are some of my observations.

* I was brutal and sometimes unnecessarily mean. I’d like to apologize to Eloise Burrell, Van Wilks, Charlie Sexton, Kim Wilson and anyone else whose name I forgot belonged to a person.

* I had zero journalistic ethics. Attribution, schmattribution. When Scratch Acid, one of the most influential Austin bands of all time (see Nirvana, Mudhoney), broke up I wrote that it was because “they hated each others’ guts.” No sources, no quotes. I got most of my info at afterhours parties when I was wasted and couldn’t remember who told me.

* I was pretty fucking funny at times, but some of my bits bombed. And I used the same lines more than once sometimes. I just forgot.

* My balls as a battering ram could get a SWAT team into any building.

It’s been a humbling experience going back, but I’m glad I was able to confront a part of my life that’s been glorified a little too much. The memories were as painful as they were jubilant, especially the “Austin Music Sucks” column. Not the hateful reaction- that was fine- but laying on the floor, doubled-over in a crank overdose, when I got an angry call from a musician friend whose band came in second in the Corky’s Star Search contest when they were clearly the best. I wanted to go to Brackenridge because I thought I was dying, but Suzee said they’d just pump my stomach and so I stayed home and went to the typewriter and spilled out my guts.

Besides that one time, I wrote every column the same way, in one, long, meth-filled night, starting at 6 p.m. when I got off work at the Mr. Lucky T-shirts shop at 2712 Guadalupe St., and going until about 8 or 9 in the morning. Then I’d walk down the alley to the Austin Chronicle two blocks away and hand about seven perfectly-typed pages (from about 4 a.m. on, I was too fried to do anything but retype) to editor Louis Black. He’d read a page and hand it to publisher Nick Barbaro, who would read it and hand it to typesetter Kathleen Maher, who would hand it to anyone else who was around. There would be laughter and groans, but, to the Chron’s credit, they never asked me to change a thing. Not in the three years I wrote that thing. Not even when I scoffed at AIDS and encouraged my fellow hets to not use condoms and “die like a man.”

The biggest writing influences in my life were not Lester Bangs and Charles Bukowski, those I loved those guys and emulated their lifestyles. They were Rex Reed, who used to come on The Mike Douglas Show and bury movies with a single line (“Lost Horizons is Brigadoon with chopsticks”) and pro wrestler Ripper Collins. I grew up in Hawaii, where pro wrestling and roller derby, with all that fake provocation, were on TV every Saturday. And I’d go to the Civic Auditorium on King Street for matches. I just loved the way they’d get the fans all crazy with the emotional baiting and that’s what I did with my writing from the very start.

Anyway, I’m headed to San Marcos now to drop off another stack of old columns for the kid to type up and I’ll continue to post them on the Arts + Labor site under the “Corky At 30” heading.

I always think it’s weird when someone who wins an Oscar or a championship says that they’re humbled by the victory. In reality, it’s probably the opposite. They sure didn’t seem humbled when they were jumping up and down with their fists in the air. But rereading “Don’t You Start Me Talking” has definitely brought me down to earth. There’s some really bad writing in there. Some questionable choices. Time and place had a lot to do with the success. Besides all the great music, Austin of the ‘80s was my paradise because I found a small city that could laugh at itself. I can’t believe I never got punched out.

 

WELCOME TO BUESCHER STATE PARK. DON’T MOVE HERE.

I know when you find a special place of nature and solitude, you’re supposed to keep it to yourself, but this park is so underused I’m going to give you a tip. With temps expected in high 60s/ low 70s this weekend (Feb. 7&8), Buescher State Park, on Hwy 71 about 45 miles east of Austin, is the perfect getaway. There’s a nice 7.7 mile trail through the forest and a lake stocked with trout (allegedly) and empty picnic tables and wood-fired grills all around. Only $4 per person and kids free. I like to drive deep into the park to find my spot, but if you’ve got kids you might want to stay near the lake. Free fishing poles for the kids to use- ask at the entrance. On the drive home, take the scenic 12-mile drive to Bastrop State Park. Or head into Smithville for some world class Zimmerhanzel’s BBQ.

 

MY DESERT ISLAND DISC (TODAY)

alabama3

I have several alltime favorite albums of alltime. But these days when I go to play them, I think about it, then don’t. What more can Horses by Patti Smith, Nebraska by Bruce Springsteen, Thriller by Michael Jackson, NRBQ at Yankee Stadium, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Get Happy by Elvis Costello or any of those other desert island discs still do for me? But Hits and Exit Wounds by Alabama 3 never gets old. It makes me go like this. Besides The Sopranos theme song, which gets a rap break here, there’s just about every style of rock and country, all boosted by a percolating dance beat. It’s EDM for old, fat stoners. The great thing about Spotify is that I can stop now.

Chris Gray (ex- Jack Ruby guitarist) plays a JD in a photo shoot.

Chris Gray (ex- Jack Ruby guitarist) plays a JD in a photo shoot. David Ornstein (right)

THE DAYBREAK YEARS

I never made more than $10,000 a year until I was 33 years old, but I’d have to say I’ve been lucky in employment. One of my best jobs, which paid $150 a week, was working at the Daybreak antique clothing store in Albany, NY from ’80- ’82. I was 24 when the Ornsteins, the Jewish/ Irish couple who owned the store, hired me and when I told them I didn’t know anything about antique clothing, David Ornstein said, “then find a way to be indispensible.” My way was to be reliable- I never missed a day in two years and was late only once- and to watch the customers like a hawk. Before I got there, Daybreak had a pretty bad shoplifting problem because the Ornsteins were always busy doing something else. But as far as I know, I only got beat once by a thief. It was a pretty, blonde college kid who stuck a $90 Victorian lace blouse into a shopping bag she brought in from another store. I took David aside and said I was 99% sure that girl stole something, so we had to let her walk. If you accused someone of shoplifting and checked their bags, they could sue you if they were innocent. The Ornsteins were my family up their in Albany and I felt like I let them down.

They worked from about 6 a.m. until late at night seven days a week, but David said his job was “Christmas every day.” He always found at least one treasure that someone didn’t know they had. Sometimes on the weekends I’d go with them to estate/rummage sales and David and Beenie (which is what everyone called wife Maureen) were something to watch. David would always be first in line to get in, and as he ran through the house/garage/church annex like a crazy person, Beenie would find a way to hold up the rest of the line behind her for a few precious seconds. David used to tell me “never be worried how you look when you’re making money” and true to that, he’d just rip the hundred-year-old quilts off the beds and carry rare pottery like a football, while Beenie would waddle up the stairs, holding on to each rail so no one could get past. The Ornsteins were competitive as hell when it came to getting merch for their stores, but they were also incredibly generous. It was a game to them, in a way, and they didn’t like to lose.

daybreakad

The only person I’ve seen who came close to the Ornsteins in the area of vintage clothing acquisition is Jenna Radke of Lucy In Disguise on South Congress. When I moved to Austin in ’84 and thought I was an ace picker, I called Jenna the Dragon Lady. Aggressive? No, no, that’s for folks who step in front of an old man to grab a white linen jacket. Jenna was/is ruthless. That’s why her store’s still doing great business. I’d show up at sales and if Jenna was checking out, I’d just turn around and go home. She’d get it all. See, that’s the thing about folks who are in the used clothing business. They don’t cherry pick. If there are 127 pairs of stiletto-heeled shoes, they’re not going to leave any for the rest of you.

I got to know her Jenna later and she’s one of the best friends anyone can have, just don’t fuck with her business. I told her about the Dragon Lady nickname and she just smiled like it was the biggest compliment. And it was.

Jenna’s only weakness was that she collected dolls. That would get her away from the clothes for a minute, which is what happened one day in ’84, when I got to a row of beaded sweaters before she did. It turned out they were all moth-eaten near the bottom and therefore worthless, but I folded them so only the beads showed and walked right by Jenna to rub it in. That was a great day! My girlfriend found some cool shoes, then put them down to try on something and look in the mirror and Jenna snatched them up. The girlfriend got no sympathy from me. “Never, ever, ever, put something down!” I admonished. There are rules in the game.

Actually, there’s only one rule: all is fair. Once David bought a Coco Chanel suit for $40 and sold it for $85. The woman who bought it, took it apart, made patterns and mass-produced the suits for an expensive women’s clothing store, probably making tens of thousands of dollars on the deal. Good for her, was David’s reaction. He just caught the fish; it didn’t matter what the restaurant did with it or how much they charged. The thrill was in the find.

Clothes by Daybreak: Boardwalk Empire.

Clothes by Daybreak: Boardwalk Empire.

One of David Ornstein’s greatest tricks was talking his way into sales the night before the public came through. The State Museum of New York bought all its period clothing for exhibits from Daybreak, so David would call on Friday, identifying himself as “a buyer for the State Museum,” which wasn’t really a lie, but it was stretching it a bit. He’d say he couldn’t make in on Saturday and the sellers would be flattered that the museum was interested in their junk, so they’d let David in early.

For the first year at Daybreak, I wasn’t allowed to buy anything, which was fine by me. People would bring in their old clothes to sell and I’d have to describe it to David and Beenie over the phone. If it sounded good, they’d drive over to look at it. But they were teaching me what to look for. Any large size pumps were gold, gobbled up by the drag queens. And anything gabardine, cashmere or beaded. David could run his fingers down a rack of old clothes and pull out vintage shirts while casing the rest of the room. After awhile, so could I. This was back in the days when Sally Ann’s and Goodwill didn’t know from vintage and you could always find a cool ‘50s shirt if you put in the time. Nowadays, I don’t even bother. The whole world’s been picked over. In upstate New York the Ornsteins got it all and if you’re a fan of Boardwalk Empire, The Great Gatsby remake or a number of other TV shows or movies set in the 1890’s to 1960s, you’ve seen their clothes.

David and Beenie don’t have the store any more. They have a warehouse with five floors of vintage attire for rent. Appointment only. One floor is nothing but 1920’s formal wear. Half of another floor is covered with old fedoras. These days, they rent clothes for movies more more money than we used to sell them in the early ‘80s.

But their biggest moneymaker is the Manhattan Vintage Clothing Show they put together a couple times a year, including this weekend. They have about 90 high end vintage clothes vendors and designers come from all over the world to find pieces that they can copy like that woman with the Chanel suit.

That's me laying on my girlfriend Donna's lap. L-R Justin, the Mechanical Servants with Robert Durlack, DJ Peggy Apple, Chris Gray, Ruby Cadillac and Brad Whiting.

That’s me laying on my girlfriend Donna’s lap. L-R Justin, the Mechanical Servants with Robert Durlack, DJ Peggy Apple, Chris Gray, Ruby Cadillac and Brad Whiting.

I was basically an orphan when I was 18 and my mother died, then my father said I couldn’t live at home anymore. So I guess I was looking for parental models. I’ve already told you about Kate Hellenbrand and Michael Malone, the tattoo artists who bought Sailor Jerry’s shop, so I had to tell you about the Ornsteins as well.

They taught me that being first in line was everything, so get up before everyone else. And David Ornstein definitely stepped up my sarcasm game. We’d set up at big antique shows like Brimfield, Mass. and he’d be running commentary under his breath the whole time. “Oh, for the power,” he’d say when some rich lady with no taste would saunter up in a hideous outfit. It was short for “Oh, for the power to see ourselves as others do.” He hated, of course, when browsers would scoff at his prices, which seemed high then, but would now be a steal. One time a very large woman in a beaded sweater looked at the tag at one of David’s and exclaimed, “$85! Then, mine must be worth $100,” and as she sulked away David whispered “in yardage alone.”

The best jobs are when you learn something and laugh alot. And when you make friends for life. Every day is Christmas. Goddamn right!

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“I’m only going to drink when it’s part of an experience,” I told my girlfriend circa 1990. I had tried to quit completely, but one night I was backstage at a Los Lobos show and one of the members handed me an ice cold Heineken and so I drank it- and about five more. The gf was upset, but I said I just got swept up in the moment. It didn’t mean I was going back to my ways. “Part of an experience.”
So, a few days later, she came home and I was sitting in the living room with a beer. “Oh, the lights, the colors!” she mocked.
Nobody has ever pegged me so hilariously as that woman. Can’t say that I miss her because she still makes me laugh out loud once a week.

ET. Funny lady.

ET. Funny lady.

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Feb. 1: Grace period is over today on Austin’s “hands free” law aimed at cellphone users. Serious question: do the violations  include eating while driving? I sometimes like to buy a cheeseburger to make sure I hit every goddamn green light.

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I had one of those Sam Malone moments recently. You remember that Cheers episode where he reads, with much difficulty, War and Peace to impress Diane? Then after all that he finds out there’s a movie. My doctor prescribed me a pill that makes you pee out sugar. I’ve lost 10 pounds in two weeks. There’s a MOVIE?! There’s a PILL?!

 

1986 postcard from cartoonist Peter Bagge says it all.

1986 postcard from cartoonist Peter Bagge says it all.

 

OCCUPY AUSTIN! MORE OF IT!

They say 110 people a day move to Austin. You look at the weather in the Northeast and wonder why it’s not 2,000 a day. Who can live like that for months every year?
Austin will never again be the laid back groovers paradise so many pine for, so I say that if we’re going to be a big city, let’s REALLY be a big city. Embrace growth, encourage migration. Austin, we’re a hit! Now, let’s capitalize like we’re Taylor Swift.

Austin’s problem is from trying to stem growth. City government lost that one. They’ve left us up shit creek without a riverwalk. Now let’s get that long overdue infrastructure going! Let’s see some fucking rail. Build us a major league baseball stadium. Hey, how ’bout some museums for the tourists? Stop whining and start figuring out how we’re going to take these new people’s money. About Austin, Andrea was True when she sang “More More More.”
Three million people by 2025!

MY FAVORITE BANDS IN THE PLACES I’VE LIVED

Ronnie Dawson and High Noon with Johnny Carroll. Dallas Feb. 1993.

Ronnie Dawson and High Noon with Johnny Carroll. Dallas Feb. 1993.

It’s important to have a favorite band that you can see all the time. A band that you know is going to make you feel good and so when a show is on the horizon the bad days are bearable. They make your region bigger because you’ll drive an hour to see them. And if you move to another city, they’ll take you home while they’re on the road and your face in the crowd will warm them up.

Here are the bands that saved my life, or at least my night:

Mountain Home, ID 1965-71. Devil’s Care, a trio of scarf-wearing black airmen who did Hendrix, Stax and garage rock. Bonus: drummer used metal sticks.

Honolulu, HI 1971- 78. Honolulu Doggs, some white kids who could really play the blues. Gotta put gay bar Aerosmith imitators Widow in here, too.

Weirdo

Weirdo

Los Angeles 1978-79. The Weirdos, my first real live punk band, who I saw at the Whiskey and knew I’d found my thing.

Albany, NY 1979- 82. NRBQ. Actually they were from Saugerties, about an hour south, but they played J.B. Scott’s and SUNY Albany as often as a local band.

Honolulu, HI, ’82-’84. The Squids, Hawaii’s first punk band with gigs.

The Squids (with Frank Orrall)

The Squids (with Frank Orrall)

Austin, TX ’84- ’88. The LeRoi Brothers, Butthole Surfers and the Commandos. Never missed a show by any of those bands.

San Francisco 1988. Sister Double Happiness, led by the great Gary Floyd of the Dicks.

Never Enuff

Never Enuff

Chicago 1989-92. Enuff Z’Nuff, whose heavy metal Cheap Trick wasn’t really a new thing, but I got high on it anyway.

Dallas 1992- 95. Ronnie Dawson and High Noon, who were just starting to join forces to dee-stroi every rock club.

Damnations

Damnations

Austin 1995- present. The Gourds, the Damnations and Buick MacKane.

These were the bands that made me a superfan. I did need them in my life and I would like to thank them all.

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Whatever happened to story?

I am not a prude. But are there any cable TV shows that don’t have gratituous sex, topless starlets, guys receiving BJs, girls getting tailpiped etc.? I am not a prude, but I couldn’t get past a single episode of “Californication.” Even “Modern Family” on ABC had a reference to a little girl at the playground showing her cooch. Of course the worst was that scat-munching scene from “Girls” that just must’ve made Mr. and Mrs. Brian Williams so proud. I am not a prude, really. But watching people have sex is just distracting, unless you’re trying to get off. Soft-core porn is like middle school and I’m not clamoring to go back. The ones I I really feel for are young actresses. If they won’t get naked or allow themselves to be banged up against a corrugated metal shed, they won’t work.
OK, now back to my “Gunsmoke” DVD.

 

corkymaxineFrom my Austin Inside/ Out column May 16, 1998

Welcome to the latest installment of “Aniston Inside/Out,” a weekly column dedicated to every movement of mane maiden Jennifer Aniston, the “Friends” star who’s inspired more hairstyle makeovers than the military induction process. The reason I’ve given this column over to America’s sweetheart, in town to play a waitress (what a stretch!) in Mike Judge’s “Office Space,” is that she obviously loves seeing her name here. Why else would she start hanging out with Brad Pitt over at the Four Seasons? The gorgeous ones were spotted, very much together, on Sunday afternoon near the hike and bike trail, where they had gone to look for Aniston’s escaped canine Norman. Although the posters announcing a $1,000 reward for the terrier kept joggers’ eyes on the ground, a couple of walkers looked up to see Pitt, wearing a black t-shirt and black jeans, and Aniston in cut-offs and a tank top, walking past. “They said ‘Hi,’” said one witness. “They weren’t holding hands, but they looked like a couple.”

Aniston got her dog back Monday, when an unidentified man turned in the pooch, which he found at Second and Congress, to the Town Lake Animal Shelter.

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Here are some zingers from Austin/Inside out, which was published in the Statesman from 1998-2001:

* Sandra Bullock‘s latest film “Gun Shy” has opened quieter than the doors of a monastery, doing only $700,000 in 300 theaters in its first weekend… Let’s put a moratorium on Minnie Driver sightings, please. She’s been getting around so much you have to wonder if the pace is dazin’ Miss Driver… Leatherface is back… and we’re not talking about another Jack Palance revivial. Unapix Entertainment has a 25th anniversary version of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” on the way… Why is Doris Day, the leader of the pet pack, not on the list at Kinky Friedman‘s “Bonefit.” Apparently, she travels about as well as a Reuben sandwich… Remember Michael MacCambridge, whose taxing overcoverage of a certain musician from New Jersey caused this paper to be nicknamed The Austin American Springsteen? He’s close to signing a six-figure deal with Random House to write a history of pro football…NFL star Ricky Williams still has an apartment in Austin. Chad “Kato” Patmon has to live somewhere… While performing in Dallas recently, Courtney Love recalled a hot and heavy makeout session with Texan Matthew McConaughey. The constant condiment to Courtney’s comments, however, are grains of salt…My new nickname around the house is “Grasshopper.” That’s how fast I hit the mute button when that commercial of Sara Hickman singing from the roof of a Clark Wilson home comes on…Members of Cheap Trick earned a new nickname from their waitress at Guero’s on Thursday: “Cheap Tip”… Julio Iglesias Jr. was in town last week to do radio interviews, not record a duet with Paula Nelson on “To All the Money Our Dads Have Made.”… The way she’s rebounded from the President’s infidelities, the First Lady’s name should be Hillary Rodman Clinton…Comedian Jerry Seinfeld popped into Sixth Street blues joint 311 Club Saturday night, raising the mean income of clubgoers to $27,000 a year… Lawyer Jimmy Nassour paid $2,000 for a Bible owned by famous atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair at an estate sale Saturday, which opens the possibilities for other ironic purchases: How much would you pay for a copy of “Walden Pond” from developer Gary Bradley? A set of steak knives from wispy singer Abra Moore?…Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines has filed for divorce from bass player Michael Tarabay. Irreconcilable salaries; there’s your trouble… One thing you’ll never read in this column is an item that begins “Overheard at Vespaio…” The new Italian hotspot at the former location of Western wear shop The Lariat is LOUD…

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I miss mahus. The Hawaiian transvestites of my youth, always so much fun to hang around. The Islands had a completely different attitude about boys who would be girls. We had about four or five transvesites at Aiea High School and it wasn’t any big thing. In Hawaiian custom, if you have three or four sons in a row, you raise one of them as a female to help the mother. Didn’t have the stigma as on the Mainland. When quaaludes were the thing, mahus were the ones who sold them at clubs. Seconals, too. They could outparty anyone. I should one day write about my times with the mahus on Hotel Street and Waikiki. I remember the first time I heard Chicago house music, when it was getting big, and I thought, that’s just mahu disco. I’d heard it at Hula’s and the Wave.

Why all this now? I met a pretty young transvestite at a coffeehouse in San Marcos tonight. My son’s friend. The fond thoughts came back. The kid is on his own.

RICHARD LINKLATER DIDN’T THANK ME AT THE GLOBES. HE DIDN’T HAVE TO.

In 1998, I attended the premiere of Richard Linklater’s film The Newton Boys at the Paramount Theatre. The next day I unmercifully trashed it in the Statesman, which made me a pariah of the local film community. Rick is a good guy who does so much for Austin. I wrote that Linklater had lost his way since Before Sunrise, (“My Dinner With Andre with a Eurail pass”) and that he needed to look long and hard at the director he wanted to be. Soon after, he started writing Boyhood, the film that just won the Best Picture- Drama award at the Golden Globes, paving the way for victory in the Oscars.

A lot of folks thought that Newton Boys review, under the headline “The Emperor’s New Movie,” was mean-spirited and unfair. Sample text: “The film is full of surprises. In fact, I kept asking myself how it could get any worse, but with every “love” scene between Matthew Mahogany and Juliana Marginal, my lowest expectations were exceeded. McConaughey can carry a movie like Linda Tripp can keep a secret.”

Tough love? Perhaps. But it obviously inspired a young filmmaker from Huntsville, who is now king of the cinematic world. When Linklater gave his acceptance speech for the Best Director Globe, he kinda rushed through it and seemed to forget a few people. But it’s like they say, the ones who deserved to be thanked know who they are.

(This is all just a goofy, tongue-in-cheek way to say: Congratulations, Rick Linklater! You make Austin proud, awards or not.)

 

NFL_Logo

I’M BOYCOTTING THE NFL FROM NOW ON. WHO’S WITH ME?

I’ve given thousands of hours of my life to NFL football, but the league is not going to waste any more of my time. I’m out. Will never again watch another pro football game. Not after a spectacular, clutch, fourth-down catch by Dez Bryant was overruled in the review booth because some nerd decided to make himself important. The call was that Bryant did not have possession and did not make a “football move” after catching the ball on the one-yard line. Replays show Bryant having control of the ball and reaching for the goal line- a football move- before the ground caused the ball to come lose. Everyone who saw it saw an incredible catch, but because of rulebook semantics the ball could’ve bounced off #88’s helmet. This is not in the spirit of the game. There are too many men in suits who make too much money- NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s salary is $42 million a year- not to get involved and when they fuck it up for the players, they’ve ruined football.

Dallas would’ve scored the fourth quarter go-ahead touchdown on the next play. Instead, the Packers just had to run out the clock for the win.

That call was payback, like sending O.J. to prison for stealing back his own stuff. The NFL made a “make-up” call for the atrocious flag pickup in Dallas a week earlier that robbed the Detroit Lions. Dez ran on the field without his helmet to argue the call, which made him a target of the refs, who stick together like NYPD. The huge difference between last week’s ref botch and this week’s is that the Lions didn’t make a great play and have it taken away. They got lucky, then had it taken away. Even as I felt bad for Lions fans, I was happy for the Cowboys to live at least another week. But after having that shit done to me and my team, I’m just not having any more of this.

I would like to apologize to my son for all the Sunday afternoons I was not available when he was growing up. I was conned by a sports league that claimed the players who did their jobs best would win the game. It’s all a big sham and the diehard fans of NFL teams are the biggest dupes. Get a life! I am.

On top of this bad ref crap, the NFL is in the midst of paying out billions of dollars to former NFL players who’ve suffered permanent brain damage because the league kept quiet on the risks of repeated concussions. Players who were shamed to going back into games after having their “bell rung” have committed suicide in troubling numbers. Malcolm Gladwell was right; the NFL is evil and greedy. But like a bad marriage, I’m packing my mental bags and getting the fuck out.

I had hoped to spend next weekend watching the Cowboys getting blown out by Seattle, as the Packers now will. But now I have to make other plans. For the rest of my life’s Sundays.

Anybody want to start a Sunday afternoon book club? Or maybe we could make sandwiches for the homeless. I suddenly have all this free time. NFL stands for Not Foolingmeany Longer. Get a life? Just did.

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DICKINSON ON THE MATS 1989

I should warn you that January looks to be a very Austalgic month for me due to a couple of writing projects. Going through all the old files, panning for gems. Finding a lot of photos of Suzee Brooks, the only Austin Music Award I ever needed. I’ve got a deal to write a book about my time with Austin music and it was something that I quickly agreed to, but then wondered, first of all, who gives a shit? And then how do I write it without coming off like a self-important asshole? Then I had the idea to name it after the “award” voted for me by the readers of the Austin Chronicle in 1986, and it all fell into place. I know exactly what I’m going to do with this book, which is to do what I’ve always done: trash thyself first and the gates fly open. The Worst Thing To Happen To Austin Music is coming on the Arts + Labor imprint in late 2015/ early 2016.

Suzee Champeny Brooks 1986.

Suzee Champeny Brooks 1986.

I found something this morning that’s too good not to share: the transcribed interviews with the Replacements and their producer (Pleased To Meet Me) Jim Dickinson from 1989.

Dickinson on the sessions: “They let me know when they were done. They just started putting on their coats. I started talking about money and they’d leave. They knew how much it was costing them- around $180,000. All it takes to make a record sound good is money.

They have an idea that goes beyond music. The Mats are like some kids who were sitting at home, trying to be a rock n’ roll band and they looked over at the TV and saw The Three Stooges…I can’t imagine what it was like with Bob Stinson. When I went back and listened to their earlier records, there’s this kind of linear melody playing that’s in all the stuff that was obviously Bob. I kept telling the manager, ‘Bring him on. I can handle him. Let’s cut him.” But Westerberg told me, ‘no, man. I still have nightmares about that guy.’

I’m surprised they made a Replacements record, because the one I made wasn’t really a Replacements record. ”

Jim Dickinson.

Jim Dickinson.

After the article ran in Spin, Dickinson sent me a test pressing of a Big Star record he produced, as appreciation for “not making me look like an asshole” in the article. It was Third/Sister Lover and in one of my most regrettable decisions, I sold it for $25 at a record shop on Clark Street in Chicago. I didn’t have a turntable and wasn’t a fan of Big Star back then. My friend Scott was coming in from Madison, Wisc. that day to see the Reivers at Lounge Ax and I was broke. Sold it for beer money. I included the letter from Dickinson as authentication and for several years after I was afraid I’d run into Jim and he’d say “Hey, I just got a letter from someone saying he bought a Big Star test pressing in Chicago and he wondered what else might be for sale.”

The great James Luther Dickinson, who would’ve been an amazing music critic if he wasn’t a musician, passed away on Aug. 15, 2009. If he knew about my dumb-ass transaction, he had the class to not bring it up. I remain fully shamed.

REPLACING CASEY

The Austin music scene was rocked Wednesday with the news, first reported in the Austin American Statesman, that Casey Monahan had been ousted as director of the Texas Music Office after 25 years in the position. Monahan, who has six weeks to pack his shit and GTFO, has done so much for the Texas music industry by being the original, human Linked-In. He’s a facilitator, who opened up Europe to Texas acts- and vice versa- like no one before him.

But incoming Governor Greg Abbott apparently wants his own person in the job after he takes office later this month. This New York Times article by Reeve Hamilton about Dr. Strangegov’s top aide Daniel Hodge (“who brings me my water and my scarves”), gives a hint at what might become of the Texas Music Office. Hodge, 36, is a big fan of Pat Fucking Green and the ballcap country crowd. His “close friend” Brendon Anthony is a former Fucking Green fiddler, who no longer tours and so he seems like a possible replacement. Perhaps, Texas will soon be not only a Red State, but a red dirt music state. When you elect Greg Abbott, you get Josh Abbott, too. Starting next month, when there’s “a call from Canada” to the TMO, it won’t be the country to the north wanting to do business in Texas, it’ll be Cody Canada from the Departed wondering how that goodwill tour of Steamboat Springs, Colo. is going.

Get ready, folks, it’s about to get real dumb here. T-Bone Walker and Freddy King are old news. Everyone knows Texas music history started with Jerry Jeff Walker and Robert Earl Keen.

Sam the Sham, Casey the Man and Holger Peterson, good to the last drop.

Sam the Sham, Casey the Man and Holger Peterson, good to the last drop.

*****

In my life, bleach has done as much damage as good. Just like editors. A leaky cap on a bleach bottle just ruined my favorite shirt (a gabardine fifties retro I bought at Buffalo Exchange in Phoenix for $15). This was a few weeks after another bottle left bleach spots on the carpet of my new car. So even though bleach has whitened my clothes for decades, I’m giving it up. No use for bleach or editors any more.

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The best thing about Facebook is that you can do things that would be considered rude in real life situations. Like, if you’re talking to someone face to face and they say something dumb or boring, you can’t just walk away. People can’t approach anyone at anytime in the flesh world as they can on FB, which is one of the worse things.

I always said that drinking was just something to do when there’s nothing to do, but now interacting with this network of people is my better bad habit.

People act like Facebook is a watered down version of real life, that you really can’t get to know someone through an online platform. But I think the opposite is true. You get to know folks better here. The physical facade is gone and so you’re left with their ideas. Who are the dummies who think they have everyone fooled? Who are the borderline racists with a liberal front? Who are the blatant opportunists? Which ones own guns? Who has a subtle sense of humor that you didn’t know about? Who are the people who think they’re funny, but aren’t?

Who are the narcissists?

THEY HAD ME AT RONNIE SPECTOR

What do you call someone who has figured out how to use a mental illness to his or her advantage? An artist. Obsessive, insecure, creating from an altered reality. Their crazy intelligence sets them apart, but it’s  the ability to harness it that puts them above all the other nuts.

“That’s it! That’s the voice I’ve been looking for!” Phil Spector said and jumped up from the piano when he heard Ronnie Bennett, backed by her sister Estelle and their cousin Nedra Tally, sing “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” at an audition in Manhattan in 1963. It was the echo of streetcorner New York, a doo wop hustle teased up in a torna ‘do. Ronnie Bennett’s voice cut through and Phil Spector, who would marry/hold captive the singer in 1968, needed such a focal point for his layers of splendid mania.

The Ronettes, produced by Spector, had a very short run at the top- five top ten singles from 1963 until the breakup in ’67. The rumor was that Phil sabotaged Ronnie’s career so he could have her to himself and in her memoirs, the four years she spent as Mrs. Phil Spector made Tina Turner come off like Cher Bono.

But even in such unfortunate circumstances, the girl group had a huge impact, especially with “Be My Baby,” the Jeff Barry/ Ellie Greenwich/ Phil Spector song which defines the “wall of sound.” Would Martin Scorsese’s breakout film Mean Streets have had such a spectacular opening sequence if “Be My Baby” hadn’t tied together all the elements of youth and misadventure?

Ronnie was the mermaid in Brian Wilson’s sandbox, the Peppermint Lounge vibrato that grew a tall, gawky Queens teenager named Jeffrey Hyman into Joey Ramone. (Joey got his revenge against band bully Johnny Ramone when Phil Spector doted on Joey, the punk rock Ronnie Spector, and ignored Johnny’s buzzsaw while producing End of the Century for the Ramones in 1980.)

Years later, a British jazz/soul vocal genius named Amy Winehouse gave Ronnie Spector tattoos and self-destruction. Perhaps because the Ronettes lasted such a short time, their music is even more precious today. It’s as if Diana Ross didn’t have a long and sometimes spotty career after the Supremes.

 

Ronnie Spector, now 71, hardly ever tours. I can’t remember the last time she performed in Austin. On some of those early Ronettes tours, Phil Spector sent out a Ronnie Bennett imitator so he could keep her in the studio. That voice, that voice! Enough to drive a man insane.

But that’s the voice I’ve been looking for. It’s been a crazy year, so I plan to see it out with Ronnie Spector, backed by an 8-piece band and singers, at the Spiderhouse Ballroom on Wednesday night. It’s a psychedelic extravaganza with a “Wizard of Oz” theme and art installations and fuzz-farming opening acts, including Black Angels’ spinoff Christian Bland and the Revelators, when they had me at Ronnie Spector. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer (snuck in when ex-hubby Phil was sent to prison) hits the stage at 11:30 p.m.

For tickets, $55 in advance, go to www.spiderhouseballroom.com.

Honolulu: The Dogg Years

My first favorite local band was Widow, whose singer Frederick Welsford was from Boston so he did all that Steven Tyler stuff, like scarves on the mike stands, because Aerosmith was not yet known. It was rock n’ roll in the flesh: Chuck Berry covers, some originals, lotsa eyeliner. They played a gay bar on Kalakaua Avenue, but they got more women than anybody. I was there every weekend and even sang with the band once for an article about singing with the band.

The next local band that had me as a journalistic groupie was the Honolulu Doggs circa 1976. They played at the Dragon Lady (which later became the Wave), a dry hustle Korean bar by day and rock club at night. The Doggs turned me onto the blues heavy at age 20. The singer Jim Wood was a badass harmonica player and his brother John was the best blues guitar player in Honolulu, that’s for sure. Their dad was a naval officer, but they got as far away from McGrew Point as you could get, spiritually. If the Doggs were playing that night, it was a good day, and since they played six nights a week, I was in heaven. You know, I had some connections from my gig at Sunbums magazine, and so I’d get them gigs whenever I could. But this was during the disco era and sometimes people didn’t want to hear a rock band, they wanted to dance to records played as loud as a band. I got the Doggs a well-paying gig at a Radford High School dance and the crowd hated them. There was even a meeting going on in front of the stage between some of the students and the organizers during the set. The Doggs played every funky number they knew and still no one danced. That was when I learned a valuable lesson about trying to help bands. If it goes wrong, it’s your fault.

But, then I got them another good-paying gig, for a Punahou High graduation party, and that one was a total blowout. The band got tipped a couple hundred extra by the parents because it went as well as they could’ve hoped. The Doggs opened with “Nadine,” the Chuck Berry song, with Jim playing this especially meaty harp lick, and everybody rushed to the front of the stage and just started rocking out. One of the first great nights of my life.

The Doggs were also my initiation to heavy drugs. Well, not the band so much as the scene. Hawaii was a muthafuckin’ drug paradise in the ‘70s; lotta cocaine being snorted in parking garages, hits of LSD and handfuls of mushrooms or reds (seconal) being passed around. And China White. If you wanted to hang out with the Doggs you had to chase the dragon. They had to make sure you weren’t a cop and if you didn’t throw up you were still suspect.

Listen, I got to town after the Armadillo was torn down. Never went to the first Soap Creek up in Westlake Hills. But I was at the Dragon Lady for six nights in a row in ’76 when the Muddy Waters band (sans the Mud man) stopped by around midnight to jam and I don’t think I’d trade that experience for anything, even six Van Morrison encores. There was Pinetop Perkins on piano, Bob Margolin and Lonnie Brooks on guitar, Jerry Portnoy on harmonica, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums and Calvin Jones on bass and vocals. They were in town for the Kool Jazz Fest at the Waikiki Shell and after their set, they’d saunter in to the Lady and take turns jamming with my favorite band. I mean, I was crazy for the Chicago blues and this was the greatest blues band, 10 feet away from me, night after night. They were into the Doggs, too, which made it really special.

The Wood brothers got burnt out on Hawaii and so they took up an offer from a couple of young coke fiends to fund their relocation to Berkley in ’78. Jim and I were working on a fanzine together to be called The Honolulu Lie, but he left halfway through so I changed the name to Honolulu Babylon. I would get occasional reports that Jim was up in San Francisco, singing in the punk band Seizure, while John settled in L.A., where he worked in a recording studio and played dates backing Warren Zevon.

Posted in Austin, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Comments Off on Michael Corcoran’s LAWN

Signed copies of Washington Phillips book/CD $30

Posted by mcorcoran on October 13, 2016

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The box of books came today. I’ve been waiting two years for them. Gospel music’s great re-appearing act Washington Phillips taught me patience. His musical prowess on a homemade instrument was the subject of a newspaper article in the home paper in Teague in 1907. But it would be 20 years later until this self-made musical miracle first recorded, in Dallas. What’s two years?

But it did hurt because I knew that this 76-page hardcover book with remastered CD was the best thing I’ve ever put my name to. Most critics are out to discover the next big superstar, but I found a guy who’d died 60 years ago, who everyone is just starting to discover. I’ll never meet him. He’ll never let me down.

I first wrote about Phillips for the Austin American Statesman in 2002. I found out that musicologists had been crediting the wrong Washington Phillips all along. It was one of those stories you dream about, but instead of freeing an innocent man from prison, I was exhuming a forgotten artist. I still remember the moment when I knew for sure that it was a case of mistaken identity. It’s was a Monday night at about nine and I’d finally reached Virgil Keeton inwashphillipsaas Fairfield, TX. He was related to both men named Washington Phillips and he said the one who sang gospel songs at church while  plucking the strings on a harp-like instrument, died in the ‘50s from a fall down the stairs of the welfare office in Teague. The Washington Phillips written about in the liner notes of the Yazoo CD “I Am Born To Preach the Gospel” died on New Year’s Eve 1938 at the State Hospital, where he was admitted in 1930 with delusions and paranoia.

When Dust-To-Digital contacted me in Nov. 2013 and asked if I’d write extensive liner notes, 7,000 words or so, for a new Wash Phillips reissue, I said sure. I bid pretty low and asked to be paid primarily in books. And here they are. Official release date is Nov. 11, but I can sell my books now. They’ll be signed by me to whoever you say. I’ve ditched the Wash Phillips footprint idea after ruining a book, but I am going to stamp each package with the sole of Washington Phillips.

For a personalized copy of Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dreams, send a check for $30 ($40 Canadian) to me at P.O. Box 313 Smithville, TX 78957. Or send $31 to PayPal under my email address michaelcorcoran55@gmail.com. The price includes shipping, so if you’re not from the U.S. add more.

The money I make from the books will fund further research into the lives of Washington Phillips, Arizona Dranes and Blind Willie Johnson. Hopefully, TCU Press will put out Goin’ To See the King, my book about about 1920’s black gospel, in Spring 2018. I’ve done all the primary research on the Holy Trinity of black gospel pioneers in 1920s Texas, now I have to weave their stories together in the context of the times.

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From Dust-to-Digital:

“We are excited to share this story in Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dreams, a new book by Corcoran accompanied by recordings made by Phillips between 1927-29. To ensure a superior listening experience, we tracked down the most pristine original copies of Phillips’ 78-rpm records, created high resolution transfers and had the audio expertly remastered for the best-sounding Phillips reissue to date. Hear the sublime, hypnotic and ethereal music of Washington Phillips in clarity like never before!”

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Blind Willie Johnson: Revelations In the Dark

Posted by mcorcoran on January 8, 2016


              by Michael Corcoran

Folks have been looking for Blind Willie Johnson since his “John The Revelator” jumped out of Harry Smith’s monumental Anthology of American Folk Music in 1952 like a Pentecostal preacher. “Well, who’s that writin’?,” Blind Willie called out in a fog-cutter bass, with his amen queen Willie B. Harris responding, “John The Revelator.” The repetition of those dissimilar, tent revival voices created a rhythm of dignified hardship, a struggle redeemed by faith. Thumb-picked guitar lines danced around the rough/smooth tension as the devil slid into the back pew.

blindwilliejohnson2This 1930 gospel recording about the Apostle who wrote the Book of Revelation was as lowdown dirty and hoppin’ as any blues or hillbilly number on Smith’s six-disc collection. Blind Willie didn’t even have to play any bottleneck guitar, which would become his signature on later reissues featuring “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” “Mother’s Children Have A Hard Time,” “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning,” “God Moves On The Water” and others.

Johnson’s initial popularity on Columbia’s 14000-D “race records” series was such that he was one of the only gospel blues artists whose 78s were reissued during the Depression (four sides on Vocalion in 1935). He recorded 18 months before the debut of the more celebrated Delta blues icon Charley Patton and perfected a slide guitar style with open D tuning that influenced everyone from Robert Johnson and Elmore James to Jimmy Page and Jack White. Vocally, you can be sure Patton understudy Chester Burnett took notice of Johnson’s wolf-like howl.

In just three years, Blind Willie Johnson produced a significant body of work that transports the listener from ancient Africa to modern times. And yet by the release of Harry Smith’s gateway drug, almost nothing was known of “the other Blind Willie” (not McTell) except that he recorded for Columbia Records from 1927 through1930. There were 30 tracks total, with ten each recorded in Dallas, New Orleans and Atlanta.

Just as the Book of Revelation was written on a scroll fastened by seven seals, Blind Willie’s story was one that begged to be unlocked. The first to try was 24-year-old Samuel Charters (1929-2015), who set out for Texas in 1953 to see what he could find about two bluesmen named Johnson, who made their first records there. But while the icy trail of Robert Johnson, who recorded in San Antonio in 1936 and Dallas the next year, made even hellhounds call it a day, Charters got lucky with the gospel Johnson. Sam and his wife Ann followed leads from Dallas to Beaumont, where they eventually met Blind Willie’s widow, Angeline Johnson.

The Charters-produced 1957 album Blind Willie Johnson: His Story (Folkways) reissued more of Johnson’s music, including “If I Had My Way, I’d Tear The Building Down,” which the Grateful Dead called “Samson And Delilah” when they recorded it on 1977’s Terrapin Station. Side one concentrated on Johnson’s biography, with spoken remembrances from people who knew Blind Willie, most prominently Angeline.

Rather than detail what was wrong in some of those eyewitness reports, let’s tell you what we now know to be certain about Blind Willie Johnson, who died in Beaumont at age 48 on September 18, 1945. The truth starts with a 1918 WWI draft registration card which popped up on ancestry.com around 2007. The card’s 21-year-old Willie Johnson lived in Houston’s Fourth Ward, in the red light district nicknamed “The Reservation,” which seemed strange for a gospel musician. But my research concludes that this Willie Johnson, blind, was, indeed, the Blind Willie Johnson who would bring a previously unheard intensity to music on six classics of gospel blues recorded on his first day ever in a studio.

We know draft card Willie is our guy because the 1935 Temple City Directory lists a “Willie Johnson, musician” living at the same 308 S. Fifth St. address as four other children of the man listed as his father in 1918. When Willie Johnson and Willie B. Harris had a daughter, Sam Faye, in 1931, he said he was born in Temple. His death certificate incorrectly lists his place of birth as Independence, Texas.

marriagelicensedock

Blind Willie’s parents were Dock Johnson and Mary King, married May 2, 1894 in Meridian, Texas, the town closest to the ranch where famed folklorist John A. Lomax grew up. The Johnsons moved about 50 miles south, to Bell County, before Willie Johnson was born in January 1897 in Pendleton. That year, Lomax was living in Austin, where he would graduate from the University of Texas in June. But the Lomax name would be forever connected to Blind Willie Johnson in 1977, when John’s son Alan Lomax selected Willie’s wordless symphony of loneliness, “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground,” to be placed on the Voyager I flying time capsule that is now 13 billion miles away. The otherworldly music of Blind Willie Johnson is on its way home.

A Haunting Masterpiece

Blind Willie sang in three distinctive voices: the gruff false bass, the soulful natural tenor and through his expressive slide guitar, which often finished verses for him. They were the father, the son and the Holy Ghost of his music. Johnson was a one-man Holy Trinity on “Dark Was The Night,” as his guitar preached and his congregation hummed in response.

“That record just scared the hell out of me,” Memphis record producer Jim Dickinson said in 2003. He first heard “Dark Was The Night” in 1960 as a freshman at Baylor University, with the hums and slurs from the library headphones haunting himwith a sadness and a strength he said he never really got over. More than 55 years later, his son Luther Dickinson is one of the artists on God Don’t Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson,an album of covers by such admirers as Tom Waits, Sinead O’Connor, Lucinda Williams and many more. His father had told him about Blind Willie, of course, but Luther truly discovered the slide master when he delved into the roots of nascent North Mississippi bluesman Fred McDowell. “It’s so of the earth, but still sounds modern to my ear,” Luther Dickinson says of Johnson’s gospel blues.

“He’s one of only a handful of musicians who really feel like sacred music to me,” says guitarist Derek Trucks, who performs “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning” with Susan Tedeschi on God Don’t Never Change.

There are no words in Blind Willie’s “Dark Was The Night,” but there are lyrics to the Baptist hymn where it originated. It’s about the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was arrested and tormented on the night before the crucifixion. “Dark was the night and cold was the ground/On which the Lord was laid/His sweat like drops of blood ran down/In agony He prayed,” wrote Thomas Haweis in 1792.blindwilliedark

It’s a song about the Passion and Blind Willie nailed it on the first take on December 3, 1927 in Dallas. It’s a one-of-a-kind recording that’s set a mood in several films, first in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1964 Italian classic The Gospel According To St. Matthew. Basing his soundtrack of Paris, Texas on “Dark,” Ry Cooder called it “the most soulful, transcendent piece in all of American music.”

You have to wonder what Columbia’s Frank B. Walker, who produced the Dallas sessions, might have been thinking when this fully-formed blind artist came in out of nowhere to lay down that pure, primal sound. Even though Walker had signed and produced blues superstar Bessie Smith in 1923, he probably wasn’t ready for Blind Willie’s wails and moans in that voice from the depths.

An overlooked record business giant, Walker also signed great hillbilly acts like Riley Puckett, Charlie Poole and Gid Tanner and organized 1928’s influential “Johnson City Sessions” in Tennessee. His title was A&R president, but he was really in the D&S business, with the discovery and signing of Hank Williams to MGM in 1947 putting Walker’s resume in bold.

The East Coast record men, who made frequent trips to Dallas, Memphis, New Orleans and Atlanta between 1927 and 1930, sometimes set up makeshift studios in hotels.  But because Walker and his engineer (“Freiberg” on label notes) were using the new Viva-Tonal! electrical recording process, those first sessions probably took place in the friendly confines of the Columbia Records complex, which covered three storefronts (2000- 2004) on North Lamar St. in Dallas’ West End.

bwjsigningOther acts who recorded at that first Dallas session, which went from December 2-6, 1927 were Washington Phillips (“Denomination Blues”), Lillian Glinn, backed by Willie Tyson on piano, mandolinist Coley Jones and the Dallas String Band, blues singers William McCoy, Hattie Hudson and Gertrude Perkins, plus Billiken Johnson, whose popular Deep Ellum act consisted of train impersonations (“Interurban Blues”) and other sound effects. Walker told Mike Seeger in 1962 that the acts auditioned in the morning, rehearsed in the afternoon and recorded in the evening.

Johnson was not the first gospel singer to play slide guitar on record. He was beaten to the studio by a year and a half by Pittsburgh preacher Edward W. Clayborn. For blues, you can go back to November 1923, when Louisville’s Sylvester Weaver was the first to record with slide guitar for OKeh. Those guys  were crafty and talented, but when Blind Willie started playing slide it’s like he invented the dunk. He paired gifts for improvisation and control, the melody and the rhythm, in a way that’s unsurpassed. “Anybody who’s ever played the bottleneck guitar with some degree of accomplishment is quoting Blind Willie to this day,” said Austin slide guitarist Steve James.

Johnson grew up one county over from Blind Lemon Jefferson and they often played on opposite street corners in Hearne, according to Adam Booker, the Brenham preacher interviewed by Charters in 1955. Yet Blind Willie sounds little like the first national star of country blues. They played in the same general genre, with religious vs. secular lyrics being the core difference, but had their own styles. Jefferson didn’t play the slide. And Johnson didn’t make the people dance like Blind Lemon did.

Together and apart, these two black, blind icons from Central Texas led the way in the country blues guitar field (religion optional). They taught, through example, Reverend Gary B. Davis and Mance Lipscomb, who each brought songs from the Blind Willie Johnson canon to the ‘60s folk revival.

Johnson & Johnson, Gospel And Blues

Jefferson and Johnson also inspired Robert Johnson, who laid out the blueprint for Chicago blues and its offspring in November 1936 at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio. Johnson’s debut session, on the 23rd, produced eight tracks for Vocalion Records, including “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” “Sweet Home Chicago,” “Ramblin’ On My Mind,” “Come On In My Kitchen” and “Terraplane Blues.” There’s your Big Bang.

Though not as influential, you can put the artistic results of Blind Willie Johnson’s December 3, 1927 session in the same league of Best Studio Days Ever – and it was nine years earlier! Blind Willie Johnson’s six tracks included “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed” (covered by Bob Dylan as “In My Time Of Dying” in his 1962 debut LP), “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” (Led Zeppelin), “Mother’s Children Have A Hard Time” (Eric Clapton) and “If I Had My Way” (Peter, Paul & Mary’s debut LP).

 

Even though his playing, always on a Stella guitar, inspired a host of Delta blues men, Blind Willie refused to sing the blues, that style of music preferred by collectors and historians. Unlike the “songsters” who mixed blues and gospel, Johnson sang only religious songs, which explains a big part of his relative obscurity. His raspy evangelical bark and dramatic guitar were designed to draw in milling, mulling masses on street corners, not to charm casual roots rock fans decades later.

But he had his time. When Willie Johnson was booked for the December 1928 sessions for Columbia, he had already sold an average of 15,000 copies of his first three 78s (at 75 cents each) and so he was treated with an earner’s respect. He had a car and driver and the label put him and Willie B. up at the Delmonico Hotel at 302 N. Central Avenue in Deep Ellum.

The couple proved to be vocal soulmates on four tracks recorded on December 5, 1928, including “Jesus Is Coming Soon” (about the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic) and “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning.” The Columbia recording logs also list two tracks, unnamed and unreleased, as being by “Blind Texas Marlin” and the speculation was that Blind Texas Marlin was Blind Willie Johnson, singing some blues on the side. We’ll never know. The notes and papers of Frank Buckley Walker disappeared, he said in the interview with Seeger. A big chunk of music history gone. Columbia lost or threw away the Blind Willie Johnson masters long ago and all his CD reissues were made by digitizing 78 RPM records loaned by collectors.

The search goes on, but what we still don’t know about Blind Willie Johnson could sink the Titanic. The mystery has made him more spirit than mortal, a folk hero.

The most legendary story about Blind Willie, which Angeline told to Charters in 1955, was that he was blinded by a stepmother who “throwed lye water in Willie’s face and put his eyes out.” Angeline said Willie’s mother had died when he was a boy and his father remarried.

Dock Johnson, indeed, took a new wife, Catherine Garrett, in June 1908. But in the 1911 Temple Directory, Dock Johnson was living with a wife named Mary, before going back to Catherine two years later.

That may have something to do with the blinding of Willie Johnson. The years match with the draft card if Willie became blind at age 13 (instead of 13 years earlier–there’s some ambiguity). That would be 1910, the census year Willie Johnson was not living in Temple with father Dock, Catherine and his brothers and sisters Wallace, Carl, Robert and Mary (who they called Jettie.) Did he stay with a relative? Did Dock break up with Catherine and go back to Willie’s mother because of the blinding, or the infidelity and the beating that, according to Angeline, led to it?

By 1915, everything seemed patched up, as Willie Johnson was listed as living with Dock and Catherine at 316 W. Avenue D in Temple, just 100 yards from the train depot. He wouldn’t stay long.

He was 18 and ready to make some money on the streets of Texas with a pocket knife, a tin cup and beat-up old guitar.pendletonrr

“Where the Cotton South Meets the Cattle West”

Temple is named after Bernard Temple, who was chief engineer of the Gulf, Colorado & Santa Fe Railway when the town was formed in 1881 out of 200 acres of farmland the railroad had purchased. It became even more of a railroad town when the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railway (“the Katy”) laid tracks through Temple in 1882. The Santa Fe had 55 miles of track in Bell County and went up to Fort Worth and down to Galveston, while the Katy was the main route between Dallas and San Antonio. Ragtime king Scott Joplin, from Texarkana, lived circa 1895 in Temple, where he wrote and published his first sheet music pieces on a commission from the MK&T. The railroads made Temple an urban hub between Waco and Austin.

The town was also in cotton country, on the western border of the Black Waxy Prairie, so-nicknamed because of the dark and sticky soil. The crop was so identified with Bell County that the semi-pro baseball team of 1905-1907 was called the Temple Boll Weevils, after the infestation of the 1890s.

Mississippi has its Delta and in Texas the blues cradle was the basin lands between the Brazos and Trinity Rivers, east of Dallas and north of Houston. Henry “Ragtime Texas” Thomas (Big Sandy), Blind Lemon Jefferson (Wortham), Texas Alexander (Jewett), Lillian Glinn (Hillsboro), Lightnin’ Hopkins (Centerville), Frankie Lee Sims (Marshall) and Mance Lipscomb (Navasota) all came from that area, as did gospel acts The Soul Stirrers (Trinity), F.W. McGee (Hillsboro) and Wash Phillips (Simsboro).

The busy season for corner singers was when the cotton came in and the streets were full of folks ready to party. Such money-making opportunities took Johnson to Hearne, Marlin, Brenham and Navasota, as well as the big cities. Because he was blind, he rode the train at reduced fare, if he had to pay at all. “Play us that ‘Titanic’ song!” was probably enough to carry Blind Willie wherever he wanted to go.

Blind Willie’s first marriage took him to Houston in 1917, if later census numbers are correct. According to the 1930 census, the musician said he was married at age 20 and divorced. That’s approximately when the draft card said he was living in Houston, where there was plenty of work for a musician in the “anything goes” district where Johnson lived. Usually it was playing in whorehouses or medicine shows, but after the 1915 Panama Pacific Expo in San Francisco, Hawaiian steel guitar was all the rage, with the Victor label releasing 140 Hawaiian records in 1916 alone. It’s quite possible Blind Willie made money for a spell with his guitar in his lap, but his slide playing on record is more percussive, attacking, than the Island style.

Songster Mance Lipscomb (1895- 1976), who enjoyed a late-life discovery by the hippie/folk crowd thanks to music historian Mack McCormick and Arhoolie Records, recalled seeing Johnson play in front of Tex’s Radio Shop in Navasota, 90 miles northwest of Houston, as early as 1916. “He just had people from here to the highway. Jes’ hunnuds a people standing right on the streets,” Lipscomb said in his oral autobiography I Say Me For a Parable. “White and black. Old colored folks and young ones as well. Listenin’ at his voice.”  Lipscomb said Johnson walked with a stick and traveled with a darker-skinned blind man. That was most likely Madkin Butler.

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
– The Book of Genesis

The dominant Texas preacher of the era was John L. “Sin Killer” Griffin, who toured all over the state and possessed, according to a Houston newspaper in 1911, a voice with the power of “thunder’s sullen roar.” But Blind Willie had a more direct model for his pulpit-shaking bellow in the singing preacher they called Blind Butler (1873- 1936). Madkin Butler showed the kid, 24 years his junior, how to make his voice heard above a crowd by flipping it inside out with authority. Butler was most likely the writer of “God Moves On The Water,” one of Blind Willie’s greatest recordings, which Waco folklorist Dorothy Scarborough published in 1919’s From A  Southern Porch folklore collection. Lipscomb recalled a night in Houston when he sang “Titanic,” as he called “God Moves,” with Ophelia Butler, who he was told by McCormick, was the widow of the man who wrote it.

A singer and fiddle player who was never recorded that we know of, Madkin Butler was also probably the “blind singer from Hearne” who taught John A. Lomax “Boll Weevil” in 1909. Willie B. Harris, who grew up in Franklin, next to Hearne, said Blind Butler was the most highly regarded singer in Robertson County.

Harris talked about the Butler/Johnson mentorship when she was interviewed in the ‘70s by Dallas artist and blues collector Dan Williams. “She told me they played music on the train together,” Williams recalled.

As many have done before and since, Williams trekked to Marlin to find out whatever he could about that mysterious, intense, Blind Willie Johnson. “I approached a group of elderly black people near the town square and one of them said he was related to Blind Willie’s ex-wife, the one who sang on his records, and I thought I was going to meet Angeline Johnson,” Williams recalled in 2003. “Nobody knew anything about a Willie B. Harris.”

After hearing Harris sing along to Blind Willie’s recording of “Church I’m Fully Saved Today,” from their final session in Atlanta on April 20, 1930, Williams was sure Harris was the duet partner. “She talked about meeting Blind Willie McTell in Atlanta and I did some research and found out that, sure enough, McTell recorded at the same sessions,” said Williams.

Charters inaccurately credited Angeline Johnson as the female background singer in his chapter on Blind Willie in 1959’s seminal The Country Blues, but made the correction, crediting Harris, in the liner notes for a 1993 CD reissue for Sony Legacy. Still, it’s possible that the more flamboyant Angeline was Willie’s unidentified backup singer at the sessions in New Orleans in December 1929 that produced the enduring “Let Your Light Shine On Me,” the first song Johnson recorded in standard guitar tuning. Columbia’s Walker set up a session in Dallas a week earlier, but Blind Willie chose to record in New Orleans, so he was probably living in the closer city of Beaumont as early as 1929, which is what Angeline had been saying.

bwjsanantonoWhen you add up all the dates and testimony, it’s very possible that Johnson was “married” to both Angeline in Beaumont and Willie B. in Marlin at the same time. There is no official record of those marriages, aside from newborn daughter Sam Faye listed as legitimate in Marlin in 1931, but couples “jumping the broom” together was a common matrimonial procedure for poor folks back then. Because of a December 2, 1932 entry in the San Antonio Register black newspaper, we do know Willie was married to a Mary Brown for a spell. Then, the 1937 Corpus Christi City Directory has Willie Johnson, musician, living there with wife Annie (as Angeline was known by some). That makes sense because of what McCormick said in 2003: “(Blind Willie) left memories in Corpus Christi during WWII when there was a fear about Nazi submarines prowling the Gulf of Mexico. Someone must have told him submarines often listened to radio stations to triangulate their position. He went on the air with new verses to one of his songs, probably ‘God Moves On The Water’ about the Titanic, offering grace to his audience, then followed with a dire warning to the crew of any listening U-boat with ‘Can’t Nobody Hide From God.’”

Blind Willie and Angeline moved to Beaumont for good in the early ‘40s, when the gospel singer found a fan in a circus band leader with a famous trumpet-playing son. “Harry James’ father Everett spoke very highly of Blind Willie Johnson,” said McCormick, who began his musicology career as a jazz fanatic. It’s not known if Johnson ever sat in with the Mighty Haag Circus Band led by Everett James, but the possibility is mind-blowing.

In the 1945 Beaumont City Directory Johnson is listed as a Reverend living at The House of Prayer at 1440 Forest. According to his death certificate later that year, Johnson died from malarial fever, with syphilis and blindness as contributing factors.

But Angeline Johnson painted an even bleaker picture of Willie Johnson’s final days. She told Charters that her husband died from pneumonia after sleeping on wet newspapers the night after a fire. His life could’ve been saved, she said, except he was refused service at the hospital because he was black and blind. But such a scenario was “highly unlikely…,” said McCormick, who had worked in a Houston emergency room in the Jim Crow era of legalized discrimination. “He would not have been turned away.”

The 1440 Forest Avenue house stood until 1970, when it was torn down to make room for I-10.

The “malarial fever” cause of death seemed strange for East Texas and led many to believe Angeline Johnson’s pneumonia story. But while spending 2010 researching the life of Blind Willie Johnson, recent University of Texas graduate Shane Ford came upon an interesting bit of medical information. In 1917, it was discovered that injecting malaria into patients with degenerative syphilis “could halt the progression of general paresis.” The fever could sometimes kill the syphilis bacteria. This practice was used in the ‘30s and ‘40s, until penicillin was mass-produced in the late ‘40s. The downside was that about 20% of those treated died from malarial fever.

Marlin And Marriages

Between his years in Temple and Beaumont, there was Marlin, perhaps the town most connected to Blind Willie this many years later. Wood Street brought the street corner gospel singer to the town 37 miles east of Temple. With its wooden sidewalks, prostitutes hanging out of windows and music coming out of every doorway, Wood Street of the ‘20s and ‘30s featured the most happening street scene in black Central Texas. Marlin’s a nothing town today, but during the first half of the 20th Century, after hot mineral water with reputed healing powers was discovered and bathhouses built, it was a destination with a booming economy. The New York Giants held spring training in Marlin from 1908 through 1918 and Conrad Hilton built the nine-story Falls Hotel there in 1929. There were plenty of jobs for black folks and on Saturday night, Wood Street was hopping.

Musicians played all up and down the street, according to a 94-year-old James Truesdale in 2010. “He could make that guitar talk to you,” the Lott native said of Blind Willie, describing a scene of people “falling out and hollerin’” to Johnson’s gospel music. Two blocks from the sin of Wood Street was the Falls Country Baptist Association, where Truesdale said Johnson and Butler often played in a makeshift venue called the Soul Station.

When she met her future husband, Willie B. Harris worked as a bathhouse attendant and belonged to the Power House Church of God In Christ. She told Williams that she and Blind Willie began performing together at the Pentecostal church. No doubt she’d dragged him with her with her, because Blind Willie has mainly been associated with the Baptist Church.

Church in Shiner, TX where BWJ performed.

Church in Shiner, TX where BWJ performed.

The last known venue of a Blind Willie Johnson concert still standing is the New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in Shiner, Texas. Johnson came to Shiner from San Antonio in October 1933 to play the 100-capacity church for 10 cents a ticket. “Reserved seating for white people” it said in the newspaper. It’s conceivable Blind Willie had hundreds of shows like this after making his final recordings in April 1930. Playing music live was the only way he had to make a living since his recordings were “non-royalty,” according to Columbia session cards.

Also recently found is a clipping that describes the crowd at New York City’s Hippodrome becoming “deathlike” quiet while Blind Willie Johnson sang “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” circa 1938. In a 1940 interview with John A. Lomax, Blind Willie McTell said he and the other Blind Willie had been touring “from Maine to Mobile.” McTell paid homage to his old friend when he cut “Motherless Children” for Atlantic in 1949. That’s how long it took for word of Johnson’s death to reach many of those who knew him, one reason earlier biographies had him dying in ’49, not ’45.

There’s been only one photo found of Willie Johnson, wearing a suit and sitting at a piano with his guitar. His left pinkie appears to be straightened by a glass or steel cylinder, which is how Angeline’s brother, Brenham-raised blues guitarist L.C. Robinson, said Johnson played slide. “He used to come stay with us, two, three nights, and he’d sit there and play that guitar, religious songs,” Robinson told Living Blues in 1975 about his brother-in-law. “I was watching him with that bottle on there and started playing that way, too.”

But bluesman Thomas Shaw (1908-1977) told the magazine in 1972 that Blind Willie slid a pocketknife over the strings to play slide. “Willie lived in Temple and we’d go down there to play for the country dances and school openings and all and I’d stay with him,” said Shaw. “I learned that ‘Just Can’t Keep From Cryin’ from him but I learned to pick it ’cause I didn’t like the knife on it.”

Listening to Johnson fretting strings and playing rhythm along with his slide, it seems unlikely he played with a knife in the studio, but it could’ve been a cool street corner trick.

The Sounds Of Earth In Outer Spacebwjad1

Blind Willie’s songs were about the love of Jesus and the hope of salvation, with a touch of Old Testament vengeance. With his soul-tortured delivery, there’s a depth to the material not often heard in the records Brunswick, Columbia, Paramount and Victor put out in the “race records” decade ushered in by Mamie Smith’s sensational 1920 hit “Crazy Blues.”

But how many of those songs did he write? How many were adapted from public domain sources such as religious hymns and old “Negro spirituals”? It’s certainly a question to be determined once an estate for Blind Willie Johnson is finally established.

Precedents for “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” “Motherless Children,” “Soul Of A Man” and the topical songs “Jesus Is Coming” and “When The War Is On” haven’t been found, so they can be classified as original compositions. But the majority of Johnson’s 29 recorded songs (he cut “You’ll Need Somebody On Your Bond” twice) came from other sources.  According to Max Haymes’ “Roots of Blind Willie Johnson” research, the singer took three songs from the 1923 recordings of the Wiseman Sextette and covered T.E. Weems on “If I Had My Way,” Arizona Dranes on “Bye And Bye, I’m Going To See the King” and Blind Joe Taggart’s “Take Your Burden To The Lord.” But entertainment attorney William Krasilovsky said in 2003 that a Blind Willie estate could earn money by copyrighting his arrangements. “Does the work have distinctive fingerprints of originality that qualify for a new derivative copyright of public domain material?” he asked, reading from a copyright law book.

“Distinctive fingerprints” could be the title of a Blind Willie Johnson biography. In most cases, however, Johnson’s fingers left the slightest forensic evidence behind, which makes what they did with a guitar, under that powerful voice, all that matters. The music’s so supercharged with self-expression that the truth is right there for all to hear.

That’s why “Dark Was The Night” was chosen for the Golden Record aboard Voyager 1, which continues its journey to the galaxy’s back yard. The interstellar space probe left the solar system in 2012 and continues its mission to find intelligent life in other planetary systems.

Should aliens happen upon the spacecraft and, with the record player provided, listen to that eerie, moaning, steel-sliding memorial to the Crucifixion, they will know that we are a spiritual people, that we hurt and we heal, that we do indeed have souls that live long after we’re buried.

 

THANKS: To all the searchers, especially Sam and Ann Charters, Dan Williams, Jeffrey Gaskill, Michael Hall, D.N. Blakey, Mack McCormick, Shane Ford and Anna Obek, whose hours saved me days.

Posted in Gospel, Texas Music History | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Corky at 30

Posted by mcorcoran on January 29, 2015

I never called myself Corky until I started writing the “Don’t You Start Me Talking” column for the Austin Chronicle in 1985. So Corky is 30 this year. I was trying to come up with a full-of-himself character I could hide behind as I savaged the scene one minute and cuddled with it the next. But everybody started calling me Corky and eventually I became him and had to move away for awhile. This column split me life right into two, so in my 60th year it seems the right time to revisit.
Nick Barbaro behind the wheel, coming back from Laredo.

Nick Barbaro behind the wheel, coming back from Laredo.

 

JIBS & JABS

Nanci Griffith, Nashville’s Miss Goody Two-Chords, is a subject of an investigative report in the Feb. 20 Washington Post. Reporter Digger Treadwell presents evidence that Griffith, who promotes a literary bent, has not actually read the books on her LP covers and the “novel” she’s said to have recently completed is just a series of letters asking her mother to ship her unicorn collection to Nashville. The Post has an unnamed source who overheard Griffith asking her art director to go out and get “some thick books by women authors or Southerners, you know, like that Flannery O’Connor guy… Zeitgeist has received cease-and-desist letters from an attorney representing a Minneapolis new age group which had the name longer. So they’re changing their name. A suggestion: Whitegeist… This year’s Woodshock has been canceled due to liability concerns. Here’s the insurance agent on the phone with landowner Mrs. Hurlbut: “OK, now let me make sure I’ve got this right. You want to know how much it will cost to insure an event where hundreds of punk rockers on mushrooms dive off cliffs, drink gallons of beer and slam into one another for the pure pleasure of contact? Let me put you in touch with Mr. Reynolds as soon as he gets off the phone with the Ku Klux Klan, which needs insurance for it’s midnight march through Brooklyn.”…

MUSICAL LIKE ME 1984

gerard05022015

musicallikeme2

photos by Martha Grenon

DOUBLE BILL BINGO

Biggest Mamou Steve Chaney took a gander at his upcoming slate the other day and, seeing pairings of the WayOuts and the Wigglies and the Shakers and the Tremors, wondered if booker JoRae Dimenno was putting together shows by how the band’s names sounded together. We realize that JoRae has her hands full, what with trying to pull boyfriend J.D. Foster out of the funk because Will Sexton didn’t ask him to play bass on the new Kill video, so we’ll give DiMenno some booking suggestions:

Bad Mutha Goose and Duck Soup
Bubble Puppy
and Water the Dog
Andy Van Dyke
and Two Nice Girls
Glass Eye
and Robert Earl Keen
Passenger
and Asleep At the Wheel
Spot
and Go Dog Go
Hank Sinatra
and Sonny Davis, Jr.
Rudi Dadd
and the Grandmothers
James Cotton
and Marcia Ball
Shoulders
and Child Bearing Hips
Tony Perez
and Nice Strong Arm
How To Kiss
and French Acers
Avenue D
and Ronnie Lane
Johnny Reno
and Speedy Sparks
Monte Warden and Huey P. Meaux
Tyrant Swing and Willie Khomeni
The Argyles and the Sweaters
Killer Bees and Trained Ants
Band From Hell and the Fortunetellers (band from Oklahoma)

THINGS CHANGE

Zeitgeist is currently on a Midwest excursion with a female guitar player who is not Kim Longacre. Don’t expect to read the replacement’s name. I don’t know it. The band, which was opening for Room City when I discovered them, would not tell me. I did find out that the new player is from Corpus Christi and is a friend of bassist Cindy Toth. The tight lips are the rule here because the current two-week swing will serve as an intensified tryout, and the band does not want to make an announcement now which may be incorrect in two weeks.

Zeigeist/Reivers with Kim, John, Cindy and Garrett.

Zeigeist/Reivers with Kim, John, Cindy and Garrett.

Longacre’s last scheduled gig with the group was at the South Bank, Nov. 8. The band had the audience dancing too much to acknowledge the sad passing at hand, but I savored every component of “Freight Train Rain,” “Things Don’t Change” and “Translate Slowly,” being all too aware that the charm of these songs in performance was nearly extinction. The remaining players are creative and efficient, John Croslin’s songs are first-rate, and there’s just too much here in the way of determination for any future Zeitgeist incarnation to be anything but good. From good to great, the intangible element is magic. It can’t be arranged, or planned or bought, even by Rupert Murdoch. It just happens. Like it did with Zeitgeist. Magic. It couldn’t be pointed out at the South Bank, but it was indelibly there, snaking around the formative four like invisible smoke. When they play, you forget that they seem to take this rock and roll stuff too seriously. Amnesia blacks out your vision of the grotesque climb, the gangly arms wanting so bad to hold the gaudy, bejeweled belt overhead. They’re a great band, you think. Who could blame them?

Nothing taints a perceived personality like success. Shyness comes off as snobbery. Confidence becomes conceit. Miss a hello and you’ve got a big head. Miss a goodbye and you’ve used somebody. When Regular Joe really ties one on and makes an ass of himself, the alcohol takes the rap. Not so with our chosen few. The stories circulate for months. The trick is to be bent for success, but to not be bent by it.

South Bank. I am standing back where the media stands, holding a Shiner Bock, which is what the media drinks. I am thinking media thoughts. Does Cindy Thoth even bother to put make-up on the eye her bangs always cover? Is Zeitgeist as good as True Believers? Why didn’t they tell me the new guitar player’s name when I asked them? There is something very comforting about watching a band from where the media stands Don’t know why I have my favorite observations there. When I stand where the media stands I am working. I want Zeitgeist to play “Translate Slowly.”

Croslin strums lightly, and gradually the decibels split into more decibels though Croslin is still strumming lightly. He takes the rhythm to the corner where Longacre awaits and their vocals collide in passion like first-month lovers meeting for lunch, too in love to eat, too happy to do anything but stroll in love. They never doubt that it will always be just like this.

When you don’t understand me
You need help for to see what you can’t see
In these times that we have
Translate slowly

The harmonies hold hands, fingers intertwined the junior high way, and they hope for this sensation to go on like an endless loop. Unabashed naivete is the foundation of love, true love, dumb love. Love is all these voices have in common. The shy, sincere, muscle-bound tone of the male, making no excuse for his imperfection, lays out the pinpoint of his heart. His beautiful lover doesn’t collect it, as the casual observer expects, but rather caresses it in the glow of her purity, inspiring it with her uncharitable loveliness. Apart they seem searching, together they’re fulfilled. Voices so in love. Never doubting that it’ll always be just like this.

A lullaby to myself might mean nothing
But it helps all the same

Years later I will recall Austin as it is now, and this is what I hope I remember best about the spirit of the times.

******

A "Talking" item that was reprinted in Weirdo magazine 1986.

A “Talking” item that was reprinted in Weirdo magazine 1986.

CORKY’S BOOKSHELF

There are seemingly only two subjects being covered in books these days- fitness and Elvis Presley- and that’s reflected by my current reading list:

* The Peter Fonda Work-Out Book. Sister Jane isn’t the only one making scratch off excercising. Peter shows you how to burn off calories with such unique methods as passing joints between your legs, dropping acid 10 miles from a Grateful Dead concert, smuggling marijuana by foot across the border one brick at a time and by being a really lousy actor so you have to do everything, like enter a room, about a thousand times during a film shoot.
* Elvis: I Can’t Hear You! Presley’s Army years as recalled by his boot camp instructor.
* Elvis: I Coulda Whipped Your Ass! This page-turner is by the karate sparring partner who was told to lose to Elvis or lose his job.
* Elvis: Minutes of Pleasure, Hours of Snoring. A Las Vegas cigarette girl recounts her one-night stand with the King.
* Elvis: Now What Did You Go and Do That For? Former Presley maid Juanita Douglass recalls her roller-coaster time at Graceland. From the first chapter, “I Don’t Do Windows,” to the last one “You Can’t Fire Me, Mr. Elvis, I Quit” it’s made quite apparent that Presley wasn’t nice to housekeepers. Douglass reported seeing evidence of the drug use that eventually caused the singer’s demise. “I picked up a lamp to dust under it and musta been a thousand pills jumped out the bottom,” Douglas related in her most powerful chapter, “Musta Been a Thousand Pills Jumped Out the Bottom.”

Photographer Bill Leissner invented the selfie in 1985.

Photographer Bill Leissner invented the selfie in 1985.

JIBS & JABS

Rock family tree originator Pete Frame is in town to graph Bruce Hughes. Hughes is no longer in Skank and his hardcore band All White Jury has broken up, but the bassist says he’s glad for the extra time to concentrate on his seven other bands. He’s also working on a rock opera based on the book Sybil…Even with that super bill (Los Lobos, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dwight Yoakam, Nick Lowe, as well as hosting Fabulous Thunderbirds), Saturday’s T-Bird Riverfest was about as enjoyable as the first day of karate class. First off, the volume at Auditorium Shores was just too low, just slightly louder than a sitcom tantrum…It’s been said that if you have an infinite number of monkeys pecking away at a typewriter for an infinite amount of time, eventually one of them would write Hamlet. It would take 50 monkeys a couple years to write The Aesthetics of Rock... Had a nightmare last night that Antone’s was going to start paying bands according to how long they play “Stormy Monday”…Now that I think about it, Lou Ann Barton doing “Got a Rocket In My Pocket” night after night is like Julio Iglesias singing “Born In the U.S.A.” …The Fabulous Thunderbirds are already back from a “tour” of Europe and I don’t think it’s because they wanted to go home with the armadillo, though after some of the women I’ve seen Kim Wilson with, that would be a step up. Apparently, Pete Townshend scrapped his idea to make a blues album backed by the T-Birds…True Believers have the last laugh on everyone who said they’d never sign with a major label. The debut LP will be out on Zippo Records, the label that gave us Randy Vanwarmer’s hit remake of 1957’s “The Little Boy With Polio (Ain’t In God’s Portfoloio).”…Halloween is the Rip Taylor of nights. It’s not scary anymore, just goofy. But if I did go out I would’ve gone to the State Theater, where Zeitgeist’s John Croslin was dressed as Bruce Springsteen. He had the dance down, too, from what I heard, looking like Rocky Balboa at Studio 54…Wayne Nagel has done everything in the music biz from managing Charlie Sexton to managing Will Sexton, but he’s never been in a band until now. Nagel plays bass for Rolling Stones cover band MileStones Friday at the Continental…Keyboardist Glover Gill is opening the restaurant Glover’s on San Jacinto St. Used his first name instead of his last because it’s not a seafood joint… The T-BirdsTuff Enuff is finally out and selling well, despite an LP cover that looks like someone used the Beatles White Album as a shield during a food fight…

THE INFAMOUS CHARLIE SEXTON COLUMN

This was not my proudest moment and it’s the thing I wrote, next to “Why Dragworms Are Better Than Skinheads,” that came closest to me getting my ass kicked. The week after it ran, Joe Ely was onstage at the Austin Music Awards saying “I can’t agree with how the Austin Chronicle treats minors” and decades later, when I interviewed Sexton for a piece about his producing career, he told me how bad that jab from 1986 hurt and I apologized. The names of Zeitgeist and True Believers were inserted by the writer, when he was really talking about some of the bands who’d been backbiting him after he hired a new rhythm section. But it’s part of the history, so here goes.

sextonchron

“I figure I’m young an’ I’m gonna do it right the first time, not like all these other assholes.”
Zeitgeist, True Believers?
“Look, I don’t wish to be rude but those bands in Austin, they aren’t gonna do nuthin’ ’cause you gotta leave, you’re just stifled in Austin…Now I’m teachin’ those people in Austin a lesson, which is: forget what’s trendy, and all this ‘don’t make an album in L.A., make it in some studio in Austin bullshit. Because that’s the reason why all those bands that haven’t ‘betrayed’ Austin are gonna be playing those clubs, then breaking up and workin’ in burger stands while I’m still making records.” – Charlie Sexton NME Feb. ’86

CONFIDENTIAL TO CHARLIE SEXTON

Is your name Charlie Sexton? Do you know what “confidential” means? Then am-scray. Beat it. Go read the classifieds instead. This is between me and Charlie. Why, oh why, Prince Charlie, did you have to put down Austin in that NME interview? Why take shots at True Believers and Zeitgeist? Why couldn’t you have written off your bad local press as the work of homely career virgins taking their frustration out on the Boy Who Has It All? Words. Worthless. Words. When I was your age I saw disgusting, abusive words hurled at our President, and I wondered how any man could take such hatefulness, and not be thoroughly depressed. Why would any man want to be President? Now I’m older, as you will one day be, and I see the same sort of demonstrations against Reagan, and I understand how he lets it bounce right off him. He’s the President, one of less than 40 in the history of America and a handful of screaming malcontents are trivial in comparison to what he must engage in daily. What does he care that not all 200 million Americans like him. A lot more people like him. Just like more people like you than dislike you. As a Hollywood rock star you’re closer to being President than any other 17-year-old. Crissakes, man, you’re one of the Luckiest 200 Men on the Face of the Earth. And on top of that you want good reviews?! You’ve made it to the top of the hill without barely breaking a sweat, and what do you do from that esteemed and desirable vantage point? You throw rocks down at those who’ve got as much talent as you’ve had luck, and vice versa.

If you can find a band half as powerful as True Believers, it’ll no doubt be an improvement on what you’re lugging around these days in the way of a group. And Zeitgeist’s album, which cost about as much to make as you spent on bolo ties last year, got the kind of reviews MCA would love to buy for you.

We may have come down hard on you, the press and your old cronies. We figure that you had it all and could take a few jibes and sideswipes. Gossip has a way of balancing things out. But we didn’t desert you. The great percentage of Austinites, myself included, were pulling for you to make it big. We sat up and watched when your video came on MTV, turned up the car radio whenever your record came on and scanned the national press for your every mention. This was not because we liked you personally, or enjoyed your music. We wanted you to make it because you were one of us. From Austin. You were the home team, and entitled to the benefit of the doubt.

Now that you’ve loosened the territorial vicegrip, you’re on your own, Grasshopper, out there to be judged solely by the merits of your work.

Your album stinks.

The Little Charlie we all loved.

The Little Charlie we all loved. Mudkatt left and Alex Napier right.

A year earlier:

Charlie Sexton is parading his bone structure around Hollywood and turning heads in such a way that MCA is convinced they’ve got the next teen idol. Charlie’s been playing guitar in sessions with a singer/songwriter named Bob Dylan and hanging out with the Rolling Stones. Charlie let go the Eager Beaver Boys and has a new Hollywood band, but reports that he has fired his mother and replaced her with Dinah Shore are unfounded…

austinmusicsucks

Musicians. What a bunch of crybabies. It’s my fault nobody shows up at their gigs. How dare I favor an inferior band to theirs! Who do I think I am? I must be stupid if I can’t recognize their greatness. All they do is play goddamn music. In junior high, kids would be called sissies and beat up for such an activity. Nowadays we worship our instrument-players. And it really takes the carpool lane to their heads. Ever have a pretty good friend and then they join a band? After that they’ve only got one topic of conversation, and it’s not world hunger. They’ve all got Marshall egos, turned up to ten. And I’m not just talking about the Vaughans, Elys, Nelsons or Carrascos; this bug is city-wide. I recently sponsored a talent show of 21 new bands at the Continental, and some of them were pulling shit you’d expect from premenstrual Streisand. And every damn one of them thought they should have won. Everybody likes what they hold in their own stool cup, but musicians act like they just walked out of I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Yogurt with theirs.

Corky's Starsearch

Don’t you start me talking about these goddamn ingrates! Their voting me as Worst Thing to Happen to Austin Music is calling Mother Theresa a child molester. After all I’ve done for Austin. Then the Beach holds its “Not Cool Enough for the Chronicle” Awards and I win “Most Hated Critic.” The trophy was a toilet seat on which was written “Dumpy Corky.” That’s it! No more Mr. Not A Bad Guy Once You Get To Know Him!

I’ll mention my girlfriend as much as I damn well feel like. Nobody’s stopping you from going out and getting your own column and writing about your 19-year-old girlfriend. Or if you don’t have a 19-year-old girlfriend (tsk, tsk) you can write about your band, the Vertibeads. What do I care? I get paid the same. And I’ve got this job locked up. It’s mine as long as I want it. I can plug my friends if I want. But they all live out of town so it won’t do them any good. I can put girls’ names in bold print so they’ll like me. Lisa Gamache. See? This is my column and they’ll take it from me when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.

Let’s get it all out in the open. Let’s let it fly. Daniel Johnston: We don’t think you’re brilliant. We think you’re a squirrel. How did you like my Kim Fowley impression? … Will Sexton: Need a title for your upcoming album? How about Magic Coattail Ride?… Lou Ann Barton: Don’t feel bad just because one person thinks your new record is wimpy. And what does Richard Carpenter know?… Hickoids: Your drum problems have been solved by a drum machine that gets drunk and messes up….  Butthole Surfers: Malcolm McLaren’s trying to get ahold of you for a remake of The Great Rock N’ Roll Swindle Pt. IIDino Lee: I found a daily schedule sheet that looks like it belongs to you. It reads: 7-8 a.m. Bullshit girlfriend on why I’m home so late. 8 a.m.- 2 p.m. Sleep. 2-5 p.m. Fix hair. 5- 5:30 p.m. Show hair to girlfriend. 5:30- 7 p.m. Redo hair. 7- 7:03 Work on new material….

Corky and Suzee 1985.

Girlfriend Suzee was a constant presence in the column. Revenge of the nerd.

RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS AT LIBERTY LUNCH 12/12/85

Freaky Styley is Sugar Frosted Flakes in a granola world. It’s Playboy insignia chic in Izod Klein Country. It’s scared of dogs. It’s not knowing the price of gas within 25 cents, but knowing that 20 cents each is a good price for iron-on letters. It’s Rocky IV, not Rocky I, because he won, so who cares which movie was better? It’s sitting every other seat in the theatre and then riding home with three in the front seat. It’s sitting with your knees as high as possible.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers finally hit the Lunch stage that freezing cold Thursday at 1:30 a.m. wild and shirtless. Freaky Styley is watching your breath in the cold. The audience had hung on in the tundra through good but overlong hour-long sets from Skank and Camper Van Beethoven, never doubting that their asses would be thoroughly kicked by the baddest white boys ever to rumble with black music, the real 125th Street junk, and strut out of the alley wearing wounds like medals. Most of the 600 or so who paid $5 to get in dropped anchor as close to the stage, where temperatures were about 20 degrees warmer, as safe navigation would permit. It took about half a song for the Red Hot pyro beat and Chili Pepper physical graffiti to transform the dancefloor into a bingo machine of wool and down-covered balls. By the second song the throng was thrashing which, thanks to the Big Boys’ foray into funk, is not as odd a reaction here as it must be in other places. The band’s fire seemed fanned by the abandon they had caused up front. It was an audience I didn’t mind being part of, for a change, and a band I was happy to see, for a change. But I had to tear myself away at 2:15 a.m.. The members of Skank and Camper Van Beethoven may not have had to work the next day, but I did.

red-hot-chili-peppers-rhcp-anthony-kiedis-flea-john-frusciante-josh-klinghoffer-chad-smith-782

TRACI, I’M PULLING FOR YA, HONEY

An important part of my life has been taken away. Traci Lords, the face that launched a billion sperm cells- in my apartment alone- no longer exists. We had a date last week and, when I went by the Video Barn to pick her up, they said she didn’t live there anymore. It turns out that Traci just had her 18th birthday and suddenly the 50- 60 hardcore porno movies she made the past three years are highly illegal. So I guess I’ll have to go back to having sex with people. Once you’ve seen Traci Lords in action, Seka might as well be Aunt Bea. Traci was Secretariat, Willie Mays and Itzhak Perlman. She was the best and when Don McLean sang “this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you” about Vincent Van Gogh, he could’ve just as easily been singing about dear Traci.

Traci Lords was 16 when she posed for this cover.

Traci Lords was 16 when she posed for this cover.

CRIT CLIQUE INITIATION EXCERCISES

1. You must take Ed Ward’s feisty dog, Pete, to the Kerrville Folk Festival.
2. You must go on a date with Brent Grulke as the third wheel.
3. You have to ask Chris Walters to buy you a beer.
4. You have to go up to Kim Wilson and introduce yourself as Michael Corcoran.
5. You have to buy drugs from a punk rocker and then sell them at the same price to a good friend of yours.
6. You have to take a dump at the Continental Club during a Doctors Mob set.
7. You have to turn in a three-page record review, written in pencil, to Kathleen Maher for typesetting. (This is our first excercise if the number of prospects needs to be quickly reduced.

THE ROAD

“Everybody does what they do because they can’t play guitar.” –Rollo Banks

The Road is that Oriental girl you’ve seen for the first time, on that street where the speed limit is seven. She glistens while the regulars merely reflect. She motions to you and pouts seductively and for an instant you forget that she wants the bulge in the back of your pants and not the one in front. Reality hits hard in the fantasy district… The Road is stringed discomfort, the sort usually restricted to 89-lb Colonels or portable poor white trash chasing down job rumors in a ’67 Rambler… The Road is America. It’s Raleigh and Cleveland and Louisville and Topeka. It’s Route 66 no matter what the road sign reads… It’s Kerouac and Steinbeck. It’s discovery. It’s possibility… The Road’s mystique flattens with the shag carpet in the van… A musician who doesn’t take it out on the road is a boxer who ducks a bout with a contender with a lethal left hook. Like a marathon to someone who doesn’t jog, the Road’s reward is foreign without subtitles to the casual observer… The Road takes more money than it gives back. It turns bandmembers into drivers, roadies, booking agents and managers. It’s getting a great send-off at the farewell gig in Austin and then going to towns where nobody knows you and nobody cares and the directions are always wrong… The Road is shaving your head for the first time. Features are magnified and unhidden and very few can wear it well, but when the hair grows back, it grows back thicker.

Glass Eye, the LeRoi Brothers, Doctors’ Mob, Texas Instruments, Scratch Acid, Wild Seeds, Butthole Surfers (whose residence is determined by which town they leave their dog in), Omar and the Howlers, True Believers, Dharma Bums, Zeitgeist, Not For Sale, the Offenders, Poison 13, the Tailgators and others have all taken the Road Test recently with varying success. Some traveled better than others. Some were appreciated more. Some made more money. But every last one of the bands consciously or not went out and represented Austin Music to the rest of the country. So what if this civic representation was often only for the benefit of the clubs’ soundmen. Noise navigators usually spend their days visiting all their friends who might have marijuana. They’ll talk about the music the previous night. “We had this band from Austin (inhale) Texas last night. They were really good. (Still holding it in). Can you sell me a joint?” It all helps. So with this in mind, we should all show a little understanding by putting up with all the road stories that have been dominating conversation recently. I’ll admit that road stories are the verbal cousin of vacation slides. They’re often self-serving, modified with each re-telling and rarely of interest to those not directly involved. But what’s a couple hours of your time to listen to what is in many cases the only thing brought back by the bands that wasn’t with them when they left. You’re probably a good listener when these people play (unless you’re reviewing the show for the American-Statesman); why not pay attention when they talk? To thine own conscience be true, but this redhead is all ears.

HE WHO LIVES BY THE SWORD…

Justice has prevailed. John “Johnny Wadd” Holmes has AIDS! Finally, the guy whose member looked like the whole goddamn club has paid his debt to a society of guys whose sexual satisfaction came mainly from tossing off in sweaty stag closets while Big John eyed Miss Utah runners-up and went about filling them softly with his schlong, which looked like it took four “D” cell batteries. How I hated the guy with the Marty Allen haircut and the state of Florida between his legs. There he was, flickering in the dark, beckoning a procession of love slaves to “lay some skull on me, bitch,” and there I’d be, pitifully fueling his libido with quarters I’d stolen from my uncle’s coin collection, until 40 pieces of silver later I’d200px-John_Holmes2 make like a clumsy parrot and spill my seed.  I’d watch Johnny play the meat in a variety of sandwiches, shining his flashlight into countless caverns and then walk away from the money shot like he’d just played a few hands of gin rummy.  Then I’d go home and repeatedly dial the first six digits of the phone number of the girl who stuck the ends of her hair up her nostrils in social studies. I swore than if I ever had, like one month to live, the first thing I’d do is hunt down and kill Johnny Wadd and then I’d tell the girl from social studies to lay some skull on me. If I had only a day or two to live, I’d tell her to lay some skull on me, bitch.

Those years of sexual frustration are long gone for me; I’ve had skull laid on me in eight states and Nuevo Laredo, and still the news about Johnny Wadd read like the headlines on V-J Day. I was fairly ecstatic when he was sent to prison for a few years for refusing to identify the killers of some coke dealers, but knowing that he was bisexual and had made a few gay films it became sort of a good news/ bad news deal. But now… I’m walking on air.”

You can bet there was no joy in Smutville when it was announced that the Great White Hope, the Larry Bird of penis size, the guy who made the man with the Golden Arm feel shortchanged, is now packing a deadly weapon in his BVDs. Heck, Seka probably can’t give it away these days. Since J.W. worked both sides of the street and did a deuce in the joint with guys who get hot when they see pictures of the Grand Canyon, the odds that he got the deadly dose from heterosexual intercourse are about what you’d expect a horse with Jimmy Breslin in the saddle to go off at. Still, he probably nailed a few hundred bleachpits since contracting AIDS, and I can’t recall Johnny Wadd ever rolling out the latex carpet while the farmers’ daughters stripped down to their neck scarves. There probably hasn’t been this much panic in the jizz biz since ’86 when a studio guard yelled out, “Here comes Traci Lords’ father and does he look mad!” Serves ‘em right, the lucky stiffs.

If there is a God, and I’m beginning to feel like there is, he won’t send Johnny Wadd to either heaven or hell, but banish him to an eternity in a porno booth watching a loop of lonely guys with small thingies having sex with wayward starlets, while Roy Cohn looks through the glory hole and whispers “Need any help in there?”

THUNDERS’ ROAD LEADS TO AUSTIN

Johnny Thunders is poster boy for the evils of rock and roll. His incoherent live shows of recent years document his suicide-in-progress for the ambulance chasing populace, while others in attendance wonder about calling the Better Business Bureau first thing in the morning. Johnny Thunders is heroin. He’s black leather and scarves, hellish decibels and mascara, blowjobs and broken beer bottles. In JT’s world the line between vomit and orgasm is erased. There is tension and there is release.

Never before has an affected stage name fit so well. Johnny the all-American name. Thunders – nature gone berserk. William Burroughs wrote that junkies look like they’re wearing borrowed flesh, but even face-down on tile, Thunders’ skin looks tailor made. Johnny Thunders is the most beautiful man since Elvis Presley.

8200-Johnny

Johnny Thunders showed the world how cool Keith Richards would be if he were Italian and from Brooklyn. The albums he made as a sainted New York Doll will not be held in their current high esteem for too many more years. But until the last person who ever saw the Dolls live is dead, they will still draw witness as the best rock and roll band ever. In their heyday they completely owned New York City. They were charming scumbags in an era when you were either one or the other, and the critics and fans heaped hosannas usually reserved for dearly departed rock legends. Every show was an EVENT. Still, the Dolls remain the New York media machine’s biggest no-sale to the rest of the country. They were The Great Gatsby in drag, stiffing in Sheyboygan and cutout bin-bound in Boise. They broke up, moved out and moved on, but never far from New York City where they could always make a few bucks as “former NY Dolls.” Thunders took up semi-permanent residency at Max’s Kansas City. He was always there, always loaded as you’ve ever seen anybody and when JT would knock on the office door so he could go in and do his thing, they’d let him in like they were letting in the dog. Somewhere in the middle of all this, Thunders recorded an album which shall serve as a most fitting elegy. So Alone had to have been recorded in the afternoon to be made at all, yet it’s the best “5 a.m. in New York City” LP ever. Crashing manic chord-slashers are followed by ballads so tender you just want to rock that junkie in your arms and tell him everything’s OK.

The Johnny Thunders who recorded So Alone is not the same Johnny Thunders I’ve seen four or five times over the years. It’s not yet certain which Johnny Thunders will show up at the Continental Club Mar. 14, but take a chance. It could be incredible. And True Believers are opening the show in a labor of love, so at least it won’t be a total loss if JT is a mess…

OMIGOD! DINO’S BLEEDING

“I haven’t played the bass in six fuckin’ years, but Ronnie Lane inspired me to play the fuckin’ bass tonight!” –  Dino Lee at Steamboat for the Ronnie Lane benefit, 5/25/86

I don’t need to see the videotape. I was there. Dino was drunk. Everyone was drunk. The show started at around 8 p.m., and the drinking started before that. Even before Dino hit the stage moments before Last Call, I felt the alcohol-induced hostility flutter through the club. Stephen Doster was onstage sounding great, and I’d never seen him before so I moved closer. I brushed past one guy and got an elbow. I turned around expecting to see a familiar face, but it was some stranger biting his bottom lip blue and hoping I’d say something. I wasn’t about to go ahead and make his day so I just moved on. Though a good writer of nifty pop songs, Stephen Doster is not worth fighting for. Later I found prime wallspace in the celeb-heavy area behind the stage that resembled a Small Pond for its inundation of Big Fish, and no fewer than three people came up to me to tell me what a piece of shit writer I am. Most readers of this column think this must be a regular occurrence. People were shocked to see me out after my “Austin Music Sucks” column, thinking I would definitely get my ass kicked, but actually, after a year as “The Merchant of Venom,” I’ve only had one or two confrontations.

dinolee

Something weird was in the air that night at the ‘Boat. Dino Lee hit the stage as very few have ever seen him. His massive pompadour was combed down Shemp-style, and a few hecklers took issue with that. He was not in some outlandish costume, just his kick-around pinstripe suit. And he wasn’t a wild, prop-waving frontman, but a bass-playing vocalist. Longtime Lee-watchers loved this rare look at Dino without the pomp in that circumstance, but a few unpleasables continued to razz the lack of dildos, buxomy females and flagrant festoonery. Twenty minutes into the set one ringsider yelled “You can’t play the bass!” and Dino launched into a ten-minute tirade freckled with obscenities. It started with his acknowledgement of Lane’s four-stringed inspiration and made its way through well-intended but cloudy telethonese about multiple sclerosis.

The catcalls persisted and Dino baited the hecklers with pornographic suggestions. A few guys moved angrily to the front and hoping to avoid further trouble, the club cut the P.A. Without the weapon of volume, Dino lost control and kicked an offending detractor. He grabbed for his mike stand and the fellow wearing Dino’s footprint on his chest reared back and fired a cocktail glass at Dino’s head, connecting. A couple of bystanders were also cut by the exploding glass, while the thrower ducked back into the center of the crowd. As the blood poured down his face like he was a cover subject for Wrestling Monthly, a blindly-incensed Dino raised the mike stand over his head, ready to swing wildly, as if the entire audience was the culprit. Bandmembers and Steamboat personnel quickly wrapped themselves around Dino and escorted him from the club as blood soaked through the towel he held in front of his face. We stood on the sidewalk outside Steamboat for almost an hour, those of us who know Dino, reeling from the ugliness of the episode we had just witnessed. In the fantasy-filled, fun-seeking circle we run in, not much is real. But violence is real.

A couple of Dino’s bandmembers expressed embarrassment. Guitarist Mike English was formulating the lead to the letter of resignation he would type up the next day. Some club regulars wondered if Dino was finished in Austin. Others said that he’s like a spoiled brat who needs to learn to take responsibility for his actions. Meanwhile Dino Lee was at St. David’s taking 24 stitches of responsibility.

How prevalent in the assessment of personal qualities is it to find that someone is so good in some categories, yet so lacking in others? It’s as universal as perfection is not. The thing we love about Dino Lee is his bravery. We all could be Dino Lee if we only had the guts. Dino Lee can get up in front of 2,000 people in a three-piece plaid suit with a Cutting Edge microphone between him and Peter Zaremba and explain the New Las Vegans concept like a visionary wino. Can you? Dino Lee can steal the show at a $60-a-ticket awards show in Dallas looking like a bad Elvis impersonator flashing rings he bought on the sidewalk in Nuevo Laredo. Can you? At the Austin Music Awards show of ’85, the stilted introductions and shy, nervous acceptances were almost ready to bore people out of the Opera House even before Van Wilks played. Then Dino Lee came out and made a spectacle of himself, and suddenly the night became special. Dino Lee does what has to be done, with no fear of embarrassment, failure or physical harm.

The flipside to this great quality of bravery is what happened at Steamboat. That’s not the first time Dino has displayed a lack of control that led to an ugly scene. But I’ll still take the total Dino Lee package. I hate violence. It makes me sick. But even more stomach-turning at times is the lack of violence. I’ve been victimized by drunken, obnoxious assholes, and so have you. And I have to grind my teeth when I think of some of the things they’ve gotten away with. I’ve seen assholes at the nightclubs terrorizing girls and shouting Southern Rock requests to intimidated bands. They steal your movie enjoyment by talking at the screen and laughing at serious films they don’t understand. They get coarse, boisterous and rude at restaurants to rob you of a nice meal and pleasant conversation. They get away with it every day because it’s not against the law to be an asshole, and most people are afraid that confrontation will lead to violence. In the case of the Steamboat incident, it did, and it got bloody. Dino Lee refused to be the victim of assholes. He challenged them, then lost control and instigated the violence. And he’s wear a scar for it. That’s that.

 

 

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Heaven is Backstage at Hell

Every once in a while I’ll be at a concert and run into someone I used to know before I became a famous columnist. After the 30 or 40 seconds it takes me to remember their name, fingers a’snappin’, they invariably eye the backstage pass taking up residence on my right front pocket, always the right one, and ask, “What’s it like backstage?”

Ah, backstage. There are blond girls with skirts slit up to the tan line circulating with trays of champagne backstage. The food is scrumptious, but you do have to serve yourself. The members of the headlining act are usually backstage making the rounds and they love to talk about whatever town they’re privileged to be in and really are impressed when someone tells them they saw them in a small club many years ago. Conversation is usually fulfilling backstage. Everyone seems more interested in listening than talking and when they do speak up it sounds like something you might hear on the Dick Cavett Show. I learned about Camus backstage. Just about the only rule you must heed backstage is to be careful where you put your drink down in the Cocaine Room. Chances are you might put it on a mound of pure cocaine, which is clear. The white color of street cocaine comes from the shit they cut it with. There’ll be none of that backstage. If you are lucky enough to get backstage try not to look like it’s your first time back there; don’t stick your pass on your pants, right above the knee. Also, know your lingo. The most prestigious backstage pass, the one that gives all access is called a “hard pass” because most security guards think “laminated” is something you do with meat.

Alone at a party 1985.

Alone at a party 1985.

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