Monday, February 26, 2024

Random Statesman music columns

THE SCENE 2001

Where’s the free beer?

Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington debuted its “Austin City Limits” stage earlier this month, with a cover band doing material made famous by such “ACL” faves as Lyle Lovett, Bonnie Raitt and Willie Nelson in front of a replica of the show’s famous backdrop. It’s good exposure for the program, producer Terry Lickona said in a press release announcing the collaboration. But why stop there? A stronger tie-in with Austin music could lead to such attractions as the Alejandro Escovedo emotional roller coaster and the Fastball career slide. The park could have lifesize cut-outs of the Vallejo twins saying, “You must be taller than this to enter this ride.”

Russell Crowe is giving the Austin music scene a boost it direly needs. (I’m not talking about his bar tab during a recent stay.) Being questioned in L.A. recently about “Texas,” the documentary of his 30 Odd Foot of Grunts concerts and recording sessions in Austin in the summer of 2000, Crowe sung our town’s praises (a little off-key). “You can go from bar to bar on Sixth Street and hear everything from reggae to disco to any number of divisions of blues and country,” he told a reporter when asked why he recorded in Austin instead of L.A. “It just felt like a real music town.”… If you want to mingle with real homosexuals, instead of just a bunch of people from L.A. who talk like them, you’ll want to make the third annual Rock ‘n’ Roll Prom Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Oil Can Harry’s. It’s badge-wearers only, unless you’re a regular and can prove it by naming two Ricky Martin songs… It was Jason Cohen Day at the Ice Bats game Saturday, which meant that instead of fighting, players were supposed to drop their gloves and discuss whether Robyn Hitchcock‘s solo work stands up to the Soft Boys. XL’s sports columnist and indie rock Boswell was signing copies of his new “Zamboni Rodeo” pageturner about minor league hockey… Since Pat Green‘s married to a woman named Kori, it would be too perfect for his “twin” Cory Morrow to wed a woman named Pat. Morrow recently popped the question to Casey Eggelston, his girlfriend of a year. Then, after she answered that yes, he was a better songwriter than Green, he asked her to marry him. Another yes. No time or date, yet . . .

Austin’s home of the blues really took a pummeling last Saturday courtesy of Ike Turner, who drew only 60 fans to an early set and just more than 100 for the late show. Stephanie Seeley of Antone’s says she knew the shows (which reportedly lost $10,000) were doomed when she saw that HBO was airing the Tina Turner domestic abuse epic “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” earlier in the day. Oops.

 

Guest Listomania

When publicist Liz Rosenberg announced that there would be no guest lists for Madonna’s upcoming Madison Square Garden concerts, I had a funny mental image of Sean “Puffy” Combs at the “will call” window. “No ‘Puff Daddy,’ huh? Maybe it’s under P. Diddy,” he says, as the box officer shakes her head. “Oh, I know, Madonna never could spell. Look under S-H-A-W-N C-O-M-B-S. It should be me plus 27.”

Some people just can’t accept the fact that they’re not on the guest list. And it’s usually those who can most afford to buy tickets. “T-R-U-M-P, Donald. Could you please check again? Maybe it’s under ‘Numbnuts.’ ”

Since metallic bras and that codpiece thing with the garters never caught on here, Madonna hasn’t started a trend that’s trickled down to ATX since the days of the sewed-up boxer shorts. But I’m kinda hoping this “no freebie” rule catches on in the little town with the big guest list. How do bands make any money when the bouncer is holding two or three pages of freeloaders’ names?

But booking agent Wayne Nagel says today’s out-of-control guest lists are often the doings of the bands themselves. “They want people to come see them, so they tell all their friends that they’ll put them on the list,” Nagel says. The best way to promote an upcoming show is to tell people that you’ll write their names on a document that monitors the scene caste system. Being on the guest list means someone’s special. Being waved in makes for the start of a good night out.

But it ends up like doing heroin: the euphoria of the first few times soon becomes a raging dependency, and after awhile you get no high when your name’s on the list. You have to make that degrading phone call just so you don’t feel horrible. Promoters and club owners openly call it “the pest list,” but still take down the names of the guy who delivers the beer and the woman he went out with for a weekend seven months ago.

Like most addictions, this one needs to be quelled. Too many lives are being adversely affected, from those who are charged more to hear live music than they would if EVERYONE paid a cover charge to the bands that end up taking home $7 each. And clubs need to stop being enablers. Get yourself a doorman who doesn’t care whether people hate him. Tell the bands that even family members will have to pay and that parents pay double. Emo’s runs a tight list, limiting guests to one name per band member. That’s too many.

I understand that there should be some exceptions, such as wives and rock critics (with a “five Chronicle writers per show” limit). Plus, the club should have the right to let in longtime regulars, who spend more time facing the bartender than facing the band. But true music fans should just tell themselves that the doorman is collecting for the band. You might as well pay for that hand stamp since it’s gonna last three days.

Amazingly, the “plus one” problem even hits benefit concerts. I used to joke that “benefit” was French for “even Corky pays.” But at a 1999 fund-raiser at La Zona Rosa for the SIMS Foundation, a whopping 400 names, many of whom did not work for headliner Willie Nelson, were on the guest list. “Whose list are you on?” the woman at the ticket window would ask, then shuffle through about 14 pages. Almost all those names came from the acts who, I guess, figured that as long as they’re playing for free they can invite the guitarist’s softball team.

Everybody has a great time, and Tim O’Connor makes money at the bar. What could be more simple?

But I’ll tell you something even simpler. You go to the front door, where a handmade sign says “$6 cover,” you take a five and a one out of your wallet, and you hand it to the nice man on the stool.

You know what? I think I’ve actually inspired myself this time. I feel so strongly about this that I’m going to make an example of myself at great personal cost. I’m going to start paying cover charges to see local bands, even the ones who invite me. I don’t want to be a hypocrite. How can I expect hundreds of scenesters to change their attitudes when I’m still going around telling new doormen that, as a professional courtesy, I’m allowed entree gratis. Then, when they turn around to ask someone what “entree gratis” means, I skate right in. Nothing good comes from this: the band loses money, the doorman feels silly, and if I can’t find a manager to vouch for me, I’m hanging out in a bathroom stall for 25 minutes.

This has to end, cold turkey. Here come the days when I say, “Please check again, I’m NOT on the list.”

So that’s my solemn pledge. As difficult and selfless as it may be, I will pay cover charge for an entire month, starting today. If I can make it 30 days (which, to be honest, includes ten days out of town on vacation), the rest of you can go, I don’t know, forever without being on the dole scroll.

The Drummer Drought of 2001

They sit in the back of the band, have the most equipment to haul, are rarely consulted in the songwriting process and have become the Aggies of the music world. Guitarists get the glory, singers get the girls (or boys) and percussionists get jokes like, “What do you call a drummer who just broke up with his girlfriend? Homeless.”

It’s no wonder that, in an example of life imitating Spinal Tap, keeping a drummer has become an ongoing dilemma for many bands. Those who have writing or singing talents, such as Dave Grohl, Pete Yorn, Chris Cornell, Steven Tyler and Poi Dog Pondering’s Frank Orrall, eventually leave the stool for the spotlight.

But, then, so did Tommy Lee, a fabulous drummer with Motley Crue, but a mediocre frontman with his new Methods of Mayhem.

“It was me starving for some attention,” says Lee. “I would really like to be remembered as that guy who just went absolutely over the top and brought something special to the world of entertainment,” he says, “instead of as another drummer.”

The empty stool syndrome, long a problem in this guitar town, has become a nationwide malady recently chronicled in the Wall Street Journal, of all places. Readers of that newspaper, who probably think Bonham, Peart & Moon is a brokerage firm with ties to Korea, were relayed the plight of an Illinois group, Karmma, which has been auditioning drummers for a year. “They were either not interested in the (recording) project; liked the project but didn’t like the schedule; interested in the project but more interested in dating the singer,” guitarist Joe McCaffery said. (The name Karmma probably didn’t help either.)

“It’s been real frustrating,” Sparkwood pianist and songwriter Bart Tadar says of his band’s search for a beat keeper. The Austin alternative group hasn’t played much since losing its drummer to a New York City cooking school 11 months ago. “There just aren’t that many out there that are right for what we want to do,” he says.

Damnations TX, a local band with a history of drummerless woe, has even turned their lead guitarist into the percussionist on occasion. Meanwhile, former Agony Column bassist Crow has finally found a reliable drummer when he wants to kick out the jams — his 5-year-old son. “He’s getting better,” Crow says. “And the best part is that I don’t have to call around town when I want to practice.”

But musicians who haven’t procreated a rhythm partner often have to share percussionists with other bands. Top local players like Brannen Temple, Frosty, Mark Patterson and Dave Robinson never seem to have a day off, and some acts even fly former Austinite Chris Searles in from New York City when they have a big gig. During one recent South By Southwest music festival, drummer Darren Hess sat in on 17 sets over a four-day period. Mammas, if you want your children to be popular, let them grow up to be drummers.

“Whenever we’re out on tour and someone comes up to us and says they’re a musician who’s thinking about moving to Austin, they always turn out to be a guitarist,” says Damnations bassist Amy Boone. “I tell them to bring some drummers with them.”

The drummer drought comes, surprisingly, amid a boom in drum sales. According to the Music Trades, an Englewood, N.J., industry magazine, sales doubled between 1996 and 2000, to 172,970 sets a year. Many of those kits, however, are bought by what Tommy Robertson calls weekend warriors. “Maybe they used to play in bands when they were younger, but now they’ve got jobs, responsibilities, families,” says the owner of Tommy’s Drum Shop in South Austin. “There’s no way they could work a band into their schedule, but they still like to play, so they call up some friends and they all jam in the basement on Saturday night.”

Drum teachers polled by Music Trades say most new students are adults, office workers who just want to bang on the skins to let off a little steam. These guys don’t join bands.

Two byproducts of the drummer drought are obvious: “unplugged” performances and drum machines. But don’t be surprised to see more drum solos or hearing a guy in a black Ziljan T-shirt announce, “Here’s a song I just wrote. . . .”

Musicians are beating up critics…finally

The job of music critic has long been a thankless task. In recent months, however, it has become an increasingly dangerous gig as well, as artists are fighting back in more direct arenas than the letters page.

After a recent show in New York City, for instance, Spin Editor Craig Marks was roughed up by Marilyn Manson’s bodyguards, supposedly under orders from the schlock-rocker, who looked on as Mr. Marks was lifted by his neck, pinned to the wall and dropped like an ’80s hair band after a label purge.

“That’s what you get for disrespecting me,” Mr. Manson said, according to a report Mr. Marks filed with New York police. Mr. Manson apparently was miffed that Spin, noting the chart-plummeting of the recent “Mechanical Animals” LP, changed its plans to put the man with the plastic “Barbarella” breasts on the cover of the January issue in some sort of “Artist of the Year” salute.

Knowing that his career has the shelf life of a carton of milk, Mr. Manson apparently felt he had nothing to lose with an assault on the editor, and maybe could even gain fans among the legion of free-lancers to whom Spin rarely returns phone calls or letters.

Meanwhile, over at the hip-hop Spin-off magazine Blaze, Editor Jesse Washington says he was beaten up by four men, including rapper Derek “D-Dot” Angellettie, who was angered because Blaze was planning to unmask his identity as the phantom “Madd Rapper” in an upcoming issue.

Mr. Washington is the same music scribe who claims to have had a pistol pointed at him by Wyclef Jean of the Fugees about three months ago after hearing that Blaze planned to run a negative review of a Jean-produced LP by Canibus.

In England during the summer, Tricky and one of his men pummeled a British critic who had panned the last Tricky snore-fest “Angels With Dirty Faces.”

Hitting closer to home, we have A.J. Vallejo writing a letter to the Austin, Texas, Chronicle after a writer unmercifully slagged the new “Storyville” LP and saying, basically, that if the critic had written that kind of review about Mr. Vallejo, he would be chugging his free beers through a straw for a while.

The hunters are becoming the hunted, but what’s most shocking about this recent turn of events is that it hasn’t been happening all along.

Every musician worth anything has, at one time or another, probably wanted to play “Wipeout” with their fists on some smart-mouth critic’s cranium, but the most violent kind of reaction critics could expect in the good old days was an eight-page fax from Don Henley’s manager.

I heard for a year how Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn was going to tear me up if our paths crossed. The worst he did when that day happened was to tell me that those that can’t do, criticize. (“And those that can’t criticize write for the Dallas Morning News,” I offered as a punch line.)

Today, however, members of the crit clique are starting to see stars if they don’t give records more than a couple. This new era of intimidation makes me glad I live in the laid-back Texas metropolis of Austin, where the worst fate that can befall a critic is to see a truly boring act’s manager guarding the exit when you’re ready to leave two songs into the set.

I’ve taken a couple of half-smacks . . . but always from fans who didn’t like what I wrote about bands such as Kiss and Motley Crue, not musicians or their goons. I also had a guy take a swing at me during a Pantera show in Dallas a few years back, but he was just basically punching everyone who didn’t look like him – sideburns, Doc Martens, tattoos, animal blood dripping from his chin – and I happened to stroll by in my Dockers and golf shirt. (I’ve never been a fan of security guards quiteas much as when they physically removed the thug that night, using his face to feel their way through the poles and railings of the darkened amphitheater).

The thing is, I’m a big guy with tattoos. Even though I’ve had to file a restraining order against an ex-girlfriend, who wants to run the risk of losing a fight with a music/gossip columnist?

What if Richie died after Woostock and Jimi lived on

Has it really been 30 years since Richie Havens, destined to be the greatest folk performer America ever produced, was silenced by a freak dentistry accident? It doesn’t seem that long. Besides the proliferation of “Richie Lives” T-shirts on college campuses, the legend’s music continues to grow in popularity.

Since he met death — so soon after the overnight stardom that came with his electrifying, show-opening set at Woodstock — Havens has sold more than 40 million albums, been the subject of a hit Broadway musical (“Richie!”, which rejuvenated the career of Ben Vereen in the mid-80s) and inspired the star-studded tribute album, For Haven’s Sake,‘ which found the likes of R.E.M., Macy Gray and Korn repaying their musical debt.

Expect the Havens legacy to reach even greater heights with the August release of the $30 million biopic A Tough Act to Follow, with Samuel L. Jackson in the starring role. The project has seen its share of controversy, with director Spike Lee furiously denouncing the choice of Cameron Crowe, who is white, to direct. Guitarist Jimi Hendrix, currently on the CSN&H reunion tour, plans to boycott the movie about his good friend because it contains alleged misinformation about Havens’ mysterious death. “The movie has him going to the dentist to have false teeth inserted,” said Hendrix, who immortalized his friend with “The Wind Cries Richie” just two weeks after Havens’ passing. “But anyone who knew Richie knows he liked having no front choppers. He said teeth only got in the way of his message, which was to seek independence at all costs.”

It’s that rebel vision, author J. Randy Taraborrelli claims, that made Havens dangerous to the government. His book Kill the Messenger accuses the CIA of doping the fatal Novocaine syringe with a lethal dose of heroin.

That theory is refuted by author Joe McGinniss, who was hired by the Havens family to investigate the dentist (why use Novocaine for a denture fitting?). McGinniss’ No Haven From Greed makes the case that Richie’s death was an elaborate coverup engineered by his family, looking to rake in malpractice millions. Another theory, promoted in an upcoming documentary by Nick (Kurt and Courtney) Broomfield was that Havens, despondent over the breakup of the Beatles, realized he’d have no new material to cover and took his own life.

As the various theories fight it out on the bookshelves and on the screen, the music of Havens tells the true story of the man who rose from the ghettos of Brooklyn to sing a song of “Freedom” heard round the world. Using his lived-in vocal chords the way Tiger Woods uses a driver, Havens hit deep and hit true. He had a great short game, too.

Such range can be found in the posthumously released records that have inspired a new generation of fans. Richie Does the Beatles, Richie Does the Beatles Again and Richie Does the Beatles? Nope, It’s Dylan This Time are essential recordings that bring context to the “like father/ like son” work of 31-year-old Django Havens. Thanks to Richie’s late-night studio jamming and penchant for recording his concerts, the six albums he made while he was alive have been joined by 17 more since his death.

The untimely death of Richie Havens at the age of 29 is no laughing matter, however. What’s really sad is to think of all the classic albums he would’ve made had he not been snatched from us in his prime those 30 years ago. We’re all the poorer for the void left by the silence of this man who created magic using only a hoarse voice, a right hand and a big left thumb.

QT and the New Mediocrity 1996

As the price of just about everything from newsprint to the coffee spilled on it keeps going up, words steadily have been dropping in value. But nowhere is the devaluation of terms more prevalent than in the area of appraisal. Every time someone hails Quentin Tarantino as a cinematic “genius” or describes the city of Cleveland as in the midst of a “renaissance” or cries “dynasty” in the direction of the Dallas Cowboys, those once-exclusive designations lose a little weight. Genius used to characterize near-supernatural brain capacity, not the antics of some overgrown “Doogie Howser” with a knack for kitschy dialogue and gnarly plot twists. The original Renaissance lasted more than 100 years and produced such immortals as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, while Cleveland’s claim to the term revolves around a rock ‘n’ roll museum, a new baseball stadium and Bone Thugs N Harmony. As for the statements of domination surrounding the Cowboys: Dynasties, in their charter form, ranged for centuries, not three out of four years.

The expression recession is just part of the new mediocrity that has been seeping into the creative arena for so long now that you can swim laps in it.

This is not about Hootie & the Blowfish, who are scorned by the rock intelligentsia even though they’ve sold 12 million albums, or the exceedingly annoying Jim Carrey, who commands more per picture than Sir Laurence Olivier made in a lifetime. We’ve long seen the vaguely talented boldly rewarded, from Liberace’s sold-out shows to Jacqueline Susann’s best sellers and Andrew Dice Clay’s record-setting “comedy” tour. That’s a different column, the one about how there are more of them than there are of us. There’s nothing new about mass mediocrity.

The faction addressed here is those with some talent, such as the somewhat charming Tarantino, singer-songwriter Courtney Love, the avant goofy Adam Sandler and the hunky hayseed Brad Pitt. These are the poster children of the current obsession with the unsubstantial because they are all unfinished artists who should spend more time in the editing room or the rehearsal studio before they spend months on the covers of national magazines.

We want flash and adrenaline, and we celebrate rawness as if that is enough just because it’s more than we’ve come to expect. But to compare Tarantino to a real cinematic genius such as John Ford or even Martin Scorsese is a little like having a fling with a blow-up doll. I enjoy Tarantino’s movies, but that’s all they are is movies. There’s no real statement in all that madness except that this is a mad society, and you can get that from a visit to an off-brand convenience store after midnight. In lieu of a message, Tarantino has his characters pointing guns at each other for inordinately long lengths of celluloid.

Tarantino and the widow Cobain are heroes today because they’re willing to put themselves on the block for our enjoyment. And because with so much insincere dreck floating around, we’ve conditioned ourselves to grade the arts on a curve. As uneven as they are, they’re the good ones.

This is a time when lawyers get million-dollar book deals for losing the case of the century, and Bruce Springsteen wins four Grammys and an Academy Award in a year when he released only one song. The snows of inspiration once beautifully blanketed the rolling hills of creativity, but after so many have tread, all that’s left is the dirty slush of a Northern industrial city in February.

Why is it that athletes keep getting better while musicians, artists and writers seem stymied by the work of their predecessors? Sports use repetition to make their participants stronger and faster, while the creative arena is faced with the task of finding new weights to lift and new surfaces on which to sprint.

One other key reason for the escalating talent level in sports is that, unlike the arts and society in general, money and popularity don’t mean anything when the game is on the line. Being on the cover of a magazine won’t help you run through Reggie White on fourth and 1. Athletes must prove themselves each and every day, while many of the prime- time players of the new mediocrity need only play hard when they feel like it.

THE RAT PACK WATCHES OCEAN’S 11

They partied together, caroused together, drank together, gambled together and, somewhere in the middle of all that, they got on stage together. And earlier in the week, “The Rat Pack,” as they were affectionately dubbed, watched a movie together. A special screening was held in heaven (which, it turns out, is just the high roller’s suite in hell) for Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin to see the much-anticipated remake of their 1960 casino-heist flick “Ocean’s Eleven.” Let’s eavesdrop:

“I thought we got it right the first time,” Sinatra says, easing onto a couch. “You gotta hand it to these pretty boys, though, for having the avocados to mess with perfection.”

Raising a fist, Davis says, “Right on! Groovy, man.”

“There you go with that ghetto lingo again,” Martin chides. “The last project you lived in was the MGM Grand.”  Sinatra claps his hands once, and the movie starts.

“Wrong!” Sinatra bellows, one minute into the flick. “What is this? My character (Danny Ocean) is in prison, going up for parole? I was a World War II vet in the picture. Who’s the cockamamie director here? Didn’t he read the script?”

As George Clooney is released, wearing a tuxedo (“Jilly!” Sinatra yells, and a door opens. “Didn’t you always have a tux waiting for you when you got out of the joint?”), Dino reads “Directed by Steven Soderbergh” from a newspaper ad he’s using as a coaster for his highball.

“Soder-Who?” Sinatra says. “Why would the studio hire some unproven director for the remake of a classic? Couldn’t they afford some big name guy like Francis Coppola?. I mean, I didn’t like that horse’s head bit in ‘The Godfather’; everyone knows that I just sent over a showgirl to get the part in ‘From Here to Eternity.’ But at least Coppola has never made a flop.”

When Brad Pitt comes onscreen in the Dean Martin role, Dino says, “Where’d they find this perfect lookalike?” Then, Davis trades eyeglasses with him. Clooney and Pitt talk about tracking down their old demolition man, and Martin says, “Here comes your part, Sammy.”

When Don Cheadle is onscreen for the first time, Davis groans. “Not this guy again. He played me in that kookie ‘Rat Pack’ movie on HBO.”

“Don’t gripe to me, Sunshine, or should I say Nightfall?” Sinatra snaps, causing Davis to snicker and Martin to spit out his drink. “At least he kinda looked like you. I got Ray Liotta. I watched that piece of garbage for an hour before I realized he was supposed to be me.”

When Cheadle’s Basher Tarr speaks in a cockney accent, Sinatra laughs. “Numbskulls! They got Sammy mixed up with Peter Lawford.”

One of the last enlisted in the heist patrol is a Chinese acrobat. “Nice touch, going for the Oriental market,” says Martin. “Why didn’t we think of that?”

“We did, remember?” Sinatra says. “But Yul Brynner wasn’t available.”

Sinatra mentions that Martin played a singer in the original, but since he can’t picture Pitt carrying a tune (“much less this steaming meatball”), he wonders if Clooney will take to the mike. “Isn’t he Rosemary Clooney’s brother or something? He sang pretty good in that ‘O Brother’ movie,” Sinatra says. “But really the only thing you need to sing hillbilly music is a tight pair of Jockey shorts.”

Later, as the complex heist starts playing out, Sinatra says, “You gettin’ any of this? Who’s this picture made for, scientists? You gotta swing, baby, if you want people to cough up three, four dollars to see a movie. And this snappy dialogue: Is it supposed to be amusing? I’ve seen Tom Dreesen bomb funnier than this.”

“How ’bout that Julia Roberts dame?” Dino asks. “How you think she measures up to Angie?”

“Let’s see,” says Sinatra. “Angie Dickinson was married to Burt Bacharach. Julia Roberts was married to that frizzy-headed dork from Texas who’s still playing parties.”

 

 

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