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Dancing About Architecture

The Rockets' Red Glare...

By Ken Lieck, Fri., April 4, 1997

If anyone's still asking why we keep covering the Survival Research Laboratories in our music section, you obviously didn't go to last Friday's SRL show. The most apt comparison is to a Grateful Dead concert, in that it attracted a crowd of thousands trekking down backroads in the middle of nowhere, hopelessly lost. Besides, who ever went to a Dead concert for the music?

Was the show a success, though? That depends on who you ask. There were definitely those who found the whole chaotic evening of burning, exploding, and high voltage a time of great personal revelation, while others found the whole "performance" to be a shambles, unfocused both in its message and execution; apart from myself, the entire Chronicle music staff threatened to walk out halfway through, but you know how they are (Or if you don't, check out the "Live Shots"). One local cartoonist in attendance laid it out the simplest, saying, "It was fun, but all through it you kept thinking `this part would be better if...'" Case in point: the mock UT tower, replete with mock Charles Whitman. Great idea, but basically, all it did was burn down; would it have hurt to have a few stooges in the audience wearing squibs for him to "take out" before his inevitable fall? Ah, but that might have reeked too much of planning, something that is anathema to SRL's policy of creating chaos out of a peaceful spring night; they were there to disturb, and that they did. They disturbed the owner of the property, who must've known what he was getting himself into, when some hydraulic fluid was spilled on his racetrack (um, don't race cars do that?). And they disturbed the neighbors (an important element of rock & roll, remember). If the show itself had only been a little more disturbing, I would've termed it a 100% bona fide success. As it was, though, it was really loud, had lots of blinding lights, and at times, at least seemed dangerous. Then again, it's all in the perspective; I had a pretty good seat, but to the masses at the far end of the Speedway, it was probably about as immediate as watching the L.A. earthquake on TV.

Time (Warner) Is on Our Side?

Talk regarding Austin's new cable setup and the future of public access and the Austin Music Network is building to a frenzied pitch, with words flying in all directions. Trouble is, even those who want to talk about it are finding the whole matter confusing and contradictory. An anonymous letter that's been floating around on the Internet typifies the speculations that have been going on: "My friend [who works for Time Warner] recently came across several memos written before and during Time-Warner's takeover of Austin Cablevision, all about public access TV. Several different ACAC shows were described and criticized, and the bottom line is, Time-Warner wants to cut back on public access. They plan to sell this to the city by saying they want to `introduce accountability' into public access, and sweeten the deal by promising to add two `value' channels to the basic cable channels. They also want to get rid of Austin Music Network, because no other city does this, there's no `evidence' that anybody watches it."

Stuart Heady, chair of the Cable Commission, after hearing a portion of the letter read over the phone, dismisses it as, "Bullshit -- but it was motivated by a real discussion." He concedes that there is some argument over commercialism (as in sponsorship), stemming from vagueness in the agreement, and that the whole deal is perhaps still "haunted" from an incident several years ago wherein an access producer was using ACAC equipment to underbid commercial producers out of projects. Overall though, Heady believes there's more confusion than conspiracy afoot. "I don't think there's evidence that [Time Warner] is trying to take over," he asserts. "People might speak in contradictory terms, [but] there's a lot of interest in keeping the Music Network alive. He's satisfied with giving things time to fall together. "It took three years to argue [AMN] into effect in the first place," he points out.

Paul Smolen, at the city regulatory office, says he's seen the letter and calls it "a mixture of current goings-on and history that is out of context. These issues were issues early on, almost pre-negotiation, [but Time Warner] ran it up the flagpole, realized they couldn't get it to the top and stopped." Smolen confides that "they have never been happy with access or the music channel -- we have the contractual potential for as many as 13 [access] channels and they see that as them giving away a good portion of their real estate." Considering that Time Warner can't dump any access channels without breaking their contract with the city, and that this week's Supreme Court decision upholds a mandate that cable companies must carry local programming, Smolen concludes, "I don't think there's any kind of palace coup in the works."

The last word, of course, goes to Time Warner, whose director of public affairs, Lidia Agraz, pulled out a copy of the contract ("franchise agreement") and quotes; "[TW] believes there is significant interest on the part of its customers in locally based music... provided quality programming is available and customer interest continues." Seems "quality programming" could always be open to interpretation, no? "As the contract says, the city is responsible for programming and that we believe there's an interest in locally based music," explains Agraz. "At the same time, that doesn't mean the channel exists forever. But the entity that has the control is the city, and the ordinance is very clear on that."

The Time Warner deal has put yet another snag in the tale of the long-proposed cable drop at Threadgill's, which would enable the club to broadcast live music over cable TV. The agreement (or lack thereof) between the city council and Austin Cablevision seemed just about untangled when the new agreement with Time Warner raised its ugly head. At a meeting two weeks ago, when the issue was expected to be finally resolved, the cable company offered to provide a fiber drop in place of the long-requested I-net drop. Ester Matthews at the Austin Music Network (AMN will be running programming from the proposed drops) explains that the difference between the two is simply a matter of control; an I-net drop is, by definition, controlled by the city, whereas the fiber drop would be controlled
by the cable company. Woody Roberts at Threadgill's says the project is "being used as a football by the city and a pawn by Time Warner" and just wants to get the two-year-old battle over with. Matthews insists that the matter will be resolved soon, noting, "Everything is in place to do this programming except [the drop]. It's kind of a pilot -- we're hoping to get it through so it's a simple process," which other clubs can utilize in the future.

Lest we get too complacent sleeping at the feet of the huge corporate beast, keep in mind that Time Warner is currently in the process of sending out a tentacle after Dallas band Riddle Me This, opposing the band's ability to register its name as a trademark with the claim that the public is likely to confuse the band with a phrase often uttered by their character The Riddler. Um, guys, doesn't that phrase stem from fairy tales written hundreds of years ago?

Chopped Livers

Fresh on the heels of Hogs on the Highway comes the news that the Bad Livers' Danny Barnes is moving to Washington state. Barnes says he's tired of the rising cost of living in Austin, so he and his wife have gotten themselves a lovely little place where he plans to spend a lot of time fishing, sailing, and watching the Mariners. Once the word got out on the Internet, fellow Liver Mark Rubin was quick to clear up a few questions: "Why is it every time somebody hears that Dan is splitting town, the first thing they say is, `What's gonna happen to Bad Livers?' What kind of question is that? Nothing. That's what. Who says you are forced to live in the same city to make music? It's a silly question. I chalk it up to John Q. Public [having] an ill-conceived notion about our profession." Either way, the band's heavy touring schedule and plans to work on the soundtrack to Richard Linklater's The Newton Boys through summer means they'll be "at arms length," anyway, according to Barnes.

Mixed Notes

W.C. Clark is preparing to perform at the Top of the Marc and the B-side on the April 18 and 19, respectively. Those will be his first shows since the wreck that put him in ICU and took the lives of both his fiancée and drummer... Look no farther than the current Rolling Stone to find a nice couple of photos of the Derailers and Junior Brown for your scrapbook. Those two acts, along with Dale Watson and Wayne Hancock, get looked at (along with BR5-49) in a piece entitled "Hooked On Twang," as the industry continues to be amazed that anyone wants to hear real country music... Speaking of Junior Brown, his Sunday night shows at the Continental Club will be starting early from now on -- about 8:30pm says Steve Wertheimer. That's this week, and when he returns in May... Waterloo Records is celebrating their 15th anniversary (and 15 years of winning Best Record Store in our Chronicle poll) with an in-store by Jack Ingram today (Thursday) at 5pm. Meanwhile, Sara Hickman will do an in-store for her Shanachie debut Misfits at Borders Books Sunday at 3pm, and here's what you call mixed media: GWAR will be at Variety Comics on the Drag next Tuesday from 5-7pm signing copies of the latest issue of their funnybook adventures... Pocket FishRmen continue to demonstrate that they don't care about having their product in Wal-Mart -- check their second CD, Heroes of Modern Perversion. They'll be playing a free release party at Lovejoy's tonight... Mike Henry at the Electric Lounge reports that the Vic Chesnutt gigs set for the next weekend are off, since the musician apparently hopped in his van and vanished last week. He's been spotted since, but the shows are still off. Henry says the Scud Mountain Boys are still scheduled to play those dates, "assuming none of them goes wacky"....

-- Contributors: Raoul Hernandez, Andy Langer, Margaret Moser

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