1, 2, Tres, Cuatro: Five Degrees of Chinanine
Thirty years of the Austin Music Poll, five layers of Chinanine, and a fistful of Austin Music Awards confirmations
No, the Music Poll deadline was Jan. 31, but the numbers are in. They're lower overall, but the stuffing factor was considerably less prevalent than previous years.
You have to understand, the poll wasn't always mine to have and to hold. It belonged to two others before me, friends and Chronicle cohorts both. It was handed off to me by my best friend, E.A. Srere, after the 1991 campaign, but she inherited it from the Chronicle's first music editor, Jeff Whittington, two years earlier. He created the poll that first ran March 5, 1982, in our 13th issue.
Inspired by the Grammys and a poll the Austin Sun had run for several years, as well as by Jeff's love of polls and statistics, the Chronicle's poll was founded by someone with a pure and undiluted loved of rock & roll. Jeff first championed punk rock in Austin via The Daily Texan in the late Seventies, and you can see the tug-of-war between New Wave and new blues among the winners of 1982. All poll winners are listed under Austin Music Awards in the Music pull-down menu on our website's home page.
I am here to confirm that few things are more inane than the natterings of youthful rock critics with opinions to spare. In the early days of the Chronicle, we excreted opinions left and right, and it was deeply, spiritually important to express them not only in writing, but also in endless conversations that shaped and refined those opinions. The second year of the poll, Jeff was of the opinion that the year's Best New Band, named Chinanine, was the greatest band in the world. I liked the band fine, but it didn't peel back the top of my skull and pound my brain six ways to midnight. That was the standard.
Jeff, my dear friend, would purposely annoy me with Chinanine, leaving posters he'd made on my desk and endlessly bringing it up in conversation. He worked overnight at a local TV station and often came in very early in the morning to work, then went home and slept all day. One morning, across the ever-dusty cement floor, I shuffled into the paper wearing thin-soled sandals. With Sheauxnough Studios and various creative types that populated the building, the concrete loft we shared ran either unforgivably cold or hellishly hot. That day was hot.
I dropped my purse on my desk and went into the record room, a cubicle with a stereo and huge collection of albums. I put on "The Ride of the Valkyries." It was a morning ritual. Exiting the record room, I walked along the wall built to create desk space for the sales staff. Ahead on the wall was pinned the Xerox of a hand-drawn poster that read "Chinanine." I scowled and ripped it down as I walked past, but as I went to throw it away, something caught my attention.
Underneath was a thumbtacked copy of the same Chinanine poster, maybe postcard size. I grabbed a pair of scissors to pry off the offending thumbtacks. They had been hammered in and required effort to remove. One thumbtack dropped on the floor with a small, beady roll. I'm sure I was beginning to curse. Aloud. Crushing the thumbtacked version in my hand revealed what was below: A smaller copy about the size of a business card, neatly trimmed and stuck to the wall by masking tape. "Chinanine," it mocked.
I began to feel like Margaret Wiley playing Stevie Ray Vaughan's girlfriend in the "Cold Shot" video, when she keeps finding guitars everywhere until she runs screaming. I stepped back, preparing to stab my scissors in the wall when I spun on a pushpin and stumbled onto the thumbtack, yelping as it punctured the ball of my foot through the sandal sole. I growled and tore out the thumbtack, then tore at the masking-taped paper, which ripped easily. You know what was underneath: staples. "Chinanine." Stamp-sized, barely larger than the staples themselves.
I could have gone ballistic. Instead, I gritted my teeth and calmly pried the staples out of the wall with scissor points. The paper fluttered to the floor. No more paper.
Written on the wall in tiny letters, a single word.
After commenting live online during the Grammys for KEYE-TV on Sunday night, I came away with a heightened appreciation for balancing style and substance in performance. Adele did the most with less and was hands down best, plus it made me a fan of Bruno Mars. But Nicki Minaj's Madonna-meets-The Exorcist hokum obscured an otherwise decent dance track.
Not many surprises in winners, and though fellow commentator Marcia Ball's nominated category of blues went to the Tedeschi Trucks Band, she ceded it graciously. One person who deserves to walk away from that Grammys show with a smile and sense of accomplishment is Terry Lickona. He served as co-producer, and the touches that groomed Austin City Limits so impeccably were ever present that night, especially the tributes to Whitney Houston, whose sad saga of tremendous talent beset by traditional demons ended the night before.
The business of booking and formatting awards shows is a balancing act of political precision, defining the sounds of the moment while honoring the past and musically tugging heartstrings. Somewhere within lies social responsibility, so when someone snored online during the MusiCares segment, I got defensive about it, as well as Grammy in the Schools. These are worthwhile programs I have seen make a difference. They are part of the same social fabric of the larger music community as the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians and the SIMS Foundation here in Austin. The snoozer agreed. But such segments tend to sober an awards show crowd.
Chinanine played the Chronicle's first Music Awards show in March 1983 at Club Foot, along with an all-star jazz act called Concept, plus Angela Strehli, funksters Extreme Heat, and hard Texas rock from the Van Wilks Band. Chinanine was New Wave ethereal with a dash of synth-funk, or so memory recalls. And after 30 years, memory gets playful.
Sometimes I remember shows by who wasn't there, like in 2006 when Jesse Taylor died. He knew he was up for Hall of Fame that year, and winning it meant something to him. We had the plaque made early and got it to him. It was a good thing, because he died the week before the show. This was my dream a couple days before the 2006 Music Awards:
I'm on my way to the Music Awards, wearing a black velvet dress, walking through the marble and glass lobby of the Downtown Omni when I see Jesse Taylor. I hug him and grab his arm, pulling him with me. "You're here!" Jesse nods and smiles and walks me through the hotel crowd and to the curb where my car is waiting. He opens the door and I get in, scooting over. "Come ride with me," I say to him. He shakes his head. "I can't," he says as he closes the door. "I have to go."
He leans down to look into the backseat, and the glass between grows cloudy. Suddenly, someone walks between Jesse and my car, and when they pass, Jesse is gone. I reach for the door handle, but the car starts and pulls away from the curb. I wake up.
The Guy Juke-drawn poster for that first awards show also notes that "Stevie Ray Vaughn" [sic] was a special guest, as was Joe "King" Carrasco. I don't recall some details because the legendary Bob Simmons put together and directed that first show and then I took it over. Poll mistress E.A. Srere directed the 1989-91 shows while I sojourned with my sainted late ex-husband Rollo Banks in Hawaii. I was back for the '92 show; E.A. went to law school and currently serves as a municipal judge in Dallas.
For this year's Austin Music Awards bill on Wednesday, March 14, at the Austin Music Hall, Joe "King" Carrasco & the Crowns was an easy choice. Its distinctive Tex-Mex sound not only captured the abandon of garage-rock-based punk in the late Seventies, it also updated Doug Sahm's uniquely Texas sound for the Eighties. It was one of the earliest Texas bands featured on MTV when music mattered. Likewise, no band better defines the early Nineties sonic landscape in Austin than Sixteen Deluxe, whose bright, alt.psychedelia still shimmers in the afterglow. This is its only appearance at South by Southwest 2012.
In reaching for the fibers that twist roots music with blues, soul, rock, and gospel, two names kept coming back: Ruthie Foster and Carolyn Wonderland. Separate sounds spiritually bound by an abiding passion for music without compromise, a theme shared likewise by both relative newcomer Quiet Company and veteran rock laureate Alejandro Escovedo, which rounds out this year's Music Awards bill. More to come, but for the moment, that's our show.
And if there are any members of Chinanine reading this, please be my guest at this year's Music Awards on Wednesday, March 14, at the Austin Music Hall. Jeff Whittington loved you ....