God Loves Ya When You Swim
Baptizing Billy Joe Shaver at Barton Springs
"We just dunked a 72-year-old man in Barton Springs."
Soaked from his own watery immersion to get the shot, Sandy Carson couldn't help his typically dry, Scottish observation dripping with incredulity.
I shook my head in disbelief as one of the best songwriters this or any state ever produced steadied himself back on shore. An endless trek down to the dogs-only side of the Springs on a blistering July afternoon, coupled with Shaver's bad knees, had turned our field trip into a minor odyssey begun three hours earlier at a KUT live session.
"A thousand indie bands in this town won't do anything but cross their arms in a photo, but Billy Joe let us baptize him," I told Carson as we nodded in grim unison.
If the hike hadn't done in BJS, the usual heart-stopping water temperature would've taken down better men. Maybe we'd gone too far. Run amok.
A decade earlier almost to the month, I'd sat out back of Alejandro Escovedo's Canyon Lake home near San Antonio and watched the homegrown rock & roll icon take a twilight swim with his kids (see "Paradise," June 28, 2002). The best portraitist I know, veteran Austin photographer and forever Chronicle freelancer Todd V. Wolfson, also happens to be the velvet guitarist's visual biographer, so he executed my idea that same week – "executed" being the key word here, as the homoerotic jokes from my fellow editors once they laid eyes on the proposed cover were withering. Still are, in fact. My vindication arrived only last year when the image, which I've always referred to privately as the "Mayan Love God" shot, was included in the paper's promotional calendar of Chronicle covers.
Imagine this same group's reaction, then, the following month when the Flatlanders' camp provided then Art Director Taylor Holland with mouthwatering pictures taken by local lenser and Chronicler Will van Overbeek for a story combo by Michael Ventura and me. Banner year that turned into for Chronicle Music covers: Jon Dee Graham arm-wrestling Stephen Bruton, Johnny Gimble, Patty Griffin, Rusty Wier, Townes Van Zandt – and the Ramones.
None of those even hinted at moisture, nor would any Music photo shoot do so for the rest of the decade. In-house, I was branded nonetheless: water fetishist – of questionable sexual orientation.
Blame Margaret Moser, therefore, author of our next two aqua-arted Music features, for Amy Cook.
"She'll do anything we want!" exclaimed the godmother of all Austin music journos, citing the singer's openness to experiment pictorially.
Homoerotic, eh? Try girl on girl – naked. Actually, I can't speak for staff photographer Jana Birchum's wardrobe that day at the creek (revisit "Chasing Amy," April 9, 2010), but wait 'til you see the cover art of Cook's follow-up disc since the last one we spotlighted, Aug. 28's Summer Skin.
The Bright Light Social Hour photo, less than a year later, occurred almost exactly the same way in every respect, only this time out in West Lake with our one-man press corps, John Anderson (see "Shoot Out the Lights," Feb. 11, 2011). TBLSH's crackerjack snap remains the explosive local quartet's Twitter ID brand.
Really, the Chronicle's water sports fascination began even before its first issue: Publisher Nick Barbaro in an inner tube at Barton Creek for the cover of our prototype from 1981. Billy Joe Shaver hadn't been to the local watering hole in maybe that long as we ambled to and from our mission last month. He recalled his folks to me, shrugged off all my apologies for the rigmarole that day, and inhaled with a laugh as we passed a burning bush of teenage herb. These are the moments why any of us here do what we do. God bless you, Billy Joe.
Plus, only seven more baptisms to fill a whole new Chronicle calendar!
The Bright Light Social Hour