Page Two

Page Two
It was a rocky landing. The family back from France, Italy, and Switzerland on Saturday. Monday back at the Chronicle. Wednesday off to North by Northeast in Toronto with a few other members of the SXSW staff. Toronto is one of my favorite cities, but this trip was mostly work. NXNE spread across 28 clubs, mostly on Queen, College, and Spadina streets in Toronto. It was as if I were still driving backroads in France and Italy, stopping for bread and cheese, having the region's locally produced wine for dinner at some local restaurant. An easy laziness to the travel, starting at the top of a hill in a town where only 12 towers still stand, from the more than 70 that once were there. Ending up in downtown Toronto with walkie-talkies squawking and music pouring out of every building.

I used to think that living in a hotel and eating out all the time would be fun. It was. But the entertaining factor grew thin after a while. Then it grew thinner. Toward the end, I missed the family and home.

Watermelon Records' Heinz Geissler was reluctant to pose for a picture for this issue's detailed history of Watermelon Records by Andy Langer. I think he was probably nervous about how he would be portrayed. This is a legitimate concern. Read Langer's piece; it is a fascinating story. I find no villains there. Geissler and John Kunz (with Robert Earl Keen, who soon sold his share) started Watermelon in 1989 with a commitment to release regional music that excited them and to treat the artists fairly. When business was reasonable, they treated everyone well and earned a national reputation for their releases. Then Watermelon was slammed by market developments, a dramatic downshift in the number of new releases ordered, and a dramatic increase in the amount of back-catalog returns. I've run a business when the economic white water was tearing up its bottom. It isn't pretty, and it isn't easy. Everyone knows how to do things better than you do; just ask them. Meanwhile, you're holding on for dear life and hoping for the best. This may make me unusually sympathetic to Watermelon, but I think most folks are. I'm not defending not paying artists, but listen to what some of the musicians that are owed money have to say.

The most important point about Watermelon's existence is the list of their releases. It is an extraordinary list -- they took a lot of chances and showed great taste. Langer's story illustrates the difficulties of the music business. No matter how well-intentioned an enterprise, it can easily be swamped by the movements of the business. When all is said and done, there are the CDs released by Watermelon representing so many wonderful acts.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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