Page Two: True Stories: Then and Now
Connecting the dots between the SIMS Foundation and a day on the set of David Byrne's sleeper hit film
David Byrne's True Stories, filmed in Texas, opened on Oct. 10, 1986 to disappointing box office sales. When released on home video, however, it became a hit.
True Stories, Sordid Confessions and Music From the Heart of the City is a fundraising event presented by the SIMS Foundation on Dec. 3, at Emo's.
There isn't really any relation. Except I'm in the film's marching accordion band and with Sandy co-chair of the SIMS event.
True Story: The SIMS Benefit
A great lineup of Austin folk telling stories and making music, including Charlie Sexton, Greg Gonzalez, the Soul Supporters, Kathy Valentine, Margaret Moser, Andy Langer, Redd Volkaert, Riders Against the Storm, Leo Rondeau, Carson McHone, Jeff Klein, Michael Ramos, Israel Nash, Graham Williams, Nakia, Pete Astudillo, John Speice, Stephanie Bergara, Sonia Moore, Grupo Fantasma Horns, the Jones Family Singers, and me. Joe Nick Patoski is the master of ceremonies with the extraordinary Adrian Quesada as music director.
SIMS has long been right at the center of the Austin music scene, doing the heavy lifting and needed outreach to benefit musicians and music. Having a positive impact on so many lives, its role has been nothing short of heroic. Deserving admiration, it also needs our support to continue its critically important work. Sponsorship opportunities and individual tickets for this incredible event are still available: www.simsfoundation.org.
True Stories: The Movie
1986: The Talking Heads were at the peak of their popularity, with an especially strong Texas following. Thus there was considerable anticipation as word began to spread that Byrne was going to shoot a film in Texas.
The Chronicle's legendary music writer Margaret Moser, a tireless adventurer and spiritual entrepreneur, headed up a gang of young ladies, groupies if you will, known as the Texas Blondes. Moser hosted regular weekly educational seminars for the group where she would play the records of acts soon to play Austin. Starting with the hits to make sure the Blondes knew them, with her knowledge and great taste, she also played any cut of special interest.
Moser was especially tight with Talking Heads' manager Gary Kurfirst, who also handled the Ramones, Blondie, Eurythmics, and the B-52s. When his bands played Austin, there was the regular guest list, but Margaret also always had her own, more extensive one. In the loop, she regularly kept us posted on the latest news about the film.
Production coordinator Christina Patoski, sister of our good friend Joe Nick Patoski (then a Texas Monthly writer), recruited me for the film's Marching Accordion Band. Telling me I had to wear black shoes, white socks, black pants, and a white shirt, she gave me the date of the parade scene shoot in McKinney, Texas. Writer Ed Ward was invited as well, so we traveled up together.
When we arrived at the City Hall for the 6am call, the building and grounds were already swarming with excited extras. They were almost all novices who didn't yet realize that they were treated as cattle, their call always ridiculously early, usually around 6am even when their scenes were scheduled for late afternoon at the earliest. Because why not? When they arrived they expected to soon be in front of the cameras. But they weren't. Instead they waited ... and waited.
As time passed with nothing happening, an actually quite predictable meltdown occurred:
Stage 1: Eager anticipation. Though it was still dark outside, they were thrilled to be there.
The different groups involved in the parade gathered together. There were twin babies in strollers wearing daffodil paper flowers around their heads, their parents beaming at their cuteness. The lawnmower drill squad endlessly practiced, executing their percussion maneuvers. Brave Combo head Carl Finch, who also composed music for the film, headed up the accordion band, which featured some of the best players in the state, including Bubba Hernandez, Ponty Bone, Esteban Jordan, and the Accordion Kings. They were rounded out, however, by musically untalented writers John Morthland, Ward, and myself.
Stage 2: Impatience set in as the morning dragged. Babies cried while adults grew ever more irritable, soon expressing their annoyance by regularly demanding "When do we shoot?!"
Stage 3: Food arrived. Lunch calmed the crowd down, though by the time it was finished they all both acted and looked disheveled.
Stage 4: As time dragged hostility more virulently returned, the mood of the crowd growing ever darker.
Stage 5: Relief. Shooting was finally almost set to begin. Still, it took forever to set up the shots. The extras, lined up in the designated order for the parade, were still kept waiting and then waiting some more. Somewhat back down the line, Finch approached a group of Shriners wearing fezzes, driving around in their small autos. Engaging them in conversation, he soon had a large circle of Shriners and others doing the "chicken dance."
Finally the cameras rolling, the parade began. By then, however, my feet were aching from being in the two sizes too small black shoes, borrowed from bass player extraordinaire Keith Ferguson. Which only meant it hurt as I walked. Once around the square we went. Then around again. Then still marching there was Take Three.
The camera was moved across the square.
Take One: We headed way down the road toward the sunset. Finally there was a loud "Cut!" But Byrne quickly followed by calling for a second take. Groaning in pain we headed back to the square.
Take Two: This time we went even farther down the road until the "cut" we all longed for was finally heard. Hoping the shot had gone well enough to be finished, it was quite depressing when Byrne yelled "One more take!" The moans reached near choir levels.
Take Three: David Williams, Finch's friend and leader of Denton band Self Is on the Throne, had been another accordion non-player when the day began. But as hours passed, he had been teaching himself how to play. Tired and beaten, we marched back, moving so very slowly.
Suddenly, Williams began to play that so familiar opening on his accordion, screaming out at the top of his lungs "Louie, Louie." Wailing away on his instrument, he was so loudly singing: "A Louie Louie, oh no, said we gotta go/ Yeah yeah, yeah yeah, y'a said a Louie Louie/ Oh baby, said we gotta go!"
Immediately kicking in hard, the real accordion players joined, nailing the song. The rest of us settled for just making as much noise as we could on our accordions. With a grandness of sound and an even greater enthusiasm, the high school band right behind us quickly joined. Soon everyone was wailing away. In the soft dusk of that small Texas town, weariness shed, everyone played from their hearts, whether or not they knew what they were doing. Byrne ran back and forth, seeming so very happy, yelling at the cameraman to catch what was going on.
Which is how it went for a glorious few moments, a town transformed and a parade revived by rock & roll.
Connecting back to SIMS here is probably a stretch. Except to say there is music and musicians, community and cooperation. "Louie, Louie" played then and it was like a prayer to the heavens, streaming magic and meaning. Which is what SIMS does day in and day out, as it goes about saving lives, healing wounds, and soothing souls.
The parade is only featured briefly in the finished film. But if you check out the back of the True Stories soundtrack vinyl album there is a shot of the marching accordion band, where I'm easy to spot.