Dancing About Architecture

'Twas the Season...

Whoosh! What a year! Bands failed, clubowners found their existence increasingly difficult, and the music scene in general had a good choke on its own vomit. Oh, there were a few signs of Christmas spirit, from pseudo-raves at the neighborhood of lights around Guadalupe and 35th to people like the drummer from the Onlys, who decorated his kit with red and green lights, conveniently equipped with a switch to turn them off between songs for maximum effect.

More noticeably, though, Austin lurched into the final days of 1996 bearing the poise of a sinking ship, with rumblings of desertion having started to rise up among its rodentia. Sure, one former Hickoid may have returned to town, but that doth not a reunion make, especially with vocalist Jeff Smith announcing that he plans to exit Texas very soon ("I think I've been here long enough."). Even Hunter Darby, longtime Wannabe and current (though temporary) Spoon bassist -- the man who perhaps defined what a Slacker and therefore an Austinite is by not showing up for his part in the movie -- is threatening to move this year. Sure, it sounds far-fetched, but then who ever believed that Cindy Toth would split, either?

Both Erbie Bowser and the Grey Ghost left this plane altogether, seemingly taking Austin's blues scene with them as the once-mighty "Home of the Blues," Antone's, had trouble finding someone other than Maceo Parker and Chris Whitley to fill the shoes of all those great bluesmen, living month to month and entertaining notions of relocating but not quite getting anywhere. Luckily, Discovery Records bailed the label side of operations out of a deep, dark hole.

And why shouldn't people think of bailing? The year opened with the Austin Outhouse shutting its doors (being put to good use now, I see) and closed when the White Rabbit died (though, admittedly, the Rabbit was replaced right off the bat with the Mercury Lounge). In between that, Paul Sessums' Black Cat spinoff, the Split Rail, split, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of what was looking like an old/new entertainment strip extending up Red River from Sixth Street. (That didn't seem to harm one of the year's success stories, Stubb's, which rose quickly from an inauspicious debut with the Fugees during SXSW to become a formidable bringer of barbecue, beer, and balladeering.)

And don't forget the other bringers of music; local labels recessed along with the rest of the nation's music industry, with Dejadisc folding altogether (and owner Steve Wilkison fleeing to Nashville), while alternative stations like K-NACK and 101X struggled with the reported death of their genre. Lounge music's re-emergence was fun at first, but now it, along with the thundering comeback of cover bands (okay, I guess they never really left us) and places like Bob Popular -- not to mention the overall sad state of live, original music on Sixth Street -- seems like a harbinger of the nuclear chill just over Austin's musical horizon.

The Same Auld Lang Syne

So here we are, entering another year in Austin. For me, that's another year of waking up every Thursday morning wondering if my faulty memory has resulted in some horrible error being printed in this column; another year of trying desperately to remember the names that go with the zillions of faces I meet in various clubs and elsewhere; and another year of Dave Thomson nagging me about setting him up with Drew Barrymore. (Okay, Thomson, it's in print. Now what do I get??) I know I've been dwelling on the bad rather than the good, but don't worry Austin, you've made it to the end of that hard road. And since it's important to try looking forward and upward, I'm running the photo you see on this page. The image, my friends, is from the Baldknobbers' Review, one of the fine attractions of Branson, Missouri, the other "Live Music Capital of the World." It represents what thousands and thousands of folks haul their Winnebagos down to see in Branson every year. In other words, yes, there is at least one good reason to look forward to living in Austin in 1997 -- not living in Branson. Actually, if things keep going the way they have, and since Liberty Lunch doesn't seem to have a prayer of surviving the City's development of the "West End Arts District" (their lease expires in mid-'97), Austin may just become real competition for Branson. At least I think they'd approve of Bob Popular.

You Can't Say That on the Radio!

My personal best wishes go out this year to Cheryl Bateman, quite possibly the person who has written the word "fuck" more than anyone else in history. No, she's not a caption writer for Flynt Publications, nor is she a famous graffiti artist, pulling herself out of the slums of Harlem and landing in the galleries of Soho. Instead, Bateman is the person at KUT who is in charge of listening to all incoming CDs to determine whether they're fit for airplay. Bateman doesn't just write "yes" and "no" on some index card; her job entails actually spelling out each offensive epithet on the back of the CD packaging in large, clear letters -- along with warnings of homosexual or racist themes. ("White Christmas? How did that get in here?") Thus, KUT's vaunted collection of albums looks like the music library at a Tourette's clinic (this despite the fact that, as a rule, the station's overnight crew are the only folks who might "accidentally" play the kind of "alternative" music most likely to contain dirty words, during a time when FCC regulations are loose enough that they wouldn't get the station in trouble). Most recently spotted among the new pile was a compilation album of tracks by eccentric Brits called Misfits, which bore the mark of Bateman with several "fuck"s, a number of "shit"s, plus occasional "cock"s, "cunt"s, and the seemingly self-explanatory "asshole at end." Also among the markings on Misfits and many other albums in the KUT library, was the dreaded "instrumental"; apparently the only thing more offensive to KUT's listeners than a song with dirty words is one with no words at all.

An Early (Jack) Frost

Lest this whole column be a total downer, I'll end it on an up note: Current Superego member and former -- well, a bunch of things -- Jon Sanchez got perhaps the earliest jump on playing Santa this year. Barely had December reared its sunny, humid head when one of the kids he works with at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired announced a desperate, burning need. The kid, who is blind and retarded, is also a Pantera fan (one is tempted to say, "Well, duh!") and wanted to go to their show at the Austin Music Hall. Well, the folks at the school decided that if he raised the money for tickets, he and two escorts could go to the show.

The kid came through, and as one of those accompanying him, Sanchez sent a note backstage to frontman Phil "I woke up this morning and found myself dead" Anselmo. Soon enough, a couple of burly bouncers appeared before the group and slapped backstage passes on them. It seems Sanchez and Anselmo go back to the days when the former was a member of Agnostic Front, so after Pantera performed an AF song and dedicated it to Sanchez, he took the kid backstage to meet his heroes in person. Merry Christmas, kid, let's hope 1997 turns out as good.

-- Contributors: Christopher Gray and Raoul Hernandez.

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