Dancing About Architecture

A Fright on the Townes

Oh, this is one strange week, all right. That fact was established when I came into the office Monday to find a package from a Mr. Brakhage, formerly of the Austin-based Skagen-Brakhage art team, who is now living in California. His last offering (delivered to me for no discernible reason) was a five-foot-long Styrofoam wrench which lit up to show the phrase "heavy duty" when plugged into any common household outlet. The contents of the newly received envelope are possibly even more cryptic: Included are annotated color photocopies of ZZ Top album sleeves ("Pete Tickle loved 'Butterfingers'"), proposed ad campaigns for Capstar Broadcasting ("This piece has some elves!"), and a cassette which appears to have randomly recorded portions of some soft rock FM station's broadcast day. Thus, I was already feeling sorta creeped out when I was handed a second package, this one from the seemingly harmless Myers Media PR.

Normally, if an oversized UPS delivery arrives in the Chronicle music department, it means some publicist was kind enough to toss in a free T-shirt with their artists' latest release. Instead, Myers Media had sent a very special press kit for Townes Van Zandt's new album, A Far Cry From Dead. Included was the usual bio, photo, lyric sheet, an advance copy of the CD, and something very strange. Playing on the album's title and the predilection of the press to speak personally with artists about their new works, they also sent materials to facilitate an interview with Van Zandt himself. Yes, Myers Media is aware that the legendary Texas bard passed away on New Year's Day, 1997. That's why their package included the Ouija Board. Naturally, my editor insisted I actually attempt to contact Townes via board-tapping, and naturally, I was reluctant to comply; I'm already dealing with mystery clues from a crazed mural-maker. Do I really need to be poking at the bones of the alcoholic God of All Songwriters? My first thought was to just make something up, like, "I spilled a bottle of Crown Royal on the board and all I could get out of it afterward was gibberish and a couple of bad jokes." My editor would have asked what the jokes were (even though he wouldn't have gotten them), so I abandoned that idea and set about my macabre work. In a dark room, lightly holding the "Message Indicator," I tuned my thoughts on a general wavelength of, "Is there anything you wanna say, Townes?" (I absolutely refused to write down a list of questions before this particular "interview," though in retrospect, I should've asked if he had any new material he'd like to $hare with me), and amazingly, I felt my hand being guided around the board for about a minute. Just as suddenly, a sensation that I was once again alone washed over me, and I was left with only the three words that had been spelled out during the brief time of my possession. Those three words: "Kill My Publicist."

The Lizard Has Landed

The strangeness continues: The Cold War may have ended years ago, but those damn Russkies have managed to remain a thorn in the side of the Austin Lounge Lizards, of all people. The Lizards, it seems, have a fan in astronaut Pam Melroy, and as such, have the distinction of being invited to attend her debut shuttle flight. That trip is the next International Space Station assembly mission, currently scheduled for January or February of next year. Unfortunately, Melroy has advised the Lizards that, "We can't go until the Russians launch a piece called the Service Module. The SM is already 1.5 years late (and yes, my flight has been delaying right along with it every step of the way). We think that there is a good chance they'll go in November, but until that baby gets airborne and is working right, we just can't be sure we're going." (An interesting trivia note: Melroy says that shuttles usually launch on Thursdays, but never on weekends, because "overtime [pay] costs too much"!) The Lizards' Tom Pittman says the band is attempting to set up tour dates in Florida for early 2000 and do what they can to make it to the launch date. "Hey, we always try to go to Florida in the winter anyway," says Pittman. And hey, if they miss the real thing, I hear that Disney World (45 minutes from the launch site!) has a simulated shuttle ride that kicks the real thing's ass.

The MirACLe Worker

There are major changes going on at Austin City Limits these days, and they don't involve waiting for Tom Waits. Nope, last season was the final one in which ACL was part of PBS' "select programming" deal, which to individual stations is like what a premium movie channel is to a cable subscriber: a show that doesn't come with the rest of the package, but instead costs extra. As of the new 25th season, ACL is now part of the basic deal that PBS provides to all its stations, along with Sesame Street and the like. "That ensures that we won't lose stations because they can't afford $20,000 for the show," says Director of Marketing and Licensing Ed Bailey, who's also in charge of coordinating the ACL's silver anniversary. That also means PBS -- and therefore ACL -- will no longer see any income from those stations who had previously been paying to carry the locally generated TV show. Bailey declines to give any further numbers, but assures viewers that the show is not in any dire danger.

Some efforts to procure alternate income for ACL are already in effect, however -- like the Austin City Limits Store at the new airport. Bailey, in fact, was brought in as part of long-range plans to leave the "select" strata, and works closely with the store, noting that there's always been a strong demand for T-shirts and other such ACL effluvia; he adds that the store cost next to nothing to get going, so it was a logical idea. Up next, he says, is a pending deal to license videotapes and/or DVDs culled from the show's quarter-century-strong music library. The video release idea is one that's sure to leave great numbers of music fans waiting with bated breath, as evidenced by the show's answering machine, which for a long while has wearily informed caller after unhappy caller that, no, they don't sell tapes of the shows. That could change by the beginning of August, when Bailey says he anticipates making an announcement regarding which of the "usual suspects" (Rounder, Rykodisc, etc.) has made the best offer. Bailey is quick to assert that neither the store nor the videos are signs that ACL is just trying to turn a quick buck. "We're not getting greedy, we're getting resourceful," he says, adding that rising production costs are as much a worry for the show as its new position on the PBS family tree. PBS' 25th anniversary commemorative book is due by the holiday season -- expect the videos soon after.

Mixed Notes

Look for Don Walser's next album, Here's to Country Music!, in September on Sire. Walser recorded his latest, which includes a duet with Crystal Gayle, in Nashville, where he made friends with some folks who are trying to help him fulfill the second of his two life ambitions: The first was to perform at Cane's Ballroom where Bob Wills played (he's now done that several times), while the second, which he hopes will happen later this year, is to play the Grand Ole Opry. Walser says he was aware of the troubles with the local indie that gave him his start, Watermelon Records (see cover story), when he picked his former label's partner Sire over Sony following a brief bidding war, but says the troubles at Heinz Geissler's enterprise didn't particulary affect his decision one way or the other...

Add Dale Watson to the list of Austinites at Sire, by the way. His Web site recently reported the news, appended with one comment, apparently from Dale: "Talk about one happy guy; been working on this one a while and it feels great"...

One label that ran out of money but didn't declare bankruptcy is Velvel Records, home to Ian Moore for long enough to leave him with a near-finished new album and a lot of unpaid studio folks. The latest news is that Koch International has bought Velvel and the latter is talking with Moore again. They're not doing anything more than talking, though, because Ian's contract with the label lapsed during the ruckus and he's looking at other options as well. Moore manager Jan Mirkin says she expects that a decision will be made within the month and the album should be on shelves in January 2000. The good news is that those studio hands are finally getting paid...

Most likely no one asked Dave Davies if there was any connection between Velvel losing money and the fact that they had been reissuing loads of the Kinks albums at the time. It was a close enough call that Austin got to see Davies perform at all, as a few hours before his show at Liberty Lunch he was still delayed in Oklahoma by a storm. Other Sixties survivors who should be happy include Austinite Ian McLagan and recluse Captain Beefheart, the former because the new Best of Faces album is on its way soon, and the latter because his box set, Grow Fins: Rarities 1965-1982, is out now on Revenant Records, with a release party at Thirty Three Degrees on Saturday, 5pm. Revenant boss John Fahey will also be playing the Ritz tonight (Thursday) and Friday night (see "Music Listings")...

Look for last-minute booking of Tom Freud (ex-Silo/ Austinite) at Ruta Maya Saturday, 8pm and midnight...

Friday's final live recording of material for a new SINIS album, Live at Dante's Pleasure Palace, is still on at the Cantina, as is the party planned for after the show at one of Austin's finer adult entertainment showplaces...

KGSR is looking to relocate their "Blues on the Green" series now that the Simon Group has bought the Arboretum and live music is out. At press time, KGSR General Sales Manager Dave Sonefeld says there's a very strong possibility that the series will be at Central Market this year...

More changes at Spiros: David Knott says he was hired there two weeks ago "to basically turn the place into a dance club." Though he says the club's position on last week's "Postmarks" letter regarding troubles with the club's dress is that the anecdote was "pure fabrication," he says the "new" Spiros dress code is far more relaxed and basically exists because until the club decides to start charging a cover, it's the only way to keep out vagrants. As far as live music mixing with the DJ-based entertainment at the venue, Knott says, "Not!" -- or at least only within the confines of the occasional private party...

-- Contributors: Raoul Hernandez, Andy Langer, Margaret Moser

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More Dancing About Architecture
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The last installment of "Dancing About Architecture."

Ken Lieck, Jan. 3, 2003

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