Dancing About Architecture
All the good and happy things that happened in Austin music, 1999.
Where the Downslide Ends
Well, here it is -- the end of the 1900s (and I'd like to see you irritating millennium-placement nitpickers try to argue with that one!) For this week's sole Music feature, you'll find an exhaustive study of the innumerable things that went wrong in Austin music this year, a veritable chart of the decline of the muse in our fair city. In other words, Michael Bertin chucked together a summary of this year's "Dancing About Architecture" columns. But, as I reflect on the end of the last year to start with a "one" -- at least until a new civilization emerges from the impending nuclear ruin and starts the calendar over from scratch -- I find that perhaps things aren't quite as dire as they may seem. A lot of good occurrences happened this year, in fact, or at least some that were better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Take the Butthole Surfers, for instance. We really wanted to run a nice large version of that great photo of them that Todd V. Wolfson shot for a feature earlier this year, since it ended up squeezed into a tiny corner of the article at that time. I ran into Butts drummer King Coffey at the Chronicle Christmas party and asked if things had been good enough this year to justify making the Surfers our poster children for this special happy edition of "Dancing." After all, they still don't have a new album out, or a tour in the works, or anything like that. How could this have been a good year for the Butts? "Well," Coffey replied, "1999 was the year we got our lives back. It was the year that we once again became legally able to be a band again." For a working musician, how much more could one ask?
People Who (Haven't) Died
Much sniffling, sobbing, eulogizing, and reminiscing has occurred over the past year regarding those who have left us, from Morphine's Mark Sandman and the Band's Rick Danko to (this just in) Hank Snow (who now has been everywhere) and those who are destined to do so soon, like club owner Clifford Antone(no, he's not dying, I'm talking about the sentencing thing). And while we remember the wonderful people who we shall never see again, think of all the wonderful human beings who didn't die this year, like Lou Ann Barton. If you don't recall, a few months ago the blues Baroness was the subject of a weekend's panic when a woman with a similar name was murdered and overeager newshounds began barking up the wrong tree at the same time that "our" Lou Ann was incommunicado for a couple of days, stuck in airport layover hell. And howzabout Jay Clark, who's no longer up to playing his regular, much-missed shows at the Carousel Lounge, but who celebrated his 80th birthday there last month with his wife and lots of old and new friends. And Don Walser, who suffered only bruises from an ugly fall in Nashville and went on to play that night as scheduled. And what of Danny Crooks, who besides suffering the sudden loss of his club Steamboat, faced repeated health threats, first being diagnosed with hepatitis C, then emerging with only minor injuries from a devastating auto accident, and finally found himself attacked relatively late in life by the worst that Austin's infamous mold and pollen community has to offer. An angel arrived recently to yank Crooks out of debt and on the road to opening a new club, so I have no doubt that another is around the corner with a secret cure-all pill that will alleviate his ills and give him the ability to climb walls and see through ladies' dresses.
Above all, let's be thankful for all the people named Doug who didn't pass from the mortal coil this year. There were numerous scares when Doug Sahm died last month, leading to a number of others with the same first name having to inform friends that their number wasn't up. Seriously, as the sad news of Sahm's passing spread like lightning among friends and fans across the country, two factors hindered the accuracy of the information that was being disseminated: the fact that not everybody (believe it or not) knew Sahm, and that those who did couldn't fathom that such a fireball of living energy could have been extinguished just like that. As such, for a brief time there were tales circulating that former Duval Discs/Rolling Pin CD slinger Doug Jenks, as well as Doug the Slug (aka Charles, "I'm not a bum, I'm a character actor!") Gunning had expired. In our offices, some misunderstood the weepy talk and thought that vacationing Chronicle graphic designer Doug St. Ament had bitten the big Mac. Though I haven't spoken to the man personally, I would think the biggest potential victim of this series of misunderstandings would be former Creedence Clearwater Revival drummer Doug Clifford (who played on Sahm's Groover's Paradise). With a name like his, I wouldn't be surprised to find that the poor guy had been flooded with calls from friends who were worried that he had died and was being sent to prison!
One question that I never thought I'd have to even ask is "Will the Texas Tornados remain alive without Doug Sahm?" At the very least, I expected the answer to be "no," but an Internet information source called the Blue Chip Radio Report recently claimed that, "Lee Roy Parnell will join the Texas Tornados for a European tour. Parnell will replace the late Doug Sahm. The Tornados begin the tour in February." Friend of the Tornados Bill Bentley says he wouldn't be surprised to see the surviving band members continue on, but added he had heard nothing about Parnell, who Sahm had previously shown interest in drafting into the band, becoming a Tornado. Son of Sahm Shawn Sahm was even more surprised by the report, saying there were some dates the band had committed to before Doug's passing, and that the younger Sahm had declined a request from Tornado Augie Meyers to fill in with the understanding that the dates would then simply be canceled. Shawn says he's obviously not a fan of the idea of the band continuing under that name without his father, who was, of course, the original Texas Tornado. He's confused by the report, however, not angry, and says that he and Meyers have been working on other plans to perform together in the future.
So, what else is there to be happy about besides getting a handsome, hand-tooled miniature saddle from Huey Meaux? Well, there's the outpouring of support for the SIMS Foundation, doing their best to keep our musicians sane (not a thankful job), but then again sources at the organization say they're still in the red -- running such an organization ain't cheap! Then there's the departure of the Continental Club's Pete Gordon. Not that we don't like the guy, but the fact that he's relocated to Houston can be taken as a sign that things are moving nicely on the new Continental Club there, which he's set to manage. In that, there's also a reminder that a lot (well, a certain number) of live music clubs in the Live Music Capital of the World managed to stay upen for another year, and, um, no animals were harmed in the demolition of Liberty Lunch (okay, now I'm reaching). Hey, there was Fastball, who proved you can come from Austin and still make money, become Hanson's favorite band, and even get on MTV. Mostly, the nation's TV viewers, if they thought of "Austin" and "music" in the same sentence at all, were watching news reports about Matthew McConaughey and those goddamned bongos of his (according to his Hits magazine Top 10 1999, Ray Benson is already slated to produce). Even if Austin's musicians were underplayed by VH1, our music fans continue to be seen every week on that network's memorabilia-packed Rock Collectors show; I still think their theme song should be Fatboy Slim's "(Ap)Praise You."
Finally, two things went seriously right for musicians in Austin this year -- the success of all those computer companies and the influx of rich Hollywood made for some high-paying party gigs for a few lucky bands, and though the local club biz is in the crapper, it seems like new and better studios are popping up up every day, allowing bands to at least continue improving the quality of their recorded product. In fact, despite repeated calls, one local "union buster" whose band will be playing the party of the millennium (oops, here come the arguments) declined to confirm or deny that he's also buying the studio left behind by the departed John Croslin (another fella who left town rather than died, of course). Well, fine, keep having all the good fortune in town and not sharing, but if you do end up deciding to sue Ricky Martin, don't come crying to me looking for a character witness ...
-- Conspirators: Christopher Gray, Raoul Hernandez, Margaret Moser