Ethan Azarian and company may have been nothing more than flies in the ointment of the still-great (some say) Austin Music Scene when they arrived in town from Vermont around the turn of the decade, but they were big flies. And like many flies before them, they loved stirring up shit.
As the Hollywood Indians, a term Ernest Hemingway was occasionally heard to utter, the band entered a sea of better-known local acts and found themselves quickly foundering and seeking a way to gain the attention of those on the shore. Azarian went for the cheap and easy route, one that perhaps only the Dicks had previously managed to exploit as well as he soon would. His fresh new angle was insulting local personalities and institutions via the streets of Austin.
No complete set of the fliers Azarian issued forth in the early/mid-Nineties has been preserved, so this phase of the city's history has been passed on largely through the vagaries of frail human memory, but Azarian recalls the first poster -- plastered generously around the Drag -- to have been a jab at the band itself, supposedly put up by the Indians' enemies decrying them as "maple syrup farmers" who couldn't play.
This diatribe was followed by a corollary bitch session from the fictional "Tracy Fitzwater," a naive party hostess who had fallen afoul of the Indians by innocently allowing them entry to one of her soirees. The band stepped things up soon after their initial, vague assaults by beginning to attack specific targets. The first one, Azarian recalls, is one decrying then-Texas Tavern booker/manager Tom Bowie.
"I don't remember if I called him a name or anything," says Azarian. "Maybe I said he was fat."
Either way, the heyday of the Hollywood Indians flier had begun. The Butthole Surfers were next in the crosshairs, local thoroughfares littered with notices declaring the band sucked ("I was big on 'suck' and 'fuck,'" admits Azarian) and challenging the dada-punk legends to a drinking contest. Nothing came of the the challenge, though Azarian recalls phoning them up, rattling off the Indians' dare, and hearing nothing but a "click" on the other end of the line.
Journalists were targeted after that, most notably a fresh face at The Austin Chronicle, yours truly, who had recently taken over as the regular music columnist following a string of legends including Rock Stars Do the Dumbest Things co-author Margaret Moser, Rolling Stone scribe Ed Ward, and current Statesman writer Michael "Corky" Corcoran. Overnight, the once-friendly streets of River City screamed, "Ken Lieck is a misinformed goat!" from every utility pole. "We'd challenge you to a drinking contest," smirked dumpsters and abandoned storefronts all along Guadalupe, "but it would be a waste of time!"
For a brief time during the Gulf War, his head swelled with importance over the response his fliers were generating, Azarian began to address deeper issues as he cravenly set about gluing his opinions up on various publicly and privately owned properties. "A kinder and gentler nation, my ass!" screamed one. "Beware the use of language where President Bush is concerned. It's a shame when a handful of bullies dictates what happens to thousands!" Still, his juvenile side won control with its closing line: "Let the goats and sheep rule -- Ken Lieck for President!"
Then-Emo's booker Cheney Moore was the first to physically confront Azarian. With the Indians now getting gigs due to their notoriety, he could no longer hide in the shadows, and following the appearance of a poster saying that Moore "should be cleaning toilets" rather than booking the renowned punk club, the latest victim of Azarian's sophomoric wit proved to be one ready for battle. A foaming, furious Moore confronted Azarian at the Hole in the Wall one night, ready to fight before the Hole's Debbie Rombach pinched out Moore's fuse with, "Hey, I wouldn't come to Emo's and cause trouble. You'd better not try it here!"
A shaken Azarian vowed then and there to never again take on a foe who could physically best him. In fact, the spirit all but left his slanderous work, with only a few more poor souls left to be victimized before his reign of terror ceased forever. He left "Corky" alone since the music scribe had actually written a somewhat flattering piece on him in the Chronicle ("One Little Indian"); Corcoran later told Azarian that he was an idiot and that an attack on the then-beloved journalist would undoubtedly have led to boffo publicity and fun for both parties.
Instead, Rob Patterson, who was the Chronicle's Music editor at the time, was attacked for having a "fat ass," to which the victim was heard to reply, "I don't even have an ass, much less a fat one!" Local musician/journalist Tim Stegall, rumored to be the only person that Azarian's work ever actually made cry, got tagged as a "fake punk rocker," though Azarian says he doesn't even recall why he would have gone after the quiet Stegall, who never did anything to the band.
"Wait a minute," recalls Azarian suddenly through a haze of some seven years. "You gave me Stegall! He never did anything to the band! By that time you were acting as my 'consultant' on these things! I didn't even want to do them any more!"
Um, er ... And he didn't. End of story.