V3N9: November 1997
Volume 3 Number 9
Table of Contents
The sum of two is in no way greater, and is sometimes far inferior, to the individual parts themselves.
The line at the box office snaked its way around the block, for what was a sold out show for local Super 8 filmmakers who contributed works for the evening's entertainment.
Traveling through the Earth's troposphere is a jetstream through which moves a constant supply of cashflow. Some have greater access to it than others, but it is there for all to use if you know how to get it.
When I was a child, I had seen some of his castles in Germany. He spent so much money on them that his own court declared him unfit to rule, fearing that he would bankrupt the royal treasury.
My dad's cohorts could choose to just stay out of school and work. But it didn't work the other way around. The kids who wanted to go to school, get educated, get some book-learnin', still had to work.
Occasionally, there is a need to re-align the poles in this symbiotic relationship that keeps us all in the business and keeps the monster that is American Pop Culture fat and happy and growing -- ever growing.
Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things and William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!
I have seen whales. And...
They're smaller than you might think.
For two weeks, at the end of September, I basked in the soft glow of autumn, among red and gold trees, cloudy, misty mornings, and steaming bowls of clam chowder. The air was chill, and for two weeks, I forgot about the heat wave crashing, always crashing (even into November) through Austin. I drank Guinness, sat on the porch, and read. Every so often, I would dare the elements for a glimpse or two of a humpback, but, everfaithful, evervigilant, I would return, then, to my books and fried clams. I enjoyed the hospitality of Ms. M and her parents, wrassled with the dog, sat in the cozy warmth of their house, watched the leaves change before my very eyes, and read.
A more relaxed and relaxing vacation, I've never had.
And, I didn't get sea sick.
While there, on the porch glider, reading, I finished Arundhati Roy's first novel, God of Small Things. This one is walking off the shelves. Even without my help.
In a recent review of the novel, John Updike compared Roy's narrative devices, her ability to tell a story without ever telling you the story, to Faulkner's peeling-the-onion effect, no better documented than in his tour de force Absalom, Absalom! And so I join the two, and prove once and for all that the sum of two is in no way greater, and is sometimes far inferior, to the individual parts themselves.
Roy, for her part, writes with a child's eye, a wondrous, wide-eyed, wide-open prose. But her voice is no child's. Filled with Insight, Fear, Jealousy, and Love, hers is the voice of one who has seen lives destroyed and built up, only to be destroyed again.
A rolly-polly, (ain't no phony), love-me-only voice.
From the beginning, Roy tells you what will happen and what has happened. She reveals the past, thoughts and actions of her characters, subtly, with a word here, a phrase there. She uses repetition to develop rhythm, voice, poetry, but overall, to remind you of the scandalous tragedy that happened in Ayemenem almost thirty years before.
In 1969, Sophie Mol, visiting Ayemenem, died. We do not find out how or why until the end of the novel. Her name is mentioned, at first, in passing, along with her death. An out of the blue remark made with a child's flippancy, a child's mute ramblings. About free bus rides, about death, about the Government, who did not pay for Sophie Mol's funeral because Sophie Mol did not die on a zebra track.
Rahel and Estha, Sophie Mol's dizygotic twin cousins, are at the heart of the story. Rahel, at 31, finds herself back in India, her dreams lost long ago, her brother mute, her family's house a shambles, and her mind flooded with memories. Memories of a sky-blue Plymouth, of communism sweeping through Ayemenem, of her mother, her uncle, her Mammachi and Pappachi, the dark river which ran by her house, and of Sophie Mol's death.
Soon after Sophie Mol's death, Rahel and Estha were separated, Estha Returned to his father, Rahel left with her mother, whose sanity slowly slips through her toes and mixes with the muds of monsoon season. Roy picks up the story with Rahel coming home. Estha has been re-returned. Their mother dead, died at thirty-one. "Not old. Not young. But a viable, die-able age." Estha's voice lost, Rahel's mind empty. Together, they reconcile their pasts.
To write much more about Roy's powerful story would be to take away one of its finest features. Until the end, she holds us in suspense, keeping from us the true nature of her story. Keeps us from the scandal, building up the tension between Rahel and Estha, between their mother, Ammu, and their uncle Chacko, all building up to the arrival of their English cousin, leading us then to the fateful day of her death, telling us long before the end that Sophie Mol died, and hinting with every breath that a tragedy, a scandal even worse transpired.
She writes music on the page. Rhymes intermixed with anagrams and words spelled backwards, like a child's game. Words Capitalized As If Through A Child's Mind. Full of rhythm and meter, her story gets into your head like a tune to be hummed, refuses to quit, night and day.
Day and night, until you've finished the book, learned of the tragedy, satisfied the song in your head. Only to be played and re-played through your mind.
And though I'll grant Updike and other critics their accolades, Roy has much work yet to do. A stylist, yes, but her style has more than a hint of a conglomeration of styles, taking from such (good) influences as Salman Rushdie, Toni Morrison, Faulkner and maybe even García Marquéz, so that her own voice comes through as a patchwork, not so much a single identity. A mix of realism, magical realism, history, religion, all those qualities which make a novel novel, yet with a little too much borrowing for my own tastes. But as she writes, she grows, and I have no doubts that soon her stories will sing with their own true voice, the voice of Arundhati Roy.
If you've never read Absalom, Absalom! (or any Faulkner, for that matter), one word of advice: expect, at every turn, for Faulkner to try his damnedest to make you stop reading his novel. From the first sentence of Absalom, Absalom! ("From a little after two o'clock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that -- a dim hot airless room with the blinds all closed and fastened for forty-three summers because when she was a girl someone had believed that light and moving air carried heat and that dark was always cooler, and which..." on and on and on, and that's not even half the sentence), to the very last scenes of the novel, Faulkner, through language, characterization, description, will try and make you stop reading the novel, just as one of his main characters, Quentin, will try to stop listening to the story, the tragic story of Thomas Sutpen and his failed dynasty, told to him by Rosa Coldfield, his father, and his college roommate. But you must press on. At every obstacle, you must press on.
Absalom, Absalom! is a story of one man, Thomas Sutpen, who came to Yoknapatawpha County (Faulkner's mythical county in Mississippi), unknown, untrusted and untrustworthy, and tried to begin a family. He merely wanted respectability, a wife, a home, and a son to carry his name. The story then turns into a gothic portrayal of the South, of southern dynasties, Quentin Compson caught in the middle, listening to tales of woe, betrayal, and destruction, as Sutpen's tragedy unfolds before him.
Faulkner is a master storyteller. He weaves his readers in and out of one narrative to throw them into the next, never once telling us which narrator to believe. Never allowing us the satisfaction of knowing why Sutpen moved to Jefferson, Mississippi in the first place, why everything around him falls to ruin, why his ghost haunts Jefferson still. Half of the story, half of the novel is suspect, told by Quentin and his college roommate (neither of whom know the truth, and who are making up the story to fit what they think might have happened, had to have happened, should have happened).
And like Roy, Faulkner tells us the whole story (real and imagined) before we even know the story is happening, with references, repetitions, and monologues. Even only a few pages into the first chapter, we are hit with vague ambiguities, "[T]he son who had widowed the daughter who had not yet been a bride," all very Faulkner in tone, and his tone continues to the last dying breath.
A story of forbidden love, of past tragedies, of ghosts haunting living and dead, Absalom, Absalom! takes us into the heart of Faulkner's a tragicomic South, his response to Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind plantations and southern belle illusions.
About these two writers, Faulkner and Roy, there is nothing simple. They both explore nontraditional levels of narration and suspense, and at the center of their tales is defiance: of traditions, of the past, and of the ghosts of the past.
Neither of their stories are soon forgotten.
The Lost Generation
Here are some titles not reviewed, but well worth reading. If you too know of titles worth reading, send them along to the Austin Downtown Arts offices.
Years With Ross
This nonfiction work by James Thurber recounts in a series of essays the life and times of one Harold Ross, founder and editor-in-chief of the famed New Yorker magazine. As Dorothy Parker once wrote, "Only God or James Thurber could have invented Ross." Thurber's essays are at once telling and hilarious, as he paints Ross's portrait like no other writer could.
Is it autobiography or biography? Written by Charlotte Chandler, but written in first person, through the eyes of Fellini, from the lips of Fellini, this book acts as both biography and autobiography. Chandler, asked to write I, Fellini by Fellini himself, spent months, days, years, lots of time with Fellini and worked with him to produce an excellent, if somewhat hodge-podgy, work on Fellini's life, his thoughts, his dreams, etc.
The Remains of the Day
I know everyone and their grandmother has seen this movie. But read the book. Ishiguro won the famed Booker Prize for this short novel, and he writes with the dignity of a long-standing English butler. The narrator's voice is clear and true to character, and the novel's structure makes it a pleasant, intriguing, often comedic read.
I know I listed this one last. I know you've probably already gone out and bought the other books listed first and already have your hands full with God of Small Things and Absalom, Absalom! But I'll tell you this in all honesty: put down whatever else you are reading and pick up Angela's Ashes. The Irish, my friends, are true writers.
It was Tuesday. Dawson was dead and had been for two days. Chango was gone, alone and lost and tired. We were at the funeral listening to the voice of God. It had been raining since Saturday.
By that time, Chango had collected at least a dozen scars, on his arms and legs and chest. That one under his chin from the time he fell off the horse (Chango never was any good with horses). That scar along his arm when one of Mariposa's girls cut him with a kitchen knife as she caught him sneaking into her bedroom (he was even worse with women). The flower of scars on his back from falling into a trash can of burning leaves. On the bridge of his nose, a faint scar from when he fell off the roof playing hide and seek. Pin-holes in his ass from when they were in school and Dawson threw him, pushed him into a bed of prickly pear cactus. Bullet holes in his chest, pieces of glass lodged in the back of his head, a sliver of wood (close enough to the skin you can feel it, move it around) buried in his shin. A broken nose, swollen cheeks, black eyes, chipped teeth. Chango threw himself into every mess this side of Orangefire County. Fights and falls, women and brawls. Gambling, smoking, drinking, fighting. He lost every game and cigarettes made him sick, he couldn't get drunk, but the boy could fight. Size of a mountain, he could float. Feet so light, legs so quick you couldn't see him move.
He started early, fights with kids after school, before school, during school. When Father caught wind of Chango's fighting, he took him over to Duke's place. Chango was eleven. He already weighed in over two hundred pounds. His hands were the size of your head, and his head was the size of a basketball and set wide in a grin. He stood tall and had Mother's eyes. Wild eyes.
Duke was an old man. Duke was a big man. He was bald and his eyes were gray and his neck folded at the at the back of his head. He liked to play the clarinet, like his father. His family was from New Orleans, but he grew up in Acadia. Dropped out of school, lied about his age, joined the Navy, and learned how to box. Golden Gloves. He came home and boxed around Texas. His manager billed him as "The Black Duke." Sixteen knockouts, undefeated, and then he quit. He took the money he made and built himself a small house, an open kitchen, a preactivce room, a workout room, a music room. He taught eastside kids how to box.
Father stood Chango in front of Duke and asked, "Can you teach him?"
They tried a little footwork outside. Chango tripped in the dirt, tripped over rocks, swung his arms too hard. He couldn't keep up with Duke -- liquid body, constant motion. Duke never stopped, and he never tired. You could barely hear him breathe, and he hit with his body, from the waist, strong upper-cuts and quick jabs.
"He's too big. He's too clumsy. His feet are too fast, his body too slow and his arms are sluggish. He's got no balance when he fights."
But inside, against the bag...Chango hit like a horse. The bag bounced against the chain which held it to the ceiling and small bits of dust showered Chango's head, colored his hair white. He left the body bag dented and ripped under his punches.
Duke would let him hit at the bag for half an hour a week. The rest of the time they spent on footwork:
Keep your body low.
Keep your legs moving.
Bounce on your toes.
Look at who you're fighting.
Never stop moving.
Again. Try it again.
Chango would bounce and weave and duck, his movements peppered with jabs and hooks and cuts. Combinations of left right left, right left left right. But still, he tripped, couldn't stay balanced. His hands were soft and quick. He could climb anything, catch squirrels as they scrambled up trees, sneak in and out of the house like a mouse. But put him in the ring, he'd prance around, a swing and a miss, and he'd be flat on his back. Duke tied Chango's feet together with strong, worn rope and made him dance. His feet were light, always had been, but his body was bulky, over-sized and under-balanced. He had no center. He tripped over the rope and fell on his back and on his knees and on his hands, and Duke tied the rope tighter. After a month of falling, Chango stopped showing. He quit boxing and took up pool. Quarter games after school.
And then there was Dawson. Small and lean and weak and pale. His father, the Sheriff, wanted him to learn to fight. To stand up for himself, to grow bigger, stronger, faster. Sheriffs were large men, strong men, willing-to-fight men, fight-for-the-right men, and the Sheriff's son wasn't going to be any different. Whereas Chango was big and hit hard, but an easy target, stumbling and clumsy, Dawson's punches were feathers, Mother's soft kisses. Punching the bag made his knuckles sore and red. But you couldn't hit him. Couldn't follow him. A thin stick running around the ring, spinning and jumping. His feet blurred and skipped.
They were best friends, had been for years. Would be for years to come. Fierce friends, fierce competitors. Who could climb the tallest tree? Who could run the fastest? Who could swim the furthest? Who could shoot the best? Chango saw Dawson boxing. He saw him dance around the ring, dance circles around Duke. Saw his light, weightless, harmless punches. Saw him practicing at home, at school, at night with his father watching from the porch. Enough was enough. Two months after he quit, Chango tied his feet together at the ankles and shuffled around the house, all day, all night, his feet sliding and stepping, ginger feet, soft feet, slow feet. A step, and then another and another, and then a crash. Broken glass, broken furniture, broken dishes. Father cut the rope and sent him back to Duke's. Duke saw Chango and smiled.
"Get in the ring. See what you can do against Dawson."
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. No punch landed. Chango didn't even come close. Dawson flew past him, hit him seven, eight times in a row. Chango didn't notice. His eyes followed Dawson, his body moved slowly, his legs moved barely at all. He bounced on his feet, back and forth. Side-step, slide slide, side-step, and more bouncing. Watching, waiting. He never touched Dawson, though he tried countless times, but more important, he never fell. Duke knew that Dawson and Chango in the ring was dangerous. Chango was too big, Dawson too small. Chango's punches too hard, Dawson's too light.
"Next time, Chango, you and me."
The next time in the ring, Chango's feet were lighter, his body smooth, and he landed two solid punches, one to Duke's kidney and another to his face, breaking Duke's nose. Sixteen knockouts, undefeated, and never once a broken nose. Duke laughed about it for a week. Dawson and Chango sparred together twice a day, every day after school. They ran together in the mornings and they swam together at night. Slowly, Dawson got stronger. He put on weight and his muscles filled out, his body tight and powerful, a spring. Chango gained control, over his legs and feet, his chest and arms. After a year, Chango could float across the ring, his punches precise and powerful, his body balanced. But he never once touched Dawson. Over a hundred fights, Chango and Dawson together in the ring, sweat falling off their foreheads in rivers, Chango bruised, but only a little. Dawson light and white, flitting from corner to corner, rope to rope, and not once did Chango's fist find Dawson's face. Once, though, Chango caught Dawson in the ribs, broke three, and Dawson couldn't fight for a month.
Three years, Chango and Dawson found their home at Duke's place. Where they ate, where they slept, where they hid when one (Chango) dragged the other (Dawson) into a mess. After school, they took their bags to Duke's place, sparred for an hour, and then Duke watched them as they each worked through their books. Chango lost his virginity at Duke's place, on a folded cot in the middle of the ring, the smell of sweat and blood in their noses. By then, though, he'd stopped boxing, stopped sparring with Dawson. He had begun working in the fields, working at the house, working to help the family. No more school, no more books, no more fights. He couldn't afford the fighting. He was too proud, too embarrassed. But sometimes he would sneak off to Duke's place and stand in the far corner and watch kids jump rope and dodge their shadows. There, he would relax and breathe deep the smell of boxers. A sour smell, a dark smell, his smell.
And that's where we found him, where we last saw him. Tuesday night, after the memorial, after the church service, after Dawson's body was lowered into the ground. Chango sitting among empty bottles, broken bottles, burnt out cigarettes. His head in his hands, red, bloody hands, the body bag knocked off its chain, lying in the middle of the room, its stuffing spilled to the floor. He looked up once, and his body shuddered, and then he disappeared.
There was no signature red carpet, no glittering stars emerging from shadowy limos in front of the theater. Well, there was some glitter, but that was mostly to celebrate the eve of Halloween, and the crowd gathered out front of the Alamo Draughthouse for the Cinemakers Coop showcase, dubbed Attack of the Fifty-Foot Reel, was definitely in the spooky spirit. The line at the box office snaked its way around the block, for what was a sold out show for local Super 8 filmmakers who contributed works for the evening's entertainment.
It's been a banner first year for the Cinemakers Coop, a well-organized group of "local filmmakers and loco film lovers," who have come together in the Capital City to put Austin on the map as one of the best places in the world to start from scratch and make something of it, hopefully a masterpiece. As the founder Barna Kantor puts it, Austin is already known internationally as a hotbed of dynamic independent filmmakers, and from the looks of the twenty-two short films presented on Thursday night, that ain't no lie.
The Cinemakers Coop is not a networking group, where you go to meet people and be seen. These folks are serious, about the ART of filmmaking, and about making the resources available to any and all interested in trying their hand at one of the most competitive industries in the world. "We are dedicated to inspiring and supporting small-guage film and video projects" reads the program for the Attack of the Fifty Foot Reel. One might ask, why just small-guage? Well, when an aspiring filmmaker doesn't have the cash to attend an expensive film school, or buy equipment for their project, what resources are available to him or her? In Austin, there's the Cinemakers Coop.
For a measly twenty dollars for a one-year membership, the Coop will be happy to lend you a camera, film, and if you finish your project in a timely manner, they will even develop your film for you. No more excuses. It's up to you to have an idea. But if you don't like your first idea, well then, the Coop even offers some suggestions. Twice yearly, once at Halloween, and once at Valentine's Day, the Coop presents works created by its members around these holiday themes. Who can't stand a bit of campy horror on the night before Halloween, or rejects a dose of dippy love stories around Valentine's Day? To inspire their membership, plus give them a well-needed deadline for completion of their projects, the Coop offers these showcases, along with month-to-month projects with specific themes that are taken on by volunteers at their monthly meetings. Kantor notes that people who don't plan to pick up a camera pretty soon don't stick around the Coop much. Believe me, when you attend one of these meetings and get to watch some of the members' projects, it's very hard not to get caught up in the filmmaking fever. They're that good.
For those who are illiterate when it comes to the terms of filmmaking, Super 8 (8 millimeter) is a different kind of film than the kind they use for big-budget pictures. It's only slightly smaller than 16 millimeter, the stuff the big guys use, and even though the resolution is not quite as good on the screen, the quality is still very good, and a heck of a lot more affordable than 16mm. Super 8 cameras are hand-held portable cordless tools that allow the filmmaker a lot of freedom of movement and efficiency, and the final product has a pleasing grainy quality recognized often by the layman in "artsy" films. Super 8 has resurfaced as a desireable medium for filmmakers, with Super 8 festivals springing up around the country, and sightings in major motion pictures by such notable artists as Austin's own Richard Linklater (remember the day trippers scene at the end of Slacker?) and most recently, spliced into Oliver Stone's U-Turn. The reason the Cinemakers Coop favors Super 8? It's cheap, quick and cool.
The idea is to have working filmmakers, not aspiring filmmakers who are spending all their time working to save the money to get access to a 16mm camera and film, not to mention processing. And Kantor points out that the Coop encourages folks to do their editing in-camera. How do you do that? You plan every shot very carefully before you film, so that the story goes onto the film in chronological order, without any rearranging necessary. Most films shoot scenes out of order and therefore, out of context. In-camera editing forces the creator to know what he or she wants before they pick up the camera. When they put it down, they have a finished product.
Some of the on-going projects available to filmmakers joining the Coop are the "Self-Portrait," which is just as it sounds, where the filmmaker turns the camera on him/herself and lets it fly; the "12 Houses," inspired by the Zodiac, where a new filmmaker volunteers each month to complete a 3-minute short film (the average length of Coop projects) on that month and the zodiacal symbol corresponding to it; and the "Exquisite Corpse," a project similar to a visual run-on sentence, in that every month, someone finishes a story on film, and the next volunteer is allowed to view only the last few minutes of the story, then must incorporate what he or she sees into their piece. No one sees the end result until the end of the year's period, when the Coop will present the completed "Corpse" all together. If the Attack of the Fifty-Foot Reel is any indication of what these guys can do, then I can't wait to see their "Exquisite Corpse."
The Coop already houses some remarkable talent, and has been extremely cooperative (go figure) with the other film organizations working in Austin. Kantor is quick to point out that he couldn't have organized the Coop without the help of his best friend, Kris DeForest, a talented filmmaker herself, and also the Community Liaison for the Austin Film Society, the extremely active umbrella group formed by Linklater to provide an outlet for resource sharing, networking and screenings to the Austin film community. Kantor praises in*situ, the group now best known for bringing noted avant-garde filmmakers Stan Brakhage and this past weekend, Kenneth Anger, to Austin for screenings and lectures.
The local festivals are a great help in getting people excited about the emerging film industry in Austin, as it was hard not to notice last month with the Heart of Film Festival submerging our little hamlet in the deeper waters of national attention by bringing Oliver Stone and Dennis Hopper. But Kantor says all the hype is not really helpful to his group of struggling artists. It's great that the world is beginning to notice, but how does that kind of attention filter down to the poor aspiring Austin filmmaker? Well, it just doesn't, really, and Kantor says the benefits of the University of Texas' CinemaTexas festival were much greater for his group than the hoopla of Heart of Film. CinemaTexas features short works and features by independents and most importantly, showcases Super 8 and the works of the Cinemakers Coop. Kantor would like to see South by Southwest and Heart of Film make a special effort to include the works of local filmmakers, whether they are Coop members or not. That's how the connections are made.
Kantor is also quick to mention some other fantastic showcases available to the Austin public, where they might get a glimpse of something truly inspirational, or just downright bizarre. Every Monday at the Ritz Lounge (the hippest movie theater in town), the Funhouse Cinema presents double features on different themes, ranging from the Endless Summer to Industrialand and Attack from Mars. This is a great opportunity to catch some fabulous cult classics on a (moderately) big screen with some other film freaks, for only four dollars. And then there's the free Tuesday night flick at the Texas Union theater, where some of the lesser-known-but-just-as-great features of filmmaking giants are regularly shown. And they're thinking about closing the Union Theater. Put a stop to it! Make a fuss! It's your town!
For a group that just came together in 1996, the Cinemakers Coop is making a name for itself pretty quickly. Kantor and another member traveled to Athens, Georgia (Austin's smaller twin, they say) to check out the operation of a similar cooperative group there known as Flicker. They were shocked to find that the Cinemakers Coop's reputation had proceeded them, and that they were much more organized than this group, which is older. Some say the time for an Austin Super 8 festival has come. Kantor is hesitant to commit to that right now, because the Coop's plate is so full currently with the projects they have already. But he's not saying no. He's just saying, hold on. There's definitely more to come. Let the credits roll...
For more information on the Cinemakers Cooperative, call (512) 236-8877, or (512) 469-0114.
The collective-unconscious theory of finance goes something like this: traveling through the Earth's troposphere is a jetstream through which moves a constant supply of cashflow. Some have greater access to it than others, but it is there for all to use if you know how to get it. Ideally, you take some out, you put some back, the jetstream continues to flow. Things get done, people survive, and so on. And, like many things, it's easier when you're not trying to get it all by yourself.
In a time when multinational corporations merge and split with every morning paper and the largest banks in the world join forces to render the force of a dollar meaningless, it's nice to see the little guy helping the little guy. It just shows that, down here where the people live, this stuff still matters -- stuff like paying electric bills and making sure this mag gets out on time continually against all odds.
I'll Be Home for Kwanzaa is another such venture. DiverseArts Production Group has joined forces with Marc Katz and his West 6th Street enterprise to put out an album that heralds the first-ever, all-black lineup for a compilation of Christmas songs. It seems unlikely that something like this has never existed before, here where music is life. On November 28th and 29th, the Top of the Marc will host a release party for this long-awaited CD, and if the recording party was any indication, it's gonna be one hell of a good time.
"We've wanted to do a project together for a while now," says Harold McMillan, founder of DiverseArts. "This seemed a natural. Marc has the facility and he has the means, and we are able to put together a lineup that includes the best and brightest of our city. His new Bagel Label is the perfect match for this."
The lineup is an impressive one to say the least. The house band for the first night of performances consisted of Fred Sanders on piano, J.J. Johnson on drums, and Edwin Livingston on bass. Pam Hart, Hope Morgan, Judy Arnold and Ernie Mae Miller all saw time in front of them, and all have selections on the CD. Without exception the performances are stellar, and Hart's "I'll Be Home for Christmas," with the assistance of Martin Banks on trumpet, made me forget for a moment that I was seeing this show in September. Margaret Wright's "Silent Night/Medley" is a bit of history complete with a brief sampling of her live narrative.
The second night of performance was an all-out night of blues. The house band was again the foundation, and T.D. Bell and the East Side Horns took the helm. I'll Be Home for Kwanzaa will feature selections from both nights of performance, though it does lean more heavily on the jazz of the first evening. Sanders' trio contributes an original arrangement based on the line from "Blessed Name" that proves an inspired and spiritual take on the tune.
The Bagel Label is the latest piece in Katz's puzzle. It's a means for Katz to develop musical talent, make recordings and donate funds to charitable and non-profit organizations. Katz is no stranger to the this collective-unconscious theory, and he knows how valuable it is to feed the jetstream.
"I was a speaker in Charitech, which is a conference where business people learn how to work together with charities and non-profits -- it teaches business people how to make money for charity and for themselves at the same time," says Katz. "It kinda motivates all of us. I like that to be out there, I like people to know both that I'm doing this for profit and giving to charity. It's a touchy situation and however people want to interpret it they can, but I tell it the way it is. Yes we're making money, we are not non-profit intentionally. But we deal with non-profit organizations, which helps our sales. Take [Zachary Scott Theatre] or AIDS Services of Austin [both of whom Katz works with frequently], they have a mailing list of 20,000 faithful people, so right there that many people see Katz's 'It Never Closes -- And Has Free Parking!'"
Katz does say that every time -- I gotta tell ya he knows marketing.
Though the In Helping Others We Help Ourselves philosophy seems maybe a bit of a simplification, it works, and Katz's ventures are proof of that. With the addition of the Bagel Label, he adds another facet to his two-story brick empire.
"The Bagel Label's home is at Top of the Marc," says Katz. "After having seen many great night clubs like the Blue Note, and here in Austin, like Antone's and the Continental Club that have their own labels, I thought it was natural that my club had matured to the point where it warranted its own label as well. I like to think that Top of the Marc is among the great night clubs in a city with many great night clubs. The name Bagel Label came about as a function of my ego, because the bottom is Katz (that's my last name) and the top is Marc (that's my first name) and my childhood nickname was Bagel, hence the Bagel Label. My name is on everything."
This method of wrapping a promotional tool inside a promotional tool inside a promotional tool is something that will not go unnoticed either. "I look at this venture from the point of view of a mentoring relationship," says McMillan. "He knows how to make money. This should be the first in a series of joint projects between us." In the world of non-profit organizations, finding the means to your prospective end is essential for survival. When you rely on government grants and funds raised by a board of directors, additional sources of funding are needed to run the operation from day to day.
"Projects like this are really beneficial. When money is raised by the organization only, it's not as encumbered as the funds from grants or from the board. We need that flow to keep us going," says McMillan.
Besides just nonprofit organizations, charities benefit from these symbiotic relationships as well. Katz does a significant amount of work with AIDS Services of Austin, the door proceeds of every Monday night's La Cage shows going directly to them.
"ASA is my passion," explains Katz. "I got involved with them through loss. Through the loss of many close friends, watching first hand as people suffer. In 1990 I established the AIDS benefit table in the restaurant, it was the first of its kind. One table in Katz's 'It Never Closes' [I'm serious, he does always say that!] that the proceeds go straight to ASA. Last I heard 173 restaurants across the country had them, and I'm the founder of that. And we do the Monday night La Cage which has been increasing in success as well. We're within $100-200 of $20,000. Just from individual dollars, this past week alone we had close to $900 at the door, 100% of which goes to ASA. The goal is $50,000, we hope to reach it on New Year's Eve with a combination Motown Review/LaCage ASA benefit."
In addition to this CD, the re-release of A Texas Christmas will be celebrated during this party as well. Originally completed in '82, this compilation of some of the Lone Star State's finest talent has been virtually invisible for the past fifteen years, but Katz is bringing it back. Willie Nelson, Gary P. Nunn, Steve Fromhlz, Marcia Ball, Jerry Jeff Walker and many others all contributed to the effort, and a portion of the proceeds of this will go to ASA as well.
"The Texas Christmas CD was produced under two different labels in Austin that are now defunct. It was on Felicity, then it was on Amazing records, and the producer of that CD, Craig Hillis and I had been friends for many years, I was the financial backing in '82 when it was produced. But a couple months ago I asked Craig what happened to it. He said it never got any distribution," says Katz. "One of the things I'm learning especially for small people like myself is that distribution is where small business man gets eaten up. The major distributors. I dont really understand it, there are many experts in this town, small businessmen like myself, the big downfall they all share is the distributor. Of all my shortcomings, one of them is not terminal uniqueness -- if those boys couldn't do it I can't do it either. So I talked to Craig about reproducing the CD on the Bagel Label with a unique distribution method and he was all for it. With a handshake we came to terms."
It's the distribution that will make this work, too. Because it's for a non-profit, Katz will be able to get them into not only the local independet stores, but the Blockbusters and Towers as well. It's all part of the plan. "The relationship is symbiotic -- Katz's and Top of the Marc are that way, and now the label will sit that way too. Kwanzaa has all three labels on the front, the Bagel label, below that the Top logo, below that Katz's "It Never Closes," everyone going through the record rack sees my name. The whole thing is a promotional tool within a promotional tool for each other. The label is available at Katz's gift shop, which never closes. They all kinda feed each other."
But for all this, the music is what the venture is all about. When you hear Hope Morgan sing "A Child is Born" you will be oblivious to that green jetstream above your head. Hart's "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" will make you forget whose imprint is on what -- if only for a moment. The release party will feature performances from artists on both compilations, and all Bagel Label titles will, of course, be available at the club.
As Katz says, "It says on the Bagel Label, 'Make this CD represent what we could do together that we could never do alone.' And that's what's going on here. Everyone is involved in the effort and everyone's involved in the benefit."
The Elisabet Ney Museum, though it exists in relative obscurity, is one of Austin's greatest art treasures. The former studio of the famous European sculptress, the museum is a miniature castle, tucked away in a quiet residential area and hidden by large trees. It's the kind of place out-of-town visitors will see before you do.
My first visit came about when I didn't know what to do with my mom's German visitors. They appointed me tour guide and I was under the pressure of hospitality to take them somewhere. Vaguely aware that Ney herself was German, and feeling obligated to show them something cultural, I took them to the museum. Although they came to Austin expecting to see cowboys and rodeos, they were impressed nonetheless.
I was impressed too, and surprised to see one statue in particular -- that of the great King Ludwig II, aka the "Mad King," the "Dream-King," or the "Fairy-tale King" of Bavaria. When I was a child, I had seen some of his castles in Germany. Castles are King Ludwig's legacy -- he spent so much money on them that his own court declared him unfit to rule, fearing that he would bankrupt the royal treasury. Conspiring against him, government officials managed to round up some physicians willing to pronounce him a victim of insanity.
And there he stood, life-size, on a pedestal before me.
Today Ludwig's castles are a major source of tourist revenue in Germany. One of them, called Neuschwanstein, served as a model for Walt Disney's Cinderella castle. It took 17 years to build, and some of its interior rooms were never completed. At Linderhof, his summer home, he had an artificial grotto built, complete with fake stalactites and an entrance door disguised as a boulder. The walls were painted with murals depicting scenes from Wagner's operas, and on the surface of the underground lake floated a boat constructed in the shape of a giant swan. Ludwig was fond of swans, of Wagner, and of opulence. The rooms of his castles were replete with gilded surfaces, mirrors, wall-paintings, intricate woodwork, and expensive furniture.
Ludwig was a man lost in a world of fantasy, carried away by German myths and Richard Wagner's music. You're probably familiar with at least one of Wagner's hits, even if you've never heard of him -- he composed "Ride of the Valkyries," a piece familiar to most of us as the background music accompanying Elmer Fudd's "Kill the Wabbit" song in Bugs Bunny cartoons. Or if you've seen Apocalypse Now, you'll associate it with rampaging helicopter gun-ships flying over Vietnam.
Wagner was quite willing to take advantage of the king's admiration and the financial support that went along with it. In order to compose properly, he told the king he required a lavishly furnished villa in Munich. Ludwig indulged this and other requests, and was much criticized for his extravagance.
Ludwig's obsession with Wagner's music was just one of his eccentricities. Later in life he enjoyed taking horse-drawn sleigh rides -- at midnight, by the light of the moon. He didn't like to have servants hovering about as he dined, so he fashioned a table that lowered itself through the floor to an awaiting kitchen-staff below, where the table could be cleared and prepared for a second course. In one chamber, the ceiling could roll back, allowing him to sleep directly under the stars.
Dreamy and romantic, Ludwig was ill-suited in his role as monarch. His father died when he was eighteen, leaving Ludwig completely unprepared for the responsibilities of kingship. Eventually he was imprisoned in one of his own castles, and on June 13th, 1886, his life came to a tragic end.
On that day, Ludwig had taken a walk with his doctor on the shores of Lake Starnberg. The next morning, both men's bodies were found dead in the water. They had drowned mysteriously, leaving behind many unanswered questions. Why did the doctor signal accompanying guards away on the day of the their fateful stroll? Did Ludwig murder the doctor in a possible escape attempt? To this day, no one knows. Perhaps both died accidentally.
And what does all this have to do with Elisabet Ney, anyway? Well, it turns out that Elisabet Ney was one of the three most important women in Ludwig's life. Some believe one of her sons was actually Ludwig's love-child. (The rumor is highly improbable, but easily juicy enough to mention here.) Ney created a marble statue of Ludwig (the only one that was ever made of him), and a replica of it can be seen at the museum. The story behind its construction is as fascinating as the statue or even the man himself, and is just one of many reasons to seek out the hidden treasure of the Elisabet Ney Museum.
My dad used to tell me those stories -- you know, the ones from the olden days -- about how he valued education so much that he didn't mind walking miles to get to school. Yes, that story about walking through the snow to get to the little three - classroom - country - shack - of - a - schoolhouse in rural Emory, Rains County, Texas.
"You see, we kids," he'd say, "had to take advantage of being able to go to school when we could. We didn't have it like the white kids. We got plenty of time off during the school year. But that just meant the school would close down so we could chop cotton. Then we'd go back to school for a while, then have a little vacation time, then go back to school for a while -- then we'd get out again to go pick cotton. That was what was normal for black folks."
My father grew up on my Granddad's farm/ranch. So, in addition to having to stay out of school to pick cotton for white folks, my dad also had work at home -- that often kept him out of school. And, that's not even mentioning the regular, normal, everyday kinda stuff that country kids did, in addition to school, all the time -- chopping wood, milking cows, feeding cows and horses and chickens, planting and harvesting food crops. Compared to how I came up, compared to how city kids have it, compared to any generation since, that had to be some hard stuff for kids to deal with.
During that time -- circa 1930 and beyond -- my dad's cohorts could choose to just stay out of school and work (didn't really help a black man's qualifications for work on somebody's farm as a laborer to have a degree from UT. Black folks couldn't go to UT then anyway). But it didn't work the other way around. The kids who wanted to go to school, get educated, get some book-learnin', still had to work. Education was optional, a healthy work ethic wasn't. Working toward success in one's personal pursuit to support themself and a family was the expected norm, honorable. To put it mildly, failure at this basic credo was frowned upon in my family (and by everyone else in the community, as far as I know).
When I say "in the community," I'm talking about in the African American community of Rains County, Texas. That would be Sand Flat and Wolf (my neighborhoods), Jacksonville, and Richland. As far as I know, no black folks lived within the city limits of Emory in those days. In my dad's day we had our communities -- rural, poor and working-poor, land-owning, close-knit, Baptist and COGIC -- and within them the expectation was of God-fearing, honest, family-values-centered, hard work and success (relative to the conditions for black folks in poverty-stricken Jim Crow Northeast Texas).
My granddad didn't even finish grade school. Even if he had wanted to, there was no school in Emory for him to do so. But in his eyes, and by his reputation in the community, he was a successful man. He took care of his family, owned a good deal of land, produced crops and cattle, had a thriving bootlegging enterprise, served as a lending bank for folks in the community, and vouched for folks who needed a good word with the white folks downtown. He also instilled in his kids the value of hard work, respectability and integrity, community service and personal responsibility. For the time, that list of virtues could -- but did not have to -- include pursuit of formal education. Those of his kids who showed potential and interest in education, however, were given every conceivable encouragement to pursue as much school learning as possible. And that was still very limited for black folks in Emory, Texas.
My granddad's point of view was that the community needed more folks with school learning. There were so many folks who had no formal education, so many folks who had to deal with the harsh reality of just trying to live, whoever was lucky enough to get a degree had a responsibility to the community. Education was to be used in the service of the community.That was the point. That was made clear. Going to school with only a goal of making one's own situation improved was a sign of flawed character. So, in turn, those kids who pursued school learning were supposed to be self-selecting community leaders, community servants, teachers, role models.
My dad was one of the kids who really wanted to go to school. He, along with one of his sisters, were book smart. And I guess, even at a very early age, they assumed they would have heightened responsibility to and status in the family and community. There were a couple of other early McMillan/Jackson/Dean teacher role models in the family line and I get the impression their sacrifice influenced my dad's sense of dedication to education and learning. So, as a kid, he decided that his mission in life would be to learn as much as he could to prepare himself to be a community leader, a teacher. At the time that was not the easy way out. It wasn't as if the kids who wanted to go to school got out of the farm work, the cotton picking, the chores. Everybody worked to help support the family. Regardless of ambition for the future, there was cotton to be picked in the present.
Now, I realize that I am talking to you about my personal family history. But the thing I also know is there are very similar stories in most every African American (perhaps others, as well) community in the rural South. That much is obvious to most of you. What may not be obvious to you is that the "education" of which I am speaking is a 10th GRADE -- at best -- EDUCATION. As kids, my dad and many others, fantasized, dreamed about, hoped to complete the highest grade possible for them at the COLORED - three - classroom - country - shack - schools in their communities. My father, a book smart young man -- in America, in Texas, in this century -- had to DREAM about having the opportunity to complete the 10TH GRADE at a school in his home town. My dad had a dream of being a school teacher in his community. And he couldn't even complete a high school degree -- in order to go to college and get the credentials to teach school -- in the same town in which he lived.
So, my dad went as far as he could as a student at Sand Flat School (A Rosenwald School, for those of you who know the history) -- the 10th grade. He was a good student. He made good grades and showed promise as a leader. He was pretty good at chopping and picking white folks' cotton. He did the chores on granddad's farm, too. Sand Flat School, the only school in town for black folks, that big wooden-frame, whitewashed building with three classroooms, no schoolbus, and no indoor plumbing was the COLORED school. And that is where my dad studied for, dreamed about, his future career as teacher, principal, superintendent, bus driver, head cook, and janitor of that three - classroom - with - no - indoor - plumbing - country - shack - of - a - schoolhouse. To work more on his leadership skills, and to earn some money to send back home, he then joined the Civilian Conservation Corps. And while he was working, studying and dreaming about his future as a community leader, the U.S. of A. got itself into a war and needed him. What did he do? He married my mother and joined up (just like any other red-blooded American boy) and got sent to Europe to make the world safe for DEMOCRACY.
He was a bright young man, a natural leader, and that was quickly acknowledged in the Army. His tour of duty in Europe reflected his leadership ability, his ambition to serve, his above-average book learning. He studied, worked hard and achieved the rank of Master Sergeant. In the infinite wisdom of U.S. Army standard operating procedure of the time, he was awarded the job of Chief Mess Sergeant (head cook). Then he was promoted to an even more prestigious job. He had the honor of being the personal chauffeur of a ranking white general. As granddad had instilled in him, he continued to work for success in whatever job he happened to find himself in.
Was he bitter about how he was treated in the Army? No, I don't think so. The irony here is that although he suffered the degradation of having the ignoble responsibility of being a driver and cook in the service of his nation and white Army officers, Jim Crow did not live in Europe (in this case, France). Jim Crow, however, was alive and well back home. Ain't that America? I am using my father as an example I know of personally. But, you know, I'd bet this story is not very unique. And yes friends, I am telling an American story here. One that happened in this century, about 50 years ago.
I digressed a little just to keep the time-frame and chronology straight. This piece is really still about valuing education and striving for success. So...after dad got back from the Great War, he got back to working on that dream of helping to educate his community. After cooking and driving for Army brass (but, unlike back home, not having to go into the back doors of French cafes), he returned to our American democracy -- separate, but equal -- to find that a black child still could not complete a high school education in a school in Rains County, Texas. There was a high school, just like before he fought in Europe, within walking distance of his house. But the Emory school didn't have enough chairs for black kids, and the Sand Flat three - classroom - county - shack - of - a - schoolhouse - for - COLORED - kids still only had classes through the 10th grade -- no high school diploma. That was considered, legally, separate but equal in late 1940s Texas.
Once again I am writing too much for my space...gotta move ahead quickly. Still with me?? Undeterred, my old man got his GED, enrolled in Tyler's Texas College, and quickly got his Bachelor of Education Degree.
With college degree in tow, my old man, A.C. McMillan, returned to Sand Flat School, the same little country school he had attended as a child, to become its "junior high school" (7th and 8th grade) teacher. Oh yeah, he was also -- literally -- the superintendent, principal, basketball coach, track coach, head janitor, and head cook. About the same time as I was born, he also got a cool Chevy pickup that became the school bus (got a real bus a couple of years after that). So, that also added school bus driver to his job.
Second-hand, very much in disrepair, dirty and used leftover text books from the "white school." Potbellied, wood-burning stoves for heat. Still no indoor plumbing. The colored school.
Now I need to put some more of this history into perspective for you -- especially if you are not from the South and/or are under 40 years old. We are not talking about the 1920s, or '30s here. I am not talking about something that happened in South Africa. I am talking about real life in a small town in Texas, four and one half hours from Austin, an hour's drive from Dallas, my home town, Emory, Texas. The kicker here is that I am not just talking about the value of a public education for black kids in my dad's day. I am not talking about a culture that does not value the role of broad and fair access to opportunities for success in public (or higher) education. I am talking about an African American community in North East Texas. I am talking about the world my dad was born into. He was born in 1921. I am also talking about the world I was born into, here in Texas, America, USA.
I was born in 1957. I am now 40. And even to you 20-somethings, I should not be considered an old man. Know what school I enrolled in in 1963? That same three - classroom - country - shack - of - a - schoolhouse where my dad was superintendent, principal et al. And you know what? That same clear and sunny November day in 1963 that JFK was killed, I still had to go to an outhouse to take a piss. And the workbooks I had for my first grade studies were recycled ones from the white school. And if I had continued to study there until I graduated from the 8th grade, I still would not have had a school in Rains County that would have accepted me for high school classes.
Separate-but-equal? Oh yeah, the Supreme Court killed that (on paper) in 1954, before I was born.
Busing? Oh yeah, that was a terrible thing that was proposed in the 1970s to desegregate the schools. I've got (two) older brothers and a sister. While I was attending my dad's country shack of a school in Emory, Rains County Texas, my older siblings, who were in high school, were going to high school in the next county. The next county -- as in catching a bus at 5 a.m. every morning for the 50 mile trip to an even bigger country shack that acted as a regional high school for about five towns.
100 miles round-trip a day, from the time you are 14 to 18, just to get a high school diploma, in America, in the 1960s, in Texas. While your parents pay property taxes at home, you pass, en route to school each day, four high schools that will not allow you to step in the front door and take a seat to learn how to be a responsible citizen in the world's greatest democratic republic? Black kids in recent memory went through this, and now in Austin at the Law School of the University of the First Class of Texas a professor questions African Americans' "dedication to education and value of academic success?"
In 1964, 10 years after Brown vs. Topeka, my dad went before the Rains County School Board, Superintendent and Commissioners Court and explained that they had to follow the mandate of the Supreme Court of the land, they had to allow black kids an opportunity to get a high school diploma in the old home town. The Superintendent explained to him that her concern was for the colored kids -- "they would be so smelly, and dirty, and ill-prepared to work alongside the white kids that they would be too embarassed to attend the schools in Emory. Perhaps a better plan would be to see if the colored schools in yet another county might have room to take the kids, by bus." It would only be a 40 mile - one - way - trip.
My dad told her he had already inquired, and Van Zandt County had "decided to just desegregate their schools. The busing plan wouldn't work with them. It was time to deal with Brown vs. Topeka."
"Oh, but the kids will be so far behind, will drag the classes down so much. The colored kids just don't have the seriousness, the will to succeed, like our kids do." In 1966, Emory allowed, for the first time in history, my sister and other black kids to attend and graduate from Rains High School. In 1967 I was part of a pilot program that put Rains county's black and White elementary students together in the classroom for the first time. By 1968 the new county-wide, all-levels comprehensive school was finished and everyone went to the same school. It was desegregated - but - unequal in how it treated its black and White kids.
When I left Sand Flat Elementary School (which I loved dearly) in 1967, it had running water in the lunchroom, but no inside toilets. It had four classrooms instead of three. I had learned more about African American cultural history than had any of my teachers since. The will to be successful in my choice of pursuits, and be proud of it, had been driven into me in a way that is as natural as breathing. And I was a damn good basketball player, trained by my dad on that outdoor clay court. My dad still held all of those jobs in 1967.
Where I am today is the result of my upbringing and the influence it had on all I've done since. I am rich. I contribute to my community and I am wealthy for the effort. I do the work I love. And my upbringing has put in place a sense to survive and succeed that will not easily be put down. I am just one of many who has had the benefit of the challenge. Challenge it is.
So, tell me. Why is it that one University of Texas Law professor, who obviously doesn't understand just how hard it is to sometimes be a good American, has the power to capture the attention of the world when he says that black folks don't come from a culture that understands the value of success in this society?
I don't get it. Ain't this America? If I'm only 40 and still feel that our recent past has some pretty nasty racial images still to be corrected, aren't there, too likely ,some of those folks (or their kids) who are still around who think opportunity in America should be reserved for the good ol' white boys, mostly?
It's not so much about the law. It was against the law in 1966 for the Emory School Board to suggest that Rains County's black kids be bused to the next county to attend high school.
Laws are on paper and can change immediately. Ideas have individual motivation and can spread. But tradition, folkways, and social consciousness sometimes takes generations to catch up to what the law of the land intends.
I'm only 40. I attended Sand Flat Elementary School (which I loved) in Emory, Texas: You know, that little three - classroom - country - shack - of - a - schoolhouse - with - no - indoor - plumbing - where - my - father - was - the - superintendent - principal - teacher - coach - cook - janitor - and - bus - driver - in - 1967 - when - I - was - 10 - years - old - before - I - was - worthy - enough - to - sit - beside - a - white - child - to - attend - school in Emory, Rains County, Northeast Texas, America, USA.
And now some folks are ready to believe that these few years since have been enough to "level the playing field"? Tell me more about the lack of need (or the need) for intelligent affirmative action at the University of Texas in 1997. Please...
When all is said and done; when the higher purposes have been espoused and the ugly truths laid bare; when cynics and idealists alike have been sated by music and beer and hours upon hours of standing on their feet -- there remains one fast and true reason for the existence of music conferences: the long weekend of NXNW serves to re-establish and strengthen the ties between the music industry and the music media. Neither thrilling nor altruistic I admit, but it's true, and it's necessary. Occasionally, there is a need to re-align the poles in this symbiotic relationship that keeps us all in the business and keeps the monster that is American Pop Culture fat and happy and growing -- ever growing. The omnipresence of both parties depends on the contributions of the other. Without the media machine, music would be music and that would be that. Without the music, well...
The North by Northwest music conference had it's third year in Portland Oregon this past weekend, and there were a number of changes from the two previous -- one of which stands out more than the rest: This year, the conference went international. There were no longer any regional limitations on who could participate as has been the case for the first two years. Bands from Minneapolis and New York and Austin and Memphis joined the slew of Northern Califonia and Washington acts this year, as well as some fairly low-key guests from Copenhagen and Ontario and Mexico. But, appropriately enough, the vast majority of stage time was left to those hailing from the Pacific Northwest.
One major point of these conferences (besides the obvious and boundless opportunities for shmoozing) is to ftalk about what is wrong with the music business and figure out how to make it better. The one thing that everyone, from artists to label owners to promoters to booking agents to club owners could agree on is there's just too damn much music out there. And, of course, no one dared offer a solution to the problem. Major labels trimming back their rosters was one easy target -- after all, the majors are the patsy for every problem right? But what it boiled down to -- though no one would admit it -- was that now any shmoe can burn his or her own CD and have their own record. Actual sellable product is fast replacing the crude demo tape. To this, I say good. Those who have the problem with this are those who are afraid of being the one to miss the next big thing, so the obvious way to avoid that is to cut the numbers to a manageable level. Last year, 28,000 music releases hit markets of every kind. Of course there's not nough time to listen to and judge everything. The thing that's wrong with the industry is that those who have convinced themselves they have power want absolute power, and I for one am thankful that's not gonna happen.
Another qustion, and one that deserves some answering, is what is wrong with the music media? Well, as members of the media, we suck, generally. Just as an A&R executive is deathly afraid of missing the next big thing, we as writers are petrified of saying the wrong thing about the right band, or vice-versa. People who are making editorial decisions for major newspapers, free weekly publications, television stations, websites, radio shows, and all other manner of media, give the attention to that which is getting the attention. How many articles need to be written over the course of two months about Prodigy? Who really gives a fuck about the impending catfight between Oasis and Blur? And why oh why is anyone saying anything at all about U2 Pop? It's all part of a vicious cycle -- attention creates value creates attention creates value and on and on, no matter where the attention originates (from U2 themselves) or what the artistic value (the chance to see Liam bleed). The general and unreachable consensus is that we, as writers, have to take responsibility for what we do and say, that it's up to us to write about the things we can do justice, to establish a dialog with a certain audience, and to remain true to what we believe. Sounds nice, but I'd bet my press pass that we'll see Alanis' mug on every scrap of available glossy paper when her next chunk of plastic-angst hits the shelves.
The best part, though, has nothing to do with the rhetoric. When the sun goes down, the artists awaken, and the worthwhile portion of the weekend begins. Crammed into the back corner of Rocco's Pizza to see Faster Tiger, a brilliant Seattle co-ed trio with barely a "7"; or seeing the Bad Livers' Danny Barnes pick at the banjo and sing gospel songs; as well as witnessing a Northwestern hoe-down at the all-star hands of Golden Delicious -- these are the moments the whole thing is all about.
If there is one conclusion to be drawn from this weekend, it's that the music business is created by and depends on regional music scenes. A band has to get out and play clubs and post flyers and develop, through their own development, a loyal local fan base. The local print media has to pay close attention to the workings of the local music scene -- write about who's got the weekely coffee-house gig instead of when the Rolling Stones are bringing the circus to town. A wealth of talent creates a need for small labels, which in turn will collaborate with bigger labels, which will eventually bring the sounds of Anytown USA to the world. Each and every componenet in this too-simple equation depends on every other component -- and they all share a commmon aim, to create a strong and lasting local music scene. This is an obvious solution, but as our community becomes increasingly global we tend to lose sight of what's going on right under our noses. As long as gatherings like this occur -- and stay true to their stated purpose -- those who rightly or otherwise wield some sort of power in the industry will have to pay attention.
The blues collector collects the blues Like I used to catch black bodied butterflies and red ants when I was a child.
Just snatch them thangs out of the sky And shut them in a jar with fist-fulls of dirt. As the dirt wriggled around and came to life It gave birth and emerged the angry ants: The red-orange beauty would flutter and dance, The orange-red beasts would prod and prance, And my innocent, child-like amusement
Was quenched with this murderous act.
My African brothers were soon decapitated -- Their large scrotums swinging heavily from the old oaks in night Their backs no longer burdened with the triumphant foundation rested As their bones ground to fertilizer under the weight of the blues.
And the collector found a perfectly uncut diamond.
He scraped it, shaped it, raped it,
Even rewrote some of the words and taped it, Those uncut, bleeding blues.