V4N8: October 1998
Volume 4 Number 8
Table of Contents
Because of Lolita, I was unable to read the book I should have read for this issue; because of Lolita, I tossed and turned in my sleep at night, ate poorly, and wrote worse; because of Lolita, I've burned everything I've written -- my manuscripts, my copies of stories unfinished and now unfinish-able. Who could expect such a lyrical and comical and heartbreaking prose style from a Russian writing in his second, maybe even third language.
I'm straying away from the coffeehouse scene to wallow in guilt and shame before a cup of the store-bought variety to be enjoyed at home, where the walls are tastefully blank, the color of an aesthetic begotten by poverty.
Don't steal another group's identity because you feel you don't have one -- and don't borrow it either. Find your own bones, your own roots, and cover them with your own skin.
Are you a musician looking for good resources? Step into Sue's storefront and she'll talk you "blue" about the deep blues scene that is still a thriving Texas tradition.
Austin of the last three or four decades had a closer-knit live music scene, where people shared musical ideas, and older players naturally passed their experience on down the line to the younger players coming up the ranks.
Although Mann's work encompasses many styles including abstract, landscape and portraiture, it is interesting to note that most of this work was done in the same place: Mann's hometown of Lexington, Virginia.
Four years ago when I conjured the idea for this publication, I thought it would be cool to have a monthly column where I could, basically, rant about whatever I wanted, whatever was on my mind at the time.
Greetings my worldly, urban friends. I've spent the better part of my early years trying to assimilate myself into your culture. You see, I'm from Nocona, Texas -- population 2,995.
Ah, Fat! by Manuel Gonzales
I wish there were something profound I could say, something which hasn't already been said, something creative, original, intelligent and insightful. But there's little to be said about the novel (and now, for the second time, a movie) about which so much has already been said. "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta." We can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style. I can say this -- because of Lolita, I was unable to read the book I should have read for this issue (one which I will read and review next time); because of Lolita, I tossed and turned in my sleep at night, ate poorly, and wrote worse; because of Lolita, I've burned everything I've written -- my manuscripts, my copies and copies and copies of stories unfinished and now unfinish-able (well, not really, but I considered burning or at least throwing them away and I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do with them now, anyway). You can always count on a murderer for a fancy prose style, but who could expect such a lyrical and comical and heartbreaking prose style from a Russian writing in his second, maybe even third language.
Say what you will about Lolita, that it is mere pornography, that it is a twisted and disgusting story, that it isn't a love story, but a depraved man's depraved fantasy. Say what you will about Humbert Humbert. He was a pervert. A nasty, terrible man who loved little girls, nymphets, who would abuse himself (mentally and physically) as he saw them in parks and playing on their school playgrounds. Who would sit on benches ecstatic as the little girls climbed and crawled over and around him looking for marbles or their dolls or their balls. Humbert Humbert, murderer who fell madly, passionately, horribly in love with Dolores Haze, aka Dolly, aka Lo, aka Lolita. Who ruined her childhood, pulled her with him from state to state, motel to motel, leading each of them further into the depths of hell. The story is terrible, horrible, horrifying. And yet -- you forget all this. Reading page after page, chapter after chapter. You forget. You are lost. Lost in Nabokov's words. Lost in the love story, lost in the mystery, lost in the scenery, the commentary (because this is no porn novel, not to be found in the erotica section of the bookstore, but literature, story, commentary, humor and passion), the passion, so much passion, from beginning to end, Humbert Humbert is in love.
Not only do you forget that you are reading the love story of a man in love with a twelve year old girl (a consummated romance, to be sure), Nabokov knows you have forgotten, will forget again, knows this and so reminds you, every so often, with a phrase a word a description, brings back reality, futility, depravity. He will let you slip into comfort, into the soft, smooth rhythm of his words, the warmth of Humbert's love for Lolita. But just as Humbert cannot stay forever with his Lolita, we cannot stay long in that comfort.
Nabokov developed a mastery of the English language that many native speaking writers (even the good ones) will never know, never understand. I do not understand. He wrote with a fluid and natural and easy and free style that I cannot understand, cannot fathom, cannot find in some of America's better writers, much less my own. This, aside from the story (the plot), aside from the drepavity, the love, the horror, the murder, aside from everything else, Nabokov's mastery of the English language, of writing, of words (his way with words, much like, I imagine, the horse whisperer's way with horses -- though I've not read the book nor seen the film) -- and not that he was a Russian, who spoke French (and I think German) and then English, all these after his native Russian, who had been writing and speaking and thinking in Russian, then French, for 41 years before moving the United States, not even because of this -- but that Nabokov, compared to all writers in English, wrote with such flair, with such style, with such ease (ease on the paper, on his canvas, though I'm sure he labored over his words -- mentally and or physically) -- that is what makes the novel great. And it is great. Probably the greatest love story ever written.
Coffeehouse Art...Part 2? by Maria Rios
Last month I wrote what I thought was the warm-up piece to a series of reviews on "coffeehouse art." Now I'm straying away from the coffeehouse scene (for a while) to wallow in guilt and shame before a cup of the store-bought variety to be enjoyed at home, where the walls are tastefully blank, the color of an aesthetic begotten by poverty.
I made a few calls after visiting some venues, and I came to find that this time around, my critical eye didn't come away stabbed by most of the work. In fact, Star Seeds and Longhorn Po' Boys Downtown seem to have talent up at reasonable prices, even. I am somewhat disappointed by the responses I got from other quarters, most of them being either not interesting or non-existent -- especially after not having the courage to ask them "how the hell do you dare market this stuff?" I figure I know the answer to this, as does the rest of the world who pays utility bills.
It was during one conversation that some sparks flew. I'll admit that he provoked me. His images, he said, were "tailor-made to the viewer's perspective" and that he or she should see what he or she is inspired to see. This is the paraphrased version of "getting out of it what you want to." I promptly let him know of what his abstractions remind me. The words "smearing" and "waste" came up in my answer, along with the fact that I had forgotten which painter I thought had inspired his canvass layered thoughtfully with cheap acrylics.
He asked me to repeat what I had said. I simply told him that I didn't agree with most of his work. I then got attacked for being brainwashed by the establishment, one still more biased than most. Next came his declaration of his right of expression. Then, of course, came the accusation that I didn't understand his message of peace, love and harmony...it went on and on. And, yes, I'm coloring his words and editing the filler texts of pauses, "you-know-what-I-means," and a few expletives. So what have I learned with all of this?
For me to understand the painting of a bad artist, I apparently also need to hear his/her lecture on how my opinion is morally devoid of all social consciousness and how I should be more inclined to see the obviously great distance between the critic and artist. This I already know to be true about my opinions.
What I find in this kind of material art -- work which intends to make the populace aware of the importance of saving the environment, for example -- tends not only to be preachy, but contradictory to its mission. How many sketchpads went into the preparation for this work? Killing trees to scribble trees on canvas with toxic paints seems to miss the point, in my opinion. And besides, I don't want to be screamed at by anyone's mission, because then their art slides toward advertising and propaganda, and yet another cultural no-sale. So until the next coffeehouse artist offends me, and now I'm not so sure that that will ever be the case, I'll hope that maybe instead of choosing canvas, maybe they'll write a book.
Digging Up the Bones by Michael Glazner
Know your roots. Dig up your bones and discover where you came from. Don't steal another group's identity because you feel you don't have one -- and don't borrow it either. Find your own bones, your own roots, and cover them with your own skin.
Vince Bland delivered this message to me while we talked about the 7th Annual Austin Independent School District Powwow and American Indian Heritage Festival scheduled for November 7, 1998 at the Berger Center, 3200 Jones Road.
He and Barbara Woelk are founding members of the AISD Native American Parents' Committee. Bland has a Creek Indian and Scots-Irish background. Woelk is almost full Kiowa Indian. Both are people that know their bones, where they come from, where their people come from, and who they are.
They, like the other Indians they work with, love their heritage and culture and want to share it with people, to show them how the Indians lived and survived. But they don't want people becoming Indians, don't want them taking on the way of Indians for lack of any other connections. They walk a fine line between sharing their culture and preserving it.
"When people come along and want to be an 'Indian,' you have to ask, 'why?'" says Bland.
Once, Bland went to his elders and asked them what to make of non-Indians trying to adopt Indian cultures. His elders told him, "They don't have any bones to fall back on. When people in America start soul searching, they fall back on the Indians."
Bland is identifying a lack of connection that people in America feel towards their past. Because they don't know where they come from and who their people were, they want to take on the connection of the Indians. I think I began to understand this lack of connection, or a self-imposed lack of connection, two summers ago, when I was Mexico. My host family asked about my family, how many brothers and sisters I had, who my parents were. They wanted to know more, to know who my people were. When I couldn't tell them, couldn't articulate where the blood in my veins came from, they were almost aghast, saddened that I didn't know more about my people. Of course, I had told them I was "white" and that I was probably a mix of Western European blood. But I still couldn't tell them and still don't know who my people are.
Vince Bland reminded me of this. "Know your bones! I think that's going to be my message for the next fifty years," he said. Bland recently turned 50 and wants to urge people to learn where they came from and who their ancestors are.
His idea that everyone should know their bones, their roots, comes in part from two experiences he has had as an Indian. One is knowing his own heritage and where he came from. Although he is not full Indian but rather a mixture and Scots-Irish and Creek Indian, he celebrates and remembers his Indian heritage, because that is where he comes from. Sure, he also comes from a Scots-Irish people, but that world, that culture, is around him all the time, every day. The Indian in him has to come out.
The other force motivating him to urge people to know their bones are non-Indians that come to him and want to learn the ways of Indians and their "spirituality" -- people that are looking for answers to life, a better way to live, or some connections to the past.
Once a young woman called Bland and told him she wanted to learn about Indians, how they lived and what their beliefs, religion, and philosophies were like. Instead of taking her under his wing and teaching what it was to be Indian, Bland turned her wish around and asked her who her people were.
She thought they were Anglo and Saxon but she wasn't sure, so he told her to research her people, to find out where they came from, and what they were like. Six months later she called him, excited and thrilled with what she had learned.
She did come from Anglo and Saxon roots. It turns out the Anglos and Saxons are both descendents of different nomadic tribes that wandered the land and fought each other. "Sounds like Indians, doesn't it?" said Bland to the young lady. And she agreed, happy to know her bones and where she came from.
The point of all this is not to admonish those that wish to take on a new form of thought and life in lieu of their set culture. Madonna practices the Kabalah, although she came from Catholic roots. And Richard Gere is a personal friend of the Dalai Lama (or at least got to meet him in a rather spiffy ceremony), although he wasn't born in the East. Rather, the emphasis is on knowledge of one's self and where one's self came from. Before you begin taking on a new culture, a way of life that comes from a different ethnicity, take a look at your own cultural roots, or bones, as Bland says.
Seems a lot of people are confused about where they fit in the world because they cannot see their past, and they realize how heavy it weighs on the present and that it just might determine the future.
Woelk went on to stress the importance of connections and knowing your bones. When she meets another Kiowa Indian, immediately she starts asking who they are related to, and soon enough she knows how that person fits into her Kiowa world. Woelk grew up with a strong Kiowa identity. Her emphasis on connections and familial knowledge comes out when she talks about the Powwow.
"The Powwow means a lot of things to different people," says Woelk. "Intertribal powwows in urban areas give [Indians] a chance to join together and celebrate and fulfill a sense of community. The Powwow gives them a time for gathering, renewal of old friendships, time for healing, teaching, and spiritual refreshment."
Although the Powwow exists in part for the education of people, it also works as a means of keeping Indians together, of keeping the bones fresh, and bringing the past into the present.
The 7th Annual Austin Independent School District Powwow and American Indian Heritage Festival is the largest single-day Indian powwow in the Nation, and the last major powwow before winter sets in. Indians from all over the country will be attending and participating. Some will dance, drum, and sing. Others will vend arts and crafts outside. There will also be an Outdoor Contemporary Stage, a forum for artists who express themselves with a fusion between Indian and Modern American aesthetics. Last year's festival had one performer doing spoken word with tribal jazz-reggae. Another group, known as Indigenous, is a blues quartet from Marty, South Dakota.
Austin's Powwow is part of the AISD Native American Parents' Committee, which was founded in 1991. Bland's history of the AISD Native American Parents' Committee goes back to a decades-long schism between the reservation Indians and the urban Indians. The reservation Indians didn't recognize the urban Indians, and the urban Indians didn't want to associate with the reservation Indians.
"In 1991 President Bush held the first White House conference on Indian education," said Bland. "What came out of that conference was a new thinking. They realized the reservation Indian needed the skills, information, and what the urban Indian had gained. And the urban Indian learned maybe they needed to retrace, to rethink their heritage, their background they may have lost somewhere."
After that conference a university class at L.B.J. School of Public Affairs discovered that under the Title V Program of the U.S. Department of Education any school district with 10 or more American Indian students could form a parents' committee that could apply for federal money for the school district. Although the money would go directly to the school district, the parents' committee would appropriate the money, deciding how it would be used.
In Austin, a parents' committee formed but they opted to wait until 1992 to apply for recognition and money. Somehow, though, teachers found out and started calling Bland and others, asking them to send someone to their class to teach them about Indians and their lifestyles.
"About the first of October we started getting six to ten calls a day from teachers who had found us. And they said, not 'can you?' -- but -- 'when will you come dance for my second grade class?' There was just no way we could fill all the requests we got the first year. But Indian people, feeling very open and sharing and giving what we can, we thought we could put together an event in November," said Bland.
So the Parents' Committee decided to have a powwow in the MacCallen High School Gym. They invited all the teachers and librarians that had asked them to perform, put together 12 dancers, invited the Austin School Board of Trustees and expected 200-300 people. They figured everyone could come to them, they could do some dances, and then talk about Indian culture.
"By 2:00 o'clock that afternoon we had over 2,000 people and had to shut the doors. We raised over $1,200. All the press was there, TV, the Austin-American Statesman, we got media coverage and we made the Sunday morning front page," said Bland.
The school board loved the event so much they asked the Parents' Committee to do it again the following year, which they did. The second year they had 100 dancers with 6,000 people attending. The third year saw 200 dancers and 10,000 people in attendance. Last year, there were 400 dancers and arts and crafts vendors, and 25,000 - 27,000 spectators.
The Powwow and Heritage Festival is not the only event the Parents' Committee sponsors. Throughout the year they hold classes teaching people about Indian dancing or singing. They try to enrich people's lives and teach them about Indians, in a way that is often different from what we get in school.
By bringing the past into the present, the American Indian people of Texas and the nation continue to make the past fresh and remember their ties. For people like me, who aren't too sure where they came from before the New World was colonized, the Powwow can have a powerful effect. If anything, it can motivate me and others to find our blood.
Local Flavor Adds More Than Spice to Austin by Allyson Lipkin
Owners Sue and Mike Donahoe are neat people. They own and operate Local Flavor Tapes and CDs, located at 305-B East 5th. Their business, which they've operated for four and a half years, is unique to Austin -- friendly and exciting in that grass roots kind of way. They stock local CDs and tapes from all over Texas, but the majority of their collection comes from Austinites.
"When we moved here we knew music was what we wanted to do. So we just started calling up bands in the Austin Musician's Register and kept getting them to bring stuff in. We opened up five South by Southwests ago. That's our anniversary. We started with six titles and now we stock 600 or 700 titles. We're not sure how many."
Are you a musician looking for good resources? Step into Sue's storefront and she'll talk you "blue" about the deep blues scene that is still a thriving Texas tradition. She'll tell you how to get yourself a write-up in one of the many magazines abroad covering Texas music. She herself writes for a few publications.
"I write for Real Blues magazine in Canada. It is published in Canada but known worldwide. All our friends in Europe and in Australia know the magazine. They accept news from people all over the world. I write a little piece of that. The Texas Blues News Report, and also The Musicians Trade Journal, who gave us this delightful award a couple of years ago. For three years I have been writing a column for them called "Sixth Street Buzz." It's a chatty, energetic report on the news of the scene, the newest releases, the artists that are touring. This year I have been asked to write for two magazines in Belgium. Back to the Roots magazine; it's a neat publication. It's focused on the deep blues scene. But two magazines in one country is a little unrealistic for me to be doing. So now I only write for Roots Town Music. It's a very quarterly publication that gets us phone calls and email constantly. They cover the broad spectrum of music. Tejano and Cajun and the singer-songwriter scene which Austin just simply must own. And country and rock. I focus on Austin music. We get to be a big part of introducing a lot of Austin music to the world and it's very exciting to us. Who doesn't want to be the first guy to show something great?"
Local Flavor is a resource, and one which should be taken advantage of. The CDs, tapes, 7-inches and t-shirts you bring in might be bought on consignment, but rest assured you'll get noticed -- and paid. Fastball's signed 7-inch is displayed with pride.
"That was from when they were Magneto USA. They came in and signed it because they knew we had kept it ever since they got signed. We had paid for that one and said please someday sign it for us. So they came back and gave us big hugs and informed us that we were the first record store in the world that ever actually mailed them a check. We are so proud of them."
I think that if you are a local musician and you have something out, you should peddle your way over to Local Flavor and put it there, because they also have valuable information for you to finger through -- information on music journals and magazines from abroad that eat up all that is Austin.
"Customers in Europe know that bands like Slashbelly and the Voodoo Hounds own the regular Wednesday night at Joe's Generic. Graham Cheplo, whose radio show in New Zealand is famous for bringing Austin music down under. Raymond Peters, whose radio show in Belgium reaches 200,000 listeners in Belgium, Holland and Germany, plays lots of Austin music. Eddie Russell, a DJ from Texas, broadcasts over public radio in Spain, and broadcasts shortwave all over the world. He plays a lot of different kinds of music, from everywhere, but is dedicated to helping independent Texas artists get their names known. He wrote us a letter about how excited he was about this scene, right now at this moment while new-ness is exploding -- when artists have quite waiting for a label to discover them and have pushed themselves out there. At the same time the archivists are digging up great stuff from all these previous years from the Texas music history and some of those things are getting released.
"It's the love of the fans for the music, and people all over the world know that Austin is a source for original music, for brand-new songs. It's very exciting for us to be in a position to have at our hands and in our heads, since we study this music, about 6,000 new songs that most of the rest of the world doesn't know," Sue states.
"I didn't know the Headhunters was an Austin band," I explained, "I saw that they had a huge write-up in the LA Weekly."
"That doesn't surprise me," Sue says, "They are about to release an album that is going to kick some serious rear end. They make a blues harmonica a lethal weapon. A real energetic jump-up-in-the-air kind of Big Foot Chester style of blues punk. In fact they have cuts on a new punk compilation, South Austin Kicks Ass. Brand-new Squat Thrust and Voltage. It's a brand new label. The leader of Jesus Christ Superfly Rick owns the label."
I ponder in amazement. So much music here that even if you go out every night and scan the papers every day you will only begin to feel the scope of it.
Sue explains, "Of course there is a great blues scene and a diverse blues scene and also a wonderful experimental and now new age and techno music that's making significant breakthroughs. I think we can be optimistic these days about all of our artists having more people looking at their work. There is not a hard-core blues fan in the world that doesn't know Austin as being a center for new-ness, and people know what's out there. But what's famous now wasn't fifteen years ago. You could go see it with eight people. What's really happening is that the rest of the industry is just starting to scratch their heads and go, 'You mean there is punk in Austin, too?' But the Artists themselves are most responsible for making breakthroughs. Happy Valley in the new age/techno genre. They have just sort of expanded. Now their product will be out in October. They are considering it world fusion music. They have gotten great reviews and great press in significant magazines that break through new new age artists. So again, the success of the independent artists is because of the independent artists constantly working that to push their name out there. Since more are doing that now the rest of the world is open to the variety that we have in Austin."
During the interview, the postman drops by. He's got this amazing thick drawl that I hadn't heard in a while. He tells Sue about a couple of girls that play "amazing cajun music, real good and talented." "Bring 'em down," Sue exclaims! "Tell them to drop by some music. Sue yells excitedly, "Yes, even the postman on this block brings new artists to the shop and gets us focused on them!"
He also brought a package that the Donahoes were eagerly awaiting.
"This is a new release scheduled out in October, says Sue. "A German band called Borrowed Tunes which features Whitey Ray Hewitt, one of Austin's first coffeehouse poets from back in 1961 at Austin's first coffeehouse, The Id. He was a sit-down songwriter and beatnik poet from the era. Whitey Ray does acoustic blues and acoustic country. Over the years he shared a stage with Townes Van Zandt and with Willie Nelson. In the 70s he locked into the cowboy outlaw thing with a full band. He pretty much stopped playing music for a couple of decades. He raised a family, then his daughter's family. Two years ago he started picking again, and we were really happy to see him alive, healthy, well, and still performing. We encouraged him to participate in the Acoustic Music Festival. He met Clause from Borrowed Tunes in that festival, and they had both been Townes Van Zandt's friends. Townes used to stay at Clause's house when he went to Germany, and they wanted to work together. They are doing each others' songs. Whitey Ray flew over to Germany and played with Clause at the Rattlesnake Cafe in Munich and it was broadcasted live over the radio." The CD delivered in the mail was appropriately entitled Local Flavor.
"One of the real joys of our shop is when we get tourists to come in. The tourists come to this city to enjoy it. We ask our customers if they are from out of town, we find out what music they like and steer them to that shelf. We go through the Chronicle or XL to tell them who is playing. When they go out at night they don't end up in a place they don't want to be. No matter what their taste is, you can find something that is just right."
I ask, "What are people looking for when they come to see Austin?"
"Some don't know anything about it but expect country and blues because that's what Austin City Limits is and what is known here. They are overwhelmed, thrilled. They say, 'wow, this is all Austin?' and we say yea, it's about a third. Their trip is much more fun, more broad. They quit bothering with "Pinch Me, I'm from Texas" refrigerator magnets and focus on something that is real, alive. People come to Austin all the time for Austin City Limits. That brings them here. Bonnie Raitt's not playing at a club on Sixth Street. They capture what is graduated. It is a graduation mark. There needs to be more because it doesn't capture nearly enough of the categories. The Texas Music Cafe in Waco is not a cafe. It is a live music show of Texas music. It competes rather directly with Austin City Limits. It is paid for by local hotels and motels in the Waco area. It brings tourists to Waco to hear live music. It's working. They have made it available to anyone for free to any PBS station in the US. It's now on 60 markets. They are paying for it with sponsorship, so it's free. All that PBS has to know is that it is out there. Karen Tyler's been on it, Flametrick Subs, Danny Santos, The Sandblasters, a diverse mix. AMN could do the same thing. Make that available for a little bit of money. You don't have to give it away. Austin City Limits is $100,000 a year for a PBS station. There is a lot of difference between $100,000 and zero. So a bit of revenue could come to the city."
Something about this interview made me happy. Probably the energy, vibe and knowledge contained in the small shop. I looked around and saw many of my friends' bands and lots of bands that I didn't know yet. I filtered through the 7-inches on the floor and my eyes lit. Cool, here's a Big Horny Hustler single!
"Those are numbered," Sue says. Mine was number 14. "I bet I nabbed the last one left in the whole damn city!!!"
Last week I was riding back from Houston after a gig, talking with musicians whom I hadn't seen in some time, when one of them remarked wistfully that the blues scene in Austin has changed in recent years. It used to be that everyone knew each other. Now the scene has become fragmented and there is less of a sense of community. In particular, young players are coming up with little connection to the older players.
What my friend had noticed was a change in the way musical traditions are passed between generations. Perhaps it was never an ideal picture, but Austin of the last three or four decades had a closer-knit live music scene, where people shared musical ideas, and older players naturally passed their experience on down the line to the younger players coming up the ranks. It seemed like there were more musicians per square inch than anywhere else in the country, but at the same time there was that small town familiarity between us.
With the rise of the recording industry earlier in this century, musicians could learn a musical tradition without being physically part of it. This, along with formal music education, has meant that musicians can choose which tradition and which community they want to belong to. It has become a very fluid situation, not necessarily detrimental, but also not altogether conducive to maintaining a strong sense of community. A daily, face-to-face type of community gives way to what I call an "archival" community. The danger in this is that economic forces can redefine and water down a musical tradition in the interest of a profitable fad or marketing gimmick. On the positive side, musicians have always dealt with the economic realities of popular music and have maintained some integrity. In the short term it may look like Hollywood and Nashville leeches suck the life out of local music scenes, but in the long run, local communities continue to thrive.
Austin's music community is directly affected by the pattern of the city's growth. Probably the starkest change has been the influx of corporate white-collar workers from out of state, as well as from Dallas and Houston. These folks have settled largely in the outer circle of Austin, bounded by US Highway 183 to the north, 620 to the west and william Cannon to the south. The conventional wisdom is that they bring mainstream tastes to the city, and with their consumer dollars push the music scene further towards commercial music regardless of style. Thus, the jazz scene is inclined towards smooth jazz and swing, the country scene towards "progressive" country, traditional conjunto towards modern Tejano, and so forth.
The negative side of this shift is the loss of local traditions and musical identity in favor of trends determined by the music industry on a national level. This is a very real threat to the originality of local musicians. However, there are other mediating tendencies which benefit local artists. For one thing, the growth of Austin's population means a larger potential audience base and more music venues of a greater variety. Also, people do respond to good music, and a lot of people moving to Austin are aware of and support our local music traditions.
Clearly there is no going backwards. Austin is only going to get bigger, and there will be an increasing economic impetus for local musicians to be subsumed into nationally determined musical trends. But this is all the more reason for local artists to strengthen their ties to each other, support musical activities which foster the kind of face-to-face community that the corporate music industry can never replace. Events like jam sessions, benefit shows, live radio broadcasts, workshops and school lecture/demonstrations maintain the vitality of Austin's music community.
In the Austin of the 21st century there will be an interesting mix in our music community, a melange of old-school, self-taught players, road warriors who use the city as their home base, up and coming ingenues, university trained professionals, and so on. If we can preserve the old institutions -- the venerable dives, the honored oldtimers, the weekly open mikes and jams, while at the same time adapting to the economic and technological changes which affect our music community at various levels (commercial recording studios, corporate live venues, etcetera) -- we can make Austin's musical traditions more secure and vital, rather than letting them mutate into formulaic offspring of corporate America.
Sally Mann's "Still Time" by Grace McEvoy
As part of the Austin Museum of Art's "New Visions/New Audiences" initiative, a 25-year retrospective of the work of photographer Sally Mann will be on view at the Austin Museum of Art from September 6th through November 8th. Based on the 1994 book Still Time: Photographs by Sally Mann, the 60 photographs on view provide a chronicle of the wide range of styles and subjects this noted photographer has successfully covered as an artist.
Although Mann's work encompasses many styles including abstract, landscape and portraiture, it is interesting to note that most of this work was done in the same place: Mann's hometown of Lexington, Virginia.
On view are early photographs from "The Dream Sequence," a 1970s series on women. They are shadowy groups of figures that have an ambiguous relationship to one another and to the viewer and seem somewhat dated in terms of style. Yet Mann establishes her fascination with girls and women as photographic subjects and develops that theme most successfully in the series "At Twelve." There are several examples from this series and Mann has a gift for capturing girls at this often pivotal stage in life when childhood and adulthood blend in a wide variety of degrees.
Ironically, Mann was once told that she shouldn't be a photographer because a mother can't devote the necessary time, yet she is most well known for her photographs of her children. These beautifully crafted images from her series "Immediate Family" are exceptionally candid given the fact that Mann shoots with a heavy cumbersome view camera that makes 8 X 10 inch negatives. The immediacy of the photographs belies the demands of the equipment. Because many of the photos in the "Immediate Family" series feature her three children as nude models, much attention and controversy followed the publication of the book Immediate Family in 1992. However, this exhibition is an opportunity to put that work in context with Mann's oeuvre and get a more complete understanding of the artist's work.
Beautiful platinum prints give viewers a chance to discover Mann's command of the craft of photography and her interest in still life. It is surprising and pleasing to see her examples of color photography. Of note are large color abstracts of organic objects immersed in and projecting from liquid. The liquid has the visual effect of layers and suggests a dual affinity with nature; of that which is known and unknown. One could spend a long time trying to identify the objects, such as a tongue in one photograph, and still come back to notice something new. Many of Mann's photographs of people have that same quality. Her straightforward portraits often contain elements and relationships that have more implications than what initially meets the eye.
On view in conjunction with the exhibit is the 1993 Oscar-winning documentary by Steven Cantor, Blood Ties: The Art and Life of Sally Mann. Interviews with Mann, her husband and their children reveal the collaborative attitude the family has toward the work in Mann's "Immediate Family" series. It is especially interesting to see Mann at work directing and photographing her children in the ideal setting of the Shenandoah Valley.
This artist's work is surely deserving of a retrospective and it enables viewers to see the threads of themes carried throughout such as nature, family and womanhood as well as elemental forms and abstractions. It is a treat to see the work of a mature yet growing artist.
Still up all night...
Four years ago when I conjured the idea for this publication, I thought it would be cool to have a monthly column where I could, basically, rant about whatever I wanted, whatever was on my mind at the time. Considering the state of DiverseArts, my life and lifestyle at the time, calling the column "Up all Night" seemed clever and accurate. Truth of the matter is, at that time, each issue always included a few nights without sleep for me, a couple of nights without sleep for Cari or Susanne or whoever was helping with/doing layout. Thank God, new technology, new staff and practice, we don't do that anymore -- well, at least not for production. When Marlo Bennett came on board all of that silliness stopped.
You will notice, however, the name of the column remains the same. Much has changed within DiverseArts, and with my life and lifestyle since those first few issues. Funny thing is, even with the changes, I seem to have come full circle on the up-all-night front. I went and got married, had a beautiful baby boy (not necessarily in that order), and have since learned the true meaning of being "up all night."
My son, Hayes Michael McMillan, is now close to six months old, so sleep has returned to my life. But given all of the excitement -- joy, love, worry, work, care, coo-cooing -- he manages to inject into my other waking hours, I'm back here once again staying up all night, while he sleeps, in order to fill this space and get the mag to the printer on time.
For the many of you who have sent us prayers and well-wishes, and inquired about our new son, I just want you to know that he is fit as a fiddle and growing like a weed. The family life, believe it or not, fits me quite nicely. Grace and I are into the marital bliss thing and are having a great time learning to be parents.
I've had to make myself not write about Hayes in every column since his birth (by the way, he was born on April 19, the same day we produced the Nicholas Payton concert). Up until now I've managed to keep Hayes out of my column, so I hope this little bit is not going too far into "new daddy brags about beautiful baby boy" territory.
I can't help it. Please don't hate him because he's just great, and beautiful, and full of joy, and is the love of my (and Grace's) life. Please.
Touring jazz concerts, local jazz in the clubs, smooth jazz radio, and the Barton Springs salamander...
Let us thank our various personal deities for KUT, KVRX, KOOP, KAZI radio and the Elephant Club. Around these parts these days, they seem to be about the only places left to consistently (at least part of the time) hear real straight-ahead jazz.
What's the deal? Is Austin's jazz scene about to go the way of the Barton Springs salamander?
No. Unlike the jazz scene, the salamander at least has a bunch of folks out there working to protect it, keep it alive, make sure there is a place for it in Austin's future. It's beginning to look as if the jazz scene might not be so lucky.
I hope I'm over-dramatizing this. But have you looked around lately? Have you checked the listings in the Chronicle or Statesman? Have you looked at the ads for the live music venues that still advertise themselves as "jazz clubs"? For the diehard jazz purists, the real bopheads, the Austin jazz scene has been pretty thin for a long time. But I tell you, even the moderate Austin jazz fan has a hard time being optimistic about what's happening in the scene here lately.
Those of us who have been here a few years (and longer than a few) have witnessed all kinds of fluctuations in the quality and quantity of Austin jazz and jazz clubs. We oldtimers can, at the drop of a hat, name a whole handful of "jazz clubs" that were here in the last few years that simply don't exist anymore. Most had lives that only spanned a few months rather than years. The market for jazz in Austin clubs has traditionally been propelled by short-lived concept marketing schemes. That's the thing that somehow pushes the jazz scene along, gives us hope that things are getting better, pisses us off when they pull the plug a few months later. New clubs enter the market with a new gimmick for selling their concept, ambience, food or whisky. The jazz is there as a marketing tool for the product.
The word "jazz" does have a nice ring to it. But when the consumer climate changes and the trendiness wears off, it's the jazz that gets thrown out the door first. After all, it's the marketing scheme that is really the core of the business, not any dedication to jazz. And, as I am sure you have noticed, sometimes the whole "jazz marketing motif" sounds and feels so good that the business keeps the marketing scheme, but then gets rid of the jazz music. There are those businesses -- insert Dan McKlusky's here -- out there that continue to use the jazz label, while discontinuing jazz programming content. And their business booms. Their clientele doesn't even seem to notice that they stopped booking jazz a long time ago. The ads still read something like "hot jazz, cigars and cool martini's, blah, blah, blah." Therein lies the problem. Some of the marketing people, and their target audiences, don't know or care about the actual difference in the music; as long as the slogan sounds good, everything is cool.
The Elephant Club hangs in there, though. Sometimes their booking gets stale. Sometimes they too have to give in to market forces and book more commercial acts. And sometimes you know there are some other folks out there who really rate some stage time at the Elephant and you never see them get booked there. But in spite of all of the negatives (real or perceived), The Elephant is Austin's closest thing to a legitimate jazz club.
The irony is that there is at least an impression that there is this little downtown jazz district happening. Within a couple of blocks of the Elephant, there is Ringside at Sullivan's and Cedar Street Courtyard. They too claim to be jazz rooms. Both broke into the scene with excitement. But both of them, for whatever reasons, sacrifice programming content and "jazz friendly ambience" in order to serve some god of high concept. By and large, the clientele of both don't give a rat's ass about listening to jazz. Not that they have to or should. I express this judgment more to point out the potential for this area. And, if jazz really had the market share in Austin, the warehouse district would be an ideal locale in which to jazz bar-hop. The reality of the situation, however, is that the Elephant Club is the only one that serves as Austin's 24-7 jazz club; not to be confused with an upscale waiting room for a high dollar steak house or a cool gin-joint that has backed away from its commitment to straight ahead jazz. It's unfortunate that these clubs really don't do more to actually promote the range and variety of jazz styles and players in Austin.
Regardless of the Elephant's " reputation for jazz scene politics," they have managed to do something that no other jazz club has been able to do in Austin in years -- they are still in business AND they have not lost their mission of consistently, without apology, booking jazz.
With all of that said, I do need to make clear that I understand that most folks go into the club business to make money on whatever sells. I'd bet that Mr. Ringside Sullivan's goal is to sell a lot of $25 steaks. He's probably not particularly concerned with making sure that the Austin jazz scene benefits from him being in business here. The Cedar Street folks (the new ones) are in the bar business. It would even be fair to say that they are in the music-bar business. But to say that they are on a mission to champion the Austin jazz scene would not be accurate. The bottom line is the bottom line. Commerce works, by definition, when products and services are commercially viable: consumers want to and do buy them in the marketplace.
Austin just lost its only commercial smooth jazz radio station. Although many of us think Central Texas has enough country music stations, LBJ-S Broadcasting ditched their K-JAZZ smooth jazz format and reverted back to big-time country without warning or apology. Why? Because it's just business to them. Market forces. Why do you think they call it commercial radio?
Just like we can't make the LBJ-S folks support jazz, we can't push Mr. Sullivan or Mr. Cedar to book straight-ahead jazz. And, although we know that the Elephant will continue to support Austin jazz, we can't dictate what locals play there, nor can we force them to bring New York jazz stars to Austin for cheap concerts. They gotta sell some whisky. These are businesses that are ultimately not governed by the cultural needs of the city. In short, we can't and should not depend on profit-driven commercial enterprises to address our cultural needs -- unless these needs also can make them lots of money.
Support for growth and preservation of our local jazz music community, enhancement of the local scene with residencies and performances by touring artists, are cultural needs of the City of Austin. When will we learn that we, Austin's jazz heads, are the ones who are really responsible for making sure that those needs get met? We can't depend on commercial enterprises to address our decidedly non-commercial cultural needs.
We will continue to be able to find a limited amount of adventurous bookings for those less-than-commercial jazz acts at various times and places around town (Victory Grill, the Mercury, Apostrophe Arts, CO2, DiverseArts, the UT-PAC, 33 Degrees, Women in Jazz, etcetera). And, thank Legba, we will continue to be able to listen to jazz on non-commercial radio. After all, there is actually something that is marginally commercial about doing programming that is hip enough to not be commercial. To a certain extent but not enough, hipness factor in cultural programming is actually bankable.
What needs to happen in Austin is up to that elusive critical mass of folks who will consistently show up for, communicate about, and support the work of those folks who literally do risk their limited dollars in order to produce the kind of jazz programs that push the envelope and expose us to the range of what's happening in the World of Jazz.
How do we do that?
Well, those of us who are producers of the stuff need to find and communicate with our potential audiences. Those of you who are part of that audience really need to let us know who you are. Stand up and be counted. Come to our shows. Spread the word. And write some checks to the non-commercial, non-profit folks who are working so hard to keep this stuff alive in Austin.
Just search your memories. The best jazz stuff to come through Austin in the last few years has been brought to you mostly by small and/or non-profit cultural organizations. Just like KUT needs your dollars to keep Paul Ray and Jay Trachtenburg spinning records on the air, DiverseArts needs your bucks to keep bringing folks like Nicholas Payton, Kenny Garrett, and McCoy Tyner to Austin. Without your help, it can't happen.
There are good models out there for Austin's jazz community to emulate and learn from. Right now, as I write this, the "major arts organizations" and the non-profit radio stations are doing their fall capital campaigns. There are a lot of you who will read this who have already written checks to KUT (and that's a good thing) pledging to keep jazz on the radio. Others of you have written checks to the Museum of Art, the Opera, the Symphony, Links, United Way and other worthy organizations. I don't want to discourage you from doing that.
What I want to encourage you to do is make the effort to take cultural programming that supports genres like JAZZ out of the charitable-giving ghetto. I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with folks who feel really good about giving money to support European art music, but somehow feel that jazz, America's native art music, is somehow less worthy of support. We gotta do something about that cultural ghetto thing.
In terms of the cultural health of Austin, the work of Tina Marsh and CO2, for instance, is just as deserving of your support (or more so) as the Opera or the Symphony. If you've got the money to give to such organizations, and you are also a fan of jazz programming, shouldn't you make a point to help bring live jazz out of that ghetto. Shouldn't you write a check each year to support folks like Harold McMillan and DiverseArts (that's us) who have established an 11-year tradition of Austin Jazz and Arts Festivals? Shouldn't you reward new producers like Epistrophy Arts for taking the risk and bringing folks like William Parker to Austin? Can't you see the value of Cosmic Intuition's work to consistently bring multicultural music programming to Austin venues? If you do get what I'm saying, there is no better time than now to come out of the woodwork and help define this community of support.
I'm sure you're out there... We just need to know who you are, how to find you, and receive some hint of your support. We are eager to continue our work, but we gotta have some evidence that you will support our efforts. And, if you need to know how to get in touch with the folks I've mentioned here, just give me a call. I'll hook you up. Just remember, if you don't help us, we'll have to stop doing what we do. And, really, we all lose if that happens.
Greetings my worldly, urban friends. I've spent the better part of my early years trying to assimilate myself into your culture. You see, I'm from Nocona, Texas -- population 2,995. There, rusty old pumping units (for oil), pastures fenced with barbed wire, cows, boots, and a Dairy Queen prevail. I swore that I would not become one of the people stuck in the "Hell-Hole" I lovingly referred to as Nocona.
Three days after high school graduation, I left town for the University of Virginia bright and early in the morning. There, I found myself surrounded by aspiring goal-seekers from all over the world. I met lots of soon-to-be-engineers who smoked endless cigarettes, drank bottomless cups of coffee, and looked like book-laden zombies; some fresh faces just waiting for acceptance into the most prestigious law schools; and athletes biding their time until NFL draft day.
Then, there was me. I had already achieved my goal -- I was not in Nocona. Furthermore, I did not do nails, work in The Boot Factory, or wear one of those damn "London, Paris, Rome, Nocona" tee-shirts! I gave myself a big fat pat on the back. What next?
I hung out for a while with a group of people -- mostly New Yorkers I met in drama class. We would sit around, smoke weed, drink various types of alcohol swiftly, and listen to music. These East Coast folks would carry on, cutting each other off and laughing at well-timed and sharper-tongued jokes. Sometimes it seemed I was the only one listening. Besides, it seemed my urban friends had so much to say -- they had already done so much, and nobody wanted to hear about Billy Bob tipping cows at three in the morning, did they?
You see, in Nocona we had no museums, and no bands ever happened through town for shows. These people had seen A Tribe Called Quest when they were 14 and knew all about Miles and Joni Mitchell, people I had never heard of. Music was not the only thing that made me feel like an infant in a room full of wizards, but it is probably the most accessible description. There was so much I had never happened upon -- hadn't read, hadn't heard, hadn't thought. What did I have to contribute to the conversations of people who had done so much?
So I tried to lose the Nocona I grew up in to become a hip urban kid. But recently I remembered something I forgot years ago. The (sometimes) fresh Austin air and the green on the horizon has brought back a feeling I grew up with. In the summertime, I would wake up before my Mom and Stepdad and make two sandwiches (one for breakfast and one for lunch) and put them in my backpack with my tacklebox. Then, I would grab a five-gallon bucket from the barn and put water and minnows in it, get two fishin' poles (one for minnows and one for my collection of top-notch lures) and my good friend Snowball (a dog complete with a fresh haircut for the summer compliments of yours truly). We would walk all alone to a creek about a mile and a half away that ran into the Red River. Then it was fishin', eatin', barefeet and swimmin' all day long. If the fishin' was good, the walk home was rough with a stringer full of bass weighing me down, but I happily managed.
The trees, the blue skies that don't end on the Texas backdrop, the sun you couldn't stop with a nuclear bomb, the mud in the toes, Snowball...these things you can't experience at a museum. Someone may paint a picture or write a song, but you're feeling them second hand if that is all you have.
A few years ago, you worldly, urban folks scared the crap out of me. I wanted to be you, but I wasn't and will never be. You haven't done more than me -- just other things. I know now that the city and the country each have their own things to teach children and adults alike. And, as for listening there is still a lot to be said for listening -- but the next time I run into you at a show, I just may tell you the story about Billy Bob and that cow.