Posts Tagged With: University of Texas

Austin’s Broken Spoke rolls on

AATWSpokeFor better or worse, Asleep at the Wheel’s longtime hometown of Austin, Texas, has changed an awful lot over the last 40 years. It’s depressing to tally up all the funky enclaves that have been paved over in the name of runaway growth, and it sure isn’t the same town it was during the Armadillo era I wrote about in my University of Texas Master’s Thesis. But Austin still has plenty to recommend it. I’m sure my “Comin’ Right at Ya” co-writer/subject/star Ray Benson will never leave, and I always love going back to visit. I’m already counting the days until next month’s South By Southwest.

The Broken SpokeOne lingering repository of how The Old Austin ™ used to be is The Broken Spoke, an old-style honky tonk that used to be surrounded by empty fields south of downtown. Urban sprawl swallowed up that stretch of South Lamar long ago, but The Spoke is still standing. Going there feels not unlike visiting a game preserve, surrounded as it is by high-rise condos and such.

Inside, however, the place feels pretty much the same as it did when I started going to shows there during my circa-1980s college days, with ceilings low enough to make me glad I’m nowhere near as tall as Ray. And above right is a picture from a show I really wish I’d been able to make it to, Willie Nelson sitting in with the Wheel Thursday night to benefit Turk Pipkin’s Nobelity Project.

Great cause, and I can’t imagine the show was anything but great, too — and man, I can practically taste the Lone Star beer and chicken-fried steak. As long as The Spoke survives, a piece of Old Austin will live on. I find that comforting, y’all.

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Cracking Texas Monthly, sort of…

TxMonthlyI grew up reading Texas Monthly, which in my book is still the gold standard for state magazines in America. It’s billed as “The National Magazine of Texas,” and I’ve dreamed about writing for it ever since I was a wee lad studying journalism at the University of Texas about a million years ago. Though hope springs eternal, I have yet to land a byline there (someday!). But in the meantime, at least I can now say that my name has appeared in Texas Monthly’s pages.

Just in time for next month’s Texas Book Festival comes an item in “The Checklist: A Look at What to Read, Watch and Listen to This (Wonderfully Jam-Packed) Month in Order to Achieve Maximum Texas Cultural Literacy.” The October issue’s column includes brief bits on albums from the likes of Patty Griffin, Don Henley and Kinky Friedman — and, as one of next month’s books to watch, “Comin’ Right at Ya,” which is described as a “let-it-all-hangout memoir.”

For sure, it is that.

TMCRAY

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Columbia Daily Tribune interview

MoCDTA middle-age rite of passage is to ponder your life’s Roads Not Taken. One of mine involves the University of Missouri. Thirty years ago, I was bumbling my way through college and pondering what to do, because pretty much everything about my life was a hopeless mess at that point. Two wretched years of trying to hack it as a pre-med major had left my grades in smoking ruins; but after I finally figured out I should be an English major, I pulled up my grade-point average just enough to make graduate school a possibility. Having no clear idea what to do next, I opted for the “gradual school” route and set my sights on the journalism schools at Texas and Missouri — at that time, both well-regarded top-10 programs.

Texas won out, mostly because I just felt more comfortable in Austin. I got a Masters in journalism, which has not been the most useful degree. Still, those grad-school years in mid-’80s Austin were when I finally figured out the career path I’m still on to this day. And while I’ve never regretted going to UT, over the years I’ve wondered where I’d be now if I’d gone to the University of Missouri instead.

One thing I can tell you is I probably would not be in the Daily Tribune today, ironically enough. It’s the daily paper in the University of Missouri’s hometown of Columbia, and staffer Aarik Danielsen was kind enough to interview me (and ask really good, thoughtful questions) about “Losering” and Ryan Adams as well as music, writing and criticism. Check that out here.

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Something I have in common with a billionaire

My alma mater Southwestern University, where I received an undergraduate English degree before going on to the University of Texas for graduate school, has an online listing of books “Authored by Alumni.” And since the list goes alpha by author, that puts my books “Losering” and “Off The Record” in the alphabetical vicinity of two tomes by my fellow Southwestern alumnus Billy Joe “Red” McCombs, a gentleman who definitely went on to make something of himself after dropping out of college in the 1940s.

SUAuthorListing

McCombs was a fairly legendary figure during my wonder years growing up in San Antonio, Texas. Anyone of a certain age there probably remembers the television and radio spots for Hemphill-McCombs Ford, his first car dealership, which was one of the early building blocks of McCombs’ far-flung empire. He went on to own a series of professional sports teams, including the San Antonio Spurs of the old ABA — back when I went to the Spurs summer basketball camp as a teenager, under the delusion that I might actually be able to play the game despite being slow and not particularly tall or fleet of foot.

RedMcCombsAlong with amassing huge real-estate holdings, McCombs also co-founded the radio giant Clear Channel Communications in 1972. That and other interests add up to a personal fortune of $1.3 billion, which makes McCombs the 1,107th richest person on earth, according to Forbes magazine. Even though that ranking is down a bit from last year (when Forbes had him ranked at No. 913 worldwide), it’s still a figure that dwarfs even Ryan Adams’ net worth.

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Name games, then and now

KimmelSomehow, Ryan Adams has never played Coachella, the big annual springtime music festival in California. Neither have Regis and the Philbins, Obesity Epidemic or Get the F*ck Out of My Pool; but the difference is that Ryan actually exists, while those bands don’t. Jimmy Kimmel has been getting lots of online mileage this week out of an inspired little bit that his Lie Witness News crew pulled off at Coachella, in which they asked hipsters about these and other non-existent bands. Not wanting to appear out of it, said hipsters replied that of course they knew about the Chelsea Clintons, Dr. Schlo Mo and the GI Clinic and all the rest; even played ’em on community radio back home in Canada.

Very amusing, and it reminded me of a little personal history from a long time ago. Way back in the summer of 1984, I was going to graduate school at the University of Texas while working for the student paper, the Daily Texan — in which capacity I had a fondness for the sort of mishievous, ill-advised dumbassery that college kids often indulge in. One week, we were compiling club listings and idly wondering if anybody actually read them. So we concocted a fake band and club name to slip in, just to see if anybody would notice:

Flamin’ Globs of Vomit Death

appearing at the

Rock Daze Inn Cocktail Lounge

Near as we could tell, no one noticed because we didn’t hear a word. Over time, we grew bolder and started putting FGoVD into listings for actual clubs. We even listed them as one of the opening acts when the Dream Syndicate came to town, went to the show and asked our fellow attendees if they’d gotten there in time to see the Globs’ set. A few actually said yes. When we asked how they were, answers ranged from shrugs to “I dunno, pretty decent.”

That inspired my friend Ron, who was one of the Texan’s other music columnists, to take it to the next level. Ron wrote a several-paragraph item that I wish I still had (this was long before the days of electronic archiving). But I do remember the beginning — Accounting majors by day, neo-fascist skinheads by night — and that he claimed their instrumentation consisted of drums, multiple basses and no guitars. That should have made them highly rhythmic, but the Globs were just a mess due to basic lack of competence.

GlobsWe had a pretty good laugh over that, and it seemed like no harm no foul. Until a month or so later when the phone rang in the office one day and it was someone from Newsweek, wanting to get in touch with this band of UT skinhead business-school types for an item in the magazine’s fall “On Campus” supplement. That induced a bit of panic, as we pondered options. For a brief moment, we even considered actually forming a band to see just how far we could take the ruse.

But while we figured we could pull off the rank incompetence that the FGoVD experience called for, none of us really wanted to shave our heads. That being the case, it seemed best for us to put the Newsweek guy off and shut down the Globs. We retired the name, for good, and it never saw the light of print in the Texan again.

In retrospect, however, we might have quit too soon. Maybe we could have been one of the non-bands playing Coachella this year, in the ’80s reunion division.

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The Texas Book Festival: Rockin’, rollin’ and what-not

I must confess that I had some misgivings about how things would go for me at the Texas Book Festival. First, my presentation was at a bar — and based on past experience, book-type events in bars just don’t seem to go too well. Second, it was outdoors on the bar’s back patio on a chilly night when temperatures would dip into the 40s. And third, it wasn’t clear we’d actually be able to sell any books because there was no cash register set up at the start of the event. A TBF volunteer announced that someone had been sent to fetch one, but they were running late because…their car had struck a deer. Only in Texas.

Despite all that, it went great. I’m terrible at guessing crowd numbers, but there appeared to be about 75 people gathered at Shangri-La to hear Sylvie Simmons, Ken Caillat and me talk about our respective tomes. There was only 45 minutes for the three of us, so Sylvie had to leave her ukulele at home. But she promises to have it with her Tuesday when she’ll do a reading at Waterloo Records in Austin; and with Leonard Cohen himself scheduled to play in Austin on Wednesday, there might even be a celebrity appearance.

But back to Saturday, which was great fun. Book festivals are a very cool part of the book-publishing rodeo. You get to strut around wearing a badge, feeling as if you deserve to be there, which is an ego boost I’d recommend. Most of the TBF happens in and around the state capitol building, so I went to some other presentations during the afternoon — including a very moving one by my fellow University of Texas alumnus John Schwartz, about his family memoir “Oddly Normal.”

I also got a peek at the “Speaker’s Apartment” inside the capitol building, where the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives used to live. It’s a fairly palatial flat, and TBF had it set up as author check-in spot and hangout salon. Several of us were cooling our heels in the parlor Saturday afternoon when an older gentleman wearing a suit and Texas flag tie waltzed in and announced he’d lived there 40-some years before when he was speaker. He even had brochures about himself to pass out, and he asked if anyone wanted their pictures taken with him. It was sweet, but also a touch sad.

Out on the capitol grounds, I did some wandering about, taking the festival in and having the same experience I always do when I’m in Austin, which is kind of the world’s largest small town. And while it wasn’t surprising to bump into fellow festival author Joe Nick Patoski (there to plug his fine new book about the Dallas Cowboys), it was surprising to bump into Rush, who I’d not laid eyes on since we were in the same summer Spanish class at Austin Community College in 1983; and Laura, a pal who ran with the same show-going crowd I did back in mid-’80s Austin, and who I don’t think I’d seen in a decade. I did some networking around the festival, too, and I might have some news soon about future projects.

After a brief drop-in at the TBF cocktail party at the plush offices of Texas Monthly, it was on to dinner at El Azteca, one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in Austin. Had a nice crowd there, too, including Dean Dauphinais — a friend down visiting from Detroit, whose name you’ll find in the “acknowledgements” of “Losering.”

As for the book event, it wasn’t the usual reading. The three of us sat with moderator Raoul Hernandez and took his questions, plus a few from the audience. As usual, Sylvie was the big draw (she does have a New York Times best-seller, after all), but there was plenty of interest and attention for all three of us. And by the time we were done, the cash register was in the house and hooked up.

It’s all good.

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Austin calling: The Chronicle weighs in

Another “Losering” review is out today and it’s from a publication I’m very happy to turn up in, the Austin Chronicle weekly. I used to write for the Chronicle a bit in the mid-1980s, while I was a graduate student at the University of Texas, although I did a lot more writing back then for the Daily Texan. But the Chronicle is the one I still keep up with afar (although mostly in the spring, around South By Southwest).

Anyway, have a look. The review is part of the Chronicle’s advance coverage of this weekend’s Texas Book Festival shindig, which I’m tickled pink to be in. So if you’re going to be in the Central Texas vicinity, come on out to Shangri-La in Austin at 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27.

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Alejandro Escovedo: A fan’s notes

His name only comes up once in “Losering,” regarding the Strangers Almanac song “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight,” but Alejandro Escovedo is a key figure in my musical cosmos. I’m not alone in holding him in such high regard, either. In 1997, when he did that “Excuse Me” cameo, Alejandro already had a reputation as an inspiration to younger generations.

“I’ve been told that some people consider me to be this ‘rock sage,'” he told me in an interview that year. “Somebody all these young musicians in bands now cite as influential. For a long time, I didn’t think much about the historical perspective because I’ve always been more interested in where I’m going next than what I’ve already done or where I’ve already gone. But I’m enjoying it now, y’know?”

Escovedo has always been near and dear to my heart, and it’s been a pleasure to watch him finally make some commercial-career progress in recent years. I wouldn’t say I grew up with his music, because I didn’t hear him until I was well into my 20s. But it’s no exaggeration to say I grew up as a music writer with him, going back to a highly amateurish interview I did with him, Jon Dee Graham and the rest of the True Believers in the summer of 1985 for the University of Texas student paper, the Daily Texan. In the quarter-century-plus since, I’ve written about the man…well, an embarrassing number of times.

My online blather about Alejandro goes back to the True Believers’ 1994 reunion and includes a few things from No Depression magazine — a 1997 piece about his contribution to “Excuse Me” as well as a 2001 Q&A. There’s plenty of stuff from more recent years here.

His performances are something like compass resets for me — regenerative rituals in which I am reminded anew why I write about music — and it’s difficult for me not to get carried away when I get to rhapsodizing about him. So I’ll just say that he’ll be in the Raleigh vicinity Sunday night to open for Heart at Cary’s Booth Amphitheatre; which might not be the most optimal situation for maximum appreciation, but if you’ve never seen him…well, the man is worth your time.

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