By William Michael Smith
By Jef With One F
By Craig Hlavaty
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Sonya Harvey
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Nathan Smith
By Craig Hlavaty
Though it may be true that all the world is a stage, Dale Barton doesn't particularly come across as someone whose universe revolves around performing on it. Or at least that appears to be the case on this muggy late-October morning, as the T-shirt- and sweats-clad Barton lowers himself gingerly into a worn easy chair in the living room of his Heights home.
"It's dad's day off," Barton says with a wide, devilish grin, mentioning that his two young daughters, aged two and eight, have been safely shuffled off to another's care.
Soft-spoken and seemingly a bit unnerved, the 49-year-old musician/artist tries to lean back and get comfortable. Soon enough, though, he's hunched forward, elbows resting on his knees, fingers running through his thinning, dark brown hair, as if anticipating a ringing phone or, perhaps, a child's cry. Obviously, Barton is accustomed to being on call, and he's having problems sitting still.
"We had the babies at home," he says, struggling to make small talk. "That was quite a thing there. Man, they just come right out."
By day, Barton wears the apron in the family, tending to housekeeping and parental duties while his wife, Paula DeMasi, works as a neurosurgical nurse at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. At night, when the kids are in bed, Barton retires to a home studio, where he hunkers down in front of an easel, paintbrush in hand, sometimes for hours on end. A few examples of his paintings hang on the walls of his living room; they're colorful, precise, thick-lined caricatures of creatures both real and imagined, in settings that could never be mistaken for any place on earth.
At least one evening a week, Mr. Mom breaks out of his homebody rut, crawling into the exoskeleton of bandleader Beans Barton -- he of the tuneless, late-period Jim Morrison croak, sundry crazed alter-egos and layer upon layer of freakish, ill-fitting costumes. Halloween weekend at Dan Electro's Guitar Bar was one such night. Shortly after 11 p.m., Barton appeared before a Saturday crowd, his backup quartet, the Bi-Peds, having quietly slipped on stage just before him. He looked like some mutant hybrid of a lizard, Barney the Dinosaur and Puff the Magic Dragon; thin, wraparound shades accentuated his bizarre aura. Velasco Viles was the name that this aspect of Barton was going by, and he stood at the foot of a makeshift throne like some cartoonish apparition sprung to life out of the Beatles' film Yellow Submarine. The throne was a bulky, boxy monstrosity haloed by an illuminated half-dome that resembled the cranial unit of an old beauty-shop hair dryer -- or, more disturbingly, the death helmet of some futuristic electric chair.
Quickly, Viles's ranting commenced. Most of it was meaningless, phonetically silly gibberish. Audience members in the first row studied the living, breathing, seething acid trip closely. Some applauded; others were bug-eyed and silent. But all of them were mesmerized. No one, it seemed, knew whether to laugh or to boo.
"Oh, my daughters don't see my shows," says Barton from his living-room easy chair, addressing the issue of what it must be like to have a father who spends weekend nights dressing up like some Sesame Street character gone horribly awry.
It's probably best that they're shielded from a lovable creep such as Viles -- that is, until they're old enough to tell the difference between cheap laughs and high art, and to realize that their daddy deftly walks the line between them both.
Beans Barton is Houston's rather precarious link in a fractured chain of gonzo-pop performance artists that, over the years, has included Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart and Pere Ubu. Like the first two, Barton was, for the most part, a product of the freewheeling 1960s, blessed with an irrepressible imagination and an irreverent sense of humor to match. As such, the bloated rock experience of that era is his medium. Although his Bi-Peds may never take their music to the experimental extremes of Zappa's Mothers of Invention or Beefheart's Magic Band (indeed, they fall back all too frequently on standard bar-band cliches), they provide an adept conduit for the channeling of Barton's many and varied artistic ideas.
A good band, after all, isn't easy to find, and no one knows that more than Barton, who spent the better part of 15 years searching for his. Then again, he didn't waste all of that time looking. Sometimes -- as with his infamous early-'70s stint fronting Bruiser Barton and the Dry Heaves, a group Rolling Stone dubbed the worst band in Texas -- he simply settled for what he could get, bonding with anyone sympathetic to his cause.
"It's not like I could play any instruments," he says. "I can't sing. Back in elementary school, I'm trying out for the sixth-grade choir; we're singing 'America the Beautiful' and I'm really selling it, and the teacher comes around and says, 'No, I don't think so.' Then I got the part as the court jester in the sixth-grade operetta, and they told me, 'Dale, just talk your song.' So I did this Lee Marvin kind of thing."
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