Street Scene

Sex, drugs, rock & roll, and the ballad of 2100 Lexington

Cooper ran his Rastaman Work Ethic label out of his house. He released two Sprawl CDs, a compilation called Texas Funk and a collection called Axiom Live. Sweeney maintained Disclexington Records for De Schmog releases. De Schmog once recorded an album on Lexington, playing in Sweeney's house and recording to Cooper's bedroom studio on the other side of the street. They strung cables through the trees across the street and hoped for no tall trucks.

Nearby were the Neighbor Dave House, the friendly occupation of the brick downstairs duplex where Skotak now offices, and the corner apartments wrapping around the Greenbriar side. All were filled with people who knew each other and left their doors unlocked and dropped in at 2 a.m. if their own house was empty. Most adhered to local custom holding that any beer in any refrigerator was fair game, but a can stashed in the crisper was important to the person who placed it there and was not to be touched. Jim Rizkalla, a then-drunk artist who lived in the Flower House until '96, was shunned for days after breaking the unspoken rule. But even so, every transgression seemed to come with its forgiveness. Mr. and Mrs. Nice Couple especially grew fond of Jim.

"Boy, he could bury that beer," recalls Mr. Nice Couple. "We used to find him passed out in the morning on that hard concrete stoop. You know, like he didn't quite make it all the way home. [Mrs. Nice Couple] went over a couple of times and tucked a pillow under his head."

An earlier portrait of the Lexington group became a Christmas card.
Photo courtesy of Julie Grob
An earlier portrait of the Lexington group became a Christmas card.

"I just couldn't stand," she explains, "to see his head on that hard stoop."

Jim, likewise, didn't much like to see that kind of thing, and after losing a malt liquor-drinking contest, he invited Pappy, a homeless Korean War vet from under the 59 overpass, to take up residence in the Flower House's front yard. Torches were installed and a chaise longue set out, and Pappy lived in the open-air Tiki Lounge for a week until roommate Grob asked Jim to ask Pappy to leave.

There were others, too many to name, embarked on too many journeys to relate, trailing too many anecdotes to repeat. This is just a song. A hundred verses lie undiscovered and unsung.

These all appeared to converge in 1991 when seemingly every Skotak-dependent resident and band joined to mount an Axiom production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Jay Maulsby played J.C., Matt Kelly played Judas, and De Schmog, Sprawl and Joint Chiefs took turns sharing a drum kit and the Sprawl horns.

Lexingtonians played several packed nights in Houston and took the show to Austin. There are still a few fan videotapes floating around; watch them with a participant and you can still get a sense of the elation.

"That," says Maulsby, "sort of cemented my relation with all the tendrils of that scene. That's the first time I really realized it was a defining label, whether you lived on The Street or not."

Too much talk about Lexington-as-communal-state-of-bliss will get you laughed off that or any other block -- a little goes an awfully long way -- but something happened there. Location and time and cheap rent and a "benevolently disinterested" landlord and safety and foot access and the nearness of like minds conspired to make The Street more than just a place.

"It wasn't all romantic," says Brad Moore. "But still, it was pretty fucking crazy."

The Sprawl House burned in December '91. Cooper was in the shower when he felt warmth through the wall. A gas space heater ignited some undetermined crap lying around it. No one got hurt, but there was plenty of smoke and water damage, and jellied plastic masses of melted recording gear and DAT tapes and CD jewel cases. Everyone seems to remember a melted telephone dripping down the wall like a homemade Dalí. The master tapes of an unreleased Fleshmop CD burned (a cassette copy survived and may be released soon). Fleshmop's (and later Joint Chiefs') Maulsby had just moved into the $60 back room in the wake of Jesus Christ Superstar. Cooper moved around some on and off the street and ended up in the Commune, where he lives today and rehearses Free Radicals (the gas bill's still in Brad Moore's name, even though he moved out of the Commune in '92). Skotak let the shell stand. Skotak kept renting to Cooper. The fire was just a Lexingtonian blip at the time, another whack-ass story added to the legend, which had already lured Sweeney to write a short history of the block for the UH Daily Cougar.

In retrospect the fire has come to be seen as the first spark of The Street's inevitable decline. Lexington-as-ecosystem depended on a perfect balance of environmental influences. The system could apparently -- and certainly did -- absorb copious quantities of beer and booze and acid and pot and speed and coke and hash and what-else-you-got, but it choked on heroin, which established a presence during the smack chic of '92. No one talks details, but anyone who lived there will date the beginning of the end with the spread of needles. That was hardly all, though. Lexington had done nothing but change for 70 years, and there was no reason for it to stop now.

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