Pinpointing when Texas music jumped the shark

One of the more engrossing sites on the Web is On this site, which takes its name from an episode of Happy Days in which the Fonz water-ski jumps over a Great White to win a battle of wills with some California toughs, Web surfers attempt to trace the exact moment when their favorite TV series began to slip. For Happy Days, of course, it was the eponymous moment, while for Seinfeld many contend it was when co-producer Larry David walked away from the set. For NewsRadio it is almost universally held that the moment Phil Hartman was murdered the show was finito.

Others are not so cut-and-dried. It's difficult to trace when The Simpsons began its inexorable slide to its current abominable state, though it is certain that the show quite frankly is now miserable. Much the same can be said for the current state of Texas music.

The time is impossible to pinpoint. Was it when Keen won acceptance from the frat crowd? Was it when Jerry Jeff became the Jimmy Buffett of Texas? Was it when Pat Green's audiences took to chanting "Nashville sucks" at his concerts? Nevertheless, sometime in the past ten years, this music of ours jumped the shark.

It could be merely that there is too much of it. Texan "artists" abound in the hundreds who think that mastery of three chords and a ready willingness to name-check Jerry Jeff, Gary P., Gruene Hall, Shiner Bock and a few colorfully named Texas geographical landmarks are all it takes to become successors to Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, the Outlaws and the great singer-songwriters of the '70s and '80s.

One must, of course, also bash Nashville to all and sundry, often even while turning out "product" as crass and paint-by-the-numbers as any churned out by the Music City hit machine. That way, if you don't sell any records you can just blame it on the Man. It has nothing to do with your tired clichés and lackluster music, "It's a Texas Thang" that Nashville and the world "just don't git."

The recent flop of KIKK's "Texas Music Revolution," should cause many of us in the Lone Star State to look long and hard in the mirror. You can't just whip out a guitar and a Texas flag and start hollering about armadillos, "the road" and "Ol' Willie." There has to be a human touch, truth and experience, as there are in the works of the best Texas songwriters, of which there are -- as ever -- a great many. Guy Clark's "South Coast of Texas" is one example of a true master at work. Its line about the drunken shrimpers shouting out "Adios, jolie blonde" says as much in a few words as many another Texas songwriter's entire album. Likewise, "The Wedding Song, " Charlie Robison's duet with Natalie Maines, is set in "suburban Seguin" but uses this bedraggled backdrop to further much deeper meaning. Robison and Clark are as Texan as they come and don't feel the need to mindlessly plug the state as if they were working for the tourism board.

But there is also plenty of navel-gazing "I'm a bigger Texan than you, yee-haw" crap out there, and like crap everywhere, it stinks. In fact, it has reached critical mass. Perhaps KIKK's Texas-heavy playlist (and not the classic rock etc. and/or wacky DJs) was its death. Maybe KIKK gave us what we wanted, good and hard, and it just wasn't good enough. Sadly, the stuff that has survived KIKK's purge of most Texas country is among the worst they ever played, including the works of Pat Green, to Racket at least, the man who stands (likely planting his ever-ready Lone Star flag) at the pinnacle of this Mount Guadalupe of homegrown excrement. As Racket writes, what does he hear but a Green song about how he wishes he were back in the land of "Ol' San Antone," "tacos," "the dusty plains," "Hill Country rain" and of course "Willie." It verges so closely to self-parody that one wonders if Pat isn't just some kind of satirist having us all on. But hell, it seems to be selling. Who is Racket and his delicate sensibilities to bitch?

But bitch he will. What is it about Texans (of which Racket is one, native-born, and of many generations on both sides of the family) that we have to keep reminding ourselves that we are in fact, in Texas? The Red, Rio Grande and Sabine aren't going to dry up if we don't keep on singing about 'em. Luckenbach isn't going to vanish if a month goes by without somebody writing a new song about it. We aren't going to transmogrify into Yankeeland or worse, Oklahoma, if we don't chant these Texas mantras ceaselessly.

Scottish comic Billy Connally noted a similar tendency in his countrymen. They would get drunk and sing things like "I wish I wiz back in bonny Scotland," and Connally would always say to them, "Shut up, ye daft bastard, yer right in yer bloody front room." Maybe Scots and Texans alike are longing for some mythical homeland that doesn't exist and never has. Maybe it's a reaction to a minority culture under threat by a majority one, as many Texans feel to the United States at large (and increasingly, Mexico) and as Scots have felt toward the English for years.

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