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"We're indefatigable in our efforts at self-promotion," says Death By Injection's David Mitcham, gearing up for his band's December 5 CD release party at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. It's not often been Racket's experience to meet anybody -- much less a musician in a rock band -- who can work the word "indefatigable" into a casual conversation not just correctly but also in a quotation from Benjamin Franklin. But then David Mitcham is no typical musician, and Death By Injection is no ordinary band.
In the mustily florid confines of Felix's on Westheimer, over cheese enchiladas, various Special Dinners and that one-of-a-kind chili con queso, Mitcham and his bandmate Doug O'Brien told the story of this most unusual band. Contrary to their early-'80s punk-style name and vintage (they formed in 1983), Death By Injection is not a punk band. It's a rock band that revolves in the orbit of the Harris County Criminal Courthouse, that hulking building on Franklin Street that should have a sign over the doors reading "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here."
The DBI name was not so much selected as bestowed upon them. After seeing them at the D.A.'s Christmas party in 1983, attorney Dick Bax said that listening to them was "the ultimate penalty under law death by injection." The name stuck, even though at one point they tried to change it to the much bulkier if clever handle of True Bill and the Falsely Accused.
Singer-guitarist-principal songwriter Mitcham and lead guitarist O'Brien -- who together constitute the self-described "left wing" of the band -- are prosecutors-turned-defense lawyers. On the other side of the courthouse (and the political divide), guitarist-singer Glenn Gotschall is a prosecutor, keyboardist Scott Durfee is general counsel to District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, and bassist Bill Delmore is chief of the appellate division of the Harris County D.A.'s Office. (Should the Harris County sodomy case go before the U.S. Supreme Court, Delmore will be going to Washington to argue the issues before the high court.) "Blue-collar" drummer Hal Kennedy -- the band's token non-lawyer -- is an HPD homicide detective.
Death By Injection follows that creative writing injunction about writing what they know. "We consider our material to be 'urban folk songs,' " says Mitcham. A boyish-looking 41-year-old who could be cast as Atticus Finch, Mitcham is the band folkie. He remembers hanging around and playing in the long-gone Montrose coffeehouse Sand Mountain, and today his office is located in the former Congress Street digs of another Houston folk landmark: the original Old Quarter. "Just like West Virginia miners used to write songs about working in a coal mine, and cowboys used to sing 'O Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie,' we're singing about what we do in our day-to-day life. Four of us in the band have over 100 years' experience in the Harris County Courthouse. Right now, there's 44 courts going every day. That's a lot of stories."
On their self-titled new release, those stories come spilling out. There's Mitcham's defense attorney's lament about the seven words every career criminal should know by heart, but that very few remember once the cuffs get slipped on: "Don't Say Nothing 'til the Lawyer Come." On the other side of the fence, Durfee takes on perjurious defendants with his "Witness Stand": "It wasn't me / it was another / it was my brother / I was in Tennessee / Don't look at me / I'm not the one / It's not my gun / Fingerprints / they do lie / DNA? / I've got an alibi "
Another of Mitcham's tunes, "Little Hijack," is about a couple of louts who knock over a liquor store on the north side. "Eddie was a peckerwood / it was his middle name / his brother who was no damn good / was known as Wayne DeWayne / they went before the Hanging Judge / so he could hear their plea / but the facts of the case are without controversy "
"Your middle name's not Wayne, is it?" asks O'Brien.
"Or Peckerwood We don't want to be sued," Mitcham puts in.
"Yeah, my daughter wanted to know what a peckerwood was. I said, 'Well, just don't call anybody one,' " O'Brien says. Peals of laughter come from the next table, where an elderly couple has stopped pretending they aren't listening in on our conversation.
Clearly these legal eagles have noticed that more than a few American criminals have something in common. The name Wayne, for instance (John Wayne Gacy, Elmer Wayne Henley, Wayne Williams). A guy named Wayne DeWayne would have to be a bad dude. For that matter, why is that we use all three names for the really depraved criminals? O'Brien theorizes that it's a case of the specific becoming more general. "Whenever parents were mad at their kids they would always use their full name," he says. Society does the same. Mark David Chapman. Lee Harvey Oswald. James Earl Ray. It's like society has become the angry mother of these men: Rafael Resendez-Ramirez, you go to your room right now! You're grounded, Mister John Wilkes Booth! Karla Faye Tucker, you lay right down on that gurney. Just wait for the doctor to come in! Then you're in for it!
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