Loony Zunes

So Doug Morris, chief executive of Universal Music Group, managed to put one over on Microsoft a while back. Morris, the boss of the largest music company in the world, and what must have been a small army of lawyers, reportedly convinced Microsoft that MP3 players like their own Zune were nothing more than accessories to the crime of record piracy, and that Universal should be paid a sort of theft tax of $1 for each Zune player sold. Amazingly, confoundingly, moronically, Microsoft agreed to do so. (Hell, with the way Zune's sales are going, Morris's check might be of the mid-four-figure variety.)

And now Morris is going after Apple and their iPod. Speaking at the Reuters Media Summit last month, Morris, when asked if he would be going after iPod, laid out his plans thusly: "We have a negotiation coming up not too far [away]. I don't see why we wouldn't do thatÉbut maybe not in the same way."

After tipping my hat to Morris for his chutzpah, where do I begin? First off, after the precedent Microsoft set in allowing Universal to bully them into giving up a buck a player, what now is there to stop, oh, I don't know, every freaking record company in the world from demanding similar (though smaller) concessions? How is it that Universal and only Universal suffers from piracy? Why doesn't every other company get a cut based on their respective market shares? Imagine the fees, piling up to the skies, as first the other three major conglomerates, and then the entire galaxy of independents, come calling.

Secondly, blaming MP3 players for record piracy is illogical. By the same token, you could demand that glass manufacturers pay fees to public health organizations because, you know, like some people put booze in glass containers, and then some other people drink that booze and get sick or kill people. Hell, sometimes drunks even bash each other over the head with the same glass bottles that contained the booze in the first place! Surely, Big Glass could find it in their hearts to cough up a few cents of each bottle they produce to the Red Cross, Alcoholics Anonymous, MADD and the Centers for Disease Control, right?

Furthermore, even if an MP3 player can be used as a tool of the piracy trade, it is completely unfair to assume that every last customer does. While I don't own an MP3 player, I do have over 20,000 songs ripped onto my home computer. None were obtained illegally, though I might have one or two amid the 15,000 songs on my work computer -- and that song or those songs were simply not available legitimately. And others use iPods exclusively to store films and music-free podcasts -- why do those people owe Doug Morris and his music mega-corporation a dime?

Third, why stop at MP3 players? Why not go after home computers and laptops? Why shouldn't Universal and every other record company get a cut of their sales, too? After all, people play music on them. And then there are car stereos, home theater systems and portable CD players. By Morris's logic, all of them should pay him -- and every other record label -- for the right to exist. Indeed, Microsoft has agreed in principle to pay the other majors similar levies, and surely the indies won't take that lying down.

And hell, why should the labels -- major or independent -- be the only entities getting paid? Why shouldn't performance rights organizations like ASCAP and BMI get their slices of the pie? What about retail -- surely the FYE's and Virgins of the world will want to be recompensed for business lost to pirates with iPods. And rest assured that these hardware manufacturers would pass every penny of each and every one of those surcharges on to us.

You can't really blame Morris for ganking Microsoft the way he did -- that's his job, loathsome as it is. But Microsoft really, deeply, truly fucked up here. And should the precedent they willingly allowed stand (and we're thinking it won't, if it ever reaches a sensible judge's docket), the MP3 revolution will crumble into an orgy of bureaucracy and shysterism the likes of which we have never seen before.

After decades of trailing Montrose as a nightlife destination, the Heights area north of I-10 appears to have turned the corner. The corner of White Oak and Studemont, once home only to ancient institutions Fitzgerald's and Jimmie's Place, is now a thriving barhopping neighborhood. You can now park there and hit up five different spots in a two-block radius, with several more -- notably the newish Onion Creek and the very old Shiloh Club -- a short distance away. Last Tuesday, my buddy Mike and I hit up five of those places -- Jimmie's and Fitz's, and newbies Beer Island and the Heights Sports and Social Club. (We forgot to go to 6th Street Bar and Grill.)

Beer Island was first. I had heard that Tuesdays here were home to one of those vinyl nights where you could spin your own LPs, so I loaded up the Racketmobile Mark IV with a few weird albums, stuff like field recordings of drunken Mississippi fife and drum bands, psychotic early John Lee Hooker, Gulf Coast weirdo/apparent Tom Waits influence Bongo Joe (a.k.a. George Coleman) and a rare 12-inch 45 from Raging Fire, an obscure and wonderful grunge precursor band from '80s Nashville.

None of which, it quickly became apparent, was gonna be a good fit for this room. (And there was no turntable to be seen, anyway.) Physically, it's pretty much open-air and housed in a converted gas station, and it looks funkier on the outside than it actually is. The clientele, however, was jarringly Richmond Strip-ish for a Heights bar -- a table of boisterous, twentysomething women pounded buckets of longnecks and screamed at a TV showing the Rockets game. There were a few dudes with gelled hair sticking up over frat-boy visors. And all these people screamed along to the chorus of the Killers' "Somebody Told Me," which billowed out of the jukebox; and as alarming and appalling as that sub-karaoke performance was, a much, much worse horror emerged next: Somebody paid to hear Blue October's "Hate Me." That was enough to send me scrambling for succor in my car, where I tuned in to Stevie T's quiet storm on KCOH to sooth my damaged nerves while I waited for Mike to arrive.

On the whole, though, Beer Island is not that bad a place -- even if the jukebox contains few (pleasant) surprises. It's a clean, well-lit place to knock back the Tuesday special -- dollar Lone Stars -- and watch Cheaters on mute, if not the kind of joint where you would feel comfortable rocking the turntable with some of the weirdest vinyl you own. (Fun tip I learned here: Watch "The Confrontation" scenes from Cheaters with Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" in the background; both song and show, great as they are separately, are enhanced enormously. It's kinda like that Wizard of Oz/Dark Side of the Moon deal.)

Across White Oak lies the Heights Sports and Social Club, a snug little bar replete with leather couches and lots of natural wood. This joint has one of those MP3 jukes, so there's a better selection than at Beer Island. (Beck's "The Golden Age" was playing when Mike and I walked in, and that oozing dollop of mellow, steel guitar-drenched melancholy never sounded better than it did here.) There are also little TVs in each leather-lined booth, which annoyed me a bit. I didn't want to be distracted from Cheaters, which was also playing on the big screen here. (What's up with that? Is this apparent Cheaters obsession a Heights deal?) At any rate, Racket gets cranky when he is distracted from watching Dallasites do the dirty on one another and then beat each other up. A trio of members of the San Jacinto Hi Rollers motorcycle club came in and sat in front of the TV, and I didn't want them to think I was staring at them, so Mike and I left. On the way out, I saw a sticker on the side of one of those bikers' helmets that said, "He who dies with the most toys, still dies." That's totally cool.

We headed down the street to Jimmie's just in time for their midnight last call and had a couple of Heinekens on their patio while listening to Dwight Yoakam from the juke, before heading to the bar part of Fitz's, which is open even when, as was the case this night, no bands were playing. Eventually, we wound up at the Shiloh Club for a nightcap at the real-deal last call. It was a fun and varied Tuesday night with minimal driving involved, and even if I didn't get to turn anybody on to Bongo Joe's "Innocent Little Doggie," I had more fun there in the Heights than I could have had downtown or Midtown. Who'd a thunk the Heights could be so hoppin'?

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