Many bands would willingly trade various parts of their anatomy and/or immortal souls for a shot at landing a tune on the score (if not the soundtrack) of a big-time Hollywood release like Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. Houston's Toe Jam is not one of those bands.
For the average band, such massive international exposure would be the culmination of many years plying their trade in dingy dives for peanut wages, brazenly buttering up the media, and becoming all-too-intimately aware of the various ways in which Motel 6 cuts costs versus the ways in which the Budgetels and Scottish Inns of the world save dollars. Again, Toe Jam is not one of those bands.
Toe Jam has never toured. It has never even played a gig. There's no CD, either. One of the members doesn't even live on the same continent as the other three. Nevertheless, there's Toe Jam's remake of "Plastic Jesus" floating in the background as Carrie Fisher tools along in her car with the religious trinket glued to the dashboard. The song is one of many free-floating cultural artifacts that director-writer Kevin Smith litters his film with. The director seems to care little if anyone has ever heard of Toe Jam.
"We're not even really a group," says Toe Jam guitarist and computer technician Stan Hench. "All we are is a few guys who come over to my house and record music."
The band set out with the lofty goal of getting a couple of tunes on mp3.com. Hench enlisted his brothers Mark, also a computer repairman in Houston, and Paul, an author of children's books and an English teacher who has lived in Spain for the past 25 years. The Hench brothers exchanged sound files across the Atlantic with Paul Hench contributing lyrics to the group's original tunes as well as percussion parts to both the originals and the covers. They committed the better tracks to the Toe Jam site on mp3.com, and all but threw away the song on which their current "fame" rests -- their cover of the public-domain, '60s-era folk song "Plastic Jesus." "We weren't happy with it at all," says Hench. "We just moved on and I deleted the file, but before we did that, I had sent an mp3 of it to a friend of mine."
The friend slapped "Plastic Jesus" on Napster. "He didn't protect it or anything; he just slapped it up there. I think because of the name of the song or whatever, a lot of people downloaded it."
Fate came in the form of an e-mail from Miramax Pictures asking to use the song on Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. The rest is cinema history.
Surely by now Toe Jam is eager to cash in. Surely the guys are already pressing multiple thousands of "Plastic Jesus" CDs for sale at the many gigs they are booking as we write. Surely visions of cruising in stretch limos down Sunset Boulevard with backseats full of tanned, surgically augmented, champagne-toting groupies clad only in sable coats are dancing through their heads. "No," says Stan Hench decisively. "You can't buy 'Plastic Jesus.' We don't have a label or anything. We all have jobs. My brother has kids, and plus I'm 44 years old. Now if this happened 25 years ago, then we might have done something. We're just hobbyists, you know."
But what about all the local gigs these Hollywood stars have surely lined up? C'mon, Toe Jam, your 15 minutes are ticking past! "No," says Stan. "We don't plan on trying to get any gigs."
Surely Miramax ponied up the big bucks, though. No again, says Stan. While what Miramax offered was a "non-lifestyle-changing amount of money," it remained a sum this little troupe of musical dilettantes was more than happy to accept.
Tuesday, September 18, is the release date for the long-awaited Bill Hicks anthology. Hicks was probably the coolest cultural export Houston sent to the world in the last decade, and Philosophy: The Best of Bill Hicks finds him in the rarest of his always rare form. Hicks's views on the L.A. riots ("Hey, Reginald Denny! Step on the gas, man!") and gays in the military ("Anyone fucking stupid enough to want to be in the military should be allowed to join") are as fresh and original as they ever were, even if the subject material isn't. Then there are Hicks's views on guilty pleasures like Cops and eternals like politics, drugs, the Bible and, of course, his beloved porn Former Houstonian Beaver Nelson continues making up for lost time with Undisturbed,the second full-length CD in two years from the Austin-based artist. Sadly, Undisturbed was among the last credits for Austinite "Mambo John" Treanor, who recently passed away from cancer. Treanor was equally famed as a percussionist and a hatter -- especially the chapeaus he crafted from roadkill. Undisturbed streets September 18 The Flamin' Hellcats will bring their vatobilly back home on Sunday, September 2, to Emo's. The Hellcats have spent the last month touring Arizona, New Mexico, California and Texas. Jaime Hellcat reports from cool California that he's having a great time but that he misses the lovely weather we've been having here Jamie Sralla of Cactus Records, Mary Jane's and Southern Lights fame will tour as a road manager with Wesley Willis through September. To the uninitiated, Willis is a schizophrenic street singer from San Francisco famous for continually singing the same basic song, albeit with different pop-culture references thrown in for variety, and for having a fan base that includes the likes of Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam. Many were concerned that Willis's former road manager had been mistreating the singer. In stepped Sralla. Does he have any worries about taking to the highway with a schizophrenic singer who performs the same song over and over again? "Oh, of course not," says Sralla. "That doesn't bother me that much. What scares me is driving in New York City with a big van and a trailer." In what has be some kind of record, two songs named after Texas cities are on the Billboard country singles chart. Blake Shelton's "Austin" tops the chart, and Chris Cagle's "Laredo" checks in at No. 10. Still no Houston anthem, though Speaking of the country charts, two double-platinum soundtracks have dominated the entire summer. O Brother, Where Art Thou?, the feel-good smash of the year, is in its 16th week at the top, with Coyote Ugly coming in just below. O Brother,of course, features bluegrass, gospel, blues and old-time music, while Coyote Ugly has a ludicrously tenuous claim to country credentials. Just because LeAnn Rimes, who fancies herself less a companion to Loretta and Patsy and more of one to Madonna, sings a couple of songs doesn't make this MOR-pop dreck country. O Brother's startling success, coupled with the surprisingly strong showing of Nickel Creek's self-titled debut, has many wondering if a bluegrass renaissance is upon us. Don't expect country radio to take part, though -- both the Soggy Mountain Boys and Nickel Creek have gotten where they are with virtually zilch airplay. Radio is hoping they will just go away so stations can continue assaulting our ears and souls with Shedaisy and Lonestar From the Department of Brazen & Tacky Self- Promotion: Yours truly will be guesting on Rick Heysquierdo's Lonestar Jukebox on Saturday, September 8, from 10 a.m. to noon, and once a month thereafter.
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