One of the more engrossing sites on the Web is www.jumptheshark.com. 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.
But Racket digresses. Yes, there are lots of great Texas country artists, but enough to support a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week radio station? Certainly if you mined the rich past you could pull it off, but if you're trying to play stuff from only the last couple of years, and are further going to shave off both the edgier and the folkier edges of Texas country (not to mention shun most Texas-style players who don't reside here), you are painting yourself into a corner from which the only escape is to shovel plenty of crap onto the playlist.
Thirteen-year Davin James Bull Nettle Band bass player Joe Perry took his life July 31. "He was always okay on stage," said James. "Off-stage, he found things tough to deal with. He was always true-blue with me." James will be playing the Rhythm Room on August 18, while Steve Radney, Gene Kelton and the Shadowcasters also have gigs lined up at the Washington Avenue nightspot. Call 713-863-0493 for who plays when Also last month, New Orleans Ernie K-Doe, a.k.a. "Mr. Mother-in-law" and "The Emperor of the Universe," passed away at the age of 65. In the mid-'60s, K-Doe recorded here in Houston for Duke/Peacock, scoring minor hits with "Later for Tomorrow" and "Until the Real Thing Comes Along." K-Doe's second-line funeral was reported by Offbeat magazine to have been the largest in that city's history Congrats to Houston's Calvin Owens for winning the Best Hornplayer award in Living Blues magazine's critic's poll Austin's rocanroladores Vallejo have signed on to the Watcha Tour, Latin rock's response to the Vans Warped Tour. Also on the bill are Kool Keith, Los Amigos Invisibles, Molotov and others. Vallejo joins the tour on August 26 in Miami and continues with it until it wraps September 9 in San Jose, California. Among those gigs will be one here in Space City on August 30.
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