Slip Slidin' Away: My Life as a Rock Journalist With the Houston Press
The author watching Free Energy at Fitz in 2011.
Photo by Marc Brubaker
I had a hernia operation in the early summer of 2006, and had nothing to do all day but hobble around with cool cane a borrowed from Grandpa Hlavaty and play on the Internets for two months or so.
I had developed the injury while working at Domino's, but it was cool because their insurance helped pay for it, and the cool pills that came with the painful surgery.
That summer while trolling around on Craigslist for stray local writing gigs, I saw that then Houston Press music editor John Nova Lomax had put out a call for freelance music writers.
Hell, I had done a ton of stuff for Austin music blog HipsterPad (please do not Google it) and chimed in with a few MySpace blog posts along the way, so I sent in five clips to Lomax. I don't know what he and Olivia Flores Alvarez saw in my collection of sordid tales from Pearland, but they took me on. I was elated. I read the Press every week and through the listings and ads I planned my concert life.
This was my first piece, a little ditty about Buzz Ballads, a 32-song collection of modern rock cuts that was sold on TV.
This was basically the template for what would become Rocks Off over two years later, but in print. I did a few more things like this that are floating around too. I cringe when I read them now, because they were only sparsely funny. My "Drenched In Blog" archives are pretty demented too, written while on lunch breaks from my welding-parts sales job, starting in the summer of 2007 up until I came on full time in late 2008.
From then on there were hundreds of show reviews written, thousands of pictures taken, maybe a million words typed, and countless discoveries, disappointments, and fads.
Last week I told Press editor Margaret Downing and music editor Chris Gray that I was stepping down from my assistant music editor position to join the team down the street at the Houston Chronicle.
No one can say that I never saw enough shows, for better or worse. Sometimes a lot worse. I'm not sorry for going to shows that weren't hip, and I am not sorry for skipping things that were trendy. I stand by the fact that I saw legends like Michael Bolton, Yanni, and Kenny G.
By the way, Kenny G has a firm handshake. Though he wouldn't take a picture with me.
I took this photo of Bob Dylan in 2009 without permission.
Those Rolling Stones bastards never came to town while I was on the clock here, which chaps my ass. I always wanted my name attached to a Stones show, and not because I rushed the stage and was beaten to death by Keith Richards.
But I did get to see and review, nearly very ACL, SXSW and Fun Fun Fun Fest since 2007. My body is "down" with sweating. I was there the day that the gates for Free Press Summer Fest 2009 opened, along with the rest of the Rocks Off crew. Look at that thing now, the festival has its own beer, and people come from all over the country to attend it. I remember when the only thing fancy about the Fancy Pants tent was a plate of Ruffles and A/C.
No teary-eyed rehash of the past seven years would be complete without reminding everyone that for the past three years I have been an honorary Juggalo, anointed in late 2010.
I suppose at first it was for shits and grins, but the deeper I got into ICP's "Dark Carnival," the more I realized there is a distinct, almost Dickensian, class-warfare battle going on between the Juggalo family and the rest of society. Plus it is easier to tell people I am part-Juggalo than a concealed handgun license holder.
Ever seen The Deer Hunter?
Photo By Marc Brubaker
Big thanks to photographer and friend Marc Brubaker for coming along on that ride with me from that first show in 2009 on.
It's out of my system now, but I still have some empty two-liters of Faygo at my desk that I just packed up. ICP's record label even sends me Christmas cards now.
Speaking of Christmas, someone else around here is going to have to listen to Sunny 99.1's holiday music come December.
I have a detailed list of shows I have covered at the end of this blog, along with links where applicable, if you make it that far. I still don't know how a major publication entrusted some of these reviews to me, especially with how green I was in the beginning. Have you ever seen early Seinfeld episodes, when Kramer wasn't "Kramer" yet? Sort of like that.
There are also countless local acts I witnessed, and I have my favorites, like Venomous Maximus, Robert Ellis, Buxton, grandfather Child, Fat Tony, B L A C K I E, Roky Moon & BOLT (RIP), Basses Loaded, Ryan Scroggins, Chase Hamblin, Hell City Kings, Insect Warfare, American Heist, thelastplaceyoulook, Something Fierce, Cop Warmth, 10th Grade Cutie, Featherface, The Burden, Balaclavas, Benjamin Wesley, Tontons, Bagheera, Life As Lions, Good Job Underground, //TENSE//, Muhammadali, Black Congress, Hamammatsu Tom & Whatever He Calls It That Night, Young Girls, The Homopolice, NO TALK, and many others that I am forgetting now.
-- Getting an angry call from music industry titan Irving Azoff after writing about the Eagles at ACL in 2010. It was honor to be cursed at by him.
-- Geeking out with Henry Rollins about the Stooges during an interview that went 30 minutes over schedule.
-- Spending almost two hours on the phone with Ian Astbury, for an interview that went about an hour and a half over schedule, talking about 21st century shamanism and the current hellish political landscape.
-- Being one of the last journalists to interview the late Jay Reatard before he passed away. I had his number in my phone for a long time; it felt wrong to delete it.
-- Writing about the Stone Temple Pilots imploding in the Woodlands, and having music rags from around the country quote me like I was some sort of authority.
-- The time Method Man and Redman poured water on me and my camera at the House Of Blues. Was this the same night one of them was shooting a pellet gun out of their tour bus, or am I imagining that?
-- Nearly meeting George Strait at Reliant Stadium last month, but being foiled by an overzealous CultureMap photog. Next time George. Next time.
-- Having Eric Burdon nuzzle me like a kitty while high on wine.
-- The time I hired former Houston Texans linebacker Connor Barwin to review concerts.
-- Talking about guns and social media with Ted Nugent after a concert at Nutty Jerry's in his dressing room while he ate chicken soup.
-- Busting into that same dressing room months previous to meet Chuck Berry
-- Smoking and drinking on Billy Bob Thornton's bus while comparing each other's tattoo work.
A picture of B L A C K I E at the 2009 FPH Block Party
Photo by Craig Hlavaty
Along the way I got to take my brother and my mother to shows they wouldn't have been able to afford otherwise. My mom has seen Rod Stewart twice on my watch, plus Eric Clapton, the Eagles and Bob Seger, all from great seats. That all makes up for not having grandkids yet, at least I hope.
The first show I ever covered? A Kings of Leon show at Warehouse Live in early 2007, when they still had long hair and didn't travel in private jets. When they were still "cool" that is. The second was seeing My Chemical Romance and Muse at the Reliant Arena. Yes, Muse opened.
My last concert review for Rocks Off was Elton John's Toyota Center show, though it was almost George Strait's RodeoHouston show, but there were snags. That would have been perfect for such a blazing Strait fanatic such as I, but alas it wasn't to be.
Elton's last song was "Your Song," but I got misty during "Tiny Dancer" six songs in because I am a stupid sentimental clod that has seen Almost Famous too much.
Damn you, Cameron Crowe, for lionizing the life of a music journalist. You didn't tell us it was actually more fun than the movie could ever show, or that I would meet some of the closest friends I have ever had. I even met my girlfriend Kristie while covering an Alkaline Trio and Cursive show in 2010. How's that for Generation Y cred?
First off, photogs Mark C. Austin and Marco Torres snore so bad that when I bunk with them at music festivals I bring extra earplugs so I can sleep.
I first met Mr. Austin while bunking with him at SXSW in 2008 -- my first for the Press -- and he's been like a big brother to me ever since, "for reals yo".
Mr. Torres is a true trill soldier, and he's been a pleasure to work with at the past few SXSW and ACL excursions. He knows everyone.
I met colleague Marc Brubaker at Summer Fest in 2009, little knowing that we would be running buddies for the next few years, and that we would get kicked out of at least three Washington Avenue bars together. I also got to be a groomsman at his wedding last year.
My music editor, friend, and brother the whole way has been Chris Gray, who has somehow put up with five years of my bullshit. I never want to feel as helpless and sad as I did the day he had his heart attack, and I am glad that he has been back in the saddle the past year. He's building a team right now that I think you will enjoy reading. [Happy thirtieth birthday, Craig. Your thirties are going to be better than a private audience with Iggy & the Stooges. -- Ed.]
When I began working for the Press, we didn't have the stable of photographers and writers we have now at all, much less dedicated to the Houston music scene. I can say with pride I helped make that a reality in my small way, and now budding music writers in Houston have an outlet beyond their own personal blogs, where I started out.
I've enjoyed running the social-media wing of Rocks Off, on Twitter and on Facebook. For a good while I think the Twitter account was just my late-night drunk diary. Live-tweeting concerts was fun too, even Scott Stapp acoustic shows.
I have to thank the venues, past and present, like Warehouse Live, Fitzgerald's, Rudyard's, the Meridian, House of Blues, Cynthia Woods, Mango's, Walter's, and even Jones Hall for being so accommodating to our blog and bloggers through the years. And the bartenders for having strong pours of course. You made writing concert reviews in the middle of the night much easier.
PRAISE BE TO SHEA GOD.
Personal Bias: The only words I have typed that will ever matter are as follows...
People talk all the time about the depleting ozone layer, melting polar ice caps, melting polar bears, ravaged rain forests, shortages of crude oil, but that can all go to Hell.
When ZZ Top is gone from this Earth, we will really have problems. The quotient of cool in this state and even the world will begin to rapidly diminish. We don't want to live in a world without ZZ Top, even though one day we may have to try.
The Crowd: I would love to thank all the friends and cohorts who accompanied me to these shows and dealt with the drunks and idiots along with me. I'm also sorry that I had my face attached to Twitter most of the time. Live-tweeting, naturally. But hey, you got in free, so why you bitching?
Overheard In the Crowd: OK, I can now admit that most of those I concocted in my own head. Oops.
Random Notebook Dump: Really wish touring bands would stop telling us during a great set that "Houston, we don't have a problem," because we know we don't have problems. This is Houston, we're fucking awesome.
CRAIG HLAVATY SET LIST
Paul McCartney Beach Boys Chuck Berry Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band Bob Dylan Neil Young Merle Haggard Ray Davies Elton John ZZ Top Rod Stewart, and even more Rod Stewart Aerosmith Cheap Trick Peter Gabriel Jandek Bob Seger John Fogerty Sound City Players Willie Nelson George Strait, George Strait, and George Strait.... Paul Simon John Mellencamp Glen Campbell Loretta Lynn Ozzy Osbourne The Eagles Roger Waters Neil Diamond Donovan Roky Erickson Eric Burdon Buddy Guy Against Me! Jon Spencer Blues Explosion Van Halen KISS Jay-Z Justice Metallica Dwight Yoakam, and Dwight again.... Maroon 5 Zac Brown Band Alan Jackson Darius Rucker Tim McGraw Pete Yorn Reba, Reba! No Doubt Randy Newman George Thorogood Huey Lewis & The News Yanni Michael Bolton Kenny G Iron Maiden Slipknot Deftones Third Eye Blind Tame Impala Scissor Sisters Ladytron Ben Fold Five Incubus Them Crooked Vultures Marilyn Manson Pearl Jam Kings Of Leon Usher Slayer Skinny Puppy Meat Loaf Eagles Of Death Metal Red Hot Chili Peppers Weezer Iggy & The Stooges The Judds Silversun Pickups Anthrax Ted Nugent Foo Fighters Radiohead Arcade Fire Swans My Morning Jacket Wilco Coldplay Free Energy & Mates Of State Mastodon Black Keys Arctic Monkeys Rancid Danzig (the awful HOB show in late 2008) GWAR Sleigh Bells & CSS Deer Tick Scratch Acid The Jesus Lizard Buckcherry Hayes Carll NOFX Stryper Lucero Wanda Jackson Spoon New York Dolls Dave Matthews Band Nickelback Creed & Scott Stapp Chris Cornell Eddie Vedder Slash LCD Soundsystem Snoop Dogg Pat Benatar Grandfather Child The Kills Phish The Strokes Julian Casablancas Battles Flaming Lips Steel Panther John Mayer Michael Buble Beck Steve Earle The Sonics Mars Volta Band Of Horses Sonic Youth Kid Rock The Sword Kanye West Skrillex TV On The Radio Stone Temple Pilots The Cult Smashing Pumpkins TOOL Queens Of The Stone Age The Dead Weather And how about "Farting & Whistling Man"? Refused Slayer Motorhead, Motorhead, and more Motorhead. The Damned Poison Motley Crue Lady Gaga Britney Spears Linkin Park Pink Ghostland Observatory Crystal Castles Kylie Minogue Taylor Swift Ke$ha Panic! At The Disco Katy Perry Mariah Carey
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