The End of the World As We Know It
"Turn out the lights, the party's over. They say that all good things must end." So sang Willie Nelson a long time ago, and while Earthwire impresario M. Martin is no singer or much of a country fan, he sounds pretty similar to the Red Headed Stranger these days.
Or maybe a little more like Jim Morrison. "This is the end, my friend," he says, pouring himself a glass of St. Arnold's bock from a pitcher. We're sitting on the covered patio at Volcano on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, talking about the impending demise of Earthwire in its current manifestation and its eventual rebirth somewhere down the line.
The last time Racket spoke with Martin, the shaven-headed veteran punk promoter was clad in a suit in hopes of getting hired on at Halliburton as an IT pro. He was also plugging the inaugural South By Due East festival, Earthwire's response to the annual snubbing Houston acts get at South By Southwest selection time.
"Back then I was still guardedly optimistic about a lot of things," he says. "Most of that optimism turned out to be so much bullshit. South By Due East was a success in many ways, and we're still planning on doing it next year, but in terms of generating revenue it was an unmitigated disaster. The economy's still in the tank. The recruiter who said she was gonna place me at Halliburton is now not returning my calls. In the meantime, I have a bunch of equipment failures, personnel issues; I have a landlord who is imminently renting my apartment out from under me to open a bar
"I am a very persistent man, I'm an obstinate man, but I'm not a crazy man."
Soon, the king-hell funky mini-warehouse will cease being a performance spot/hangout. There will be no more live streams emanating from the corner of Waugh and Fairview, only reruns of earlier shows, and Martin himself will be gone by early summer.
But Martin being Martin, he's planning to end this chapter of his life with a bang. There will be a farewell party -- the Sayonara Bash -- May 3 and 4 at the studio, featuring Chango Jackson, New Jack Hippies, Opie Hendrix, Rusted Shut, Kool B and the Earthwire Poets. And Martin will be liquidating Earthwire Studios' hard assets. The party will also be filmed for an upcoming documentary. Sunday's half of the party will also be a barbecue, much like the weekly soirees Martin hosted during Earthwire's first year.
As for Martin, he's pondering a bunch of post-Fairview operations. "I have a potential partner who wants to open an Internet radio station in Austin, and I'll probably be going there for a while to find out how viable that is," he says. "Also, Earthwire's recording subsidiary has over two years of content that I'm gonna be working with, and I'm gonna try to get some of my best Earthwire shows" -- the rock en español Alternative Scream and the hip-hop Post Millennium Funk among them -- "weekly showcase slots at clubs in town."
Martin says he is mentally, physically and financially drained from his two years at Earthwire's helm. Rumor had it that he was $5,000 in debt. Martin laughs at this figure. "That was a while ago. I have no idea what I owe now."
Of the mental and physical rigors, Martin says, "It was like being on tour for two years. All the production issues, all the personnel issues, having to deal with all the grief and cops, it just never stopped. DJ Scout -- Kathy Bond -- was more sympathetic than anybody when I announced I was pulling the plug because she went crazy enough just dealing with PM Funk on Tuesday nights every week. For me it wasn't every week, it was every night of the week, and even if I had other people there who were part of the process, ultimately it all came down on me."
When he mentions that Earthwire's mixing board is failing, he could just as well be talking about himself. "Of course it's failing. It's been in continual use for two years, with people spilling beer on it and blowing smoke in its innards I need to recharge my batteries more than I have words to express."
So it's time to look back on Earthwire's two years. What was the epitome of Earthwire? Martin has a ready answer. "The first summer that I had the building, when I was having the Sunday barbecues, there was this one night when -- in addition to the various poets and punk rockers and hip-hoppers who drifted in -- we had a classically trained pianist, an opera singer and a classically trained guitarist who was the sister to the one and the girlfriend of the other. They showed up looking like they were on their way to a Nine Inch Nails concert -- the guys were wearing leather pants and no shirts and the girl was in torn fishnets and a cocktail dress. They did not look like classically trained musicians. We had a Yamaha electric piano back there, and the pianist got on there and started playing, and the opera guy started singing. It was the most unlikely thing in this setting, in this grotty, garage-looking place."
As for Earthwire's legacy, Martin sees it in the collaborations fostered by the freewheeling spirit of the place. Earthwire broke down some of the clique barriers in Houston music. Martin points with pride the collaboration between street poet/rapper Kool B, veteran bluesman Guy Schwarz and hellbilly Opie Hendrix as a blueprint for the future. The three first jammed together at Earthwire, and later made a live CD that they recorded at KPFT. "That was a definitive Houston sound," he says. "One that's not like Dallas or Austin. It includes hippie blues guys, hip-hop guys and psychedelic country guys. People here need to get past their cliquishness and that old 'That ain't my kind of music' bullshit and see value in each other and collaborate."
But Martin didn't just break down walls between local musicians. In a day when mainstream radio relies on separating people into various demographics, Martin reversed the formula. Earthwire was only the most recent evolution of his access-to-media bonanza. "I know that we've made a difference," he says. "The entire body of work -- First Amendment Radio, Radio Free Montrose and Earthwire.net -- is one of the things that I'm most proud of in my life," he adds, referring to Earthwire's pirate radio forerunners.
Still, there's no sugarcoating the loss of the studio. In an increasingly yup-ridden Montrose, it was a beacon of freakdom. The barbecues especially will be missed. For one night a week, with the poets, rappers, punkers and other assorted freaks sipping Busch tallboys in the sweltering summer humidity, it felt like the supremely bohemian Montrose of the oil bust years. "You certainly aren't going to find that old Montrose spirit in Montrose anymore," Martin says. "My old hood has been gentrified beyond the point which I feel welcome in it anymore."
Almost makes you want to cry "I've shed a few maudlin tears the last few weeks," Martin laughs, "but my blessing and curse is that I am a relentlessly forward-looking person. I'm always looking at the next project. I think Earthwire will come back as a Houston operation at some point. I'm hoping that going to Austin and being able to start fresh and learn from the mistakes that were made here will give us the opportunity to come up with a business plan that makes it more viable."
Again, he sounds a lot like Willie. After all, the next line in "The Party's Over" is "And tomorrow starts the same old thing again."
Martin laughingly disagrees. "Actually, it's more like that Kenny Rogers tune. 'You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away and know when to run.' "
Space tiki lounge exotica rockers Clouseaux and 1950s B-movie surf hellions the Magnetic IV will be hosting a pajama party Saturday, April 26, at the Continental Club. Prizes will be awarded for the best PJs, while simply wearing any old pair entitles you to a free martini. In other Clouseaux news, the band will be the only non-West Coast entry at the Tiki Oasis 3 exotica convention at that "mecca of modern primitivism," the '50s-vintage Caliente Tropics Motor Hotel in Palm Springs, California, May 9-11.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.