Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
"I tell myself somethin's comin', but it never does"— Bob Dylan, "Lonesome Day Blues"
It's snowing outside as Noise writes this column. Why wouldn't it be? Just another WTF moment in a year full of them.
In an attempt to make some kind of sense out of the previous 12 months, Noise has spent the past couple of days going back over all the columns we've written in 2009. We're going to do it again in a couple of weeks, except with the entire decade, so we figured it would be a nice warm-up.
The only thing is, it's getting more and more difficult to take any time to reflect. The issue you're holding in your hand may still only come out once a week, but even that's assuming you are holding it in your hand and not reading on the Internet — which is what more and more of you are doing every day. We're just glad you're reading at all, wherever and however you're doing it.
Effectively, in the relatively short time we've been doing this, the pace has quickened from weekly to daily to almost hourly, which is about how often Noise has to update our Rocks Off music blog. Small wonder we can barely remember what we were thinking last week, let alone back in January.
In a word, we're exhausted. But seldom bored.
Noise's very first WTF moment of 2009 came in our first column of the year, when rap trio Huntzville came storming out of "Prison City" with a song both glorifying and gutting school shootings, "Backpack Fulla Gunz." We were sure the song would ruffle some feathers, maybe even on a national level, but it came and went with hardly a peep.
Huntzville is currently residing in the "Where Are They Now?" file — the group's Web site hasn't been updated since March, and no comments have been left on their MySpace page since September. The fact that their label boss, former Geto Boy Willie D, is currently awaiting trial on federal Internet-fraud charges may have something to do with that.
Happily, the subject of our next column, bassist (and Noise's neighbor on "The Island" at 3700 Main) Nick Gaitan, is still thumping away with Billy Joe Shaver, the Octanes and The Umbrella Man. The song that prompted the article, Gaitan's ode to the Island "I've Found My Weakness in You," appears not once but twice on The Umbrella Man's brand-new self-titled CD.
Likewise, the other local artists we devoted columns to this year — Born Liars, Spain Colored Orange, Peekaboo Theory, Robert Ellis, Whiskey Boat, listenlisten, 12-year-old actress/aspiring tween-pop starlet Gabby Gillespie (now appearing as Brigitta in The Sound of Music) and, last but hardly least, ZZ Top — are all alive and well. So is the Houston music scene as a whole, or we couldn't have spun off four columns reviewing between eight and ten recently released local recordings.
On that note, 2009 was a good year for the musical climate around here, we think. Overall, it was a pretty quiet one. Although not quite as many as in past years, there were the inevitable breakups — McKenzies, Teenage Kicks, Mathletes — and friends and fellow scenesters who left us far too soon. R.I.P. Dale Stewart, Dave Rask and Lee Powers. We miss you.
Out and about, Mango's and the reopened Super Happy Fun Land added to the pool of venues for both local and visiting artists to play, and the closest a major Houston venue came to shutting down was Walter's on Washington announcing it would be vacating its namesake street for another location with fewer wine bars and more parking.
Originally slated to be in its new digs by November, Walter's seems to have been granted an indefinite reprieve and happily remains the indie/metal sore thumb on the ever-more-douchey Washington Corridor. The news of its then-imminent move prompted Noise to revisit the many other music venues that have come and gone on Washington Avenue.
That was one of a handful of history-minded columns that also included a look at locally released compilations through the years, Houston music and musicians in the movies, the 1969 Texas International Pop Festival near Dallas, and a quiz covering all 20 years of the Houston Press Music Awards that drew exactly zero takers. WTF indeed.
More WTF columns: Big radio screaming bloody murder at the fact it might actually have to compensate artists for playing their songs under the new Performance Rights Act; the Recording Academy discontinuing the Polka Grammy category; and Noise's AC going out on the eve of this past summer's first big heat wave. That was a big one.
A few columns were simply accounts of various festivals and events Noise attended this year, whether here or in Austin. WTF swung both ways on those. Yes, we grumbled about the weeklong hipster infestation and liverfuck that is SXSW — God, is that almost here again? WTF?! — and cringed at the foul-smelling mud pit the Austin City Limits festival became, but it didn't stop us from loving Echo & the Bunnymen, the Dicks and Dave Alvin & the Guilty Women (SXSW); Pearl Jam, The Dead Weather and Levon Helm (ACL); and Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, Heartless Bastards and Decemberists (both).
Closer to home, WTF came in the form of Noise marveling at the sheer amount of new(ish) local talent on display at the Houston Press's annual Music Awards showcase, Free Press Houston's Summerfest in August, and the Westheimer Block Parties in April and November. Take a bow, I Am Mesmer, Grandfather Child, Nosaprise, B L A C K I E, Chase Hamblin, Roky Moon & BOLT, Muhammidali, the Eastern Sea, Benjamin Wesley, Nosaprise and Springfield Riots.
And a few were even WTF in a good way: The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo ever so cautiously admitting it would be open to booking alternative-country performers in its smaller venues; iFest continuing to become a scholarly but still plenty hip springtime alternative to ACL; a tribute album to goth-rockers Love & Rockets finding an unlikely home on Houston's Justice Records; and the out-of-left-field resurgence of honky-tonk here thanks to artists like Robert Ellis & the Boys, Miss Leslie and 2009's newcomer of the year, L.A. transplant Mike Stinson.
Finally, there were the columns that were both hardest and easiest to write, the ones in which Noise examined how our life has been shaped, for better or worse, by music, whether it was a nondenominational gospel concert at the Rothko Chapel and Barack Obama's inauguration the next day prompting us to examine our faith underneath a musical lens, or how a Drive-By Truckers DVD caused us to tally up the toll a decade and a half of show after show after show has taken on our personal relationships.
It's pretty steep, and continues to be, but then again we're not about to trade the dozens of great shows we saw this year — U2, Bruce Springsteen, the Pogues, the Truckers, Depeche Mode, Roky Erickson, Son Volt, Regina Spektor, AC/DC, Dwight Yoakam, ZZ Top and the two hours before Lucinda Williams got married onstage at First Avenue in Minneapolis come to mind off the very, very, very top of our head — for a wife, two kids and house in the suburbs either. That's just not how we roll.
So bring on 2010. Lord knows it can't be any stranger than the year that's about to slip into history. Except, of course, it probably will be.
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