EAT HUMAN FLESH
Unless extraterrestrials start podcasting live on 97.9 the Boxx or Jandek makes an album with Terence Trent D’Arby, Mark Flood’s Gratest Hits exhibition at the CAMH is the most significant music-related event in Houston this year by a long shot. It hardly matters what you think of his art, art in general, or whether you think about art at all. It doesn’t matter if you missed the rare surprise set of Culturcide and Stabin Cabin covers he performed with longtime collaborator Dan Workman and friends at the museum last weekend. Gratest Hits is a reliquary through and through, but a fun one. You only have to know this much. It’s a high-water mark for Houston culture composed of the kind of jetsam and loose trash usually left over after a — bear with me now, and know that I'm saying this in an Alan Partridge voice — flood.
You see, Mark Flood (or Perry Webb, Jon Peters or whatever) is a unicorn. After 30-plus years persisting in the obscurity that constitutes a life doing anything creative in Houston, he has become a huge success in the international art world. His paintings are collected by the yachting class for terrible sums of money. Museums clamor for the chance to exhibit his work. He’s at a point in his career where he can do whatever he likes, and so he does. He promotes unknown artists, young and old, stages mock art fairs in the belly of real art fairs, and never misses a chance to make fun of the rich, the famous, the powerful and their attendant flunkies. Better yet, he’s arrived at this place without changing much about his scabrous, satirically bloodthirsty approach to making and un-making art and music. No, it’s not really that nasty, nor even as dirty or risqué as the square art press would have you believe, but it’s almost always funny and knowing, a pretty good accounting of the world and its venality.
Almost any time an artist succeeds in shoving his agenda through the mouth-hole of a typically staid institution whole cloth, it's a pretty good day for humanity. And that's what's happened here. The museum is filled with art debris. There is a multitude of stencil paintings of nihilistic platitudes, "Eat Human Flesh," "Ask Your Drug Dealer If Your Heart Is Strong Enough For Sexual Activity" and, I'm paraphrasing here, 'I Work Hard To Feed My Family…Into a Woodchopper,' as well as several walls of other one-liners, various defacements, a short film making light of art fairs and art, and piles of movable "Like" paintings, but for the most part it’s odds and ends from his life, here in Houston, holed up, making stuff, archiving, messing with the edges of his own identity. For years no one quite knew if he was an artist, Mark Flood, making work on the back of his small notoriety as music provocateur Perry Webb, or vice versa.
In a city that is forever looking elsewhere for its signs of its own self-worth, and consequently holds its own in little regard except when they are ringing a bell in other towns, and that is mostly lacking in both memory and self-awareness, it’s a smart move to highlight this artist-archived paper trail, as the CAMH does here, tacking it willy-nilly to museum walls that have seen so much bland grandiosity over the years. Now, these walls are covered in notices of long-past exhibitions, concerts, fawning letters from fans and unfavorable press reviews, among other mementos from one of the world's snarkiest scrapbooks. Here, these walls are covered in off-the-cuff jokes, cutting rejoinders to dehumanizing institutional processes and systemic indifference to each and every one of us, whether artist or no.
There’s a gallery devoted to his band Culturcide, with records you can play, and xeroxed flyers, hand-written and typewritten lyric sheets, business letters, mail-order inquiries, phony promo shots, messed-up collages of rock stars, and a number of correspondences attached to Tacky Souvenirs From Pre-Revolutionary America, the album central to the Culturcide legend. Already loved by the underground music obscuranti for a number of rant and electronics releases, and a distribution deal in place, Culturcide went for their main chance with an album that could simply be described as Top 40 hits of the time with new satirical lyrics and sound effects dubbed right on top of the original tracks, assembled and released without any legal permissions. It met with predictable legal threats from the big studios.
The show also includes a few of the lace paintings that made Mark Flood, in the mafia sense. It’s no stretch of the imagination to see how they attracted upper-echelon collectors at least in part by their naughtiness-by-association with his bad-boy rep and his uglier works. You see, the art world, like most of our esoteric vocations, is a nebulous spirit vampire populated by compromised ciphers who feed on authenticity. They don’t want paintings of vases filled with flowers or of gangs of horses on the open prairie. They feast on human souls.
Houston has never before had a star who made his nut by keeping it ugly, much less retained one who didn’t bail for a better life anywhere else. And certainly never a freak. So with Flood winning, the freaks win. A proxy victory for dignity, to be sure, yielding only a sliver of outside hope, based on worse odds than a scratch-off lotto ticket. But at least it's not for the energy execs, not the bankers, not the real-estate poachers, not the pop aspirants nor the rock and roll traditionalists, not the savvy or the marketable, not the agreeable or any of the bet-hedgers, not the young or the old, just the freaks. It's very, very unlikely that Flood ever set out to ennoble the lives of the countless artists who have lived and worked and will die, broke and uncelebrated, here under the future marshlands and beachfronts of Houston bay, but that's just what he's done, somehow, more or less.
Drab Majesty, Future Blondes, Pale Dian, Tearful Moon, Delphine Coma (DJ), Millennial Grave (DJ)
May 6, Fitzgerald’s
Deb Demure of L.A.'s Drab Majesty comes down the same pipe as Ariel Pink, John Maus, Geneva Jacuzzi and Actually Huizenga, making catchy, future-sexual, throwback synth-pop. Like the aformentioned artists, he's also reputed to be a captivating live performer, flamboyant and grandiose. Future Blondes is of course a hometown freak, however far he strays from the Montrose surf, a strange cross between Chrome, Tangerine Dream and Bela Bartok, unafraid to head to the bar for a drink while waiting out a groove, contrarian in most respects, everlastingly ad hoc and sure to keep your head ringing. Pale Dian sports a slightly tropicalized Cocteau Twins vibe. They're rolling through on a comprehensive national tour from their hometown of Austin. Tearful Moon represent the seeming resurrection of Houston's goth culture, playing the kind of cold-and-darkwave that would have gone over like gangbusters at New York's Wierd records. DJs Delphine Coma and Millennial Grave, well, play good music.
Super Happy Fun Land, May 7
Not noise, not-not noise, but definitely riding huge squarewaves out by the jetties at death beach, Spike the Percussionist's long-running Astrogenic Hallucinauting is an ever-changing marvel of psychedelic techno, and the laissez-faire atmosphere and long history of eclectic throwdowns at SHFL should suit anyone in need of a quick session of sonic therapy or just a well-met occasion to chase ketamine rabbits down their respective burrows, from the comfort of a theater seat.
Cop Warmth, with 404 Not Found, Collin Hedrick, Andrew Sainz
AvantGarden, May 12
Since the transformation of the Montrose from a freak-friendly little village where shoulder snakes are always in order to a Range Rover-infested no-fly zone, loud nights like this have become extremely rare at AvantGarden. Headliners Cop Warmth have amassed a major load of punk cred nationally for remaining such a fun and ever-mutating band. Traveling weirdos 404 Not Found make cottage-industry electro, which is to say, my favorite kind of music, out of down-model drum machines and beepy gewgaws. Openers Collin Hedrick and Andrew Sainz are each always full of surprises themselves, and a person going out on a Wednesday has every right to demand surprises.