Bayou City

Houston 2: Music and Manners in a Post-Harvey Town

Houston 2: Music and Manners in a Post-Harvey Town
Photo by Tex Kerschen
I'm in mourning for a friend I lost suddenly. And paying my respects to Houston underwater. And though I'm at the age where I dream about filing things and I wake up in a cold sweat worrying whether or not I remembered to charge my phone, all this shock is dredging up old feelings. Not only the woeful feelings you'd expect, but teenage feelings, lusty feelings, "raze it all and start again from scratch" feelings.

Almost anyone who dies gets called a good person after his death. That said, my friend was a good person while alive. A talented person, with taste and ideas and a sensitivity that outran his time. He was a gentle person, a centered person, a calmative force, and he's gone. Maybe he let down his guard. Maybe his strength was a liability. After all, look at the rest of us; we're as flimsy as roaches and we'll probably leave this world with everyone behind us bitching that we lived too long. Whatever it was, I'll miss him, and I'm not alone.

Nouveau Houston 2001-2017
I don't know that I'll miss the Houston of 2001-2017. Let's pick the bones. From any angle one approached it, the whole period carried a whiff of American Psycho. I don't know much about the allure of cars that cost as much as houses, nor of the toll roads they ride on, but dealerships specializing in expensive cars seemed to spring up from the muck and the fusty fungal damp in epidemic numbers after Tropical Storm Allison.

The whole consumerist manic tilt, the fantasy that everyone was rich with the lifestyle magazines feeding that fantasy, accompanied by the spirit-crushing whoosh of music festivals, the dispiriting glut of bands and venues, all the art fairs and cultural capital, the phrase creative capital by itself, the deployment of culture as a pacifying influence — it all looked nice brand-new. But it falls apart in the sight of ruin. As corny as was Walk the Line (Walk Hard was truer to the books), there's something clumsily truthful afoot in the scene where Johnny Cash is told to sing as though he was facing his creator. Edward Hirsch and Nick Cave call that injunction to create art in the face of mortality, the duende of art. Other people call it other things; the sentiment holds. I've written a few ditties, but it's not all of them I would want to be caught singing when my number comes up.

I'm not going to mention the names of the various climate change deniers, energy profiteers, anti-science demagogues and paid political hacks who have likely hastened our arrival to this rough minute in a rough hour — with people in danger, people in pain, animals in danger, city destroyed, homes ruined, basic services at a stop, everything coming to a grinding halt — because this, as you can probably tell, is a music column. Except this week, for some reason, there's not much music happening around town. I don't know what's going to happen, what will be postponed or canceled, only that soon enough it'll all continue. Probably too soon, in fact. All lifelike things have a habit of continuing until they can no longer, whether you like them or not, to wit, the works of Samuel Beckett, or, similarly, the discography of Ben Wallers, a.k.a. the Rebel, The Country Teasers, etc., itself a thermodynamic law.

Hasten Living Mops
Before the actual hurricane hit southeast Texas, Port Lavaca, Aransas and the Corpus area, the bluster was already upon us, writ small. We get dud storm hysterias the way high school kids get bunk drugs, so there's some precedent for the cynicism and the macho postures. Thursday night, I slunk into Vinal Edge to catch a set of slow techno by Nick Klein. He let the patch cords and pedals do the work, buzzing and throttling as they did in a particularly ornate fashion, mentioning only that he'd hit storms coming into town. The vibe throughout was hesitant, jittery. But almost everywhere else, local bands and promoters were trumpeting in all four corners that the show must go on. Until it didn't.

Sure, much like the mops in the Sorcerer's Apprentice section of Fantasia, bands will keep coming. Janet Jackson is [probably] coming, and I can't wait. The Melvins are coming. A little further down the line, the Psychic Ills are coming, Jeweled Snakes are coming, Cigarettes After Sex are coming, the three of these on the same night no less. !!! is coming. Texas gubernatorial candidate Thor Harris is coming, with Deerhoof in tow. Once and future punks GBH might be a long time coming, thanks to the rain, but present punks-not-punks Naomi Punk are coming. If the Woodlands Pavilion doesn't wash away or get converted into a relief center via eminent domain, Depeche Mode, among the best songwriters of the 20th century, will be coming with a mighty dose of the clap (pictured below).

Houston 2
What I am excited about is Houston 2. That's my name for it, at any rate, and I allude to it incessantly. With all the heavy weather we get, combined with the lack of infrastructure, of long-range planning and base-level attention to detail and conscientiousness, disasters like this flood and continuous crises like the instances of flooding before this are inevitable, however hard to imagine on a sunny day. But Houston 2 awaits us, never closer than right now. All these artists polluting real estate with their this 'n' thats, all the bands blowing up Facebook, there may be work for them as co-designers, with our mishandled engineers and architects and the rest of these smart people, designing a city that isn't sinking under its own dead weight. I have an ongoing dream of giant aqueducts scaffolding the skyline, perhaps more lace-doily-like than the ones pictured below, carrying our irregular inundations away from the impermeable city (Houston 2.1 involves greenscaping so intense it'll make a hobbit blush) toward the rice paddies and inconstant aquifers west. But I'm not an artist, nor an engineer, nor an architect, nor the rest of these smart people.

click to enlarge COLLAGE BY TEX KERSCHEN
Collage by Tex Kerschen
I Seen You Now, Houston
You caught my eye there on the television, doing emergency rescues. We must have drifted apart. You with your mannequin in the front passenger seat of your car, violating the h-o-v, neglecting to use your turn signals, opting not to scan the road several cars ahead, refusing to zipper-merge, flinging your Whataburger debris into the wind. I may have been at fault too, supporting Green Party candidates time and again despite their lack of off-year organizing and their overall mildness of vision. But this time when we passed each other on the street, this time, I think we both felt a spark. We were both gawking at the thing, its size, its endurance. What I mean is, the freeways underwater, the people in desperate straits, and, finally, the shock that people were just jumping into the breach and helping other people. People saving lives, sharing information, cooperating without duress, putting in long hours on behalf of their hitherto unseen neighbors, it was like a page out of Kropotkin's Mutual Aid. I'm digging this feeling, Houston, I think you are too. I think we both might like the camaraderie.

I'm hoping it lasts, the feeling of common cause, not the crisis. We're still reeling in that. Thousands of people are consigned to makeshift shelters, with everything they had left behind to the waters. People might be still roosted high, awaiting rescue or worse. Please do what you can to help them, if you can help them, even after the water recedes.

And after that, Houston 2. Let's keep it casual, no work camps, no gulags, let's just do it potluck. More environmentally responsive, more socially responsive and more continuously social, engaging, certainly alluvial, but not terrifyingly so.

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Tex Kerschen is a Houston based gadabout, dilettante, estimate reviser and the Houston Press music listings editor.
Contact: Tex Kerschen