Everybody's a poseur in his/her own circles. In journalist circles, it's the height of fashion to drive jalopies and wear body-unconscious clothing, baker hats and blinders. (Just kidding.) On Wall Street, it's a paradox in motion. Traders don overpriced clothes, which have no resale value and depreciate the moment they're purchased -- but still dress that way because everybody else does. And in music, it's no different. Poseurs abound.
In the punk world, it's dressing like you don't care how you dress that's fashionable. (Curiously, everybody in punk thinks nobody else wears black leather biker jackets or sports green Mohawks.) In the Richmond Strip blues-rock world, band members got their hockey-haircuts, blue jeans and cowboy boots. Elsewhere, like at Instant Karma or Rudyard's, frat-boy-grunge-rockers extol sweatshop chic: Gap khakis, Old Navy (part of Gap) baseball hats, Nike running shoes and Lord & Taylor T-shirts. (Probably some Kathie Lee Casuals on underneath, but we won't go there.) And new "new wave" bands got their own little way of dressing: tight black pants, flats and sometimes -- as in the case of Japanic's lead singer, Tex -- gold lamé.
But that doesn't mean Tex is ever dressed inappropriately. For down-and-dirty gigs, like at Mary Jane's, for instance, Tex will wear a black tank top, black Wolverines and black stretch Levi's. Just so he can jump around and "take abuse." On the contrary, at a swanky club like Spy, where Japanic performed at the Houston Press Music Awards two months ago, Tex wore a custom-tailored gold lamé shirt with black patent leather shoes and, as always, black stretch Levi's. Spy's a classy place, so Tex wanted to look the part. Whatever club style he adopts, Tex says, his band usually follows, ahem, suit.
"It's never out of context," says Tex, whose workaday wear at the Ineri Foundation consists of French Revolutionary garb. "What we wear always reflects the place we're playing. We try to do every performance differently. Make it an individual, one-time thing. We try to fit everything in there."
There's no glam. No theatrics. Just some visuals to add to the attractiveness of the music.
Functional and form-ful clothing are also a large part of the rave scene. Those baggy pants ravers wear allow them to dance freely. And their flimsy T-shirts are not so much cover as second skin, a good way to let sweat out.
What all the sci-fi-themed costuming and corporate-logo parodies mean, outside of form, is that dancing kids don't take life too literally or seriously. This way, says Levon Louis of the live-PA band Lunatex, "kids can make an expression of how humorous the world can be.
"Our arts and entertainment comes so prepackaged nowadays that kids make fun of it. There are other ways to have fun other than the staple of entertainment that's provided for you."
For example, wearing a Stormtrooper helmet to a rave is a way of taking something meant for one entertainment use (e.g., Halloween) and using it for another (e.g., non sequitur social dancing). This is what Louis means by taking prepackaged entertainment and doing something else with it. "They're just playful plays on society."
One of the only other genres outside of hip-hop in which the pervading style has been commodified, which means "has been mass-produced and can now be purchased at Macy's," has been punk. But according to Christian Arnheiter of the 20-year-old punk group The Hates, commodification of a look is a good thing. It means the music is here to stay.
"When the bottom fell out of glitter [rock], the look died off," says Arnheiter, referring to the flashy clothes worn by glam artists like David Bowie and Roxy Music at the height of their successes in the mid-'70s. "After that, [Roxy Music lead singer] Bryan Ferry got into '50s soul and was wearing khaki pants and had that Great Gatsby look. Disenfranchised youth filled the void. Now, people emulate that [punk] style. Not glam. The punk look's still here."
The moment you observe a performer, fashion happens. Even bluesmen of bygone days were poseurs in a sense. They couldn't be seen in white men's tennis shoes, let alone in V-neck sweaters or two-tone loafers. Same with gospel singers. Always the look of beatific gratification, Mahalia Jackson rarely posed for a picture without tilting her head toward the heavens. And what of today's heavy-metal rockers? Think they'd be seen without their long-ass hair?
"Music is one thing, but performance is different," says Allison Fisher, front woman of the blues outfit Stella Verdes. "When I go see a show, I like a show."
Take Me Out at the Ballgame
How droll. At the Astros-Pirates game two Fridays ago, in which the Battlin' Bucs simply outmuscled the home team in extra innings, I noticed something unusual. There was no organist. Except for the seventh-inning stretch when a taped version of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" blared through the loudspeakers in a plaintive organ-ic dipsy-do, there were no wheezing melodies to inspire the players to "go" and/or play defense. No hummable anthems against a backbeat of crunching nachos. No... nothing. But that's not to say there wasn't any music.
At any spare break in the action, loud, loud, LOUD pop music coursed through the stale Astrodome air. It was obviously a way to give a Friday night at the "ballpark" a jolt. But this is the norm around the league. Probably every major ballpark, with the exception of Wrigley Field, submits its fans and players to up-tempo contemporary pop before and during games. With the addition of new computer software this year, according to the Astros' vice president of communications, Rob Matwick, the process of getting the right song on at the right moment has become more efficient than ever. Noonie Oakes from KTJM FM slings the discs.
But the experience of watching Astros players step up to the plate that fateful Friday night seemed to me similar to watching WWF wrestlers descend into the ring. Dramatic hip-hop and rock paved the way. For example, as Derek Bell took the batter's box, "Jump Around," by off-the-face-of-the-earth rappers House of Pain, shook the entire stadium. It vanished the moment Bell's feet were both planted. Right on cue.
And, oh, how appropriate was it that most of the black players were introduced by dance/R&B/ rap numbers, while most of the white players were introduced by pop/rock favorites?
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What's disturbing about all this is the disruption of what was once America's serene pastime. Outrageously roaring pop music is okay at Thunderbears or Aeros games, but at the diamond? Not only that, but I have problems with being subjected to other people's lousy taste in music. Especially when a wanna-be G drives past my apartment in his souped-up, low-ridin' Dodge Neon with Juvenile blasting from his speakers. That shit makes me sick. Same goes for at the ballpark. Either incorporate more organ music or let me pick the tunes. When Jeff Bagwell takes his place in the batter's box, I'll play Elvis's "Your Cheatin' Heart." When Bell gets ready to bat, I'll spin Springsteen's "I'm Goin' Down" (to reflect Bell's descent in the batting order). And when Shane Reynolds takes the mound, I'll put on -- what else? -- "U Can't Touch This." See? Then there's some method to the madness.
Last week's story about The Brewery caused some woe for then-anonymous source Jason Crouch of the Danglers, the Austin band that sometimes plays The Brewery, and folks at the pub themselves. Crouch in no way meant to imply that any club, especially The Brewery, cheats its performers out of money. Nor did he intend to appear "bratty." And Michael Holliday of The Brewery says the club makes no profit from cover charges. The Danglers is a solid outfit and a boon to any club.
E-mail Anthony Mariani at firstname.lastname@example.org.