Tuesday, December 16, 2008

My 19 Favorite Tunes of 2008

So, tell me, does the album even matter anymore? When I think about a really awesome album like The Who's Quadrophenia or The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's or The Clash's London Calling, these were more than a collection of songs, they were cohesive works of art.

Today, I very rarely listen to an album as a single work of art. More often than not, I listen to a song here or there because that's how I buy music. I think because of the series of tubes known as teh internets, we listen to music differently now. The era of the single is back, the era of the long-playing album is over. Of course, feel free to disagree with me as Paul Boll did over FredBurgers at lunch yesterday afternoon.

Anyway, I don't really think I can put together even a short list of best albums because I don't feel I have the opportunity to listen to enough albums to even put together a short list.

Don't get me wrong, there were some albums I really liked. Alejandro Escovedo's Real Animal may be the best album he's ever done. British Sea Power's Do You Like Rock Music? was an impressive piece of power pop. But I'm not sure the album really matters anymore.

Whether albums matter or not, I thought this was a great year for music. Here are my 19 favorite songs of the year, in something approximating order of preference. Listen, enjoy, react, disagree:

1. "Constructive Summer," The Hold Steady
The Hold Steady seems to inspire lots of debate -- some minimize them as just a bar band and other call lead singer Craig Finn pop music's answer to John Updike. The truth is probably somewhere in between -- they are a cerebral bunch of rockers who play with a lot of heart. Honestly, they remind me a lot of another outfit with Twin Cities roots, Soul Asylum. "Constructive Summer" was completely brilliant -- I could listen to it 10 times in a row right now.

2. "Sex on Fire," Kings of Leon
I was surprised this wasn't a bigger hit. I felt that this song could be a huge hit of "Hey Ya" type magnitude. It wasn't, but it was still a No. 1 hit in the UK. Lead singer Caleb Followill is sort of the male Lucinda Williams -- with that kind of raspy, ragged vocal. Not everyone's taste, but I kind of like it. Watch the video here.

3. "L.E.S. Artistes," Santogold
I think of Santi White, also known as Santogold, as an Eighties throwback -- a little bit of Blondie, Grace Jones and Siouxsie Sioux mixed up into a souffle of awesomeness. She really should be a big, big star -- in a better world, she'd be Beyonce.

4. "So Said What," French Kicks
Which Brooklyn under-the-radar supergroup do you like better -- the French Kicks or The Walkmen? The way you answer that question reveals ... something. I actually prefer the French Kicks, if for no other reason than The Walkmen are better known for their version of Mazarin's "Another One Goes By" than Mazarin is. Yeah, I'm splitting hairs because The Walkmen are rad, too. But the French Kicks ... they're just a wee bit radder. This song channels a certain Beach Boys easiness with a post-punk vibe. It's a real feel-good song.

5. "Grace," Goodwin
This is a total homer pick. I love Fort Worth. I love power pop. Tony Diaz and Daniel Gomez put those two things together quite nicely. Continue to rock, gentlemen. Here they are playing down the street from my house at The Moon.

6. "Sister Lost Soul," Alejandro Escovedo
Back in my Austin days, I worked at the same Sound Warehouse as Alejandro. I still remember the day his then wife (or ex-wife) killed herself. That's a trauma that I still think he wrestles with, and I think you can hear it in this song.

7. "Can’t Say No," Helio Sequence
I've been listening to a lot of KEXP (Damn you, Dominick!), so I've been brainwashed by the Seattle Music Mafia. All the same, Keep Your Eyes Ahead is a brilliant album, if I kept track of that kind of thing. This song is my favorite.

8. "I’m Not Going to Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance With You," Black Kids
Infectious, fun pop. If Robert Smith of The Cure made it successfully though therapy, he would probably make music like this.

9. "Lost Coastlines," Okkervil River
Representing the 512 area code on this list is Okkervil River. Actually, I could just as easily insert their cut "Singer Songwriter" here, but I'll put in "Lost Coastlines" here because, well, because I can't find a link to the video. Meh.

10. "I’m Good, I’m Gone," Lykke Li
Duffy, Adele, I want nothing to do with you. Y'all can't carry Lykke Li's mascara.

11. "Unforgettable Season," Cut Copy
More electronica. I think "Cut Copy" is Australian for "awesomeness."

12. "Northwestern Girls," Say Hi
I liked their old name, Say Hi To Your Mom, but this ambient little ode to Seattle's pretty ladies is quite a fetching little tune.

13. "Midnight Man," Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
No Tom Waits album this year -- Nick Cave is an acceptable substitute. Besides, he got the word "chrysalis" in the song.

14. "Ladytron," Ghosts
Heavy electronica. This song is surprisingly addictive.

15. "The Re-Arranger," Mates of State
Probably the best most-maligned band of the year. The husband and wife duo of Jason Hammel (drums/vocals) and Kori Gardner (keyboard/vocals) sound like they are having a good time. Why not enjoy?

16. "The Step and The Walk," The Duke Spirit
Liela Moss = Marianne Faithfull + Nico. You do the math.

17. "Sometime Around Midnight," The Airborne Toxic Event
Easily my favorite band name of the year, this song is overwrought and maudlin. What more could you want from pop music?

18. "Oxford Comma," Vampire Weekend
I agree -- I don't give a fuck about an oxford comma.

19. "You Want The Candy," The Raveonettes
Uh, yes. I want the candy. Has there been anything out of Denmark this much fun since Legos? I think not.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Waiting for January 21

I found this poem leafing through a book today, and it seemed like an appropriate poem for our current age of anxiety. I don't know what keeps you up at night, but if you are anything like me, it's probably quite a list. This poem is called "Listen" by Charles Simic. It captures the feeling I have about life right now.

Everything about you,
my life, is both
make-believe and real.
We are like a couple
working the night shift
in a bomb factory.

Come quietly, one says
to the other
as he takes her by the hand
and leads her
to a rooftop
overlooking the city.

At this hour, if one listens
long and hard,
one can hear a fire engine
in the distance,
but not the cries for help,

just the silence
growing deeper
at the sight of a small child
leaping out of a window
with its nightclothes on fire.

Caldo de Pollo at Benito's

My good friend, Paul Boll, tells me has always told me that the chicken soup at Benito's has magic healing powers. Last Thursday, I got to put it to the test after spending my morning with chills and aches, I high-tailed it over to Benito's with Dan McCarron to experience the healing power for myself.

The tasty soup gave me a temporary bounce, at least enough to get through my post-lunch conference call, but that didn't keep my health from heading south faster than a subprime mortgage lender. The flu's a bitch this season, people. I've spent the past few days in bed.

Final verdict: Magical, no. Tasty, yes.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving, Y'all

I wish that I had written this, but it was written by one of Bill Stott's former students, forwarded to me by my former teacher. It sums up; my feelings pretty well -- practice gratitude today and bless you all.

"Today is Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday. Because, in addition to the fact that it doesn't have all of the pressure of Christmas, the confused commercial icons of Easter or the bittersweet mix of MLK Day, we celebrate being thankful for all we have. This is one key to happiness that I try and share with as many people as possible: rather than focusing on what we want and do not have and is out of our grasp, thus being always somewhat dissatisfied, it's much more powerful and life-changing to give thanks for the things we do have, even the simplest things, like food in the fridge, friends we love, a job, an education, beautiful weather, a comfortable bed, hot water, great conversations, good shoes, freedom, a healthy mind and body. And so today, I would like to say thanks to you all, for the impact you've made in my life, for helping me on my journey, for the times we've shared, and for all of the wondrous experiences that are continuing to unfold.

"Life is sometimes not so much about what happens, but more about how we perceive the things that do happen. So give this a try: for just a few minutes tonight while lying in bed before drifting off to dreamland, give thanks for all the things you have. And then in the morning, before you climb out of bed, do the same thing. Try it for awhile, and you'll be amazed at how quickly your life changes, and how soon you'll be focusing on life's treasures rather than its forgettable disappointments."

Friday, November 21, 2008

David Garza CD Release Party

This just in ... Saturday at Dada in Dallas.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Klosterman on GnR's "Chinese Democracy"

Chuck Klosterman reviews the new Guns N' Roses album, "Chinese Democracy." Here's the lead: "Reviewing 'Chinese Democracy' is not like reviewing music. It's more like reviewing a unicorn. Should I primarily be blown away that it exists at all? ... I've thought about this record more than I've thought about China, and maybe as much as I've thought about the principles of democracy."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

They'll Put Anyone on TV ...

... but it's easier if you are dressed like a dork rocking the cowboy hat / Hawaiian shirt combo.

Monday, September 01, 2008

On I-35 Between Bruceville and Eddy

I know what you're thinking -- I need a one-ton concrete jackalope. Problem solved -- take I-35 South from Fort Worth to these purveyors of concrete kitsch between Bruceville and Eddy. Your neighbors will thank you for it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Happy 100, L.B.J.

I've written before about my admiration for Lyndon B. Johnson. Tuesday would have been his 100th birthday. I think the most fitting tribute was this post from George Packer at The New Yorker:

Whenever Democrats gather to celebrate the party, they invoke the names of their luminaries past. The list used to begin with Jefferson and Jackson. More recently, it’s been shortened to F.D.R., Truman, and J.F.K. The one Democrat with a legitimate claim to greatness who can’t be named is Lyndon Johnson. The other day I asked Robert Caro, Johnson’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning biographer and hardly a hagiographer of the man, whether he thought Johnson should be mentioned in Denver. “It would be only just to Johnson,” Caro said. “If the Democratic Party was going to honestly acknowledge how it came to the point in its history that it was about to nominate a black American for President, no speech would not mention Lyndon Johnson.” Caro is now at work on the fourth volume of his epic biography, about Johnson’s White House years. “I am writing right now about how he won for black Americans the right to vote. I am turning from what happened forty-three years ago to what I am reading in my daily newspaper—and the thrill that goes up and down my spine when I realize the historical significance of this moment is only equaled by my anger that they are not giving Johnson credit for it.”

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

William Faulkner once wrote, “The past is never dead. It's not even past.”

True dat. I can still remember sitting in bar drinking Guinness and talking with PeteG about the magnificence of Joe Strummer a year ago, or walking down the midway at the State Fair a decade ago with my year-old daughter perched on my shoulders or the smell of a spring evening on the first night I ever kissed my wife. To me, it seems like these things happened just this morning.

And sometimes our past and our present and our future can all become one, all tangled up in memory and possibility. And sometimes, as the great writer Tim O’Brien reminds us, sometimes the past can even save us.

I bought a book at Taylor’s Bookstore in Arlington, Texas in 1991. It was and is called “Write to the Point.” It’s a book about writing by my old professor from the University of Texas, Bill Stott.

Bill was one of my favorite professors at UT. I took a class from him in the spring of 1989 called the History of Photography that he taught with J.B. Colson, a professor of photography in the College of Communication.

To say that the class was a transcendent experience would be an understatement – I don’t believe you can learn about the genius of Walker Evans for the first time and not feel like the world has somehow changed. I spent that summer reading “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” late into the night in a tiny yellow house on 30th Street, smoking Luckies and wondering if I could ever write something that great.

It wasn’t the last experience I had with Bill. I spent more than a few hours talking about Evans and James Agee and documentary expression during his office hours when I was still suffering from the delusion that I would go the grad school. My last semester in Austin, I took one last writing class from Bill and wrote some of the best stuff I ever wrote in college.

The real highlight for me was the way he would grade papers. Students would turn in their assignments in a 9x12 manila envelope with a typewritten paper and a blank audio cassette enclosed. Bill would read your paper aloud, grade it and return it to you. Sound terrifying? It was anything but. Not only do I treasure those memories, I still have the tapes.

That fall, I bought “Write to the Point,” read about five pages, then put it on a shelf.

In spite of my disregard for Bill’s book, I managed to make a career using words, first with eight years as a newspaperman at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, then another few years working for Internet startups before spending almost seven years working as a corporate communications consultant for some of the biggest companies in Texas. Then one day in December of last year, I gave the middle finger to my boss after she said I could neither write nor edit.

As liberating as it can be to lay out a giant “fuck you” to someone who doubts your ability, I must confess that this prompted a bit of an existential crisis. I mean, could this person be right?

So I grabbed my copy of “Write to the Point” off the shelf. About half way through this magnificent book, I had an epiphany. Not only could I write, but realized that I learned to write in large part because Bill Stott showed me the way.

As I read, I dog-eared pages, underlined key passages, starred items and wrote things in the margins. Among them:

  • There is no “perfect way” to writing.

  • Say what you mean as plainly as you can.

  • Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

  • Context matters enormously.

  • Is it alright to end a sentence with a preposition? Yes.

  • Try the first words that come to mind because they are the most natural.

  • Style has no necessary relation to an author’s character.

  • Writing a bad sentence is natural. All it takes to right a competent sentence is patience and practice.

  • Write as you talk.

  • To read these words were an affirmation and a motivation. Ever since, writing has seemed somehow different – easier and effortless. And most days, I feel pretty good about my writing, too. Some people are even kind enough to tell me that they enjoy my writing – including my new boss.

    I’m grateful to Bill Stott for his teaching and his patience 20 years ago. And I’m grateful that he wrote a book like “Write to the Point” that was able to say the things I need to hear when I needed to hear them.

    When I read the other day about his struggle with cancer, it was like a dagger in the heart. How could something like this happen to someone who is so alive in my memory?

    In part, that’s what got me off my ass to write this post. I wrote last year after the passing of another great UT professor, Kurth Sprague, that if I have learned to write at all, then Kurth and Bill Stott and F.J. Schaack were certainly, in part, responsible. I stand behind my previous statement.

    But one last thing I underlined in Bill’s book I believe is worth mentioning:

    “People think I can teach them style. What stuff it is. Have something to say and say it as plainly as you can. That is the only secret of style.”

    So be it. Bill, you were there for me in 1989, and you were there for me again in 2008. You made a difference, and my life is better for having you as my teacher.

    Thank you.

    Tuesday, July 29, 2008

    Don Draper Knows How To Sell Books

    It's funny. Frank O'Hara hasn't been in my consciousness before, say, a few weeks ago when I visited the Beat Generation exhibit at the HRC at UT-Austin. An excellent exhibit, but if you are going to see it, you'd better hurry because it ends this Sunday.

    Nonetheless, Frank O'Hara figures prominently in the Season Two premiere of Mad Men on AMC when Don Draper sees a guy at a diner reading the Frank O'Hara book, Meditations in an Emergency. For more about this book, check out Michael Leddy's blog.

    At the end of the episode, Don reads aloud the fourth (last) section of "Mayakovsky," the last poem in Meditations:

    Now I am quietly waiting for
    the catastrophe of my personality
    to seem beautiful again,
    and interesting, and modern.

    The country is grey and
    brown and white in trees,
    snows and skies of laughter
    always diminishing, less funny
    not just darker, not just grey.

    It may be the coldest day of
    the year, what does he think of
    that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
    perhaps I am myself again.

    For a fictional character, Don sure knows how to move books. When I checked Amazon.com just now, it was the No. 1 selling book of American poetry. Suck it, Robert Frost!

    Tom Waits in Atlanta Podcast

    Got two and half hours to spare? If you missed Tom Waits on the Glitter and Doom tour, you can catch the rebroadcast of the Atlanta show on NPR. I highly recommend it.

    Friday, June 27, 2008

    Tom Waits at The Palladium in Dallas

    Photo from Unfocused Mike

    A long time ago during my Austin days, my old roommate Russ worked on a movie called The Ballad of the Sad Café being shot on Willie Nelson's ranch out in Dripping Springs. Russ was the stand-in for Keith Carradine, which meant that he literally stood under the hot lights in the hot Texas sun instead of Carradine as they set up camera shots. When everything was ready, Keith would step on to the set and shooting would begin.

    Toward the end of shooting, Russ decided he would allow himself to ask Keith one "Hollywood" question. Because Keith Carradine had recently starred in Cold Feet, the question to Russ – and me – was obvious. "What's Tom Waits really like?"

    I don't remember much about what Keith told Russ other than something like, "He's a poet, really." I know the answer was much more comprehensive and thoughtful than that, but I was thrilled to talk to someone who talked to someone who talked to Tom Waits. And for years, I was such a big fan of Waits' music that I assumed that any kind of connection to the man would be some sort of transcendent experience.

    So when I finally saw Waits in Chicago back in 2006, it was inevitably a bit of a disappointment. It was fantastic, but not transcendent – except for "Falling Down." However, I'm not sure any artist can live up to those weighty expectations.

    Nonetheless, my enthusiasm for the music of Tom Waits remains undiminished and I bought tickets to last week's Dallas show the moment they went on sale.

    Much has been written already about the lack of A/C and the dearth of bars. And yes, it was freaking hot in there and the line for any beverage -- with or without alcohol -- was unmercifully long. But for the chance to stand within 50 feet of the man for the entire performance, I'm willing to put up with a lot. However,the conditions may have had more to do with Tom Waits than the Palladium management. At the Tom Waits show in Chicago in 2006, the concessions closed 45 minutes before Waits took the stage and I chalked up the lack of air conditioning to the 100-year-old venue. That show was actually much hotter. If Waits wanted to create a revival meeting atmosphere, lots of heat and no booze are the way to do it.

    And that's what it was on Monday night -- a tent revival replete with the showmanship, hucksterism and funkiness. And Waits has always been equal parts Howlin Wolf, Kurt Weill and Billy Sunday with a dash of Cookie Monster playing "Greensleeves." And when he played "Such a Scream" and "Eyeball Kid," he even channeled a bit of James Brown.

    My biggest complaint was that the mix -- it was muddy and missing all of the high end. But what surprises me is the songs he played that are among my favorites like "Hoist That Rag" weren't my favorite songs of the evening. The songs I liked best were "Lie To Me," "Fannin Street" and "Black Market Baby" -- not songs I listen to all of the time, but he just blows them out live. And all you "Wire" fans have to love hearing "Way Down in the Hole." It's kind of special.

    Transcendent? No. But I've moderated my expectations. Exceptional? Absolutely. Waits is a master showman and I can sleep better at night knowing that I've seen one of my musical heroes not once, but twice. If you ever have a chance to see him, you should. You won't be disappointed. I know I wasn't.

    Best Books of the Past 25 Years

    Entertainment Weekly released its list of 100 Best Reads of the past 25 years and I didn’t fair too well – four out of 100. Here’s the breakdown:

    Have Read
    7. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991)
    31. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien (1990)
    57. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987)
    80. Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (1984)

    Have Bought and Not Read
    2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000)
    9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)
    26. Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984)
    84. Holes, Louis Sachar (1998)

    Will Probably Read Soon
    37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003)
    53. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000)
    64. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)
    88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)

    Might Possibly Read Sometime
    11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997)
    28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)
    50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001)
    79. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000)

    Would Like To Read But Most Likely Never Will
    1. The Road, Cormac McCarthy (2006)
    18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990)
    24. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (1985)
    36. Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)
    42. LaBrava, Elmore Leonard (1983)
    47. World's Fair, E.L. Doctorow (1985)
    66. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (1997)
    74. Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger (1990)

    Sunday, June 15, 2008

    "A Death in the Family" Revisited

    We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.

    So begins one of my favorite book, "A Death in the Family," by James Agee, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1958. Agee was a tortured genius haunted by the death of his father when James was 6, and this novel, published posthumously after his death of a heart attack at age 45 in 1955, is the work of a writer in peak form.

    Or so I thought. I read today in The New York Times of a "restoration" of Agee's work to it's original form.

    When Agee died, he left a hand scribbled manuscript of a novel that was almost finished. The handwriting was "so crabbed that psychics should have been called in to decode it." David McDowell, Agee’s protégé and literary executor, cobbled together the version of the book that is known and loved today, a lyrical autobiographical account of Agee’s first six and a half years, ending with the death of his beloved father in a car crash.

    Scholar Michael A. Lofaro spent years shuffling through the original manuscript to create "A Death in the Family: A Restoration of the Author’s Text," by "tracking down the variants, squinting at Agee’s gnarled handwriting, deciphering illegibilities, comparing drafts, speculating, emendating, annotating — and when it comes to his predecessor McDowell’s version, lacerating."

    But was Lofaro able to improve on the original? Will Blythe, writing for The Times says yes:

    "At last we have 'A Death in the Family' that appears closer to the author’s original intention. This tidying is good in its own right, but the main reason to celebrate the publication of this version is that it serves as a fresh reminder of the wondrous nature of Agee’s prose — unabashedly poetic, sacramental in its embrace of reality, and rhythmical as rain on a Tennessee tin roof."

    I would like to heartily add an "amen" to the previous statement. Even without the novel, Agee would have been remembered for any of his many accomplishments. He was an accomplished poet and a well-regarded journalist who worked for Fortune and time Time in the 1930s. He may be best remembered for his collaboration with the great photographer Walker Evans on their book about the plight of Southern sharecroppers, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men," but he is also considered the father of American film criticism, which he defined in his book, "Agee on Film." And, if that wasn't enough, he was the credited screenwriter on two classic films, "The African Queen" and "The Night of the Hunter."

    I can't wait to read the new version of this old favorite. If you haven't spent time with Agee, seek out his work at the bookstore or library. Or even spend a moment with this overview from The New Yorker. He is an American original worth remembering.

    Wednesday, June 11, 2008

    7:02 p.m., Wednesday on Magnolia Ave.

    I believe in serendipity. Sometimes things just happen that are better than anything you could have ever planned. It's these little surprises that make it worth getting out of bed in the morning.

    It was a long day. One of those days where one thing happens and then another and before you know it, it's 7. So I turn off the CPU, grab my bag and begin to head out the door when I see my man, Dan McCarron, Heineken in hand, headed to the fire escape to take seven minutes off of his life. So I grab a cold one and join him.

    And in the warm evening sun of a Texas summer, we sit and appreciate the fact that, even though Heineken is kind of a piss beer, sometimes it's just the right thing. It reminds me of drinking beer back in high school, when you were really going uptown if you were drinking Heineken. Of course, that was back in the Eighties when you only had about five beers to choose from.

    It's not quite a Proustian memory rush, but drinking a Heineken certainly takes me back about 20 years. And standing in the heat under a wan blue sky in the fading yellows of a disappearing day, telling stories about Coney Island and CBGBs and Joe's Pub and cracking a few jokes with a friend -- I found it an unexpectedly pleasant way to spend a few minutes on a June evening in Fort Worth, Texas.

    Yeah, my office is cooler than yours.

    Friday, April 25, 2008

    Regrettable Moments in Marketing History

    My new Starr Tincup work friend David Hisbrook shared this with me, courtesy of American Copy Writer. The moral of the story is this: a ram hitting a guy in the balls is funny. A ram hitting a guy in the balls twice is frickin hilarious.

    Wednesday, April 16, 2008

    Spring Mix 2008

    To all my friends who have asked -- Yes, I've been away. But it's all good. I've got a new job at Starr Tincup down on Magnolia Avenue. It's the greatest place in the world but I am busier than I've ever been, which doesn't leave a lot of time for blogging.

    So I am taking the easy way out to get a post up ... I'm leaning on my man the Stash Dauber for inspiration. Here is my Spring Mix for 2008. Check it:

    1. PPT > Higher
    2. Goodwin > Grace
    3. Say Hi > Northwestern Girls
    4. British Sea Power > Waving Flags
    5. The Raveonettes > You Want the Candy
    6. Glen Hansard > Say It To Me Now
    7. Band of Horses > The General Specific
    8. M83 > Graveyard Girl
    9. Nina Simone > Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood
    10. Joe Strummer > Coma Girl

    Sunday, April 06, 2008

    R.I.P. Charlton Heston

    Cheston has left the building. Does this mean we can pry the gun from his cold dead fingers now?

    I don't know about you, but I like the Omega Man Chuck Heston the best. Kicking it in the velour track suit, chest hair flowing, rocking the sub-machine gun, blasting zombies and playing chess against the bust of Napoleon with a sifter of cognac. That's unfiltered awesome.

    Yep, Heston and guns are as inextricably linked as ... uh, Heston and apes. Unfortunately, my most vivid memory of Heston the NRA guy is that whole scene with him at the end of Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine. I thought Moore made an interesting and compelling argument about the detrimental impact of guns in American society, and then blew it at the end of the movie with his unfair ambush interview of Heston. You may not agree with Heston's views on guns, but the man was obviously not at the top of his game mentally and the "interview" was, I thought, unfair and disrespectful.

    Sorry about that Cheston, you deserved better. Still, thanks for defending us from zombies, apes, pharaohs and centurions. I am forever grateful for that. Rest in peace, man.

    Thursday, March 20, 2008

    Ernie Pyle's Last Byline

    My old friend Mo Stevenson, who I have written about previously, once told me a story about how he came to know Ernest Hemingway back in July 1944. Gen. Raymond O. Barton, commander of the Fourth Infantry Division during the Normandy campaign, called him to his tent one day and asked him if he knew any war correspondents. Stevenson replied, “I know the good ones.” And that’s how Mo ended up riding into Paris with Hemingway a few weeks later.

    But the Ernie who was at the top of Mo’s list wasn’t Hemingway. It was Ernie Pyle.

    As an old newspaperman and World War II history buff, I have found myself more interested in the past couple of years in going back to the first-hand accounts of the newspapermen (and women) who covered the war.

    Some of this fascination came from reading the excellent two-volume set of World War II reportage from Library of America where the reporting of Robert Sherrod, Lee Miller, A.J. Liebling, Mack Morris and Carl Mydans still crackles like rifle fire.

    But as great as some of this work is, the work of Ernie Pyle still exists on a different plateau.

    Pyle’s ability to tell the stories of ordinary people and capture small moments allowed millions of American readers to understand the war in a different way. The headlines might show readers the movements of armies as giant arrows on a map, but Pyle put you inside the thoughts of the soldier in the foxhole in the rain. The human-scale portraits he painted with his words helped his readers catch a glimpse they could never understand without actually living it.

    One example of this is his story of Omaha Beach. If you’ve seen the movie Saving Private Ryan, you know what happened. But although Pyle spent more than his share of time under fire, he wasn’t there on D-Day for that horror. Instead, he wrote a story a few days later about walking down the beach in the midst of the detritus of war. His words bring home the magnitude of the loss in an understated, dignified manner.

    It wasn’t the destroyed landing craft or the burned out tanks he wrote about, it was personal affects that washed ashore, “this long thin line of personal anguish” as he called it. It was backpacks, Bibles, shaving kits and snapshots. It was tennis racket. It was a dog looking for its master.

    Pyle writes:

    “I stepped over the form of one youngster whom I thought dead. But when I looked down I saw he was only sleeping. He was very young and very tired. He lay on one elbow, his hand suspended in the air about six inches from the ground. And in the palm of his hand he held a large, smooth rock.

    “I stood and looked at his for long time. He seemed in his sleep to hold that rock lovingly, as though it were his last link with a vanishing world. I have no idea at all why he went to sleep with that rock in his hand, or what kept him from dropping it once he was asleep. It was just one of those things without explanation, that a person remembers for a long time.”

    That kind of writing, that kind of empathy earned the appreciation of millions of readers and the affection of the soldier whose stories he told. He shared their dangers and seemed to understand their lives. I understand that sense affinity for the man and his writing because I still feel it today some 60 years later.

    That’s why I had mixed feelings about the publication earlier this month of the photograph of the dead Ernie Pyle stretched out on the volcanic rock of a little island off Okinawa where he was killed. Although it was thought that the photo had never been published, it actually had been in 1979. Nonetheless, it was a shocking photo. If you want to see it, go to USAToday

    Is this exploitation? Is this sensationalism? Do we really need to see this picture?

    I’ve pondered this question for a while. What I have wondered is what this photo tells us about the man. How a person dies doesn’t always tell us anything about the way they lived. But in this case, I believe it does.

    Pyle spent the war years reflecting the world he experienced. He wrote often about violent death coming suddenly and unexpectedly to those around him. Pyle knew you couldn’t write about the war and not write about the price that soldiers pay. He probably did that most eloquently in his column “The Death of Captain Waskow.”

    In that column, he wrote, “You feel small in the presence of dead men, and ashamed at being alive, and you don't ask silly questions.” I feel a little of that when I look at that photo of Ernie Pyle. For a man who sought to tell the stories of Americans at war, you have to be able to tell The Story of war – people die. Pyle didn’t learn these stories from a distance. He learned them from close up.

    One of Pyle’s colleagues – the great combat photographer Robert Capa touched on this in his memoir Slightly Out of Focus. As he was taking a picture of a wounded pilot crawling out of his damaged bomber at an airfield in England, the pilot held the gash in his forehead and cried, “Are these the pictures you were waiting for, photographer?”

    Capa was stung by this. “On the train to London, with those successfully exposed rolls in my bag, I hated myself and my profession. This sort of photography was for undertakers, and I didn’t like being one. If I was to share in the funeral, I swore, I would have to share the procession.”

    Capa certainly took part in the procession, and so did Pyle. And I think that is part of what this picture of Pyle shows. You do not see a reporter, you see a soldier.

    Also, this man is not an anonymous victim of war. When you read this man’s writing today, the words are still living. His thoughts and observations are as real as something that happened this afternoon. And this photograph serves to magnify the tragedy.

    Ernie Pyle was very much an everyman – a quiet, unassuming regular guy, a bit of a loner. He hated the war as much as any soldier he wrote about but understood that there was a job to do. When he left Europe at the end of 1944 to go home to Albuquerque, N.M., he could have stayed there. He didn’t have to go back out to the war, but he did. Maybe it was a sense of duty, a longing to escape a less than happy marriage or his innate restlessness. Whatever it was, it led him to that little island off Okinawa where he met his end.

    And maybe that is why this photo is necessary to see. We know Ernie Pyle. We can read his thoughts and we still find him to be a hell of a guy. This photo is his last byline and it helps to make the immense scope of tragedy much more real and personal.

    To understand a little more about the man Ernie Pyle was, take a few moments to read this excellent look at his life before the war.

    Monday, February 11, 2008

    The Reivers: I Keep Some Words Here In My Pocket for Such a Rainy Day

    For a few moments at The Reivers reunion show at The Parish in Austin last night, it was 1985 again.

    The kids who used to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee at Quacks or Les Amis, who used to hunt for records at Sound Exchange on the Drag, who used to queue up outside the Liberty Lunch were there. Most are a little thicker around the middle and maybe showing a little -- or a lot of -- gray. Or a receding hairline. Some of them brought their kids.

    But they were there, pulling on a Shiner or a Lone Star, shelving middle age anxieties for a couple of hours to remember what life was like before mortgage payments and Blackberries. One woman -- in true Michael Stipe fashion -- was rocking her FFA jacket. A couple even wore their old-school Reivers' t-shirts.

    And it was a good night and a good show.

    The Reivers -- John Croslin, Kim Longacre, Cindy Toth and Garrett Williams -- were one of the biggest deals in the Austin scene in the mid-1980s. They never made the splash that Stevie Ray Vaughan did. Hell, they never made the splash Timbuk 3 made. But the two sold out shows over the weekend tell you that even though this band broke up in 1991 without reaching the same heights as other Austin acts, it still has a special place in the hearts of many a current and former Austin resident.

    If you are looking for a good overview of who The Reivers were, or maybe you just need a little refresher course, go no further than Michael Corcoran's excellent remembrance on the Austin 360 Web site. He pretty much nailed it, and he was there to know. Below is a video of how they did it back in the day:

    Last night, in the second of their two shows, The Reivers sounded like a band that hadn't played together in over 15 years -- not especially tight and they missed a few notes early on. And I'm sad to say that Longacre -- who could make the hair on the back of my neck stand up back in the 80's -- doesn't quite have the pipes she used to.

    But these are mere quibbles. The Reivers still rocked and their got better as the night wore on. Longacre jumps around on stage pretty good for a middle-aged mom. Her harmonies with Croslin still evoke the same magic. Toth is still enigmatic. Williams plays the fuck out of his drum kit.

    To provide a little more context for those of you in the 817, the Reivers emerged from the Austin scene in mid-1980s as a band called Zeitgeist. You can see them above on MTV's Cutting Edge, circa 1985, along with Daniel Johnston. Cut from the mold of the jangly R.E.M.-influenced bands of the time, they released an excellent album called Translate Slowly, a moody album perfectly calibrated for my brooding teen-age soul. As much as I loved all the songs on that album, what really struck me was two covers: Willie Nelson's "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain" and "The 4Country Reporter Theme." These guys could rock, but they knew Texas. They were people like me. They loved Willie and Bob Phillips. They even ripped off the Texas Rangers logo of the baseball wearing the cowboy hat for their very own.

    I listened to Translate Slowly approximately 150,000 times. I used to look at the back of the album sleeve at the black and white photograph of the band members sitting around a table, playing cards and drinking bottles of Shiner Bock and cans of Bud. I remember thinking, 'Man, Austin's a place I need to get to.'

    Back then, that was the music of the future, the siren song of impending adulthood. And Austin called out as a good place get life started.

    And I got to Austin. By the time I arrived, a lawsuit from another band with the same name prompted a name change to The Reivers, but I saw them and Joe Ely and the True Believers and a bunch of other great bands play during my time there. And I smoked cigarettes and drank Shiner, played spades and hung out with my friends just like those kids on the album sleeve. I even met my first Austin girlfriend at a Reivers' album release party on a cold, blustry winter day in the parking lot of the old Waterloo Records location.

    And though the girlfriend wasn't around much longer than an album side, one cut off of that record, The End of the Day, I still carry around with me to this day. It was the next-to-last song they played last night, "Star-Telegram." It's still my favorite song ever about Fort Worth -- a beautiful piece of 1980s nostalgia for growing up in the early 1970s.

    And that's where everything turns around. As I listened to that song last night, I was very aware that it was not a part of the soundtrack of my future, but rather my past. Now, when I put those old albums on and thoughts of Austin spin above my record player, I'm in Fort Worth. I've got a kid of my own who wears t-shirts and listens to rock music. Funny how that happened so quickly.

    But, I'm lucky. Sure, time goes by all too fast, and many of the kids I enjoyed those Austin days with are now scattered all over the globe -- from Brazil to Ireland to Australia. But I still have some good old friends around who remember those days. And from time to time, just like yesterday afternoon, we can sit under a towering oak tree on South Congress in the long shadows of afternoon and share a drink and a laugh and listen to a little music.

    That's really what I took away from last night at The Parish. -- for me, Austin is like Hemingway's Paris -- it's really a moveable feast. There's never any end to it. No matter how much you change or it changes, you can still return to it. And it's always worth it.

    To Kim, John, Cindy and Garrett, thanks for the reminder. Thanks to Russ and Shannon for a good trip.

    Thanks to jbeckham for the photo.

    UPDATE: Read the Austin 360 review here.

    Friday, February 08, 2008

    Bemstar Wants a Hug

    I love Godzilla kitsch. So does this guy. Check out his Totally Awesome Flickr Set of Japanese monster toys. Thanks, Boing-Boing!

    Monday, February 04, 2008

    What's The Best Kind of Bear?

    Dwight Schrute once asked one of the fundamental questions of our time. OK, actually it was Jim Halpert pretending to be Dwight Schrute, but an important question it is -- what is the best kind of bear?

    Jim said black bear. I wish to offer an alternative.

    What's the best kind of bear? I say a beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking, mortar-shell carrying bear who fights Nazis. That kind of bear is Voytek the Soldier Bear. And Voytek kicks ass.

    This story has been a topic of discussion in my house for several days. According to the BBC, who presumably thoroughly fact-check this kind of thing, Voytek was a bear that Polish soldiers found wandering in the hills of Iran in 1943. Apparently a docile creature, the bear became the unit's mascot and was trained to carry heavy mortar rounds. Which he did during the Battle of Monte Cassino.

    "He was just like a dog - nobody was scared of him," said Polish veteran Augustyn Karolewski. "He liked a cigarette, he liked a bottle of beer - he drank a bottle of beer like any man."

    When the troops were demobilised, Voytek spent his last days at Edinburgh Zoo where he died in 1963, presumably of lung cancer. Now, the good people of Edinburgh and Polish veterans are trying to get a memorial built for Voytek. Here's hoping they do it. You can send a letter of support to the The Scotsman in Edinburgh.

    Exhibit B: If you need more evidence that bears kick ass, allow me to point you to The Bible, by way of Cracked magazine. Yes, we are sinking that low. The topic is 9 Most Badass Bible Verses. The subject is Number 8: II Kings 2: 23-24. "From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. "Go on up, you baldhead!" they said. "Go on up, you baldhead!" 24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths." See -- even God knows that bears are awesome. And who hasn't wished they could summon up some bears to deal with wisecracking juvenile delinquents? Think about that the next time you're at Hulen Mall.

    A Word About My Man PeteG

    My good friend and West and Clear blogging colleague PeteG really gobsmacks me with his talent. Case in point -- the image above. I love the composition, but what really get me is the quality of the color -- the sky, the wall, the sand. The color is exquisite. And that's when Pete would say, "It's the light, man. It's all about the light."

    In a word, awesomez.

    Tuesday, January 22, 2008


    The Oscar nominations are out this morning and even though I don't get out to the movies quite like I used to, my first thought was ... wow, what an odd, highbrow year. Just when you think that American civilization has completely bottomed out, Cormac McCarthy and Upton Sinclair are in the running for Best Picture.

    But the biggest, most pleasant surprise of the morning was from the most unexpected, moving film I have seen in quite some time. Among the nominations for Best Original Song -- "Falling Slowly" from the film "Once," by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova. You can see the video above.

    It's a beautiful song and beautiful film. I can't say enough about it. In a film landscape when everything seems to be an onslaught of robotic violence, serial killers and trite fantasies for the Bratz generation, along comes this quiet little realistic Irish film that is sweet and touching. It's just a simple story of two people sort of falling for each other and making music. And we find -- not surprisingly -- that people's lives are complicated things.

    But unlike many music films, the story doesn't take a backseat to the music or vice versa. Hansard and Irglova are two very capable musicians who can also act. The music doesn't feel like a departure from the narrative thread -- it moves it forward.

    Do yourself a favor and see this movie. And tell a friend. You'll be glad you did.

    UPDATE: The Onion AV Club interview with Glen Hansard.

    Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    What's the Deal with Steve?

    I feel normal. Why do you ask?

    Actually, that's my cat, Bucky. I need something to get the .38 Special thing lower on the page. And, I kind of like that picture.

    But I have been getting that question a lot lately. For those of you who may not know it, I've been spending a lot more time at my other blog, West and Clear. I've actually been quite busy. Drop by and check it out.

    But that leads in to my thoughts for today. Over the past several months since the beginning of West and Clear, my blogging has been a little schizophrenic. Do I post something on the Caravan? On West and Clear? On both? And that doesn't get into my other other blog.

    In short, I have three blogs, and given the demands of my life, it seems that any one of them can be good at any one moment. I'm trying to change that, but you can only spend so many hours a day behind a keyboard.

    And to call West and Clear "my" blog is not the whole truth. I am a proud papa, but West and Clear has four other fathers. Bernie, Kevin, PeteG and PeteW joined our mighty blogging powers because we wished to be the kings of all media in Fort Worth and crush all those who sought steal that mantle from us.

    Actually, I kid.

    We came together as a bunch of blogging SuperFriends because we love Fort Worth and want to tell its stories. So far, it's working. Together, I believe we are better bloggers collectively than we are individually. We feed off off the group energy. We like each other. We enjoy our work.

    And the readers of Fort Worth have responded. Many of you are already West and Clear readers and some of you even take the time to leave your comments. Thank you. We've met you out in the community and you've encouraged us to keep writing. One frequent comment we hear goes like this: "I finally feel like I know what's going on in Fort Worth."

    Again, thank you. I'm flattered, but I haven't drank that much of the KoolAid yet. However, I do believe that West and Clear fills a need.

    So, you may be wondering, what does that have to do with The Caravan of Dreams?

    A lot.

    I'm tired of double-posting or trying to figure out what goes where. And, I believe some of my readers are confused, too. So I am adopting a new policy.

    Effective immediately, those of you who are looking for my musings on urban gas drilling, local politics, local media, local music, local arts coverage or any other Fort Worth topic, head over to West and Clear. It's all there. However, those of you who are looking for the occasional musings on God, Godzilla, books and any other cosmic questions that are rattling around in my attic, you'll find that nonsense right here.

    I know most of my readers are interested in the Fort Worth topics, and I enjoy writing about them. But The Caravan of Dreams is still pretty special to me and I hope y'all will continue reading here, too. I started blogging a few years ago as a way to make sense of my life after my father died. I don't know what I was expecting to find, if I was trying to write my way to some sort of answer of what life is about. If that was what I was looking for, I didn't find it. I'm just as clueless as before.

    But I did find that writing stories helps. It's therapeutic. I grew up avidly listening to stories and I always hoped that I would be able to one day tell stories of my own. Honestly, I don't think I'm very good at it, but I enjoy the hell out of it. I enjoy the hell out of my life and living in Fort Worth. And, above all, I am not short of observations. So this blog will continue to be the old shoebox filled with the trading cards, paperclips, wheat pennies and bottlecaps of imagination.

    So, read me at West and Clear, but read me here, too. I promise interesting reading at both sites. And two out of three ain't bad.

    Wednesday, January 09, 2008

    Panther City Bikes on YouTube

    Bernie over at Panther City Bikes just posted this little promo video on the PCB blog. In his post about the video he writes: "Behold the raw power of what Jason likes to call my ".38 Special" 'stache!"

    Is this indeed a .38 Special mustache? Watch the video and then judge.

    As for me, I'm already convinced. Jason, you nailed it. I offer you Exhibit A, the guy on the left:

    BTW, you can actually vote on whether on not Bernie should grow his stash back. Visit the PCB blog to cast your vote. But hurry up, because only two days remain.

    Los Noviembres at Embargo Tonight

    Looking for something to do on a Wednesday night? Head over to Embargo and check out Los Noviembres, the electrojazzblues cocktail mixed by Paul Boll and Angie Cassada. Think bossa novas and jazz standards. Astrud Gilberto. That kind of cool. Show starts at 10.

    Goodbye, Wendy. Hello, Joel.

    Wendy Davis said goodbye to the City Council last night. Joel Burns took his seat as the new District 9 representative. Was there drama?

    Oh, you bet. This is District 9 after all. Read the whole story at West and Clear.

    Friday, January 04, 2008

    Kimberly Gordon at Scat Jazz Lounge

    This just in from mi amigo maximo Ricki Derek -- Chicago jazz singer Kimberly Gordon will perform two shows next week at Ricki's Scat Jazz Lounge.

    Gordon has been a part of the national jazz scene for 10 years, playing top venues and receiving high acclaim from critics and musicians. During her four-year stint in New York City, Gordon sang at The Village Vanguard, Bradley's and Sweet Basil and appeared regularly at Smalls and Cleopatra's Needle.

    She shared the stage with jazz greats including Roy Hargrove, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Wynton Marsalis and The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Betty Carter, Marcus Roberts, Captain Jack McDuff, Von Freeman, and others.

    Gordon plays at 9 p.m., on Friday, Jan. 11, and Saturday, Jan. 12. Tickets are only available the night of the show at the door for $8. Table reservations for four or more are only accepted for reservations before 10 p.m. and only held for 15 minutes. 21 and up only.

    Open Letter to Gary Wortel

    Welcome to Fort Worth and congratulations on your new position as publisher of Fort Worth's only daily newspaper. I know you are really busy right now, so I'm going to cut straight to the chase. I'm kind of an anomaly among those in online Fort Worth -- I actually subscribe to the newspaper. That's right. Sometime in the small hours of the morning, a real person inserts a real newspaper in a real plastic baggy and leaves it somewhere in the vicinity of my front porch.

    That makes me kind of a Luddite because most of my friends don't subscribe to or even read the paper. Maybe they look at it online. And I know that is one of the problems you are trying to solve. So I'm here to offer some advice.

    You see, I believe in newspapers in general and your newspaper in particular. I believe that a free press and education are two of the essential ingredients of American democracy and for most of our history, the newspaper has both informed and educated. I worked there for almost 10 years, and I believe the Star-Telegram is an essential part of this community. It's like Ol South Pancake House, except without a smoking section. Yeah, the Startlegram is that important.

    I know you are buried under opinions about how to move the Star-Telegram forward in 2008. So I figured I would throw a few on the pile. Here goes:

  • It's about the local: The people I talk to want to read local news but they don't feel like they are getting it from the Star-Telegram. If you tell this to your editors, they will tell you that what I just said is a bunch of bullshit ... there's plenty of local news. But that's how a lot of people feel. So who's right? I think the people are. If so, where is the disconnect?

  • Call out the liars: OK, I do have an idea about the disconnect. I wish I could take credit for this one, but credit goes to the Online Journalism Review. Lemme read a little. I highlighted a few of my favorite parts: "How do you distinguish yourself among all this information competition? Don't rely on the value of and goodwill toward your publications "brand." If that was gonna bail you out, it would have already. No, news publishers need to provide information that is more timely, more accurate, and above all, more useful and rewarding to their readers in order to claim a larger share of what might be in 2008 a shrinking ad revenue pie. Readers today are drowning in lies ... The news sites that prosper in 2008 and beyond will be the ones that do not leave their readers hanging with 'he said, she said' coverage, but that report aggressively to reveal to readers who's lying and who is telling the truth. The online medium is changing journalism. But not just to make it a 24/7, global, clickable and interactive. By unleashing fresh competition on the field, it is pressuring established newsrooms to wake up from their lazy practice of stenography-as-journalism, and start calling out the liars again." There's a pretty good roadmap right there. In a sort-of-related topic, a step in the right direction would be disclosing the terms of the gas drilling lease that the Star-Telegram signed a gas drilling lease agreement with Chesapeake Energy. If the S-T has a business arrangement worth a lot of money with one of the most controversial companies doing business in Fort Worth, the public has a right to know of a potential conflict of interest. It's the right thing to do.

  • Make the paper smaller: I know, I know. I've read the stories in the paper. People love the redesign. But the people I talk with think that there is too much clutter to find what is really important. Be respectful of readers' time. You aren't just competing against other news sources, you are competing against the Mavericks game, YouTube, IM, 30 Rock, dinner, sleep ... just about everything. You are the filter. Make it more efficient for readers to go through you than gathering news on their own.

  • Give me a Web site worth clicking on: The paper was redesigned last April. We are still waiting for the new Web site. Why? If anything, the Web site is even more important because that's where the future of newspapers is headed. If you'd like some very specific ideas about how to fix it, please read my post from last summer. I know the Wall Street Journal recently enthused about McClatchy phasing in Yahoo services in 2008, citing that early tests in Fort Worth produced a 4 percent traffic increase the first month. Imagine what those numbers could be with a clickable, searchable, truly interactive Web site?

  • Moderate the comments: The comments I find on your Web site make me shudder. For some reason, it draws out the bottom feeders who dispense the most vile tripe but don't add any value to the great conversation of Fort Worth. OK, that's pretty esoteric. Lemme break it down another way. It prevents your Web site from building affinity with its readers. I think that's how they say it in newspaperspeak. Look at it this way: its the online equivalent of a bunch of teenagers hanging out in front of the store. It drives people away.

  • A little link love, please: I blog a lot about what is written in the Star-Telegram and I follow Fair Use guidelines -- paraphrase a little, provide proper attribution and insert a hyperlink (BTW, permalinks, please.) And I do this with any other blog or news site I refer to. It's proper netiquette and really not that different from what your reporters do every day. However, that hasn't proved to be a two-way street. When your reporters find out about things from my blog or aother local blogs, there's no mention of where this insight came from. It is passed off as original reporting. I know the ethics of blogging have still not fully gelled, but I think this is wrong. If I reporter finds out about a story from a local blog, a little attribution would be nice. There are lots of bloggers in Fort Worth who work hard to record the world as they see it around them. Give them a little recognition.

  • That's enough to start with. Good luck with the new job, Gary. I'm rooting for you.

    Wednesday, January 02, 2008

    Trinity Trees Come Down

    I was expecting something a little more dramatic as I walked down the Trinity Trail near the Rogers Avenue bridge. Bulldozers. Chainsaws. Contractors from Blackwater.

    A friend sent me an e-mail this afternoon that the Trinity Trees were coming down. I guess I expected it to be a work in progress. But it was a done deal.

    What I found was an open area where Chesapeake Energy's pad site will be, along with blue sky and silence. No one was there. The only noise came from the Union Pacific yards next door.

    After months of meetings, petitions, letter writing and lawsuits, the Trinity Trees controversy was over. I guess spokesperson Julie Wilson is still polishing the press release that says, "Hey, we just cut down a bunch of trees."

    I had hoped against hope that some Capra-esque miracle would transpire. Maybe like Claude Rains at the end of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Chesapeake Vice President Tom Price would go sprinting down the Trinity Trail, racked with guilt while tearing off his Men's Warehouse suit and screaming, "I was wrong! Global warming does exist! These trees must be SAVED!"

    But that hope died even before the ink was dry on Melissa Kohout's lawsuit.

    The realistic view was best articulated by Jim Marshall. A few months back, Jim told me that in spite of everything, there were positives to come out of this:

  • Chesapeake altered its plans.

  • Chesapeake secured permission from Union Pacific to locate part of its drilling equipment on Union Pacific property. The alternative plan proposed by the Trinity Trees group was to relocate the entire drilling site to UP property.

  • Current plans call for the pad site to be reduced from 2.5 to 1.4 acres, saving an additional 1.1 acres of the 8.33 acre tree grove.

  • The perimeter tree planting surrounding the pad site is being enhanced following a revised landscape plan with 268 new trees ranging from 5 to 14 feet in height.

  • Chesapeake has committed to donate $500,000 to the City tree farm.

  • Saving over an acre of old growth trees ain't nothing. Getting Chesapeake to part with $500,000 for trees ain't nothing, either.

    And I was thinking about that while I walked the Trinity Trees site this afternoon. It's a perfect example of what Lyndon Johnson called "half-loaf" politics -- a half a loaf of bread is better than no loaf at all. It's compromise. Everybody wins.

    Well, there certainly were some winners.

    Someday soon, a drilling rig will reach to the sky alongside the old oaks on the banks of the Trinity. And someday not long after that, the money will flow into the coffers of Chesapeake Energy, Union Pacific and Colonial Country Club.

    But what about the rest of us here in Fort Worth. You know, the people who are concerned about keeping our neighborhoods safe, maintaining our natural environment and other little things like that. What about us? Did we get a half a loaf out of this? Because doesn't seem like it.

    Then I remembered something that someone said to me recently. "Why is it that whenever there is some sneaky shit going on with gas drilling, Chesapeake's name is on it?"

    Um, I dunno? Maybe because of the Trinity Trees, injection wells, the proposed Eighth Avenue drilling site, signing a drilling lease with the Star-Telegram.

    And that's when it clicked for me.

    Like a rebellious teenager, Chesapeake pushes the limits to see what it can get away with. Maybe Fort Worth will say no to a few things, they figure, but who knows what that town will say yes to.

    But no matter how many billboards Chesapeake buys, the people of Fort Worth have started to notice this pattern of behavior. They are judging Chesapeake on their deeds, not their dollars. And those deeds may have already cost the company some dollars.

    I believe the Trinity Trees issue hurt Chesapeake in lease negotiations in Mistletoe Heights and Ryan Place. I also believe that the Trinity Trees helped get the gas drilling ordinance back on the table. Who knows, maybe we'll end up with an ordinance that does more to protect our interests, not the gas drillers.

    If that's the half of the loaf we got, Fort Worth, that ain't nothing.

    Tuesday, January 01, 2008

    Joel Burns Sworn In

    As I mentioned earlier today, Joel Burns took the oath of office as City Council representative for District 9 yesterday. Burns took the oath of office at a small ceremony attended by family and friends. Justice John Hill administered the oath.

    Burns told the Star-Telegram yesterday that he learned from Fort Worth city attorneys that because the runoff election results were canvassed last Thursday, making them official, he could be sworn in any time.

    “I’m honored and truly blessed to serve District 9 and am ready to get to work for our great city and the neighborhoods I represent,” said Burns. “I can’t think of a better way to start the New Year.”

    Who Derailed Wendy Davis?

    Is Wendy Davis going to get to run against Kim Brimer for the State Senate District 10 seat?

    Obviously, Davis wants to -- she announced that back in August. Everything seemed like smooth sailing until Monday afternoon when three Fort Worth firefighters waltzed into Tarrant County Democratic Party headquarters with a letter for local party poobah Art Brender. According to the Star-Telegram, the letter calls on the party to disqualify Davis from running because she is still a Fort Worth City Council member. Seems there is a little conflict between state and local law.

    State law forbids sitting council members from running for the Legislature, but local law requires her to keep her seat until a successor is sworn in. Joel Burns, who won the special election runoff Dec. 18 to replace Davis, is scheduled to be sworn in Jan. 8.

    Brender has asked the secretary of state for a formal opinion on the issue, but there is a sense of urgency to the matter -- the deadline to file for the election is 5 p.m. tomorrow. Very interesting timing. Brender and Davis don't have a lot of time to figure this out.

    So, I'm curious.

    According to the Startlegram, the letter was sent by Cullen Cox, Rickey Turner and Javier Cerda, three firefighters who support the Democratic Party, according to Rob Gibson, second vice president of the Fort Worth Professional Firefighters Association. If these guys truly support the Democratic Party, why would they derail a candidate who looked to have an excellent opportunity to unseat a very vulnerable and disliked Republican?

    As one local Democrat told me this morning, the dots seem pretty easy to connect. The political consultant for the Fort Worth Firefighters is Republican political consultant Bryan Eppstein. The political consultant for Kim Brimer is -- you guessed it -- Republican political consultant Bryan Eppstein.

    And just when you thought that firefighters spent all their off time studying arcane aspects of state and local law.

    Still Davis potentially has time to recover. And as Machiavelli once said, never do your opponent a small wound. Why did the letter arrive in Brender's hands on Monday? Why not tomorrow? Or Thursday?

    But if Davis is done, who steps in? I think Davis would have been a tough opponent for Brimer. She was popular enough -- and liberal enough -- to play well in South and West Fort Worth. And she was conservative enough to appeal to voters in the suburban part of District 10 like Colleyville, Mansfield and the suburbs south of Fort Worth. So, Art, who is waiting in the wings?

    UPDATE, 6 p.m.: Is everything falling into place for Wendy Davis? The S-T reports that Joel Burns was sworn in at a ceremony in his Ryan Place home this afternoon, apparently clearing the way for Davis' State Senate bid. This afternoon, Art Brender told a New Year's Day gathering at Fort Worth Democratic Party headquarters that he is unsure whether this means if Davis will need to withdraw her earlier filing for the Senate seat and submit a new filing tomorrow.