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.