Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Out of the Money

Hunter Darby asked me if I wanted to go watch the opening day of horse races at Manor Downs on Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, I had to write and rehearse instead.

To his credit, Hunter called from the track and told me to pick a horse. I thought about it for a second and picked the fifth horse in the seventh race. This turned out to be "Tiko Amor," and he finished dead last. He was eight lengths behind the next slowest horse. I guess I don't know how to pick 'em.

I also lost the lottery this weekend.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Barton Chafed at Citgo

Our fair state's oil company bum-licker Joe Barton (R-Ennis) doesn't cotton to Venezuela's state-owned oil company Citgo providing discounted heating oil to low-income communities in the U.S.

Barton is chairman of the House Energy Committee, and on February 15, he demanded that Citgo produce all documentation related to the heating oil discount program to see if it violates U.S. antitrust law. This from a congressman who has taken more money from energy companies than anyone except Tom DeLay at a time when ExxonMobil's annual profit is $36 billion.

The reason Barton doesn't like Citgo giving heating oil discounts is because it's primarily a tool Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is using to make George Bush look stupid. Of course, Bush tried to have the democratically-elected Chavez overthrown awhile back, so it's not like Chavez doesn't have reason to be pissed off.

There's plenty not to like about Chavez. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented human rights violations under his reign. But if the choice is between Chavez and the Bush administration, I'll take Hugo.

If nothing else, the man clearly has a better sense of humor.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Taking Fire from All Sides

Guess who owns the soon-to-be-demolished downtown Austin building that housed KOOP and Sweatbox Studios until two fires gutted it?

None other than Harry Whittington, the guy Dick Cheney shot in the face after having "a beer" and going on a canned quail hunt in South Texas.

February hasn't been the best month for that guy, has it?

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Gimme Shelter in Oddville

If you're looking for kicks Monday night, come on down to Momo's to see The Ron Titter Band with 20-Eyed Dragon. You might get more than you bargained for.

We played there last Monday for this weekly show called "Oddville," where bands and comedians share the stage. A lot of the comedians are there to try out new material, which equals more offensive jokes per capita than what you'd get at a real comedy club.

Despite a handful of miscues (I sang gibberish through an entire verse), our show went reasonably well. Owing to work, I left right after we finished. That's when shit got crazy.

Quoth guitarist David Wyatt, "Afterwards on the back deck where people load out down the stairs into the alley, a drunk patron all riled up on the edgy comedy and music verbally attacked the drummer's girlfriend from The Whiskey Decision and an old-fashioned bar fight broke out with chairs broken over heads and the whole thing.

"Luckily our very tall bassist, Reed Burnam was on the scene and helped others split up the bloody brawl but not before someone pulled a knife (presumably for show).

"To add injury to insult, one of the comedians was giving Reed a ride home and wrecked into some inanimate object on the way home."

So, um, come on down this Monday if you're a hearty soul and see if we can't top that episode with gunplay or perhaps a bludgeoning. We're playing around 12:45.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Ninth Ward Underground

My former bandmate Jonathan Toubin of burgeoning media empire New York Night Train now has an engrossing oral history section up on his site about the plight of lesser-known underground musicians from New Orleans' Ninth Ward in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

While some of the people Jonathan interviewed aren't planning to return to New Orleans, enough of them have for organist/inventor Mr. Quintron, his singing puppeteer wife Miss Pussycat, MC Trachiotomy, and many others to muster up the decade-old Ninth Ward Marching Band for the 2006 Mardi Gras parade season. They've even got electro-punk diva Peaches on board as celebrity guest.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bubble? What Bubble?

Housing bubble? Not here in Austin. Out-of-town investors continue to keep the home sales market humming right along. To an investor from California, $290,000 for a 40-year-old three-bedroom/one-bath house is a steal. Smaller houses in my neighborhood are being razed and replaced with two-story duplex-style “Metrohouses” like these. These sparse, modern designs aren’t for everyone, but at least they put some thought into it as opposed to just barfing up a big retarded box.

A cursory glance at sale prices reveals a steadily dwindling number of affordable homes. What would’ve bought you a house on a big lot five years ago would barely cover a modest condo today. Needless to say, wage growth hasn’t paralleled this jump.

Even without the much-maligned investors driving up prices, you’d still have everyone who fled their hometowns for so-called “Liberal Archipelago” cities like Austin, Portland, Seattle, Chapel Hill, etc., after the same limited supply. All of these potential buyers want centrally-located real estate in culturally-thriving communities. The demand for this property will only go up as rising energy costs make suburban living an increasingly unsustainable proposition.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Martial Envy

Author Garrison Keillor wrote a piece in Salon today saying the United States should amend the Constitution to require presidents to serve in the military for at least two years. It's a charming sentiment, but a horribly misguided one.

A reader responding to the column nailed it by accusing Keillor of having "martial envy." Whenever something bad happens, many of us long for a strong man wearing a uniform to come and fix it for us. This may even be more pronounced among civilians who only know military life as an abstraction.

The concept of military service commands almost universal respect because it involves self-sacrifice for a greater collective good. Keillor seems to think this would instill an everyman's sense of humility in our presidential hopefuls. Of course that's not always how it works out.

Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt didn't serve in the military. Richard Nixon and George W. Bush did serve (except when he didn't).

Need we say more?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Sex, Sweat, and Rock 'n' Roll

Kevin and I visited Hoover Dam on Saturday afternoon. Although it is only about 30 miles from Las Vegas, it took us more than an hour to get there because U.S. 93 – the main route between Las Vegas and Phoenix – becomes a two-lane choke point at the dam.

The traffic snarl has only gotten worse since 9/11. Now you have to go through an inspection station at either end of the dam. We just got waved through, but trucks and vans were getting the once-over. Big rigs are no longer allowed on the dam at all. To alleviate this mess, they’re now building a massive four-lane arch bridge over the canyon just downstream from the dam. The new bridge is scheduled to open in 2008.

Since I last visited Hoover Dam in 1995, they’ve constructed a new visitor center and parking facility on the Nevada side. The concession fees are hefty ($7 to park and $11 for the dam tour), but I suppose it’s worth it if you’ve never seen the dam before or have an interest in massive public works projects.

Upon returning to Vegas, we drove way out to the north side of town to eat at Bob’s Big Boy. With Kip’s Big Boy long departed from Texas, this was a rare opportunity to wax nostalgic about one of the definitive eateries of my misspent youth. Although the Las Vegas Bob’s is an undistinguished strip mall edifice far removed from the Googie coffee shop designs of yore, our chocolate shakes and onion rings were surprisingly good.

We spent most of Saturday night at the Rio, which attracts a younger, better-looking crowd than the places I usually wind up. They had a culturally schtizophrenic Brit-Irish themed bar there called The Tilted Kilt where sexy young female servers wear low-riding kilt-patterned miniskirts and knee-high white socks to effect a naughty schoolgirl look. I was rather smitten with the whole concept, but what really got me hot was the $3 pints of Bass Ale.

Despite my previously expressed wariness of topless production shows, we went ahead and bought half-price tickets to see something called “Erocktica” because it was either that or the Britney Spears look-alike in "American Superstars." Unlike a strip club, a topless production has to have a thematic backdrop that theoretically legitimizes the baring of breasts. I guess it helps the menfolk badger their wives and girlfriends into going. In this case, the theme was “Sex, sweat and rock ‘n’ roll.”

The show is hosted by an endearing, bandanna-headed nu-rock oaf named “Ray-J,” who sings along with track accompaniment to everything from AC/DC to Big & Rich while the dancing girls jugulate around him. In between songs, he exhorts the crowd with profane banter about “all that sexy ass” to remind you that this is a rock ‘n’ roll topless show. Female lead vocals are handled by fallen debutante “Gabriela Versace,” whose standout number was Bonnie Tyler’s archetypical power ballad, “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

My favorite dance number was the faux-lesbian wedding scene in which a tuxedo-clad woman “married” another girl in a porno bridal outfit by placing a dog collar and leash around her neck while ‘ol Gabriela belted out a Melissa Etheridge tune. Despite our nation’s discomfort toward gay marriage, we have no problem whatsoever with coalesing in sticky-pantsed bliss around hot girl-on-girl action so long as it’s undertaken solely for the benefit of heterosexual male fantasies.

All I could do was chuckle profusely because nothing so highly stylized and devoid of soul could possibly turn me on. Are there really people out there in the Big Wide Middle who get off on this sort of thing? If so, why can’t I be a good American and learn to be happy with fake titties, half-pound hot dogs, and Chevrolets?

My increasing unease necessitated more alcohol than I could safely consume before driving, so we went back to the South Coast and sucked back $1 draft Budwisers in the increasingly insufferable dueling piano bar. As the pianists plowed through a wildly incongruent cover of “Fight For Your Right (To Party),” a gaggle of loutish drunken harridans-in-training hollered out for something called “The Pussy Song.” That’s always attractive.

After witnessing this gross display of accelerating decrepitude for an hour, I could stand no more. We retired to our room and flipped on The Rockford Files. I took this photo of my drunk ass self and James Garner in living plasma color. When I showed it to Kevin, he burst out laughing and spit toothpaste all over my sleeve. It was time to put this Vegas vacation to bed.

For even more obnoxious trip photos, clicker on me Flickr here.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Copious Cocktails and the Checkmates

I'm sitting in the Enterprise Branch of the Clark County Public Library on the far south end of the Las Vegas Strip because I'm too cheap to pay $10.95 per day for wireless access at the hotel.

Otherwise, the new South Coast Hotel & Casino is pretty swank for a couple of low-rollers like Kevin and myself. They have 42" plasma TV screens in every room. We've also made good use of the 2-for-1 buffet coupons in the funbook.

Upon our arrival Thursday night, we began drinking in the hotel's dueling piano bar. Kevin gave the pianists four bucks to play "Tiny Dancer," so you know we were a little bit lit. I was running two hours later than everyone else, but I still managed to keep going until about 2:30am.

We were checking out our entertainment options over coffee Friday morning when I noticed Isaac Hayes was playing the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay. We immediately called to see if there were any tickets, but Black Moses had cancelled due to illness. The other reasonably-priced shows were mostly topless revues. I saw a topless show here once and it was like watching a bunch of campy drag queens. I'm not even sure those were real women underneath all that plumage. At least a couple of parts probably weren't.

Kevin hadn't seen the Strip, so we hiked from the MGM Grand to Caesar's Palace and back. When night fell, we went downtown and meandered about on Fremont Street. We had dinner at the 777 Brewpub at Main Street Station. My steak and shrimp scampi combo was decent, but Kevin's veggie foccacia was drowned in a sea of vinegarette. All the food out here has to be salty so you drink more and then gamble more. That's how they get you. Not me, though. I haven't gambled a nickel.

I'd been wanting to see Vegas lounge veterans The Checkmates for years and they were playing at the Sahara's Casbar Lounge. Aside from the $4.75 beers, it was a great show. The Checkmates had a big hit with "Black Pearl" in 1969, but Sonny Charles and Sweet Louie are best-known as a top-notch R&B revue these days. They played everything from "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" to "Bad Mamma Jamma." The three musicians backing them were solid, too. If you're ever in Vegas, you should definitely "check" them out.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ron Titter Monday, Las Vegas Weekend

The Ron Titter Band is playing at Momo’s on Monday, Feburary 20 at 11pm and again on Monday, Februrary 27 at 12:30am. It’s all part of this weekly showcase they do called “Oddville,” where comedians do sets in between bands. We’re playing with The Whiskey Decision on the 20th and 20 Eyed Dragon featuring Doe Montoya on the 27th.

Momo’s is right above Katz’s on 6th Street. I’ve never played there before. However, when it was still Top of the Marc, I co-hosted the Texas HIV/STD Conference talent show there dressed as Sonny Bono alongside a male colleague dressed as Cher.

I’m off to Las Vegas today after work to join up with my pal Kevin Fullerton from Seattle for a long weekend of graying-templed debauchery. For me, this means I might drink more than two beers, eat too many buffets, and lose $20 playing slots.

Depending on wireless availability, I’ll do my level best to keep you updated in between dry heaves.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Roses in the Gutter

This morning when I was pulling out of my driveway, I noticed an arrangement of fresh roses lying on the side of the road.

I wanted to take a photo of the flowers, but I was already late for work, and they were gone when I got home. Therefore, you’ll have to trust my admittedly suspect floral judgement when I say these flowers were fresh enough to where you could’ve put them in water and tricked someone with poor eyesight (a grandmother, for example) into thinking they were brand new.

I don’t know whose flowers they were or how they got there, but none of the scenarios I’m imagining are particularly pleasant. Roses in the gutter the day after Valentine’s Day is never a good sign.

Unless, of course, the flower discarding was followed by loud, unabashed, ass-to-wall make-up sex.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Blind Wave-Through

Yesterday afternoon, I was fixing to make an unprotected left turn across three lanes of heavy traffic on North Lamar when the driver in the near lane came to a stop and waved me through, seemingly without having the faintest idea of whether there was oncoming traffic in the other two lanes.

I know this driver was just trying to be courteous, but he could've been waving me right into getting T-boned at 50 mph. I suppose he might've checked his rear-view mirror without me seeing him do it, but I've seen too many drivers blindly wave left-turning cars into traffic to trust anyone to do that. Either way, he was screwing with the natural flow of rush hour traffic, making drivers behind him stop needlessly and unexpectedly.

Isn't this something people should be taught not to do in driver's education? I don't care what your intentions are - it's not nice to wave people through when you can't see what's coming up behind you. I could've been KILLED, for chrissakes!

Oh yeah. Happy Valentine's Day.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Don't Bet On Hooter's

Hooter's opened its new Las Vegas casino on February 3 at the old San Remo Hotel.

I can understand how a Hooter's might seem titillating in a town like Waco, but I'm not sure how they're going to compete against other casinos like the Carnival-themed Rio, whose cocktail waitresses are bedecked in fishnet buttfloss that is much more revealing than Hooter's trademark orange shorts.

Unless, of course, the hotel beds come pre-loaded (so to speak) with a real live Hooter's girl, as this photo would have you fantasize. And if that's what you're looking for, there are better places in Nevada to find it (NSFW).

Dammit, I am so TIRED of having my sexuality used against me like this!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Gimme Some Slack

Now that the full fury of SXSW blurb-penning madness has set in, my chatty posts here must take a back seat. I'll try to keep up, but don't be too surprised if I'm either M.I.A. or I.T.U. (impossible to understand) at times over the next few weeks.

If I happen to call for the overthrow of the U.S. government between now and the end of SXSW, I want you and the National Security Agency to know it's probably just the lack of slack talking.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Squeaky Flack Gets the Axe

If you’re a young professional with a cush government PR gig you got because you worked on George Bush’s campaign, it’s probably not a good idea to go mano a mano with rocket scientists – especially if you lied about graduating from college.

Yet that’s exactly what 24-year-old NASA public affairs officer George Deutsch did when he denied NPR’s request to interview Dr. Jim Hansen about global warming. Pretty soon, other NASA scientists started coming forward with stories about Bush-appointed public affairs flacks trying to suppress scientific information. A February 4 New York Times story trotted out an even more egregious example of Deutsch’s handiwork:

In October 2005, Mr. Deutsch sent an e-mail message to Flint Wild, a NASA contractor working on a set of Web presentations about Einstein for middle-school students. The message said the word "theory" needed to be added after every mention of the Big Bang.

The Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion," Mr. Deutsch wrote, adding, "It is not NASA's place, nor should it be to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator."

It continued: "This is more than a science issue, it is a religious issue. And I would hate to think that young people would only be getting one-half of this debate from NASA. That would mean we had failed to properly educate the very people who rely on us for factual information the most."

Unfortunately for this Texas A&M alum, one of the people this account upset was fellow Aggie Nick Anthis, who publishes a blog called The Scientific Activist. Originally just intending to chastise Deutsch, Anthis was tipped off that the young NASA charge had not actually graduated. A quick call to Texas A&M confirmed that Deutsch didn’t receive a journalism degree in 2003 as he’d stated. Deutsch, already under fire, had no choice but to resign.

Yet the question remains: how the hell did he get his job in the first place? When I went to work for the state, I had to give them two original copies of my college transcript to prove my academic qualifications were in fact legitimate. You would think the federal government's background check would be a little more thorough than that, especially in this age of "Total Information Awareness." Clearly there’s a different set of standards at play for Bush appointees.

I wonder how many more like Deutsch are out there, actively supressing taxpayer-funded research under the radar on behalf of crypto-dominionist ideology?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

McCain is No Straight Talker

In light of his sarcastic jilted schoolgirl letter to Barack Obama, can we please dispense with the bullshit notion that John McCain is a "straight talker?"

The media loves to portray McCain as a GOP outsider, but every time push comes to shove, he morphs into Bush and Rove's dutiful waterboy. For McCain to still go to bat for that slime machine after what they did to him in the 2000 primaries is sad and pathetic. The bipartisan thing is just a role McCain plays when the Republicans need to appear less rabidly authoritarian.

I respect McCain's military service at least as much as the Republicans respected John Kerry's military service. I also think he's a smart, engaging talk show guest, but that doesn't mean he gets a free pass on disingenuity.

Anyone who votes for McCain in 2008 thinking we'll get anything other than what Bush has given us is making a fool's bet.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Jen Trynin's Radio Daze

Remember the post-Nevermind era when major labels started signing lots of indie acts with the hope that maybe one would become the next alternative superstar?

Jen Trynin was one such artist. After years of low-rent gigs, Trynin suddenly found herself the subject of a label bidding war. After signing with Warner Bros., she had one minor modern rock hit called "Better Than Nothing" (which everyone thought was called "I'm Feeling Good"), but her career never really took off.

Ten years later, Trynin has written a book about her fleeting ride on the Next Big Thing wagon called Everything I'm Cracked Up to Be. Rolling Stone recently published a hilariously horrifying chapter about doing X-station morning radio interviews with surly, ham-headed DJs. Perhaps the most important lesson here is that just because you have a major label record contract doesn't mean you get to sleep in.

Trynin will be at BookPeople tomorrow night at 7pm

Monday, February 06, 2006

KOOP Forced Off Air By Second Fire

Remember last month when the downtown Austin building at Fifth and San Jacinto that houses KOOP-FM and Sweatbox Studios caught fire?

Well, another fire early Saturday morning destroyed all of the station's studio equipment and knocked them off the air until further notice. In the meantime, UT student station KVRX will fill KOOP's space on the 91.7 FM frequency. I haven't heard anything about Sweatbox's fate yet.

Saturday's fire began in a nightclub next door. The fire reduced the nightclub to rubble and spread to two adjoining buildings. Fortunately, everyone in the affected buildings got out safely.

Still, this is a huge body blow to KOOP. Relocation will almost certainly entail paying much higher rent, and now they have to replace all their equipment, too.

You can donate to the rebuilding effort here, or you can support KOOP by going to see the Ugly Beats and Nervous Exits at Beerland this Friday, February 10.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Singer's Saving Grace

After throwing my voice out at rehearsal on Wednesday night, my pal Steve Hunt told me about Singer's Saving Grace herbal throat spray.

The spray contains licorice root, Yerba Mansa root, Jack-in-the-pulpit root, and 70% grain alcohol, among other things. It costs $8.99 for a tiny one-ounce bottle and it tastes like a rusty machine is defecating in your mouth, but this stuff really seems to work.

Either that or it just tastes so awful you have no choice but to believe it's working.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Puppy Bowl II

I can't say whether or not we'll have a good match-up in the Super Bowl this year. If I was a betting man, I'd take the Steelers by a squeak. But even if game turns out to be a lame rout, there's always Puppy Bowl II on Animal Planet.

Starting at 2pm CST, Animal Planet will televise 14 adorable puppies playfully scampering about on a fake football field for three straight hours. Actually, it's a little less than that if you figure in the kitty halftime show. You'd be surprised how easy it is to get sucked into this.

You can check out this year's puppy players here. My favorite of the lot is Agatha, the two and a half-month old whippet/beagle mix pictured above. I could drown in those eyes.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

John Mueller BBQ Fundraiser This Saturday

Austinist reports that John Mueller's BBQ on Manor Road closed its doors last month. What a shame. John Mueller's served some of the best barbecue in town. Whenever I had meat-minded out-of towners in tow that wanted authentic Central Texas barbecue but didn't have time for a jaunt to Taylor (home to John's grandfather Louie Mueller's legendary BBQ market), Lockhart (Kreuz, Smitty's, Black's) or Llano (Cooper's), John Mueller's was where I took them.

Mueller is hoping to reopen in a new location, but that takes scratch. In order to raise some, he'll be selling $5 barbecue plates at Kellie's Place (corner of 5th St. and Pedernales) this Saturday, February 4 from 10am until the meat's all gone.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

American People + Ron Titter Band @ Club DeVille

After staying quiet through January because we were too preoccupied with our first gig to book any others, The Ron Titter Band springs back into action this Saturday, February 4th at Club DeVille. We go on around 10:30pm.

We'll be supporting The American People, a good-rockin' band reuniting for a rare Austin date since frontman Mike McCoy is in town from Kansas City. My pal Hunter Darby plays bass in accordance with the city ordinance mandating that every twentieth band formed in Austin must either have Darby or Chepo Peña playing bass.

I believe this is a free show, but don't quote me on that just yet.