Saturday, September 30, 2006

Sordid IM Scandal Sinks Florida's Foley

I really don't care that resigning Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL) likes to hear about how 16-year-old boys jerk off (possibly NSFW).

Sure it's unseemly, unethical and hella dumb, but it's not necessarily illegal (at least not in the District of Columbia, where 16 is the age of consent). Regardless of state-to-state laws, there's a world of difference between getting turned on by 16-year-olds and getting turned on by 10-year-olds.

If I was part of the House leadership, though, I'd probably want to make sure such a guy wasn't co-chairing the Missing and Exploited Children Caucus. That's just asking for trouble.

Amazingly, ABC News is now reporting that Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY) told House majority leader Dennis Hastert about Foley's indiscretions months ago. It'll be interesting to see how Hastert tries to spin his blubbery, hate-filled frame out of covering up Foley's penchant for pages.

Maybe the fact that there's a penis involved will finally make people wake up and smell the waterboard.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Well, Are We Better Than This?

The day Bush signs the so-called torture compromise bill into law will be the end of American citizenship as we know it. That’s because this oxymoronic “compromise” will make American citizens subject to being seized as enemy combatants and able to be thrown into military prison (see above).

Here's Bruce Ackerman on Thursday’s Los Angeles Times editorial page:

The compromise legislation, which is racing toward the White House, authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights.

This dangerous compromise not only authorizes the president to seize and hold terrorists who have fought against our troops "during an armed conflict," it also allows him to seize anybody who has "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." This grants the president enormous power over citizens and legal residents. They can be designated as enemy combatants if they have contributed money to a Middle Eastern charity, and they can be held indefinitely in a military prison.

But other provisions of the bill call even this limitation into question. What is worse, if the federal courts support the president's initial detention decision, ordinary Americans would be required to defend themselves before a military tribunal without the constitutional guarantees provided in criminal trials.

Americans who worship at the phallus of brutal authoritarianism by supporting torture deserve to live in perpetual fear of terrorist attacks. If this is what the United States is sinking to under the Bush regime and his degenerate Republican enablers, then you're goddamn right I'm “purposefully and materially” against it.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sorkin's Studio 60 So-So

I’ve been trying to get into Aaron Sorkin’s new NBC drama, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, but so far it strikes me as above-average writing and above-average acting in the service of nothing much at all. As Salon's Heather Havrilesky put it earlier this week, West Wing-style gravitas is silly when it’s applied to a drama about Saturday Night Live.

Studio 60 is supposed to be about a faltering live comedy sketch show like SNL, but the second episode lost all verisimilitude once we got to see how unfunny the fictional show was. If nothing else, Studio 60 demonstrates the difficulty of being funny while driving a prestige vehicle.

Unless you think those godawfully smug Mark Russell specials on PBS are the cat's ass, it's impossible to imagine an audience giving a standing ovation to the lame musical number that was supposed to be Studio 60's comeback cue. Are we really supposed to be that impressed at Sorkin getting the term "intellectual reach-around" past the censors?

I did like the irony of having Judd Hirsch interrupt a live sketch to deliver a Network-style rant about the rancid state of American television on the pilot episode. Hirsch’s former Taxi co-star Andy Kaufman actually did walk out of a sketch (with the producer’s blessing) on ABC’s Fridays back in 1981, but Hirsch reportedly found similar Kaufman antics on the Taxi set to be a major source of irritation.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Barbecue, Bastrop and Babies

There’s a new girl in my life these days. Her name is Kate and she’s really cool. We’ve been dating for a few months, but my tendency to be overly cagey in revealing too much about my personal life has precluded me from saying anything about it here. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about Kate in coming posts, though.

Last weekend, Kate and I went on a day trip. We went to Lockhart for barbecue and ate at Smitty’s. For those unversed in Texas barbecue lore, Smitty’s is housed in the original location of Kreuz Market, which moved to a new location several years back because the brother (who owned the restaurant) and the sister (who owned the building) didn’t get along. Once the brother moved out, the sister opened Smitty’s.

I still haven’t eaten at the new Kreuz, but I was very pleased with the meat at Smitty’s. We ordered half a pound of brisket, a pork chop and a sausage link. The meat came without sauce and it didn’t need any. The pit area is still infernally hot, but Smitty’s dining room is much more pleasant than the old Kreuz used to be. You can even order ice cream for dessert.

After walking around Lockhart’s town square for an hour or so, we drove over to Bastrop. I drive through Bastrop on the way to Houston several times each year, but I rarely see anything other than the backlit plastic blight of the Highway 71 bypass corridor. The historic town center of Bastrop is actually quite picturesque.

We stopped off at the visitor’s center, which is housed in an old bank built in the late 1800s, and conversed with the lady running the place. A family of four featuring two adorable boys walked in as we spoke. As they left, the visitor’s center lady motioned to the boys and said to us, “Now you need to do that.”

It took us awhile for what she meant by “that” to sink in. Evidently, she meant we needed to have kids. I wasn’t offended, but I did find it peculiar that this nice lady thought it was her place to tell us such a thing.

What makes strangers think it's fine and dandy to exhort other strangers (tourists, no less) to procreate? I must say this was not what I expected when we stopped by the visitor's center.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Ye Olde Captain Smoothe Showe Photoes

The Yacht Rock/Captain Smoothe show last Tuesday at the Alamo Drafthouse was a stone blast. We rolled through a 35-minute set of such nautical nuggets as "Sail On" by the Commodores, "Southern Cross" by Crosby, Stills & Nash, and "Black Water" by the Doobie Brothers. The latter was especially fun because everyone was clapping and singing along. We ended with a version of Styx' "Come Sail Away" that interpolated "Ride Captain Ride" by Blues Image" and "Captain Jack" by Billy Joel. While not all of these songs technically constitute Yacht Rock, they were thematically close enough.

Seeing all 10 episodes of Yacht Rock on a big screen back-to-back have drilled several choice quotes deep into my skull. I hope J.D. Ryznar makes more episodes. Ryznar was at the screening and it was good to meet the man who brought "Michael McDonald" to life in person.

Clickr on me Flickr to view more photos of the show.

Friday, September 22, 2006

No Boxcutters, No Liquids, No Dudes Kissing

American Airlines has a longstanding reputation as a gay-friendly company, but that didn't stop one of their trans-Atlantic flights from nearly being diverted last month after some paste-eater(s) on board got their diapers in a pinch because two men were kissing.

Certainly there's such a thing as taking public displays of affection too far when you're riding in a common conveyance, but any kiss that honeymooning heteros can engage in should be fair game for same sex couples, too.

One time I was on a plane and the woman seated next to me started talking about how I needed to give my life to Jesus. I happen to think unsolicited proselytizing is obnoxious and offensive, but it wasn't putting me or the aircraft in any danger, so I wasn't about to go whine to the flight attendants just to preserve my sensibilities.

If I can sit through being witnessed to without having the pilot threaten to divert the plane, then surely the Friends of Leviticus can live with having to watch two guys kiss each other. If not, perhaps they should just keep their feet on the ground until the Rapture comes.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

1970 Shakey's Pizza Commercial

When I was a kid, it was always a treat to go to Shakey's Pizza to watch silent movies and listen to the banjo players.

By the time the 80s rolled around, Shakey's had pretty much disappeared from Texas, but you can still find them in the Western U.S. and internationally. Hey! Hey! Buffet! once published a review by Jason Ward of a Shakey's pizza buffet in Osaka, Japan.

This here commercial features Kathy Coleman, who went on to play Holly on Sid and Marty Krofft's Land of the Lost from 1974 to 1976. It also features one of the most ham-fisted local tags you'll ever see ("Hey kids! Look, a Frisbee!").

Austin trivia: did you know that before it was I Luv Video and before it was Antone's, the building at 2915 Guadalupe was a Shakey's Pizza?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Don Walser Died Today

I’m sad to report that Austin country music legend Don Walser passed away this afternoon at the age of 72.

After retiring from a 39-year career with the Texas National Guard, the yodeling troubadour from Lamesa, Texas embarked on a second career as a full-time musician in the 90s. In some sense, this was the continuation of the fledgling country music career Walser had abandoned for the Guard in 1957. He performed until 2003, when declining health forced him to stop. Walser’s cross-cultural appeal embraced two-steppers, punk rockers and everyone in between because he was the real thing.

I remember seeing Walser play with the Kronos Quartet at Bass Concert Hall in 1997. It was a far cry from his residency at the long-gone Henry’s Bar & Grill on Burnet Road, but Don seemed right at home. He talked from the stage about how appreciative he was to play with the "young folks" in the New York-based postmodern chamber music quartet. "I've got socks older than some of 'em," he joked.

Shortly thereafter, my folks went to see Walser and the Pure Texas Band play in Houston and got him to autograph a publicity photo for me. He wrote, “To Greg, Thanks for liking our music.” I found it remarkable that someone like Walser would be compelled to thank me for liking his music, but I think he just really appreciated the warmth he got from his audiences and wanted to reciprocate in kind.

1998 photo of Don Walser at Jovita's by Ha Lam, Austin American-Statesman

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Set Sail Tonight with Yacht Rock and Captain Smoothe

Don't forget about Yacht Rock with pre-show music by Captain Smoothe tonight at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown. It's going to be a multi-sensory soft-rocktacular that’ll soothe your soul like a sweet-ass river of aloe vera on your ACL Music Festival sunburn.

Advance tickets are still available as of right now as I write this at 12:38am CDT.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sunday ACL Wrap-Up

I didn't make it to the end of ACL after all. The skies opened up about 40 minutes into Tom Petty's set and it wasn't a given that the rain would stop. I didn't feel like waiting around to find out. As it was, Petty began playing again around 9:35. I can say the first half of the set was pretty good.

After kicking off with a somewhat uneven "Listen to Her Heart" (perhaps because of sound trouble), Petty ran through "Mary Jane's Last Dance," "I Won't Back Down" and "Free Fallin'," all of which were sung enthusiastically by two short-but-loud women standing right behind me. The new single "Saving Grace" sounded good, as did an unexpected cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well."

Thirty years after his debut LP, Petty still puts on a good show. I miss former Heartbreaker drummer Stan Lynch, though. I don't doubt that Steve Ferrone has a wider range and is technically more proficient, but he doesn't have that barely-behind-the-beat nuance that Lynch had.

As expected, the Flaming Lips at sunset proved to be an amazing spectacle. A cadre of Santa Clauses danced on one end of the stage while a group of go-go girl Martians danced at the other end. Confetti cannons, giant balloons and inflatable robots assured visual stimulation even for the folks in the back. This is a band that knows how to play a festival gig.

Musically, the Lips bashed through "Race for the Prize," "She Don't Use Jelly," "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song" and set closer "Do You Realize?" in a manner that left no doubt as to those songs' rock anthem pedigree. Wayne Coyne gave a shout-out to the Butthole Surfers, Scratch Acid and the Hickoids for getting the Oklahoma City-based band into Texas during the Eighties. That was a nice touch in front of 30,000 fans.

Of the four ACL Music Festivals I've attended, I'd probably rank this as my second favorite. I liked the 2003 edition a little more because the weather was better and the novelty factor was in full effect, but 2006 definitely beat out the last two years. I'll never be a big fan of festivals, but as they go, I still think ACL runs a pretty good show.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Rainy Days and Bloody Noses

Woke up (relatively) early this morning to review the Black Angels' 12:50 set. A downpour hit Zilker just before they took the stage. It was nice while it lasted, but the resulting humidity was anything but. Nevertheless, the Angels put on a good show. Ditto for Bay City's Jones Family Singers, who got the gospel tent rocking.

Apparently Ben Kweller doesn't read this blog or he would've known to take some allergy medication before playing yesterday. As it was, an allergy-related double nosebleed stopped his show just a few songs in. There's not much you can do to soldier through a set when there's blood gushing out your nostrils.

I'm about to head back out to catch the Flaming Lips and Tom Petty. T.P. is the first act since REM in 2003 I've cared enough about to stay until the very end of ACL. I've seen Petty twice before, but not since 1986, and I hear this is his last full-scale tour. I guess ol' Mudcrutch is getting on up there just like the rest of us.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

98 Degrees Is Still Hot

Although the lower temps and heartier grass at Zilker Park have gone a long way toward curtailing the refugee camp vibe of last year's ACL Festival, it still requires a stoic resolve to stand there and get cooked. This is true even when you're watching a performer that's somewhat enjoyable like Denmark-based Maximum R&B outfit the Blue Van. God bless those wiry Danes for rocking out in such inhospitable weather, but I'd still rather be watching them at a club. Fortunately they'll be back here to play at Emo's in just over a month.

Gnarls Barkley was pretty good, but the only truly superlative show I've seen so far this weekend was Van Morrison's Friday night set. He never appeared to be putting forth much effort, yet every soulful note he sang rang true. Morrison's band was equally spectacular in an understated way. Who needs flash when you've got enough meat to end your show with "Brown-Eyed Girl," "Wild Night" and "Gloria?"

Friday, September 15, 2006

ACL 2006 May Catch Break from God

It looks like the weather will be a little more tolerable for this year's Austin City Limits Music Festival. Highs in the mid 90s with a 20-30 percent chance of rain. That's perfectly reasonable for mid-September in Texas.

They've been watering Zilker Park for weeks in an effort to avoid a repeat of last year's dust bowl. Nevertheless, allergens are out in force this weekend so I'll be hopped up on Claritin in addition to sunscreen and bottled water.

Speaking of watering, I stupidly left my soaker hose on all night, possibly drowning several privacy bushes. Now all the middle schoolers are going to have to watch me mow without a shirt on for years to come.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ann Richards Had Balls!

Regardless of how you felt about Ann Richards as a governor, everyone should go check out Glen Maxey's hilarious and heartfelt tribute at Burnt Orange Report.

It's classic Texas political humor at its finest.

So Long, Ann

Former Texas governor Ann Richards died last night of esophageal cancer at age 73. She was the last Democrat elected governor of this state and will likely remain that way for awhile.

Imagine what a different planet we'd be living on today if she'd been re-elected in 1994. Actually, I'm sad enough without imagining that.

It wasn't uncommon to see Richards out and about in Austin. I once sat behind her at a matinee screening of Boogie Nights at the then-brand new Gateway Cinema. She got up and left when the drug scenes started, though I couldn't tell if that's what prompted her hasty departure. More recently, I saw her hanging out with Jerry Hall at Rachel Fuller's SXSW showcase in 2005.

Most everyone who has lived here for any length of time has similar stories. I thought it was kind of cool that you could be doing your thing and happen to bump into the former governor. The lady really got around town.

I can't speak for the rest of Texas, but there's a palpable sense of loss in Austin this morning.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Phil Spector Box for $14.99 at Amazon

My pal Kent B. recently steered me toward Amazon's super discount on the Phil Spector Back to Mono box set.

Released in 1991, this four-disc set chronicles the building of the brilliantly troubled producer's "Wall of Sound" from 1958 through 1969. Disc one begins with the Teddy Bears' chart-topper "To Know Him Is To Love Him," the title of which was taken from Spector's dad's tombstone (he committed suicide when Phil was still a kid). All of the great Ronettes and Crystals singles are here, too, including "Be My Baby," "And Then He Kissed Me" and the extra-creepy "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)." Back to Mono also includes key tracks from the Righteous Brothers, Ben E. King, Ike and Tina Turner and Sonny Charles & the Checkmates.

Disc four contains the great A Christmas Gift for You, which hit stores on the day JFK was killed. That wasn't exactly good for sales, but the album eventually came to be regarded as a classic. I find almost all Christmas pop songs grating and pointless, but Spector's treatment actually puts me in the mood.

All this can be yours for just $14.99 plus shipping. Act now - unless you have a moral issue with possibly giving money to an alleged murderer!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Yacht Rock and Captain Smoothe Next Tuesday!

Climb aboard the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown next Tuesday, September 19 at 9:45pm, when Yacht Rock and Captain Smoothe drop anchor in Austin for a very special screening and musical performance featuring Yacht Rock creator J.D. Ryznar ("Michael McDonald," left) in person!

Yacht Rock is an Internet TV series with a cult following that takes real-life aspects of late 70s/early 80s soft rock hits and builds exaggerated storylines aroundthe songs and the mostly-bearded men behind them. Overwrought performances, cheap costumes, and insane plot lines add up to on-screen hilarity. Before screening the complete series, audience members can look to the bow of the vessel, where they'll witness a live musical tribute to the era by Austin's own Captain Smoothe.

Although the term 'yacht rock' generally refers to the highly polished brand of soft rock that emanated from Southern California during the late 70s and early 80s, it became a part of the vernacular practically overnight with the Channel 101 premiere of Yacht Rock in June of 2005. J.D. Ryznar and Hunter Stair's saga detailing the unknown mythical origins of a previously obscure genre of music struck the audience like a lightning bolt.

Director Ryznar devised the series after noticing several similarities between bands such as Steely Dan, Toto, and the Doobie Brothers; in particular, their collaborations with each other and with singer-songwriter Kenny Loggins - thus forming the primary cast of Yacht Rock. Armed only with a few friends, some witty dialogue, and often nothing more than a couple hundred bucks per episode - most of which, Ryznar says, "goes into feeding the cast and crew. Clearly, it doesn't go into the wigs and mustaches."

Captain Smoothe will navigate several of your favorite soft-rock shanties, including nautically-themed nuggets by Christopher Cross, the Doobie Brothers, Kenny Loggins, the Commodores, Styx, and Crosby, Stills, & Nash. Who else to hoist such a sail without going overboard but Lance Farley, Adam Kahan, David Wyatt and yours truly from Summer Breeze along with Hunter Darby (Diamond Smugglers, Dung Beetles), Julie Lowery (Fire Marshals of Bethlehem, Diamond Smugglers) and Jenny Smith (Fire Marshals of Bethlehem)?

Don't get left at the dock! Buy your tickets here.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Tacky Souvenirs of Post-9/11 America

Who goes to Ground Zero and buys a gimme cap to remember it by?

The first tacky 9/11 souvenir I ever came across was at the State Fair in Dallas a little more than a month after the attacks. It was a bumper sticker that read, "Now It's Our Turn" with an illustration of a jet fighter flying and an American flag.

Although irony was still dead at the time, I couldn't help but laugh at the sticker's (hopefully unintentional) implication that it was now our turn to murder thousands of innocent people with airplanes. I purchased the sticker from a man of Middle Eastern descent who excitedly informed me that we'd started bombing Taliban targets in Afghanistan. I wondered if he wasn't acting extra-excited for my benefit so I wouldn't think he was an evildoer.

Photo by Holly Northrup/Village Voice

Friday, September 08, 2006

In the Nood

Here’s the photo that permanently stymies any political ambition I might have beyond the City of Austin - though it could actually help me here.

Michael Crawford took this at Emo’s in 1995 at the final local installment of Noodle’s “All-Male Leather Revue.” The leather shows were our drummer Lance Farley's idea. He had a co-worker who let us borrow his extensive wardrobe of gay leather fetish gear, which was quite generous given how much that stuff costs.

Our first leather show was with Powersnatch at Chances in 1994. Chances was a lesbian bar on Red River that booked bands. Although most of the lesbians in attendance that night found our display charming, at least one of them got angry and threw ice at us while we played.

We were also supposed to play down the street at the Blue Flamingo, a gay bar that booked bands, but the Fuckemos ran over and I was more than a bit impaired by the time they stopped. I think we might've done three songs before closing time. As I was walking out the door, a girl grabbed me and stuck her tongue down my throat. That more than compensated for the ice-throwing lesbian. The evening was a big success.

My roommate Greg Giles took a bunch of photos at the Chances show, so when it came time to drum up proper exploitation for our headlining gig in the main room at Emo’s, I decided to send the Chronicle a photo of my g-stringed ass. It was a cheap publicity stunt, but I figured we needed to pull out all our guns (so to speak) to ensure a good crowd at this crucial show. Sure enough, we were the lead item in the live music recommendations. This effectively “outed” my band to all the people at my government job, too.

We opened the 1995 leather show with a cover of Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law." I made my stage entrance riding a 10-speed bike. Guitarist Jonathan Toubin wore assless chaps that were violently yanked down by the crowd along with a healthy chunk of skin, leaving a painful souvenir on his inner thigh. A guy named Leroy with “LOSER” tattooed on his belly danced for us in a cowboy hat and women’s panties. We passed out ping-pong paddles for people to spank us with and I remember being shocked at how much that hurt. The club docked us for getting whipped cream in the monitors, but we still made more money than we’d ever made before.

I expected to get an earful when this photo ran the week after the show and I did. What I didn’t expect is for it to continue sporadically resurfacing for years after the fact. One time someone found a yellowed clipping of the photo on the floor behind their desk at my office. Another time, a female colleague said she’d seen me somewhere before and her face went ten shades of red as she gradually realized where.

Although I know it probably makes my poor mom cringe, I’m quite honored to have my likeness included in the Chronicle’s 25th anniversary issue - even if I had to take my pants off to make it happen.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Ocean Called. They're Running Out of Shrimp.

I did something really bad to both my body and the planet last night.

After learning that Red Lobster has reactivated their beloved Endless Shrimp special, I went to the location nearest me and ate about 60 shrimp, most of which were deep fried. I was actually aiming to eat 100 shrimp, but I can't put them away like I could during my hardcore buffeteering days.

I suppose it's a bit unbecoming to walk into a restaurant alone with a magazine and stuff your face until you can't walk straight, but I couldn't turn away from all the shrimp I can eat for just $14.95. I couldn't leave the perfectly good cheddar biscuits, Caesar salad and baked potato alone, either.

This is one ugly American trait I'm going to have a hard time letting go of when the sugar teat runs dry.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Whoops, There Goes Pakistan!

Remember Pakistan? The country whose non-elected leader George W. Bush enlisted at great cost to help us smoke out Osama bin Laden even though he couldn't name said leader prior to becoming a non-elected leader himself in 2000?

Well, now Pervez Musharraf has decided that it's okay if al-Qaida and Taliban militants operate freely in Pakistan's border regions in exchange for a promise not to go into Afghanistan.

Pakistani Major General Shaukat Sultan Khan told ABC News that bin Laden would not be taken into custody by Pakistan "as long as (he) is being like a peaceful citizen."

Sleep well, security moms!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Mr. Biggs Headed for the Big House

Last Friday, ace Isley Brothers vocalist Ronald Isley drew a sentence of three years and one month in prison for tax evasion. The 65-year-old singer of "It's Your Thing," "Fight the Power" and "That Lady" also has to pay $3.1 million in back taxes to the IRS.

Isley has been suffering from stroke-related complications and kidney cancer, but U.S. Judge Dean Pregerson threw the book at him anyway, calling Isley a "serial tax avoider." Isley will likely report to a Bureau of Prisons hospital facility.

I don't know the specifics of Isley's case, nor do I support tax evasion, but isn't keeping a bankable artist locked up for that long going to cost the government lots more money in the long run?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

You Just Never Know

I'm not an avid enthusiast of bondage, discipline and/or sadomasochism, or "BSDM," as we call it in the public health arena. It's an expensive hobby that would quickly leave me bereft of bowling money.

That said, I'm all about being prepared, so it can't hurt to have a safe phrase in case things start getting out of hand. Today I have chosen my safe phrase.

It's "sweet pickles."