Thursday, March 29, 2007

Letters at 4am

I am currently mucking my way through an extended bout of insomnia that shows no signs of abating after two and a half weeks. I've tried Simply Sleep, valerian, chamomile and a few glasses of red wine. Nothing seems to do the trick.

Right now, I go to bed every night around 11pm and wake up every morning around 4am. Then I lie awake in bed until the alarm goes off at 7am. These are now the most lucid moments of my waking hours. Once the working day begins, I carefully sleepwalk my way through it, hoping the sleep deprivation doesn’t make me miss an important deadline or cause a car accident.

So why can’t I sleep? I think it started with the double whammy disruption of early daylight savings time and SXSW combined with a growing level of career-related anxiety. I’m coming up on 14 years with the state in April. That’s a long time to work in a government office. So long as the Legislature doesn’t change the “Rule of 80,” I’ll be eligible for retirement in another 14 years. Then I can start my second career making homemade organic apple butter or teaching kids how to sail. The problem is I’d have to stay with the state another 14 years. I’m no longer sure that’s what I want to do.

The time has come to take stock of all possible courses going forward. Maybe I should stay put. Maybe I should find another gig at the state. Maybe I should leave civil service and try my luck in the private sector. All have their pros and cons, but I figure exploring my options will at least alleviate the dreadful sense that my groove became a rut when I wasn’t paying attention.

Just thinking about all these things sends my anxiety-driven mind racing through one worst-case scenario after another where I end up alone and broken. I’m living in a Stewart Smalley shame spiral. There’s no logical reason why I should think I’ll blow everything, but my ever-doubting inner voice won’t shut up about it. Hopefully the insomnia will start to abate once I finish my taxes and start looking around for the first time in 12 years.

If not, garden variety exhaustion will take care of things sooner or later.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mudders Beat DUI Rap by Trespassing

If you’re a College Republican in Texas who wants to get boozed up and go muddin’ in your daddy’s SUV, be sure to do it on private property.

That’s what Texas State students Dustin Bednorz and William Fischer did on the morning of March 17 near the banks of the Blanco River in San Marcos. Even though these two reckless scions ran over three campers and responding police smelled alcohol on both drivers' breaths, they apparently could not charge them with drunk driving because everyone involved was trespassing on private property. All the local constabulary could do was shrug their shoulders and say, “This was a tragic accident.”

Of course, it’s always a tragic accident when nice white college kids mess up.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Oxygen Yanks "Campus Ladies"

Jen at Felt Up reports and series co-star Amir Talai confirms that Oxygen has cancelled “Campus Ladies” after just two seasons. What a damn shame.

If you never saw this ribaldry-chocked show about two suburban housewives going back to college and living in the freshman dorm, you missed out. It was funnier than a naked fat guy playing the trombone. I hate you, Oprah!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Randomizer

Austinist published an open letter from Factory People insinuating that SXSW somehow orchestrated the city’s permit raid rampage on SXSW after-parties last weekend. While the fruits of FP’s open records request remain to be seen, my hunch is that their $250 white leather belts are cinched a little too tight. It sucks to have a show or party shut down by the cops and/or fire marshal, but don’t hate on those guys too much because all it takes is one of these to ruin the party forever.

Late Night with David Letterman icon Larry “Bud” Melman (born Calvert DeForest) has died at the age of 85. Melman appeared on Letterman's NBC show starting in 1982. Because NBC owned Late Night, Melman had to start using his real name when Letterman jumped to CBS in 1993. I loved when they got him to hand out hot towels at the Port Authority bus station. His cameo in RUN-DMC’s “King of Rock” video is also priceless.

Good golly, Little Richard is playing a free show here this weekend! The rock pioneer will be at UT’s 40 Acres Fest on Saturday with the Jungle Rockers, Black Joe Lewis and the Weary Boys. The show starts at 6:30pm on the South Mall in front of the UT Tower.

UPDATE (3/23): It turns out SXSW sent the fire marshal’s office a list of non-SXSW parties, which the fire marshal’s office took as an official complaint. Assistant Fire Marshal Don Smith told News 8 Austin's Andy Langer he was unsure if SXSW's complaint led to the Factory People shutdown, though. I can understand why SXSW thinks non-festival parties should have to adhere to the same regulations as official venues. It's also important to recognize that the quickest way to kill off all the non-SXSW events is for SXSW itself to fail. The after party circuit exists because of SXSW, not the other way around. That said, I don't like the idea of SXSW pointing the city toward non-SXSW events for code enforcement. Whatever competitive parity might've been gained through such a tactic is likely to be offset by the unsavory public reaction to it.

Here's to the One Percenters

I love a good discount, but this is one I will not be availing myself of.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Remembering the Ritz

The original downtown Alamo Drafthouse is scheduled to move into the Ritz Theater on Sixth St. late this summer. The new location will be called Alamo Drafthouse at the Ritz, which is a nice way to avoid having to replace the grand old marquee out front.

I think this is a perfect match for both the Alamo and the Ritz. The former was facing a serious jump in rent at their current Warehouse District location on Colorado St. and the latter is a long-neglected old husk that would clean up nicely with the right improvements. The Alamo will sink as much as $1 million into the 1929 theater. Parking will continue to be tight, but it’s probably not going to hamper the Alamo’s business any more than it already does.

The Ritz had many lives after the movies stopped running in the Seventies. It was home to Esther’s Follies for a spell before becoming an on-again, off-again music venue for the next three decades. Roky Erickson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys and the Butthole Surfers all played the Ritz.

One of the first concerts I saw after moving to Austin in 1987 was a 7 Seconds show at the Ritz on a Tuesday night. It only cost $1 to get in. On July 4th of that year, I saw Poison 13, the Party Owls and the Hickoids at the Ritz. That show ended with a naked skinhead fellating the microphone while Jeff Smith sang Alice Cooper’s “Be My Lover.” Fishbone came to town in August, just in time to salve the burn of my unrequited summer school death rock girl crush.

In 1991, I played at the Ritz with Cheezus, my first Austin band. We sounded terrible, but we kept the audience entertained by giving them Planters Cheez Balls and individually-wrapped cheese slices to throw at us while we played. We were opening for Crust and I’ll never forget watching John "Rev. Art Bank Lobby" Hawkins set his pubic hair on fire to end the show. I was latently accepted into graduate school at UT the next morning.

About a year ago, The Ron Titter Band played the Ritz with Oh, Beast! and Gretchen Phillips at one of the last non-SXSW shows they did before an ill-fated attempt at becoming a more upmarket pool hall. With the Alamo moving in, the Ritz will be the site of many more such fond memories in the years to come.

Kudos to the intrepid folks at Metroblogging Austin for breaking this story.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Crazy Ray R.I.P.

Longtime Dallas Cowboys sideline mascot Crazy Ray died this weekend of complications from diabetes at a hospice in Irving. He was 77.

Born Wilford Jones, Ray came to Dallas from Nacogdoches in the Fifties and became known as Whistlin' Ray while shining shoes at barber shops on Elm Street. At lunch time, he entertained children by making balloon animals.

In 1960, he began selling seat cushions at Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Texans games in the Cotton Bowl. Soon he began riding around on a stick pony and goofing on the visiting teams. By the Seventies, you'd frequently see him clowing around on the Texas Stadium sidelines whenever the Cowboys had a televised home game. He also showed up at Dallas Tornado soccer games at Ownby Stadium on the SMU campus.

More recently, Ray's health progressively worsened and he fell into dire financial straits. The last time I saw him was in 1999. He was rolling around the food pavillion at the State Fair on a motorized wheelchair, handing out balloon animals to kids.

Donations to Crazy Ray's family to cover funeral expenses may be made at

Monday, March 19, 2007

How I Spent My SXSW

I didn’t have time to do any SXSW-related blogging, but here’s a rundown of what I wrote for the Chron daily editions during my working vacation:

The Octopus Project and Brothers and Sisters did us locals proud at the Little Radio day party on Wednesday afternoon.

Wednesday night’s Austin Music Awards show featured a surprise appearance by Pete Townshend that was one of the worst kept surprises in town. I'm especially glad I got to see Pete play Ronnie Lane's "Kuschty Rye" with Ian McLagan because the Who have postponed tomorrow night's show in San Antonio (which Kate and I had tickets for) due to Roger Daltrey's illness.

China’s emerging music market is a new frontier, which apparently means there’s money to be made but no one has figured out how to do it legally.

The Tosca String Quartet and Kurt Wagner from Lambchop gave a moving performance despite being housed in a tent next to the freeway.

I also wrote two profile pieces for the Friday Chron daily edition on Japanese prog-core warriors Green Milk from the Planet Orange and Dallas R&B legend Bobby Patterson. To his credit, Patterson was very understanding when my stupid Time Warner digital phone started doing crazy nonstop beeping runs right in the middle of our interview.

It was cool to see the Stooges up close and personal in the Austin City Limits studio at UT, but it would’ve been even better if at least one of their four songs wasn’t from their mediocre new album. Up the street at Antone’s Records, the Cynics put on a great show with assistance from the Ugly Beats.

Finally, longtime Austin songwriter Powell St. John channeled both the psychedelic and the prurient Friday night.


1. I accidentally got into Antone’s early for the Stax 50 Revue show and stood about five feet away from Isaac Hayes during sound check. I didn’t have the guts to ask him for an autograph, though.

2. I was standing right in front of bassist Duck Dunn during Booker T. & the MG’s set, so I really got to watch him play. It was like sitting courtside at a Bulls game in 1992.

3. I did a pretty good job of staying hydrated, eating healthy and avoiding too much alcohol, but my festival pacing was thrown by a near-total inability to sleep on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights. I broke down and took some pills on Friday, which did the trick.

4. Between Buckwheat Zydeco on the Hammond organ, Archie Bell doing the Tighten Up and the Flaming Arrow Mardi Gras Indians, there wasn’t a dull moment at Friday night’s Ponderosa Stomp showcase - at least not while I was there.

5. Hearing the rumble of competing bands playing downtown from the 18th floor balcony of the Omni Hotel creates a dizzying sensation not unlike that of walking into a Las Vegas casino after four or five drinks.

6. Note for out-of-towners: if you’re paying $5 to a hot girl in a tank top for a Lone Star out of a galvanized wash tub at a bar on Sixth St., you are standing in a get-drunk-and-vomit emporium for frat boys, not an actual Austin music venue.

7. Upon arriving early for the Terry Reid showcase at Antone’s Saturday night, I queued up behind Charlie Sexton, the man from whom I nicked the name of this here blog. He was kind enough to tell me he wasn’t actually standing in line.

8. The less time I spend sitting in downtown traffic and finding a place to park, the more I enjoy SXSW. For the last couple of years, I just parked in the Convention Center garage and walked everywhere. This year, I parked at Kate's since she lives right across the river from downtown.

9. The day party free-for-all is becoming more stratified and exclusive, with the more popular events requiring badges, wristbands and/or invites. That said, there are still plenty of opportunities to keep the resourceful non-SXSW participant amply entertained and beered up from noon to 6pm every day. At my age, if I wasn’t covering the fest, I’d probably just go to the day shows and crawl into bed after Seinfeld.

10. I happen to like a lot of Jefferson Starship songs, but a free show by what’s left of that band at Waterloo Park on Wednesday made me very, very sad.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


For the past couple of years, I’ve tried to maintain this blog through the balls-deep onslaught of SXSW.

I’ve decided I won’t be doing so this year with any regularity because the Chron now has its own SXSW blog that I can post to.

If you want to see what I’m up to over the next four or five days, that’s where I’ll be.

Master of Your Domain

Kate and I headed up MoPac for The Domain's grand opening weekend on Sunday. Anchored by Neiman-Marcus and Macy’s at either end, The Domain is a simulacrum of a tree-lined city block filled with high-end retail outlets like Tiffany, Louis Vuitton and Apple. There are apartments and offices above the stores that seem grossly overpriced given the current market in that area.

The ass end of The Domain faces outward toward MoPac. That is a somewhat bold design decision in our car-centric city because you’d never guess how nice it is inside by driving by on the freeway. There were a lot of people milling about, but being outside made the crowds a more bearable than they would’ve been at an enclosed shopping mall.

Be forewarned that The Domain has a distinctively North Dallas air wafting throughout its well-manicured grounds like a slow-dissipating curry fart. I’m not used to seeing that many Bush sticker-encrusted land yachts in one place within our city limits. It felt like someone hauled Plano 200 miles south.

Still, I’m glad to have that suburban lucre contributing to Austin proper's tax base. The whopping 80 percent tax rebate over 20 years granted by our city council to The Domain's developers seems a bit excessive, but maybe we can use whatever's left to make up a sliver of how much we townies have to pay for the infrastructure to get suburb dwellers in and out of downtown every weekday.

It’s nice to have a Neiman’s in Austin even though I don’t have much use for it personally. I found a pair of Gucci loafers I liked, but unless our currency collapses, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to feel good about paying $400 for a pair of shoes unless they come with an 8-ball of coke and/or 300 Jack in the Box tacos. The only thing I might buy at Neiman’s on a regular basis is Kiehl’s shaving cream. Also, I would have few qualms about disgorging myself in their nicely-apportioned men's room if I couldn't make it home in time.

Despite the high snoot factor, I do have fond memories of going to Neiman's in downtown Dallas with my mom as a child. One time when I was about four, I grabbed a chunk of cheese off a Neiman's international cheese wheel display, thinking it was free for the taking. Around the same time, I pinched a pretty lady on her pantyhosed leg there because I thought it would feel good. It did. I got in trouble from my mom, but the lady seemed to think it was cute. I can't wait until I'm old and senile so I can get away with that sort of thing again.

Then as now, the salespeople at Neiman’s are experts at smelling money – and lack thereof. As such, they pretty much stayed clear of me, but one men’s department associate asked where I’d picked up my Guayabera shirt. I could barely contain my glee when I told him I got it for 50 cents at a garage sale. Say it loud – I’m cheap and I’m proud.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Fiesta Returns to South Austin

Looks like Albertson’s loss is Fiesta’s gain. The Houston-based supermarket chain is opening a second Austin location in the former Albertson’s at IH-35 and Stassney this summer. Fiesta used to have a tiny location on South Lamar where the Alamo Drafthouse is, but they closed it down in 2003, leaving only the Delwood Plaza store at IH-35 and 38 1/2 St.

I used to live right behind the Delwood Fiesta in the mid-Nineties, but I quit shopping there because their produce was inferior to H-E-B (except when they were running a 10-cent corn-on-the-cob special or something) and it took forever to check out. They do carry a wide array of international foods, though. I also used to enjoy thumbing through the lurid Mexican murder tabloids that had sexy Latina women in thongs interspersed with graphic photos of drug kingpins with their brains blown out.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Fiesta move in at the former Albertson’s by my current house at Ohlen and Research. Someone mentioned the possibility of a “Hispanic grocery store” moving in there at one of my neighborhood association meetings a few months back.

I have no idea whether the guy who said this had some inside information or not (the "for lease" sign was still up last time I looked), but I think it would be a good move for Fiesta. There are plenty of Hispanic shoppers in the area and this is one white boy who would love to have a walkable alternative to the proposed Northcross Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Boston Vocalist Brad Delp Dies

Boston vocalist Brad Delp was found dead yesterday at the age of 55. He was alone in his Atkinson, New Hampshire home and local police don't suspect foul play.

I got to see Boston at the Erwin Center in 2004 and they were surprisingly good despite being laughably out of fashion in more ways than one. Guitarist/keyboardist/producer /inventor/multi-millionaire Tom Scholz stepped onstage in a T-shirt and shorts ensemble no wife would let her husband leave the house in. Delp had assistance on the high notes, but otherwise his impressive range was intact.

There was plenty of horrible corporate rock in Boston's wake, but that doesn't take away from the meticulously-crafted brilliance of songs like "More Than a Feeling" and "Long Time" and "Don't Look Back." I think I'll be cranking the latter on my car stereo tonight in Delp's honor.

UPDATE (3/17/07): Delp's family announced his death was suicide this week. Very sad indeed.

Friday, March 09, 2007

If You Have Ghosts

The Austin Chronicle recently updated its website to make things more interactive. The update coincides with the launch of several subject-specific blogs, including one pertaining to music called "Earache."

I immediately expressed interest in contributing to Earache because my ultimate career goal is to do nothing but look up shit on the web and then write about it (by the way, I'm available just about all the time to come talk about my goal to schools or church youth groups).

Although slack got the best of me for a few weeks, my first Chron music blog entry finally went live today. Click here to read about the late, great Johnnie Taylor in the debut installment of "If You Have Ghosts."

Guess Who's Getting Richer?

One of the biggest of many big ironies in American public life is that Republicans have successfully sold themselves as beacons of family values when they’ve taken every opportunity to stab working families in the back while doling out tax breaks to the super-wealthy.

A particularly egregious example of this is Bush’s recent budget proposal that would give $73 billion in tax cuts to millionaires while cutting domestic social programs by more than $34 billion. From

The tax breaks enacted since 2001 will be worth $73 billion to millionaires in 2012, providing them with an average of $162,000 each in that year. In that same year, the President would cut domestic programs such as education, housing, nutrition, public health, Head Start, job training, environmental protection and much more by $34 billion. And that’s not all—the budget shrinks the federal role in providing medical care to the poor by $60 billion over 10 years. It would reverse the progress made in insuring children by freezing funds for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and eliminate food stamps for 300,000 people in low-income working families.

How come giving tax cuts to the richest among us is a higher priority of our government than providing children with health care, and how come more people aren’t outraged by this?

Can’t we pull our collective wiener out of Anna Nicole’s corpse long enough to...ah, forget it, I already know the answer.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Stella Boes R.I.P.

Longtime Carousel Lounge waitress Stella Boes passed away on Monday at the age of 80.

Known far and wide for her patriotic attire, Boes was a friendly face behind the bar who was always eager to carry the tip jar around on behalf of whoever happened to be playing. She will be missed.

Read more about viewing and memorial arrangements at Chris Gray's TCBlog.

Ron Titter Rocks Team Tacodeli This Saturday!

Whether it’s giving his buddy Trey a ride to the junkyard to find a new cylinder head, getting shaved for the ladies or fighting multiple sclerosis, ol’ Ron Titter is all about a good cause.

That’s why The Ron Titter Band is playing to raise a little cheese for Team Tacodeli at 8pm this Saturday, March 10 at Tacodeli North, located at 12001 Burnet Rd. in Austin.

Team Tacodeli will be bicycling from Houston to Austin on April 21 and 22 in the BP MS150. Funds from MS150 ride go to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS). In its previous two MS150 rides, Team Tacodeli raised more than $70,000 for NMSS. Ron Titter thinks that’s purty kule.

Just 15 bucks gets you Tacodeli grub (prepared in part by RTB chef/drummer Joel Fried!), frosty beverages and a hot, sweaty evening with The Ron Titter Band and Cheryl Murdock. Festivities start at 6pm and kids under 12 get in free, but Ron wants parents to know that a few of the band’s songs have some bad words that you might not want your kids to hear.

If you have a problem with that, Ron is sorry you have a problem with that.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Gone Daddy Gone

I live across the street from a middle school, which means I have to contend with lots of school-related litter in my yard.

Mostly it's empty cans, candy wrappers, ice cream sticks and wadded up worksheets.

It gets to be a real pain in the ass to have to pick up all this crap every day.

But every once in a while, I find something wonderful...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

What, No Free Sam's Choice Soda?

I briefly attended the Northcross Wal-Mart open house last night at Norris Conference Center.

It was a mad spectacle of Wal-Mart/Lincoln Property suits bumping elbows with Responsible Growth for Northcross red shirts and TV cameras. I tried to listen in on conversations but I wasn’t there long enough to ask any questions myself. There were several police officers on hand to keep order and there was apparently one guy who threatened to punch someone out. I did not have the fortune to witness this.

As for Wal-Mart, the proposed design sort of looks like the BookPeople/REI building at 6th and Lamar done on the cheap. It seeks to incorporate the limestone and metal facade that has become standard for Austin, but whether this building would actually be attractive would depend on quality of materials (hopefully said materials won't be purchased at Wal-Mart). At any rate, it wouldn’t look like other Wal-Mart Supercenters, which is a good thing.

Unfortunately, the parking garage would be the center’s main interface with Anderson Lane. It’s not as ugly as a parking garage could be, but I’d rather see the storefront be the street interface. Right now, plans are to top the main garage entrance with a giant Wal-Mart logo. I think “Einkaufen Macht Frei” might be more apropos.

Neighborhood pressure will continue to be critical in ensuring the best possible redevelopment of Northcross. However, it must be said that RG4N’s insistence on not having a sizable anchor tenant at Northcross does not address the fact that lack of tenable anchor stores is partially why the current incarnation of Northcross failed. Wal-Mart Supercenter or not, Northcross will need an anchor to survive.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Today I Am A Costco Member

Kate and I took our relationship to the next level on Friday by getting a Costco membership.

I've long admired Costco as a corporation that treats its employees decently and doesn't give all its PAC donations to politicians intent on flying our country into the side of a mountain, but I never figured I'd be able to make a warehouse club work for me economically unless I had at least one wife and three kids.

Then my Costco member pals decided to have a little come-to-Jesus meeting with Kate and I over pints of ale. I've been through a lot of come-to-Jesus meetings in my time, but never one that promised me two pounds of Tillamook extra sharp cheddar cheese for seven bucks. Or plump-ass whole rotisserie chickens with enough meat to feed four offensive linemen for five bucks. Or a two and one-half pound bag of Costa Rican coffee for eight bucks.

A religion promising good value can really take advantage of a man like me.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Lenten Workplace Cussing Moratorium: Week 2

Well, at least I started off strong this week...

Monday, February 26

Tuesday, February 27

Wednesday, February 28
1 shit

Thursday, March 1
2 hells, 1 damn*
*exclamatory response to being told a co-worker was bitten by a raccoon while jogging on Town Lake

Friday, March 2
Texas Independence Day - no work!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

NYT: Has Whole Foods Lost Its Way?

A story in yesterday’s New York Times (currently #4 in the top ten list of most e-mailed stories) used the Whole Foods Market/Wild Oats deal as a springboard to ask if our hometown grocery concern has strayed from its roots.

Reporter Marian Burros' cursory tours of eight Whole Foods stores in the Washington, D.C. and New York City areas revealed green potatoes, wrinkled tomatoes and brown haricots. I don’t know if this really proves anything other than the fact that produce spoils regardless of the mark-up.

And pardon my provinciality, but just what in the hell is a haricot, anyway? It sounds like something a 19th century farm girl would’ve worn on her head to signify she wasn’t a slut.

Growth and success have obviously changed Whole Foods in the last 27 years, but I would still say their influence on the eating habits of Americans has been quite positive on the “whole.” The fact that we’re even having this discussion sort of confirms it.

Going forward, I think the company’s biggest challenge will be to find a way to expand its “natural foods” market share among non-elites while maintaining elite customer loyalty via expensive pastries and such. To the former end, redeveloping smaller Wild Oats stores as limited service “neighborhood markets” could prove to be an excellent hedge against Trader Joe’s.

I swear I'm not just saying that because I don't want the only grocery store within walking distance from my house to be a Wal-Mart Supercenter.