Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Manboy in the Mirror

I was at Sound Lab recording studio on W. 5th this afternoon for the production of a work-related radio spot. As I pulled into the parking lot around 2pm, Jammin’ 105.9 was playing “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” I had to cut the engine right as Michael Jackson got to that “tee-hahaha!” breakdown. Little did I know it would be the last time I heard a Michael Jackson song while he was still alive (to the best of our knowledge, anyway).

As the recording session inched toward closure, our assistant account executive said Michael Jackson had just died. Conflicting news reports made this difficult to confirm, but by the time I got home, everyone but CNN was reporting Jackson’s death as fact.

In November of 1984, I saw the Jacksons perform at the Astrodome in Houston on the Victory tour. The tour set a new bar for fevered hype and there was widespread outrage at the lofty $28 ticket price. I had no plans on going myself, but on the day of the show, a high school pal offered me his extra ticket as a birthday present.

The opening act was a guy who juggled to Beatles songs. Then they showed the S&M/jungle-themed video for “Torture,” which allegedly featured a wax dummy stand-in for Michael and was the only hint that the Victory tour was ostensibly undertaken to promote a new Jacksons album called Victory.

Finally, the Jacksons took the stage, opening with “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’.” Although they ran a perfunctory medley of Motown hits, the brothers focused on the scintillating Quincy Jones productions from the 1979 template,“Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)” all the way through to “Billie Jean.” Despite the Astrodome’s lousy acoustics, it was a pretty amazing show.

Although his death was shocking in its suddenness, I can’t say I’m surprised Michael Jackson didn’t live to a ripe old age. Succumbing to a massive heart attack at age 50 is tragic, but taken alongside Jackson’s post-Thriller unraveling, the suspected cause of death seems almost conventional.

As Jackson stood trial for child molestation, hearing the 10-year-old Jackson deliver his timeless performance of “I Want You Back” became a sad exercise in dissonance. Putting aside the question of did he or didn’t he, I couldn’t hear him sing without wishing that 10-year-old kid something better.

R.I.P. Sky Saxon

Sadly, Sky Saxon passed away this morning at St. David's Hospital. The leader of 60s L.A. garage rock titans the Seeds had just moved to Austin and played his first show as a resident last Saturday with Shapes Have Fangs at Antone's. I'm really kicking myself for not going to that show or his Fuzz Club gig a few weeks back.

The Seeds' Sky Saxon hospitalized in Austin

Just got this alarming news about Sky Sunlight Saxon from music publicist Cary Baker at Conqueroo. Here's hoping the newly minted Austinite makes a quick and full recovery.

June 25, 2009


AUSTIN, Texas — Early Monday, June 22, 2009, Sky Sunlight Saxon of garage rock legends the Seeds was hospitalized in South Austin, Texas due to an undiagnosed condition. He remains in critical condition in the ICU at this date in St. David’s South Austin Hospital. Doctors suspect an infection of the internal organs; further tests are pending upon stabilization. Temporary dialysis of the kidneys will begin in the next few days.

Sky Sunlight Saxon fell ill last Thursday in his new home of Austin. Despite feeling under the weather, on Saturday he performed a short set of Seeds classics at the local legendary nightclub Antone’s.

Sky’s wife Sabrina Saxon encourages fans and friends worldwide to send cards and balloons of encouragement, love and support to Sky at his room in the ICU. No flowers are allowed in this facility, but cards and balloons are welcome. It is Sabrina’s wish to create a visual illustration of the positive healing vibes that are being generated for the much beloved musician in full support of his recovery.

Please send cards and balloons to:

St David’s South Austin Hospital
901 West Ben White Boulevard
ICU-10 (Richard Marsh)
Austin, Texas 78704

(Note: Sky Saxon’s legal name is Richard Marsh)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Alaska Airlines saves the Nerd Bird

Although they haven’t even started flying to Austin yet, Alaska Airlines is already planning to expand service here.

On the heels of American’s announcement that it will no longer fly the so-called “Nerd Bird” route between Austin and San Jose, Calif. after Aug. 23, Alaska is picking up the slack with a daily Austin-San Jose flight starting Sept. 2. This is in addition to their previously announced Austin-Seattle service (another abandoned AA route), which begins Aug. 3.

Unfortunately, the outbound Alaska flight doesn’t leave until 3 p.m., which makes a same-day return impossible.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

WFAA signs off forever (in analog)

In honor of last week's nationwide analog TV shutdown, WFAA-TV in Dallas aired a historic retrospective along with their vintage sign-off tape from the 70s just before flipping the switch.

Taking the low road

Years after the highway department gave up on rebuilding the low-lying stretch of Texas 87 between High Island and Sabine Pass, plans are afoot to move the Caplan-High Island stretch further inland from the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of Hurricane Ike.

In the interim, work is underway to raise Texas 87 between Port Bolivar and High Island to a lofty six feet above sea level so Bolivar Peninsula residents have more time to get out when (not if) there's another storm. This would presumably include odious state Rep. Wayne Christian (R-Center), who slipped an amendment into a bill during the 11th hour of this year's legislative session that would allow him to rebuild his Ike-razed vacation home on what is now public beach.

Texas 87 detour photo - pre-Rita and Ike - from

Friday, June 19, 2009

Cash for clunkers

Did you buy a stupid car during the Go Go Nineties? If so, the government wants to write you a check.

The Obama administration's latest stimulating salvo to our beleaguered economy is the so-called "Cash for Clunkers" program. Under the program, drivers of fuel-hogging crapheaps like the Ford Bronco and Chevy Blazer may be eligible for up to $4,500 in incentive money toward buying a more sensible, fuel-efficient car like the Honda Civic I've been driving all along.

While the notion of rewarding people for short-sighted purchases chaps me, it may help get large, unwieldy vehicles off our roads and out of "compact car only" parking spaces. Then we could repurpose junked SUVs as housing for homeless people.

Hey, it worked in Americathon.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Unrequited discounts

Did you know you can save five percent on shipping at UPS Stores by whipping out your AAA card?

I didn’t learn about this until yesterday, which is too bad, because Kate and I ship stuff to Massachusetts all the time. Between Christmas and birthdays, I bet we could’ve saved enough scratch to pay for a couple of matinee tickets by now.

It’s easy to miss out on AAA discounts that aren’t related to travel. I often forget I’m even a member unless I’m stranded and cursing fate on the side of the road, but an AAA card can get you discounts on everything from contact lenses to soft pretzels. It pays to review the list of discounts every now and then.

In the meantime, does anyone out there have a not-so-obvious AAA discount they’d like to share with fellow turnip-squeezers?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A brief jaunt to Blanco - continued

Picking up where we left off, Kate and I woke up Sunday morning and availed ourselves of in-room coffee, croissants, mixed fruit and the Blanco Settlement's homemade breakfast quiches. The quiches, prepared in ramekins and left for us in the fridge, survived a brief nuking and were surprisingly tasty.

Then we drove out to Texas Specialty Cut Flowers. Located at the junction of Ranch Roads 165 and 2325, this working farm is a great place to buy flowers, herbs and seasonal veggies. They usually operate on the honor system, so you just select what you want and drop your cash (or check) in a red strongbox.

After a failed attempt at finding a lavender farm took us almost all the way to Wimberley, we turned around and returned to Blanco for lunch. Our destination was Riley's BBQ.

Riley's may not have the best barbecue in Texas, but their brisket and sausage are consistently above average. I think Riley's would stack up well against most anyplace in the last half of Texas Monthly's vaunted Top 50, though I wouldn't extend that assessment to their Dripping Springs location.

Moreover, Riley's serves all-you-can-eat pinto beans for $1.95, which is a great deal for penny-pinchers (if not the people who have to ride home with them). For atmosphere, it's hard to beat Blanco's town square. The brisket was a little dry on the day we were there, but that was a small quibble for an otherwise excellent barbecue repast.

Kate and I finally made it to a lavender farm north of Blanco on U.S. 281. After purchasing enough lavender-laden product to make a trip to the recognized "Lavender Capital of Texas" worth our while, we headed back home via Marble Falls. All in all, it was a perfect close-in overnight vacation.

Monday, June 01, 2009

A brief jaunt to Blanco

Last Christmas, my parents gave Kate and I a gift certificate for Blanco Settlement, a small cabin-and-RV park on the banks of the Blanco River. We finally got around to using it two weekends ago. Below is our dog-trot cabin, which came equipped with a TV, Jacuzzi tub, mini-fridge, microwave and drip coffee maker. Needless to say, "roughing it" like that for a night took some getting used to.

After buying some Real Ale Fireman's #4 and Julio's chips at the Super S Market in town, we sat on the porch and read until the sun started setting.
Driving west from Austin, we'd run into a brief but heavy downpour near Dripping Springs that forced us to pull over to the side of the road. They didn't get much rain at all in Blanco, though. As you can see, the river is barely flowing right now.

Even so, the nearby thunderstorms cooled things off and made for a sweet sunset.

We had dinner at the Blanco Bowling Club, a nine-pin bowling alley by night and cafe by day that serves above-average renditions of greasy fare like cheeseburgers and chicken fried steak. I hear the pies and cinnamon buns are good, but dessert was out of the question. By 10pm, we were ready to retire to uncommon silence broken only by the whirr of the fan.