Myth, martyr, musician

With each passing day, the ghost of Selena looms larger over the mainstream

Tejano music as it has been performed for the past two decades by the likes of Little Joe y La Familia and Mazz serves a dual purpose, allowing Mexican-Americans to retain the sounds of their culture while still being modern and mainstream. It's both pop and folk, as rooted in the century-old folk-country conjunto practiced by the likes of Santiago Jimenez Jr. as in the dance-floor disco beats of Madonna.

"Tejano culture cuts it both ways," says Texas Monthly's Patoski. "It's the music of assimilation. If you're first-generation Mexican-American, you're more likely to listen to conjunto or norte–o, which is derided by second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans as 'wetback music.' It's the country music of northern Mexico. Tejano is wholly unique in that it's for the second- and third-generation person that holds onto the culture, but has a thoroughly modern outlook.

"Conjunto is folk music, but there's nothing folk about Tejano except that it's bilingual. The idea is to fuse modern elements to the basics. In Tejano, the essence of it is the polka--which was taken from the Germans, Bohemians, and the Czechs who moved to Texas in the early part of the century. But even that's changed to where the modern Tejano act is likely to do a cumbia and cover the Pretenders with Spanish lyrics. If you're Hispanic and live in Texas, this satisfies your urges to be current and to have a sense of culture."

Like Buddy Holly and Stevie Ray Vaughan, two other Texas music immortals whose images and music are now frozen forever by early deaths, Selena was heading in another direction at the time of her death--attempting to reach a mainstream audience by going full-blown pop, singing in English to appeal to an Anglo audience. (Before his death, Holly recorded a number of lushly produced, sickly-sweet pop confections that bore little resemblance to the country-inflected rock that made him a star; the last track on Stevie Ray Vaughan's final studio album with Double Trouble was the jazz-influenced "Riviera Paradise," which echoed Wes Montgomery more than Muddy Waters.) Whether she would have been successful making the transition will remain a mystery, if not a moot point.

"I grew up when Elvis died, and of course everyone knew him and his music, but it wasn't as close to home," says Steve Chavez. "In a way, I now understand when people say Elvis is alive and that they saw him at the mall. It's just hard to accept that Selena's dead, and the Elvis phenomenon comes from people saying, 'I can't believe he's dead.'

"Whatever bond I had with Selena was that we are both in Tejano but we have a love for the mainstream. From the first time I saw her, I knew this girl was going to be large. Selena was going to break the barriers, and everyone knew it."

Local goes national
There was a time not long ago when the release of a national major-label album from a local band was heralded by the same sort of pomp and circumstance that accompanies the birth of messiahs and the ending of wars. But in the last two years, as local bands are scooped up with some regularity, these things seem more commonplace, greeted with an enthusiasm tempered by lowered expectations and the yawn of familiarity. (It wasn't so long ago that 4 Reasons Unknown's signing with Epic was akin to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.)

In coming weeks a handful of local bands will go national, beginning on May 2 when Spot--the power-pop band featuring ex-Mildred boys Reggie and Chad Rueffer--releases its self-titled debut CD on Ardent Records. (Ardent is run by former Big Star drummer Jody Stephens.) Three weeks later, the Nixons will make their long-awaited (or so I have been told) debut on MCA with the release of the oddly titled Foma. The album was produced by the band and Mark Dodson, best known (or so I have been told) for his work with Prong and Suicidal Tendencies.

The following month, Denton's masters of rock, Brutal Juice, will go national with the release of their Interscope debut Mutilation Makes Identification Difficult, which was produced by Stuart Sullivan (who has worked with Tool and the band's bassist-vocalist Sam McCall, who produces every other band in Denton). The album, which was originally scheduled for release May 9, boasts such song titles as "Kentucky Fuck Daddy," "The Vaginals," "Burpgun," "Whorehouse of Screams."

The following week--on the same day, and damned near on the same label--Tripping Daisy and Hagfish will duke it out for those extra large summer music bucks. On June 20, Island Records will release I Am an Elastic Firecracker, the follow-up to Tripping Daisy's debut Bill; it will be the first complete album the Daisy has recorded for Island, since Bill originally appeared as a Dragon Street Records debut. That same day, London Records--which, like Island, is distributed through Polygram--will release Hagfish's major-label debut, Hagfish Rocks Your Lame Ass, which consists of some material from the band's Dragon Street record, Buick Men.

Locally--but, one hopes, not for long--Cowboys and Indians--winners of the Country and Western Observer Music Award last week, the only band to usurp the Dixie Chicks in nearly five years--are finally preparing to self-release their first CD, The Western Life, April 27. The band will perform at a release party at Bar of Soap on May 6.

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