Farewell from Cracker Eden

Texas journalism loses a great writer and friend in Grover Lewis

"I'm riffling through the pages of an underground sheet called Dallas Notes--'Narc Thugs Trash Local White Panthers'--but the lonesome countryside below keeps drawing my mind and eye away from the real-enough agonies of Big D's would-be dope brotherhood," Lewis wrote. "Somewhere down there slightly to the south, a pioneer Texan named William Medford Lewis--my paternal grandfather--lies buried in the Brushy Cemetery, hard by the fragrant dogwood trails of Montague County where he and I once trampled together in less fitful times."

Hunter Thompson was so impressed by the story, Draper writes in his book, that he sent Lewis a note that bore the gonzo journalist's highest compliment--Thompson wrote he had gotten "a first-class morning high off it." Sadly, though the magazine has published several compilations of its works in various books, "Splendor in the Short Grass" has never reappeared--likely because Lewis and Stone editor Jann Wenner had such a brutal falling-out, one that left Lewis bitter for the rest of his life.

As Draper explains it, Lewis and Wenner "had never exactly been pals": Grover thought Wenner was a "brat and a groupie," Draper wrote, who cared little about writing (and writers, for that matter) and was sickeningly fawning when it came to the rock stars. Their relationship soured for good in early 1973 when Wenner killed a piece Texas Observer editor Ronnie Dugger had written on Lyndon Johnson, which Lewis had assigned. Grover shot out a widely circulated note that expressed his anger at his editor and his embarrassment for being connected to the magazine.

But Wenner had the last laugh, offering Lewis a contract for a book about former Texas governor John Connally and then yanking it out from him just as Lewis was buying a house in San Antonio with his fiancee Rae Ence, a Rolling Stone secretary to whom Grover remained married till he died. Grover took his old boss to court and got $13,000 plus custody of a typewriter Wenner had given him and then demanded back. Grover "kept the typewriter," Draper wrote, "using it only for occasions when nasty letters were called for."

When I met Grover at the Assassination Symposium for John F. Kennedy in November 1993, on the 30th anniversary of Kennedy's death, he already appeared withered and worn. Despite thick glasses, he could barely see; his teeth were yellowed and rotten, thick with the deposits left from all those years of hard drinking and smoking several packs a day. He was living in Santa Monica with his wife, writing for the L.A. Weekly and a few other publications, regaining the enthusiasm he had lost for his craft. The publication of Draper's book had helped Lewis reclaim the part of his past that Wenner had stolen from him, and he was eager to get back into the journalism game.

We spoke for several hours about writing, drank beer and smoked pot, and talked a while longer. He insisted you could never teach writing, that "you could either do it or you could not," and he imparted kind words about a story I had written in that week's paper. He asked to see more stories and I told him I'd comply, only if he'd sign a copy of Academy All the Way, a long-out-of-print collection of his journalism that Wenner's publishing company had released. Lewis absolutely abhorred it because was filled with misspellings and shortened versions of his articles.

I included the book in a package of clips sent off to Lewis several months ago, spoke with him briefly some time afterward, and did not hear his name again till Texas Monthly senior editor Joe Nick Patoski called with news of Grover's death. Most likely, Draper suggested to me the other day, Grover threw my copy of Academy All the Way in the trash.

Tribute to Selena
When Texas Monthly and People hit newsstands last week with cover stories on slain Tejano superstar Selena, hundreds of fans lined up in front of San Antonio and Corpus Christi grocery stores, their ranks increasing and their restlessness unbound; they craved the unseen photos, the words that paid homage to their icon, their myth, their martyr. So when Selena's backup singer Pete Astudillo takes the stage with The Barrio Boyzz, with whom Selena recorded a few years ago, on May 7 at Reverchon Park as part of a Cinco de Mayo celebration concert, expect the crowds to swell by the thousands (last year's show, with a modest roster without any superstars, peaked at nearly 12,000 people).

Billed as a tribute to Selena, the lineup of performers will also feature Tejano mainstays Little Joe y La Familia and newcomers Los Desperados, Stephanie Lynn, La Tropa F, and Fama. The concert at Reverchon, on Turtle Creek at Maple, begins at noon and is scheduled to end at 11 p.m. Tickets are available for $8 around town, $10 at the event.

On May 6, Shelly Lares and Elsa Garcia--two of the few female Tejano stars who even approached Selena's fame, though by comparison they were almost anonymous--will perform at Texas Stadium on a bill that also includes Jay Perez, Mazz, and La Mafia.

On the road again
Michael Corcoran, the pop music critic for the Dallas Morning News, has decided to return to the city that made him famous (or, wait, was it the other way around?). Corcoran's last day at the Morning News is May 10, and at the end of the month, he will become the pop music critic for the Austin American Statesman, replacing Don McLeese. McLeese, a former Chicago Sun-Times critic, will become in September a full-time city columnist for the paper. As one Texas writer says of Corcoran's departure for the Hill Country, "You can't go home again, but maybe Corky can."

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