Rocker, Texas Ranger

Baboon kicks Chuck Norris' ass in a Deep Ellum club...sort of

"It's terrible," he says of the band's music, "but I guess you gotta have that kind of music, too." His tastes run more toward show tunes--"like Showboat," says the Mineola native who, ironically, attended college in Denton, the birthplace of Baboon.

Over the course of the morning and afternoon, Willingham, Norris, the cast of stars and extras, and the crew hear Baboon's "Thumbhead" dozens of times; even the band grows sick of hearing it and pantomiming along with it. (A third Baboon song, "Why'd You Say Die?," is also scheduled to be used in the episode, during the murder scene.) It is indeed true what they say of filmmaking: There is nothing so dull and stagnant as watching actors creating their so-called art, nothing so mundane as observing them retrace their steps and recite their lines dozens of times.

Even worse is the fact that Baboon must perform for the camera when there is no music blasting from the club's speakers, and the moshers have to do their vicious dance in silence. This allows the real actors to recite their lines while the cameras capture the background action uninterrupted by the music. It's a surreal and altogether dumfounding thing to watch guitarist Mike Rudnicki and bassist Mark Hughes strum in dead quiet, or to witness Huffstetler do his patented belly-rub and disco-punk dance without any sound. Barnett, wearing a pig mask during the entire shoot, never even touches his drum kit with his sticks. It's what deaf people must see when they go to a club.

It is, however, something of a cheap thrill for the band to perform--even if it's only make-believe and for a CBS series--while Chuck Norris walks through the crowd in front of them looking for The Hangman. Wearing his brown leather jacket, a white banded-collar shirt, sable jeans and boots, and his coal-black cowboy hat, the King of Cowboy Kung Fu doesn't need to speak to act. He must only stare and squint, and when he snakes through the crowd, he casts a steely eye toward anyone who comes into his line of vision.

"There's Chuck," whispers Huffstetler, to no one in particular. "Fight."
For this shoot, the casting director has hired a gathering of extras who touch upon all races and social classes; it's the politically correct rock show, white punks and black bohos and Hispanic homies mixing it up and pretending to be out for a night on the town. Some wear their own tattered clothes, others are outfitted in special Baboon shirts the band's label made up damn quick and Federal Expressed to the location. One guy wears a frilly pirate shirt and sports coat, a few women are clad in leather or some facsimile, but the norm is tattoos-and-pierced whatever.

The few Deep Ellum regulars who have landed gigs as extras--guys like Mouse and Duncan Black and Sixty-Six guitarist Alan Hayslip and Pump'n Ethyl frontman Turner Van Blarcum (who gets his catered breakfast, his $50 voucher, then leaves)--remark that they've never seen any of these people downtown before. But it's an eerie sight nonetheless: For all its prefabrication and patronizing sentiment, the Walker folks have managed to assemble a near dead-on collection for the club scene. (And who says Gen X is a defunct and insulting stereotype? Maybe the beer and jeans commercials are right.)

"We were just looking for people who had a good Deep Ellum look," says Blanchette. Which is? "You name it--a little on the wild and crazy side, somebody out looking for a good time." One sequence calls for a mannequin to be thrown over the club's balcony--it's a plot point (don't ask)--and an assistant director explains to the crowd, "Some people think it's an actual woman, and some people think it's a joke because of the type of club you're in."

After six hours of shooting and a lunch break, the cast and crew return to the scene of the crime to film the crime itself--the murder committed by The Hangman--and they have brought with them limos and fake paparazzi and "assorted local celebrities" (script again) to lend a certain elegance to the proceedings. It's a fantasy world, all right--limos at Trees, fans crowding outside the venue shouting the band's name over and over, and Baboon inside "pounding out their hits." At least, that's what it says in the script.

Later that night, the band plays an actual gig at the Orbit Room, and it is attended by maybe 100 people who just stand and watch; some will clap or cheer after a song. "We played at 10 this morning, and people were moshing," Huffstetler tells the crowd. "It's 12-something, so what's your excuse?"

On your avant-garde
The Vas Deferens Organization exists on the fringes of the local rock scene, out where the musical air is thin and "songs" are often nothing more than sounds piled atop noise piled atop studio effect. But the group, which is spearheaded by Matt Castille and cohort J. Bone Cro, is emerging as a scene unto itself: They have released four cassettes, each better than the last, and have been responsible for two J. Bone Cro records (the newest, For Cryin' Out Loud, being available on limited-quantity vinyl on the prestigious Rockadelic label) and the astonishing new Dragline CD. Castille has even been working with the likes of Mercury Rev; he remixed about 30 minutes of music for the band, which so impressed them that Castille has been asked to produce the second record for Rev side project Harmony Rockets.

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