Rise and shine

Weekend offers a whirlwind tour of local music scene

Paula Moore has long been a Deep Ellum fixture (dare we say "Ellument?"), with a history that dates back to the late Video Bar and the founding of Last Beat Records. Now a regional A&R person for MCA (she just made the jump from RCA), she may be best known for starting Wake UP Dallas!, a showcase of area bands now in its fourth year.

An excellent opportunity to see a quick-moving parade of local acts, Wake UP Dallas! happens at Trees November 8 and 9; patrons older than 21 get in free, and those younger than 21 need pay only $3. "We just want to encourage people to be involved," Moore says. Her ultimate goal is to foster a sense of community--"We want bands to get involved with each other and meet," she says--but there are other shorter-term benefits, as well.

"Last year we had a good response, not only from [clubgoers], but also from the industry...There were over a dozen label people at last year's shows, and five labels have confirmed for this year," she says. "It's a lot of fun. Bands get to do their three best songs, so there's not a lot for them to freak out over, and the whole thing runs quickly and smoothly."

The first band plays at 9:25 p.m. each evening; doors open at 8 p.m. November 8's acts include ashes-of-Funland phoenix Centro-Matic, rocker Fletcher, punk Pump 'N Ethyl, and One Ton stalwarts Slow Roosevelt and Caulk. November 9 will still rock, but in a bit mellower vein: Acts include Cresta, Billboard buzz monkey Buck Jones, '90s folk songstress Meredith Miller, and co-headliners Crimson Clay and grand street cryers.

Double your pleasure
To paraphrase Kermit the Frog, it's not easy being in Brave Combo. There's the rotating roster of drummers, and that tiresome "nuclear polka" label. Not only that, but there's the hassle of balancing your beloved local rep with J.D. Considine's dissing you as "camp" in the Rolling Stone Record Guide (that must be particularly hard to take), and all those odd time signatures.

Perhaps some succor can be had, then, from the fact that for the first time ever Denton's eclectic combo has two albums recently released and available to the public. The first, on Rounder, is Mood Swing Music, a collection of odds and ends that never made it onto albums or were only released overseas; the other is Austin-based Watermelon Records' Kiss of Fire, a collaboration between BC and Lauren Agnelli (formerly of the Washington Squares).

Both albums are delightful, but different. The Rounder release is what you might call "typical" Brave Combo--heavy on the old Four Dots Records stuff, waltzes, polkas, and less-identifiable efforts like the weird-o-rama "Volare," which until now was only available as a Japanese import. Kiss of Fire is much more uniform--a collection of urbanities that mixes original tunes and classics like "I Could Have Danced All Night" and a rewritten "(The) Eyes of Santa Lucia." Your first impulse might be to file this with the various lounge-type efforts currently clogging the pipeline, but hold up: While Kiss definitely conjures up a continental baguette-in-a-bistro feeling, its ethos is miles ahead of the mere kitsch that seems to steer most of the music of the tedious, cigar-sucking "cocktail nation." Definitely worth checking out.

But not forgotten
The public eye is such a fickle thing that when musicians drops out of it, we seldom think of them as "gone"; in fact, we seldom think of them at all. That's why people are still stunned to learn that Jaco Pastorius--the self-proclaimed "world's greatest bass player," familiar to millions primarily for his stint with fusion giant Weather Report--has been dead for nearly a decade.

More shocking still are the circumstances surrounding his death. Destitute and deranged, and for all intents and purposes homeless, he was beaten so severely outside a south Florida nightclub in 1987 that he died nine days later. The story that briefly emerged--about a deeply troubled genius who seemed hellbent on destroying everything he had worked on and for--slipped into the background noise of American media and then away; people are still surprised when they learn of his passing and the way he went.

With Jaco: The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius (Miller Freeman Books, $14.95), longtime music writer Bill Milkowski (Downbeat, Jazz Times, Guitar Player) draws the arc of the life of an artist who achieved a rare immortality: Like Eddie Van Halen on the six-string, Pastorius affected the playing of nearly every bass player who came after him. His technique--full of harmonics and undertones, both intensely percussive and gently melodic--could produce runs of astounding agility (he had double-jointed thumbs) and dazzling speed, or notes that floated along with the grace of a whale gliding through the sea.

Milkowski covers the whole of Pastorius' life, from the phenomenal youngster who neither drank nor smoked to the jabbering, self-destructive street person borne along a river of drugs and alcohol. That Jaco Pastorius was mentally ill now seems painfully obvious, and one of the revelations implicit in his story is how quickly we've made progress in understanding such diseases--progress that, unfortunately, we can measure against how utterly clueless people were only a decade ago. One of the book's most poignant moments is when, after Jaco is brought to New York City's Bellevue Hospital in a straitjacket, his doctor explains the seven symptoms of a manic-depressive personality. Milkowski--a New York City jazz fixture who hung with Pastorius in the '80s--has done such a good job of presenting Jaco up to this point that the reader immdiately recognizes the symptoms (relentless activity, extreme talkativeness, fanciful visions, and an inflated ego, among others) as significant aspects of Jaco's personality.

Milkowski goes into almost numbing detail about Jaco's early career when the bass player was gigging around with road acts like Gorgeous George look-alike Wayne Cochran and his C.C. Riders, but that's necessary to give the book some balance and avoid the appearance of exploiting Pastorius' incredible (and, admittedly, much more entertaining) decline: Jaco in a beautiful white silk suit sleeping in a gutter, Jaco inciting a riot in Italy, or--perhaps most bizarre--Jaco in Japan riding a motorcycle into a hotel lobby and passing out; when hotel employees tried to revive him, they discovered a dead squid stuffed under his shirt.

Milkowski gives us the information and the stories and then leaves us with the space to reach our own conclusions. Was Pastorius' behavior a manifestation of illness, or simply attention-getting stunts that tried to compensate for a declining career? One thing made quite clear in Jaco is the debilitating effects of the wave of cocaine that coursed through the late '70s and '80s music scene and how prodigiously loaded everybody was. From the get-go Pastorius seems like one of those people who should not have done drugs.

The lethal effects of dope, however, are somewhat analogous to Eleanor Roosevelt's quote about feeling inferior; they don't go very far without your permission. Milkowski does a good job of presenting the complexity of Jaco's character--and the scope of his talent--and avoids easy hooks. The real ache behind this story, however, is attached to the inside back cover: a three-song CD of Jaco playing live taken from the Warner Bros. album Jaco Pastorius: The Birthday Concert. Although the new disc contains less than 10 minutes of music, in that brief time the listener gets a better idea of what was lost with Jaco's passing than words could ever convey.

He stoops to conquer
Despite all his good works--and it takes a lot of charity to make up for the turd-polishing abomination that was the Eagles reunion tour--Don Henley seems bound and determined to continually re-establish his overall vibe as similar to the one given off by an aged, arthritic, and ill-tempered wiener dog. His latest fit of pique involved Dallas Morning News rock scribe Thor "The Hammer" Christensen. It seems that when Christensen asked for standard review tickets for Henley's benefit--co-billed with Bonnie Raitt--for congressional candidate John Pouland, Christensen had to undergo a rigorous rite of purification during which his copy was found wanting in the praise-of-Don category, and he was reportedly told to buy his own damn ticket. (Street Beat would like to admit that this item is based on the lowest kind of rock lamprey rumor, but would still like to hear from somebody who could say "Oh, no, that never happened." Regrettably, the biz is so shot through with wiener dog fear--or else the tale be so true--that nobody is commenting one way or the other).

Now here is where your basic Rashomon scenario comes into play: There are a dozen points of view here, each with its own validity. On one hand, who can't relate to Don's Teamsterish Fuck me? Fuck you! response? And who likewise could not delight in seeing some conservative, Buddy Hickerson-dumping, Bob Dole-endorsing A.H. Belobucks going to Pouland's campaign coffers? Still, the idea of Henley--who has admittedly done more than most to turn the lucre earned from his pop career into something like proper political action--caring about what some ink-stained wretch writes about him is disappointingly small in its scope. Perhaps the Khmer Rouge was right after all.

Scene, heard
Congrats to popular local Western swingsters Cowboys and Indians, who appear to be taking their careers to a well-deserved next level. They finally--after years of trying--have gotten in at Austin's legendary Continental Club, where they should go over LAMF; that gig is December 7. An even juicier plum, however, is available on New Year's Eve, when Cowboys and Indians will provide the music for the pre- and post-show parties for the live broadcast of Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion from the Fair Park Music Hall. Not a bad time for new fiddle and electric mandolin player Sean Orr to join the band; check out their new lineup November 9 at Club Dada or November 15 at the Sons of Hermann Hall...

Improvisational multimedia collective Comatheatre's Second Saturday series at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary will be moved to the third Saturday (the 16th) in November only...

Folksy fun guys and barbecue enthusiasts Lindsay and Gowan are doing well according to "Mean" Dean Lindsay: The duo's new album, Thoughts and Stories, is selling well, and the pair just signed on for a statewide tour of Borders bookstores and snagged the opening spot for Sunflower November 22...

Musician magazine is starting up its Best Unsigned Band competition for 1997 and is currently accepting entries; for more information call (toll free) 1-888-BUB-2WIN. Tori Amos, Buddy Guy, Vince Gill, Joe Satriani, and Bob Mould have been named as judges, and the deadline is December 31, 1996...

Gospel fans will appreciate the chance to check out some homegrown talent when Greg O'Quin-n-Joyful Noyze appears at the Bronco Bowl with Witness and sanctified rapper A-1 Swift on November 9...

Matinee mavens might want to note that, on the same day, November 9, local jazz bassist John Adams will be at the Borders bookstore on Lovers Lane with his trio playing from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m....

The official Texas 1997 Music Industry Directory is now taking applications for listings. A comprehensive source book for all Texas music businesses, events, and talent--think musical white pages--the TMID's basic listing is free; an expanded listing is only $30. This is a great opportunity for anyone to accrue a little credibility and market power; for more info or an application call (512) 463-6666; fax (512) 463-4114; e-mail music@governor.texas.gov; or write Texas Music Office, P.O. Box 13246, Austin, TX 78711. The deadline for submitting applications is November 22.

Had we time enough we'd surely take a chain saw and carve a grizzly bear out of a giant tree stump for each and every one who contributes to Street Beat, the savvy legion stoking the flow of rumor, conjecture, and occasional bits of actual information that are the lifeblood of this column, which we suppose would make lifeblood the Street Beat of the body. Until we sharpen the blade on the saw, though, there's little we can do except thank you and hope you send more to Matt_Weitz@dallas-observer.com.

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