By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Even now, all these years later, David Bean still gets letters and phone calls from fans who wonder where he is, what he's up to, why he disappeared. Perhaps they've heard the stories about how he became a recluse after he left the stage, which isn't true at all. More likely they just want to discover for themselves what happened to the boy from Pearland, Texas, who became, for a brief, spectacular moment, a Rock Star without ever having to leave the state. Those who go to the trouble of tracking him down are now adults whose childhood rock-and-roll memories dance to the sparse, quirky-jerky pop-and-roll beat of songs that Bean and his old bandmates wrote when they were barely out of high school. They still hum the off-key melodies, still know all the words to "All the Pretty Girls" ("...in high school make me sick!"), still hope for a reunion that may--or, more likely, may never--take place.
The phone calls and the notes do not creep out David Bean; he rather likes them, and he's flattered by the attention paid to a band that died a handful of times throughout the 1980s before finally running out of breath in 1991, somewhere along the highway connecting Pearland to nearby Houston. "I am really impressed," the 36-year-old Bean says. "It must have really meant something. But part of it just escapes me."
It all seems so long ago, a lifetime stuck back in the past: Every now and then during the early 1980s, this band from suburban Houston came to Dallas and played the Wintergarden, the Hot Klub, the Agora, or the Arcadia and packed them with locals who knew every word and sang along like teen-beat children on a rock-and-roller-coaster ride. The Judy's were native heroes, the best pop band to hail from Texas during the 1980s--so much better than the Nelsons and so many other one-hit where-are-they-nows? who played the circuit back then. The Judy's opened for The B-52's, Devo, and the Talking Heads, and though they were so much younger than those bands, they seemed so much smarter.
Their music was austere, lean, clean, catchy; they banged out the beat on pots, pans, and smashed lightbulbs that went pop, pop, POP in time to the music. They wrote songs about Gary Gilmore ("How's Gary?"), happy hostages ("Vacation in Tehran"), Son of Sam serial killer David Berkowitz ("Dogs"), Jim Jones ("Guyana Punch," with its call to come "freshen up, freshen up, freshen up"), television's wasteland ("Reruns," "T.V."), stalkers ("Trixie and the Killer"), and sex-change bliss ("The Grass Is Greener"). As a result, they had thousands of words spent on them in the Houston, Dallas, and Austin newspapers; and in September 1981, Texas Monthly remarked of them, "These kids have talent, humor, and originality in abundance."
Yet The Judy's released only two official full-length albums during their career: Washarama in 1981 and The Moo Album four years later, both on the band's own Wasted Talent label. These albums were bookended by a barely released EP recorded while the boys were in high school (Teenage Hang-Ups in 1980, which features an early version of "All the Pretty Girls"), the six-song The Wonderful World of Appliances the same year, the "Girl of 1000 Smells" single (the B-side's in Russian), and a 1991 farewell CD that barely waved goodbye. Now their albums sell for hundreds of dollars to collectors who skip over them in the Half-Price Books and Records racks, where they often show up for pocket change.
Yet Bean, who still maintains Wasted Talent, plans to release all the albums on CD sometime in the near future--before the end of the summer, he says with a shrug that implies, Don't hold your breath. "When it happens, it happens," he says, laughing. "I've been telling people for years, 'Oh, they'll be out in several months.'"
Eighteen years since the band's inception in a Pearland garage, The Judy's still live on, a new-wave zombie too stubborn to die. Josh Venable, host of "The Adventure Club" on KDGE-FM (94.5), says he still gets requests for The Judy's every week; he's also such a lunatic fan that he attempted to reunite the band earlier in the year for his radio show's anniversary concert, and he would have succeeded had it not been for a scheduling conflict.
"They were hilarious," Venable says of the band. "They had a punk ethic and a pop mentality. I don't understand how anybody who likes the Undertones can't like them. The Undertones were singing about candy bars and dumb stuff like that, and The Judy's were singing about Jim Jones. They were great. Everything they did was absolutely brilliant, and I found it to be extremely cool they were putting out records when they were seniors in high school."
George Gimarc--whose "Rock and Roll Alternative" show on KZEW-FM back in the day pointed a generation of Styx fans toward a new-wave future--has been trying for years to get Bean to re-release all the Judy's albums on CD. For the past two years, Michael Wilson, a Nashville-via-Houston Internet programmer, has maintained a fetishistic Web site that contains every single Judy's song sampled, in its entirety, at CD-perfect quality. (The Web site's address is maddancer.com/thejudys.) "The Judy's site gets more action than my business site," says Wilson, who just last week made available a crude Judy's screensaver.