By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
For now, Reed Easterwood is content to give away his music, quite literally. His new record, Absolute Blue, means so much to him that, until now, he has yet to sell a single copy; to profit from the music would, it seems, diminish its rewards. So instead, he has given away copy after copy--pressing up individual CDs, hand-writing the sleeve notes, and handing them out to old friends and longtime fans and local musicians who have heard whisperings of the disc and beg for one. It is not cheap to do this--recordable CDs sell for a few dollars each, and it takes time to burn disc after disc--but for now, Easterwood is content to engage in such an undertaking.
Do not get him wrong. Easterwood is not above selling the disc; ask him nicely, perhaps during one of his shows with Meredith Miller, and one can be yours for a nominal fee. But sometimes, a man makes music for himself--he hears things in his head, pulls an instrument from the wall, and hits record--and never thinks there might be an audience out there that wants to hear what pours out of his head and his hands. He doesn't judge his work as great or terrible, doesn't consider there might be money to be made, doesn't engage in that awful struggle that turns art into a business transaction. He just does it. That the results are absolute brilliance--imagine Freedy Johnston fronting Uncle Tupelo covering Gram Parsons and Velvet Underground songs, and that's just the first three tracks--mean nothing to him.
"People say, 'You need to do something,'" Easterwood says, laughing slightly. "I say, 'I have. I've been putting shit out the last 10 years.' Where does it end? Do I have to be on MTV and in your face to mean I was successful? That's a spiritual question, I guess. I am not against furthering my stuff, that's for sure. But you know how much bullshit there is from all levels. I am always happy when someone is into the music and genuinely likes it. I am not opposed to developing my thing, but it's not in my best interest to go out and hustle it."
And so Absolute Blue exists only in the most limited of quantities, though it is undoubtedly one of the finest local releases of the past decade. No, strike that. Like Bedhead's Transaction de Novo or Legendary Crystal Chandelier's Love or the Decimal Equivalent or Ronnie Dawson's Rockinitis, it is not one of those hometown records that must be graded on a curve; Absolute Blue is not great for a local musician. Rather, it's a low-budget, hi-fidelity, perfect gem created by a man who has reconciled the fact that you don't need to be heard outside of Deep Ellum to be validated as a musician. It's the sort of record a guy makes after his pop band gets written in the local history books in disappearing ink (POWWOW, it was called, and the old-timers nod in vague recognition) and his banjo-fueled blues-rock project dies on the vine after so much expectation (Junky Southern's 1996 debut, Pawn Shop From Heaven, featuring such performers as Earl Harvin, Milo Deering, and Mike Daane, will forever remain an unheralded gem).
Absolute Blue is really no more than a collection of demos, songs Easterwood has recorded--mostly by himself, with only minimal assistance from drummers Bryan Wakeland and Kenny Stern and Junky Southern bassist Dave Monsey on a few tracks--since the completion of Pawn Shop. Disappointed with Pawn Shop's reception--it was released on the locally based Parallax label, which is almost like not having your record released at all--Easterwood set aside the tapes. Then, one night, he was watching a Lou Reed documentary on KERA-Channel 13 and was astonished to discover that by the age of 30, Reed had released "something like 23 records," Easterwood recalls, still impressed at the revelation.
"And I thought, 'Jesus, I haven't done anything,'" he says. "It inspired me to get off my ass." He began sending some of the demos to ex-KERA-FM disc jockey Liza Richardson, now a DJ at KCRW-FM in Los Angeles and a talent scout for Geffen Records. But Easterwood wasn't looking for a deal, wasn't even seeking some kind of validation. He simply wanted someone to know he wasn't finished yet, even if Junky Southern had blown through faster than a thunderstorm during summer.
On the surface, Easterwood's story is like that of so many local musicians whose careers stalled out at the corner of Elm and Good-Latimer. He was a young kid in a young band that played Dada and released a not-bad tape during the late '80s and early '90s; formed another band, Young Cynics, when POWWOW broke up; then headed for the West Coast when it seemed as though his meter had run out in Deep Ellum. In 1994, he headed to San Francisco to hook up with another Texas transplant. But almost from the moment he landed, things went terrible awry: The San Francisco treat he envisioned never came to pass when, two weeks after arriving in the Bay Area, he lost his right testicle to testicular torsion, and the band he went out there to form never happened. He ended up teaching guitar and slicing meat at a local deli. "It was," Easterwood deadpans, "a bad scene."