By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
In the Letters section of this week's Dallas Observer appears a missive from Jim "Reverend Horton Heat" Heath, blasting me for hinting in a recent Street Beat item that Reverend Horton Heat was recently dropped from Interscope Records because the label was unhappy with quality and quantities moved. Heath demanded to know why he wasn't contacted "to get the real story"; he refers to the article as one full of "falsities and insults." The question is fair enough, though I thought I had already read the "real story" in The Dallas Morning News--something about a "mutual decision" to part ways. That was the official word.
Heath, for his part, does not offer the "real story" in his letter, only a blanket condemnation of myself, this newspaper's music section, and our treatment of the so-called "Dallas music scene" of which Heath has long been a part. I made no secret of my dislike for Reverend Horton Heat's 1998 CD Space Heater, by far the most disappointing of the band's handful of albums. Most recently, I referred to it as space filler, prompting Heath to write that "if Robert could write at least one song as good as any of the songs on Space Heater, he could have his own silly band." Thanks, Jim, but no--never said I could write a good song, never wanted to, never tried.
Heath, on the other hand, has written some pretty amazing songs: "I'm Mad," "400 Bucks," "Psychobilly Freakout," "Love Whip," "Lonesome Train Whistle," to name but a few. He's made one of the best records ever to bear the name of a Dallas band: The Full-Custom Gospel Sounds of The Reverend Horton Heat, released in 1993. He had been signed to Sub Pop, made the leap to a major, and remained a constant fixture around Deep Ellum. No one has ever accused him of not being the "local guy," as he puts it in his letter. Hell, the man's the very definition of homeboy.
What bothers me most about his letter is his assertion that by condemning rather than celebrating his latest release, I am "[destroying] a good local music scene." It's the same-old-same-old denunciation whipped out any time someone in this newspaper decides he or she doesn't like a record made by someone who lives in Dallas or Denton or Fort Worth: You guys just like to destroy the scene. It's the rallying cry of those who think writers exist to blindly celebrate anything released with a made-in-Dallas stamp on its back. It's the sound apologists make when they cock their pistols and shoot the messenger instead of listening to the message. And besides, local journalists do not make or break careers, as Jackopierce or Deep Blue Something will gladly tell you. Bands are subjected to the whims of the buying public, not the tastes of critics. If that were the case, Bedhead and Funland would have been more famous than God, and the boys in Deep Blue Something would have to get real jobs.
Heath (whose band is now signed to Time Bomb Recordings) shouldn't have to defend the record he and his band made, but why must a discussion about his record suddenly be turned into a defense of an entire "scene" that doesn't exist now and hasn't since the late 1980s, if even then? Deep Ellum is a scene? Hardly--more like a giant theme park owned by a handful of men who book the bands signed to the label owned by the guy who's in business with the dude who manufactures the records of the guys they book in their clubs...and so on. This inclination to perpetuate talk of a scene is silly, pointless, and ultimately detrimental. It posits "enemy" against "enemy" until it's Us Versus Them, which it hasn't been ever since Club Clearview started serving food.
It's funny, actually: I can't remember a year when so many local bands released so many albums that I'll play well into next year and beyond--and there ain't a single one of them by Cafe Noir or Little Jack Melody and His Young Turks (no releases in 1998). And only one of the 20 discs on the following best-of list (which appears in alphabetical order)was released by a major label, which only makes me wonder what Jim Heath means when he writes: "I long for the good old days when Observer music writers were on the side of local artists instead of the big-business types at major labels." Actually, two of the most disappointing records of the year by local bands were released on majors: Space Heater on Interscope, and the Dixie Chicks' sellout move Wide Open Spaces. Those Observer Music Awards can be rescinded at any time, incidentally; didn't you get the notice?
Hell, at least one of these records is so homemade it tastes like apple pie fresh from the oven: Until last month, Reed Easterwood was just giving away copies of Absolute Blue; might as well hand out gold coins. The Homer Henderson-Nick Tosches collaboration remains in, shall we say, "limited release" until early 1999. And most of the others on our list were released on labels so small the advances were paid in lint and a smile. Which means the likes of Peter Schmidt, the Dooms U.K., James "Big Bucks" Burnett and his Volares, Fury III, the Calways, Cowboys and Indians, Ronnie Dawson, Go Metric USA, Spyche, Jeff Liles (since dropped from Virgin Records and now the co-founder of his own brave label, HEIRESS aesthetic), and the rest of the best this town has to offer receive as much recognition as a shadow in the dark. They have no publicist pushing their records to the media, no college-rock department trying to get their discs on radio, no budget to tour with White Zombie. They save their money, make records for pennies instead of thousands, then trudge off to their day jobs, hoping only that some schmuck will dig their record out of a pile, play it, like it, even hate it, then maybe give it some cheap ink or airplay. All things being equal, Peter Schmidt's Love or the Decimal Equivalent shoulda been a hit--sold millions, or at least hundreds.