Texas weakly

The Monthly's music issue strikes a bum note

Last week, Texas Monthly's Texas music issue ("The Stars! The Hits! The History!") arrived in the mailbox, featuring Selena on the cover for the third time in five years. One of four covers available on the stands (the others feature Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bob Wills, and Lloyd Maines and Dixie Chick daughter Natalie), Selena strikes a come-hither look. Wearing a see-through top and skin-tight black pants, with her arms raised above her head in a do-me pose, never has a corpse looked so fetching. On each side of her are the names of musicians featured inside the issue, among them: Destiny's Child, Edie Brickell, Joe Ely, Lightnin' Hopkins, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Pantera, South Park Mexican, and...Larry Gatlin. Guess that's what they call being all things to all people, assuming none of them actually buys records.

Once upon a hell of a long time ago, the Monthly felt like Texas music itself -- full of surprise, full of soul. The magazine once read like Janis Joplin sang; back when Bill Broyles edited the thing, you could almost dance to it. Now, it has become a moribund parody, a magazine "about" Texas for and by transplants who act as though they're convinced Walker, Texas Ranger is a documentary.

Native-born Texans take a certain jingoistic pride in celebrating this state, always insisting that anyone who lives somewhere else is just killing time till they can get here. They look beyond our borders and can't understand how people could live anywhere else. They take pride in everything remotely connected to Texas, even if that means claiming Morgan Fairchild as one of our own. That the Monthly would choose to dedicate an entire issue to this state's music isn't surprising at all; it's inevitable, in fact, especially considering that the state-funded Texas Music Office uses as its slogan, "You can't hear American music without hearing Texas."

How do you say "cynical" in Spanish? Oh, yeah -- Selena.
How do you say "cynical" in Spanish? Oh, yeah -- Selena.

What's surprising is that it would choose to peddle so many clichés and trite subjects. One more damned time, we're subjected to a story about the mystery surrounding the Los Angeles murder of El Paso native Bobby Fuller, which offers nothing new or enlightening; Fuller's still dead, and the case remains forever unsolved. Page 78 features a story about how writer Eileen Schwartz feels being the girlfriend of a musician; first-person never felt so second-hand. Page 144 offers us Pamela Coloff's been-there-done-that account of her road trip with ...and You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, complete with an opening section about how the van's engine is leaking oil. Trail of Dead deserves better than to be rendered as caricatures sporting "jet-black mod haircuts and thrift-store clothes."

There's also a profile of jazzer Dewey Redman, who left Fort Worth before the gas-powered engine was invented. The story, by Jeff McCord, likely appears here in order to get Redman's red-hot son Joshua in the Monthly's pages without having to make the son-of-a-Texan stretch. And Andy Langer writes about The Clubhouse, the nudie bar owned by members of Pantera (the article is titled, of course, "Bare facts"). Guess it beats having to write about the band's music, a description of which does rhyme with "titty."

This whole issue appears to have been assembled by people with no perspective, no, well, soul -- sort of the opposite of Texas music, at least at its best. It's full of glaring omissions (sorry, but no Texas-music issue is complete without articles about -- or even freakin' references to -- Erykah Badu, Brave Combo, The Old 97's,Earl Harvin, Sons of Hercules, the Toadies, Reverend Horton Heat, Toni Price...and on and on and on) and trite elucidations. Granted, as the editors admit in the introduction, "the subject is so huge, of course, that we couldn't hope to cover it all," but that doesn't excuse such willful ignorance. Schwartz, on page 32, refers to George Jones as "a true Texas music hero [who] has a whole lot more to his credit than hooch songs" (yee-haw!). She then refers to him as "No-Show Jones," a nickname he hasn't warranted in years, since Jones is a consummate professional who hasn't missed a gig since he started missing booze.

Roky Erickson, who found psychedelic rock at the other end of crazy, is ghettoized as nothing but a freak -- a "character," as the magazine puts it, "who make(s) noise." In tiny type running down a fraction of a column on page 144, Erickson is lumped in with the likes of Bongo Joe, The Singing Psychic, and Gerry Van King (best known, meaning barely known, as the King of Sixth Street). Erickson is a pioneer, both victim and survivor. He created his own brand of rock and roll and suffered the ultimate indignity -- having his sanity and his songs stolen from him by thieves and trespassers. Now, Texas Monthly does him the final injustice, rendering Erickson as nothing but an "unhinged" sideshow attraction.

It turns out Texas music, at least around the Monthly's downtown Austin offices, really means "Austin music"; hence, the so-called "A Great Day in Austin" centerfold photo, which features the likes of Kinky Friedman, Don Walser, Mark Rubin, Billy Gibbons (isn't ZZ Top from...Houston?), and Shawn Colvin and Sara Hickman (yeah, and Don Henley is a Dallas musician). Problem is, the photograph is so out of focus, you can't tell the players without the key on the left-hand side (hell, only three are famous north of Waco); everybody looks like a roadie or Bo Diddley. Worse, where the hell are Willie Nelson, Jimmie Vaughan, Ray Benson, Toni Price, and Gibby Haynes? How great a day could it have been, when Austin's best and best-loved couldn't bother to show up for a photo session? Even a catered meal from Threadgill's couldn't draw flies. Should have just called it "A Tuesday in Austin."

Austin's a little town with a big head; it's the punch line to the joke that begins, "Why does a dog lick its own balls?" The Monthly's editors are near-sighted cheerleaders who can see no further than the Stevie Ray statue on Town Lake. This isn't about being a homer; Lord knows the Dallas Observer's never been confused with a Chamber of Commerce publication. It's about getting it right. But the Monthly clearly can't be bothered to look beyond its own back yard, and so we're presented -- one more damned time -- with page after page about the Lubbock Mafia with Austin addresses (the issue should be renamed People Joe Ely Knows), dead bluesmen, and on-the-road-warrior clichés. And what would a Texas-music issue be without a piece about how Bob Wills -- "25 years after his death" -- is still the king? Uh...better?

Then again, it's simply hard to take seriously a magazine that picks as its "Tomorrow People" (i.e., "the voices of a new generation") the likes of Destiny's Child, which went multiplatinum around the time LeAnn Rimes started shaving. As a kid, I dreamed of writing for Texas Monthly. Tomorrow, I'm going to cancel my subscription.

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