Still Learning

One year down and hundreds more angry letters to go

On the evening of June 24, exactly one year and one day after my debut music column appeared in the Dallas Observer, a man left a vague message on my cell phone. Who was he? Not sure. How'd he get the personal number? Lord knows. But I slept through the call, so the next morning I woke to the following anonymous message:

"Hey, this is [garbled]. I just moved back to town and, uh, why don't you fuckin'...why don't you guys learn how to write a paper? Go fuck yourself, man...Love you." Then he made a kissy noise and hung up.

This is how people say "happy anniversary" in our music scene.

Not that I expect much nicer. If Dallas were writing my biography, I'd be "a worthless, meaningless, close-minded nobody critic," "a lily-white boy from the 'burbs who just saw Eight Mile" and "a high school yearbook editor who rants and raves about the same roster of bands" (among other things). It's been a light year in that regard--in 2004, my second year as an Observer contributor, I was branded a "nigger" in a letter that was never published, and nobody's come close to that idiocy since.

Not much else about this first year has been light; I already talked about the closures of Trees and Club Dada in December's round-up of 2005, so that rehash is unnecessary, though I must admit that bankruptcy hearings and calls to the Texas State Comptroller were terrifying for a guy who never took a formal journalism course in his life.

It's all been a trial by fire, and all I could hope to do was hold a torch and illuminate along the way. I tried my damnedest in my June 23, 2005, debut, when I trashed 102.1 The Edge's play lists for being neither new nor alternative. But did my diatribe change a damn thing? My accusations of "nostalgia marketing" (playing an artist's old songs when they have a new album out) haven't lost weight in a year--you'll notice an increase in White Stripes songs now that Jack White's Raconteurs' album is out--and though modern airplay has increased, it's hard to tell with so many '90s hits still sprinkled in the rotation. Sadly, the biggest change is the station's slogan--from "the new rock alternative" to plain ol' "new rock."

The local-music-loving idealist deep in my subconscious hasn't run away screaming yet, a fact that amazes me every time I go to a great hometown concert and see a paper-thin crowd. Just this weekend, I was blown away by Tame...Tame & Quiet from Fort Worth, who drove to Dallas' Cavern to play their melodic, calculated take on '80s post-punk such as Slint and Sonic Youth for a Friday night crowd of 12 people. If even a tenth of the sold-out crowd at Sonic Youth's concert the following night had shown up...

Really, I've been a music fan in this city long enough to avoid the "woe is me, nobody cares about the Observer" anniversary perspective. My first year had its fair share of calamity, attacks and a generally juvenile view of how the city's scene needs to be shaken up--an approach that I still think is appropriate. Sometimes, a pissed-off voicemail from someone like Club Clearview booking agent Doug Simmons (And Another Thing, June 22) is necessary to get both the old and young guards of Dallas music talking. If someone disagrees (or agrees) with me enough to get up and do something, I'll take it.

But this scene changes at a rate of only one fan at a time. Twelve people at a show becomes 15 at the next, 18 at the next and so on, and I've figured that out by watching local wonders like Bosque Brown, the Theater Fire, PPT and Shiny Around the Edges endure piddling crowds--even after someone at the Observer praises 'em--and wait for more fans to finally catch on.

So I could turn around and get incredibly excited about the next 12 months--Midlake's on the verge of indie stardom, the Drams are poised to unleash one of the year's biggest alt-country records, Baboon's back and better than ever, Deep Ellum is showing signs of life (did you see that Edie Brickell & New Bohemians crowd at Dada this weekend?), local hip-hop's on the rise, bloggers are making an impact--but that's just as silly as getting deflated about the tougher aspects. This is a fractured scene. Different genres don't mingle, national touring acts rarely use DFW/Denton bands for openers and on good concert nights, booking agents are constantly forcing fans to choose one awesome local band over another--and even though that might be inevitable, it's still stupid.

A year later, I'm just another guy who needs to "learn how to write a paper." I'm not gonna pull off the Great Dallas Music Accord of 2007. So let's forget last year's grand missions--save corporate radio, save Club Clearview, save my ass. Out of every fractured genre, touring act and booking agent...if just one person involved with any of those sees this and gets it, please, do something. One fan at a time--somebody needs to be that fan right now.

 
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