By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
A few days later, Flemmons walked into his dad's study. He sat there for a while, then started shuffling through the filing cabinet. He found his father's writings and pored through letters to friends, and an alibi he had to write to the FBI just after the JFK assassination because he was one of the reporters on the scene. Flemmons read through folder after folder, finally looking up at the clock at 12:01 a.m., September 20. His birthday. There, in his father's study, he finally cried.
The band trudged on. They showed up uninvited to South By Southwest, where they caught the ear of the European label Munich, which signed them shortly thereafter. They toured Europe on the strength of their first record, Dog.
But Flemmons' thoughts were still with his dad. He started writing No Silver/No Gold then, and while the album isn't about anything specific, it's dense with emotional turmoil. He recorded nearly the entire thing in his garage, and it has a gritty, static echo, reminiscent of an early Daniel Johnston recording. At the end of the first track, "Ay Distress," Flemmons sings the lines: "Go to sleep tonight/cover up the light/you can dream it right/you can dream it right." Then his cell phone goes off, and he loses it.
The slow, sad notes coming from his old Trump guitar are silenced by his screams. "GOD DAMMIT! ... OH GOD!"
"Stop the tape," someone says calmly, but it's too late.
The phone keeps ringing and then suddenly stops.
"GOD FUCK!" You can hear him pounding some inanimate object.
"Hey, hey, hey, it's OK," someone says. "Calm down."
End track. Transition immediately into the second track, "Alcohol (Turn and Fall)."
It may not have been the happiest time in Flemmons' life, but The Baptist Generals were doing well. By 2002, they had another European tour booked and were playing to expanding audiences.
No Silver/No Gold wound up catching the attention of Sub Pop's Andy Kotowicz, and the label signed them in 2003. Kotowicz and Flemmons became fast friends, and they often shared tapes with each other. "His tastes were so broad," Flemmons says. "Even me having been in a music town and being around people who knew their shit ... Andy knew a lot more about music than a lot of people who I thought knew a lot about music."
That year, The Baptist Generals went on tour with the Mountain Goats and expanded their lineup to include Ryan Williams, Reimer, Salisbury and a new drummer, Jeff Ryan. For a couple of years, they toured on the strength of No Silver/No Gold, and as time passed, anticipation grew for a new record. But Flemmons' focus was shifting away from the band and toward the city where it was born.
Flemmons sits in a wooden booth in Cool Beans Bar & Grill. It's the only building built before 2007 that still stands in the former arts hub of the Fry Street District.
Flemmons is for the moment upbeat. He orders a glass of wine and it takes a while for the bartender to find some. This isn't really a wine bar. But for him, Cool Beans serves mostly as a monument to what happened to the hundred-year-old buildings that used to surround it. They weren't fancy structures, but they supported one of the most important artistic hubs in the city. The area was not just where The Baptist Generals got their start — it was also a critical gathering place for all kinds of creative people. The Fry Street Fair attracted 20,000 people to the neighborhood in 2001. That's around the time when the short-lived record store, Johnny Law, had just opened around the corner from The Corkscrew — it hosted intense in-store rock and punk shows. Cool Beans and Texas Jive, formerly TJ's Pizza, regularly hosted live music of all genres. Professors of all disciplines would walk to the Tomato Pizza, on the corner of Fry and Hickory, for a pint of Shiner and a slice of Chicago-style pizza while they graded papers.
This was the Denton he fell in love with, where his band first played in the stairwell. But that stairwell is gone now, replaced by upscale four-story retail/apartment complexes.
It could have been worse. At least what stands now attempts to keep businesses and foot traffic in the area, whereas when an out-of-town developer swooped in to buy out the area in the spring of 2006, they planned to tear the buildings down and replace them with a flavorless strip-mall nightmare.
So Flemmons fought back. He joined forces with Martin Iles, reluctant director of the Good/Bad Art Collective, and former Denton City Councilman Mike Cochran, creating a blog called Central Denton Preservation dedicated to raising awareness about the area's history.
Ultimately, an arsonist rendered the preservation issue moot by setting fire to the buildings days before they were scheduled for demolition. The blaze started in the corner of the then-abandoned building on the corner of Fry and Hickory streets in June 2007. Thousands of people gathered on the lawn of UNT to watch the inferno.
But the efforts of Flemmons and Central Denton Preservation came to something. The City Council voted down a rezoning of the space, and the developer, United Equities, left town. A few years later, another Houston developer came in to build what occupies the space now. They worked with the city and its citizens, including Flemmons, to bring retail back to the area.