The pain of losing a friend is never easy, but it becomes infinitely harder when that loss is a result of a conscious decision. The suicide of Mark Migliore, a successful engineer and investor who used his money to document the psychedelic music scene through his Rockadelic Records, has left the Texas psych scene reeling.
Migliore, who co-owned the vinyl-only label with Rich Haupt, was dedicated to psychedelia both historic and contemporary, preserving both the efforts of unknown '60s acts (for which he searched relentlessly) like Dark Shadows and offering current Dallas psych bands like the Burnin' Rain a place to be heard. Obscure and seldom remarked upon here, Texas psychedelia is hugely popular in Europe, where bands that Americans seldom hear about get eight-page magazine spreads complete with color photos.
Migliore grew up in Dallas and attended Jesuit High School. His family was already well-off, but his skill as an engineer and his investment acumen--particularly in real estate--made him quite wealthy. A source who worked with him at Texas Instruments in the early '80s recalls a "guy who was good at his job but still cool and very much into music; back then he kinda had a new-wavey haircut--which wasn't common there."
Migliore's wealth allowed him to indulge his love and many local musical adventurers--J. Bone Cro's Womb Tune Records, Mike Pemberton and the Burnin' Rain, and the Vas Deferens Organization, to name but a few--relied on him to various degrees. It also allowed him to indulge a serious drug habit which in the past few months had resulted in behaviors eccentric and unacceptable even by rock 'n' roll standards. The death last year of Chris Edgerton, his running buddy in every sense of the word, reportedly had a profoundly destabilizing and depressing effect on him. Migliore had recently checked himself into Minnesota's heavy-duty Hazelden rehab facility, but left after only a few days. Upon returning to Dallas he found many concerned friends with helping hands extended, but it was somehow not enough. Last week he got into his car, drove out of town, and put a gun to his head.
"He was successful on so many different levels that it's really hard to understand," says Vas Deferens' Matt Castille, mirroring the incomprehension and pain of Migliore's friends; although his mission was obscure, more than a dozen people called Street Beat after the news broke, expressing shock and dismay. Haupt says he will continue with Rockadelic and honor all the label's obligations, but the more troublesome implications of Migliore's death remain. If Migliore could see the pain and sadness produced by his departure--if he could feel the void that so many now are feeling--perhaps he would reconsider, but of course it's too late for that. It always is.
Holy humorless conglomerate!
Belying the image projected by its TV mascot, the idiotically capering Michigan J. Frog, Warner Bros. has served Denton band Riddle Me This with a notice of opposition, claiming that the record company owns the rights to the band's three-word name through the enormously successful partnership Warner entered into with DC Comics for the Batman movies, specifically Batman Forever, in which Jim Carrey (as the Riddler) rhymes: "Riddle me this/riddle me that/Who's afraid of the big bad bat?"
"They're serious," RMT frontman Eric Keyes says with a sigh and a shake of his head, unnecessarily adding that the band finds the giant, frog-fronted corporation's claim ludicrous. The suit is even more ironic, because the band took an unusually thorough approach to choosing its name. "We did a trademark search--paid something like $300--and all we found was a race horse and some record store in Canada," Keyes explains.
The case seems frivolous to the extreme; RMT formed in 1993, long before the release of Batman Forever, and you can't help but wonder about the implications vis-a-vis other phrases and words used in the film. Will Robyn Hitchcock be allowed to keep the alternate spelling of his name, a confusing threat to the marketability of products bearing the name of Batman's tight-bunned, underage boy sidekick? Will he even be allowed to keep the name? He is, after all, sort of weird. Will folks named Alfred be forced--under threat of lawsuit--to append to their signatures with "not the aging yet faithful butler to millionaire Bruce Wayne"?
At first blush the timing seems most unfortunate (Street Beat has not reviewed Batman Forever lately; if "most unfortunate" is a registered trademark of Michigan J. Bat or any subsidiaries thereof, allow us to apologize in advance). "We've been doing well up in Denton," Keyes says of the band's plans to expand its gigging. "The next step is Deep Ellum."
The legal imbroglio actually might work to Riddle Me This' advantage, however, garnering the band attention via the kind of "Can you believe it?" articles that the legal profession seems set up to provide in perpetuity. The band has retained a lawyer to defend itself.
I want my marketing tools
Sting's most recent Dallas show sported a range of handouts and brochures like those usually seen at RV and boat shows:One glossy, heavy-stock foldout found the King of Pain (or is that Pay? Remind me to listen to the album again) shilling for DirectTV; another offered ticket holders the opportunity to shuck out almost $200 for a lithograph of the former schoolteacher in a thoughtful but ultramusky pose against a background of Latin text rendered in the kind of medieval calligraphy often associated with The Powerful Brain of Sting. No, you truly cannot spell "pretentious git" without the letters S, T, I, N, and G.
Over and out...of Wilco
On October 22, Wilco will release its second album, Being There--as a double, an unprecedented move in these tight times. Nineteen songs of gloriously funky Beatles-meets-Byrds country rock, Being There makes last year's debut, A.M., sound like a sneeze.
But Max Johnston--the versatile multi-instrumentalist who has been with Tweedy since Uncle Tupelo's 1993 farewell Anodyne, Tweedy's last album with old partner Jay Farrar--will not be around to share in the splendor. According to Dallas-area native Johnston, he was fired by Tweedy August 1--just a few weeks after Tweedy finished mixing the album in Los Angeles--without any advance notice. Johnston, who plays all over Being There, says Tweedy pink-slipped him because Jeff was looking to "streamline [Wilco] into a rock thing"--which is evident on such Being There songs as "Misunderstood" and "Monday." The band is now Tweedy, Ken Coomer, Jay Bennett, and John Stirratt.
"I thought I was [an integral part of the band], but I guess I wasn't," Johnston shrugs from his home in Lexington, Kentucky. "I'm over it now; there are no hard feelings. I'm disappointed--I really enjoyed playing in the band--but I understand if they're going to go another way; it won't be the first time I've heard that."
Johnston joined the band when his sister, Michelle Shocked, was recording with Uncle Tupelo for her 1992 album Arkansas Traveler. Shocked brought Johnston along for the session, introduced her little brother to the band members, and he wound up joining them on the spot. Now Johnston will go back to playing with Shocked, herself recently liberated from her deal with Mercury Records (using an old federal anti-slavery law as her out). They appeared together at the Newport Folk Festival on August 11, and Johnston likely will perform on Shocked's next album--whenever that is, whoever it's for. Johnston also appears on the upcoming Steve Forbert record, which he recorded earlier this year with Wilco's Bennett and Stirratt, and he is doing some recording with Freakwater and Leftover Salmon.
"I'm probably a little more expendable than the drummer," Johnston says of his firing. "Rock bands need drummers. They don't need mandolin players. I mean, I still love 'em--sorta." He laughs.
-- Robert Wilonsky
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Carrying on: This is a busy month for the Vas Deferens Organization. The musicians' collective is releasing a passel of albums this week, including Christopher and the Vas Deferens Organization and J. Bone Cro's Late Night Songs for Truckers and Fuckers, as well as its own Transcontinental Conspiracy, the group's first full-length CD, featuring help from Brad Laner (late of Medicine and Electric Company, now in Los Angeles) and members of Mercury Rev. Matt Castille and Eric Lumbleau--VDO's steering committee--also report that work is continuing apace on an album from Comet's Daniel X, due out in October, and a full-length collaboration with Japanese noise rockers the Ruins...
It may not make much sense linguistically, but retro progressive rock is alive and well: Solitude Aeturnus' fourth album, Downfall, is out...
New York darkabilly band the Unhinged is built on a significant chunk of local music history. Bassist Brian Lux was in two of the earliest Dallas punk bands, the Rad Boys and later the Dive Bombers; he also played with Houston-based band the Road Kings; in 1993 he was in the short-lived but worthwhile Kahili Knock. Unhinged drummer Eric Tucker was also a Road King, and, with Finnish guitarist-singer Nude (actually Nude or Nuutti Kataja, pronounced "noody"), formed the Unhinged in Dallas in 1994, then moved to New York City. The Unhinged will share the bill--at the Orbit Room Thursday, September 19--with fellow Big Apple Emma Peel, whose vocalist Bliss Blood was in Houston's Pain Teens.
Philip Chrissopolous is a stand-up guy and contributed to this report; Street Beat values the tips, opinions, and information of the rest of y'all as well, and would love to hear from you at Matt_Weitz@dallasobserver.com.