Behind the Music Awards

They could have been contenders:Buried in Your Black Heart, Max Stalling, Jibe, Envoy

On Tuesday, April 13, at the Gypsy Tea Room, we'll announce the winners of the 2004 Dallas Observer Music Awards. It will be the end of a long road, one that began late last November. I'll never forget my words on that day.

"Screw you. I'm not doing some effing awards show."

They threatened to fire me, and from then on, it was smooth sailing. Since that day, we've come far: assembled nominations, tabulated ballots and put together an awards show that promises to be--well, if not entertaining, then at least two hours long.

But that's not the whole story. What of the write-ins who don't win? What of the drama of catching cheaters? What of the voters whose ballots were humorous or, in some cases, downright offensive? That's what this story is about. This is the story behind the music awards.

A Dialogue With a Dear Reader

For those who disagree with the nominations--and it's no small group--the Observer gladly accepts write-in nominations. The idea, of course, is that an underdog could upset a nominee, although to my knowledge, that's never happened. The acts who received the most write-ins--like country singer Max Stalling or radio-friendly Jibe (see sidebar)--fell hundreds of votes short of toppling category winners. So in reality, what this blank space really provides is a forum for smart-asses to whine. To wit: "You are all so full of it. You latch on to crap bands and nominate trash. This is a joke," writes one voter. Last week, I e-mailed the guy, hoping to start a dialogue about the awards. I was genuinely curious, and, of course, I wanted to humiliate him in print. But he never wrote back, much like the lad who wrote, in the Best Latin/Tejano category, the bon mots: "were in america...arent we?" Nearly every category was cluttered with lame, adolescent retorts: "tejano is shit"; "country sucks balls"; "jass [sic] is dead." Some were vaguely humorous, like the girl who wrote that the Best Female Vocalist was "me--alone in my car" or the guy who voted for "DJ Poopshoot McGhee."

Curiously, the only category to receive no disparaging comments was Best Drummer, thus settling the question of which band member gets the most respect--or generates the least interest.

Brief Answers to Stupid Questions

Among the many gripes and swipes in this year's ballots were some important questions. OK, they were stupid, but let's take a moment to answer them anyway. Q: How much is Eisley paying you guys?

A: Sadly, not much. It's unfair, since Eisley paid my predecessor Zac Crain nearly $500 in Bibles and tuna casserole. This year, all I got was a lousy snapshot of the band with Chris Martin, on which someone scrawled, "Who loves ya, baby?" Burden Brothers, on the other hand, sent me a dozen frozen steaks and a lifetime supply of black nail polish. But the Polyphonic Spree gave me the best gift of all. That gift is hope.

Q: What's folk?

A: Traditionally, it is music passed down through generations--often with simple, pleasant melodies--but these days, it is more often applied to songs that have that earnest, stripped-down flavor.

Q: What's funk? What's reggae?

A: Oh, shut up.

Q: Who are these people?

A: Fine musicians all. Hardworking, talented people. A few assholes in the bunch, but overall, a stand-up crew.

Q: Who does your selection? Geez.

A: It's an intricate, time-tested method involving me and a bottle of Goldschlager. OK, it's an intricate, time-tested method including squirrels and a bottle of Goldschlager. OK, there's no Goldschlager. Just me and the squirrels pointing to pretty colors. Eenie, minie, Sorta. No, seriously: It's a panel of experts. Don't buy it? Didn't think so.

Q: Who cares?

A: Actually, many people. Thousands voted in these awards, and I dare say most of them skipped the last local election. Sheriff, shmeriff--who's the musician of the year?

Q: Is this a fucking joke?

A: Sheesh. Kiss your mother with that mouth?

Q: Are you serious?

A: Quite.

A Short Consideration of Ballot Stuffing

We're not as dumb as we sound in print, OK? Sure, we make the occasional blunder--like, say, accidentally referring to Andre 3000's Speakerboxxx CD in our Prince concert preview when any monkey knows that Andre did The Love Below (hell, we never even listened to Speakerboxxx!), but we're not freaking imbeciles. When we receive 30 ballots with the same address label--our street name spelled wrong each and every time--we notice. And when each of those ballots is filled out the same way, with the same write-in for Best Guitarist, often in the same neat cursive script, we suspect things. And when we suspect things, we call the voters themselves. (We're not dumb, but we are, occasionally, bored.) And when every one of those ballots is attributed to a wrong number, do you know where those ballots go?

Those ballets go in the trash.

Ballot stuffing is inevitable at this time of year, like allergies and American Idol, but we try our best to keep this game honest. A few ground rules: We toss any ballot with only one category marked. Recently, we received a bundle at once--54 ballots!--with only one category marked. Like, duh! Did you actually waste 54 papers for this? The stands are clearly marked "one paper per person." Then, dozens of people voted twice online, using the same if we wouldn't notice.

Some of you may think you got away with your tricks...we know who you are.

But Do You Know Who You're Voting For?

My favorite write-in, used repeatedly by one voter, is this: "that one girl in deep ellum." Huh. Lemme get my fact-checkers on that. Then there's the opposite problem, in which people vote for a national act: Bjork for Best Female Vocalist; The Vines and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs for Best Act Overall. And then, of course, there's the band member who writes in his unknown band for every category, as if some magic cumulative effort will crack through the thousands of other votes and nab him the attention he so desperately craves.

The truth is, though, I'm happy anyone voted. I'm happy this many people care about the music scene in Dallas. It proves something, doesn't it? That thousands took the time to fill out their ballots, send in their thoughts and their complaints, to cheer on their favorite bands. It's really touching, you guys. Especially since the whole thing is fixed!

Write In? Right On! If you can't win the category, why not win the write-in campaign? Here are some of the un-nominated artists who received the most write-in votes.

Max Stalling (Male Vocalist,

Musician of the Year, Songwriter)

Jibe (Best Act Overall, Rock/Pop)

Burden Brothers, Buried in Your Black Heart (Best Album)

Mingo Fishtrap (Funk/R&B)

Envoy (Best New Act)

David Castell (Best Producer)

Club Dada (Live Venue)

Good show: The Broadcast, Ghoultown, Goodwin, The Vanished

And here are a few write-ins who will never win.

DJ Rabbit in my pants

(Best Electronica/DJ)

Free Tommy Chong!!

(Best Latin/Tejano)

Zac Crain (Musician of the Year)

My girlfriend (Best Female Vocalist)

King of the Hill's Boomhauser

(Best Country)

Your fat mother (Best Producer)

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