Home, sweat, home
Shortly after 10:30 p.m. this past Friday night, when thousands are crammed into a soggy Cotton Bowl to hear the Rolling Stones, Charles Kennedy and 11 others--some wrapped in blankets, some in shorts or bathing suits, a couple completely naked--climb into a sweat lodge and wait for the ceremony to begin.
Rocks have been heating in a fire for a couple of hours; they glow like fiery crystals. And when 12 are placed inside the utter darkness of the sweat lodge--with more to follow every 45 minutes or so, continuing for about three hours--and water is thrown on them, they radiate an often unbearable heat.
Charles Kennedy has attended many sweats in his lifetime, either as a member or as the leader, but tonight's sweat holds an extra significance. Tonight, he and this small gathering of friends and acquaintances--all of whom he considers family, brothers and sisters within the crushing and humid darkness of the sweat lodge--are here to pray for and remember Jaydene Blount, a woman who often joined them in this Native American ritual until she was murdered two months ago. She is someone many of tonight's participants thought of as a leader or, more accurately, as a mother. They are here to pray for the slain woman's daughter, four-year-old Jahliese, and they are here to ask for assistance and guidance in raising her.
As the half-Cherokee, half-Choctaw Kennedy reminded earlier that day, "It takes a village to raise a child," and in tonight's sweat--held in the cool, thick country air underneath layers of blankets that drape over a frame of willow branches--Kennedy and his brothers and sisters hope to learn, perhaps, just how that might be done.
Kennedy has taken the first step, though: he is among the principle organizers for two benefits to be held Sunday and Monday nights at Trees, both featuring the New Bohemians, reunited for the first time since their farewell show at the Bronco Bowl in April 1991. The money raised will go into a trust fund for Jahliese, and after the weekend's shows, with tickets selling for $25 or $100, it's likely to be a fairly enormous sum.
"No one is making a penny except for Jahliese," Kennedy says. "So everyone is doing their giveaway here--that is, we're giving a part of ourselves without asking anything back. This child is my child and your child, and so we're all giving away...Because Jahdene lived that way, it has compelled us to turn around and give back now."
Blount was murdered on September 25. Someone broke into her home and stabbed her in the throat, taking only some money from a cashed paycheck. She was discovered the following morning when neighbors noticed Jahliese walking in and out of the house, complaining that she could not wake up her mother, who she said was asleep on the floor, dirty. Jahliese now lives with her grandparents, Jo and James Blount, who say Jahliese "knows her mother's gone," but is doing "great."
Jahliese's routine has remained the same--she continues to go to school and is surrounded by people she has known her entire life; she is, however, working with a counselor at the East Dallas Community School.
And Jahdene's enormous extended family has assumed a responsibility for the child: before this weekend's benefits, there was also one previous concert at Poor David's Pub, a prayer circle at someone's home, and a drum circle and dance at White Rock Lake, Blount's favorite place to hang out with friends.
Tonight's sweat, though, is the exhilarating and exhausting dash to the finish, one last chance to pray and heal and ache. In fact, after the first four rounds of sweating conclude at 2 a.m. Saturday, New Bos drummer Brandon Aly and bassist Brad Houser arrive to take their turns in the lodge. Half an hour later, guitarist Kenny Withrow calls to say he's coming out, as well. Rehearsals for the concerts, which began a week ago, ran long--the band members say they are having too much fun to stop--or else they would have come earlier.
Some here tonight knew Jahdene extremely well; others, only as someone who was always around, leading an event or simply watching it from the background. Yet no matter how well they knew her--as an intimate or an acquaintance--they all speak of her in the same loving, reverential tone. "She was like John Lennon," one friend says, "she had the same kind of...love."
Jahdene Blount often attended these sweats, though she also went to Quaker prayer meetings and was a devout Rastafarian, having changed her name from Jaydene to Jahdene, "jah" being Rasta for God. (Her parents call her Jaydene; her friends, Jahdene.) At 38, Blount was a few years shy of the hippie movement--she graduated from W.W. Samuell in 1974--but she lived a countercultural life.
Shortly after high school, she moved to her aunt and uncle's in McKinney, then returned to hold down a variety of odd jobs, including everything from sculpting bronze to treating leather to working at Whole Foods. When she was killed, she had her first real full-time job at a stage scenery shop.
As her friends (or, more accurately, her extended family) describe it, Blount subscribed to an idea of communal living: she once rented out a house on Matilda and Prospect and allowed others to come and live there if they would pay a small rent, help with the chores and cooking, and attend the house meetings. Blount had the smallest room in the place--"a closet of a bedroom," Kennedy says. She just loved a gathering--not as its leader, but just as a member--and she eventually became a part of what's known as the Rainbow Family, a large assemblage of ex-hippies and would-bes who haven't given up on the old ideas, who still believe the world can be healed and protected and united.
"Jaydene said, 'Money is not in my reality,'" recalls James Blount, her father. "In other words, she needed money to do things with, but she didn't just work for the money. She was not materialistic in that aspect...She didn't have a lot of money, but she had a lot of friends. Amazingly enough, they turned out to be very good friends, very supportive friends, and we still see a lot of the Rainbow people. One of the ways that you could characterize her was she had time enough to do the kinds of things most people think about doing."
Jo Blount, whom the Rainbow family members refer to as "Jo Mama," says, "I told her daddy on the way from the church to the cemetery the day of the service, she's been right all these years when she maintained that the spiritual aspects and being accepting are far more important than anything else in this world we live in. All of her different groups she felt a part of could all be together in one big circle, and they were the day of her service. I never experienced anything like that service with so many types of people, ages of people, expressions of faith, and it just struck me again how much people tend to cheat themselves out of life by not being willing to accept differences among people.
"It's a hell of a way to find out how wide the sphere of friends is," she adds. "But it helps us deal with our loss. I still can't really believe it completely."
If the gatherings and this upcoming benefit offer the Blounts and Jahdene's extended family a chance to tend to new wounds, for Brandon Aly, the New Bohemians reunion offers a chance to heal old ones.
Aly--whose wife Libbey is godmother to Jahliese--has for six years been known as an ex-New Bohemian, the guy who was kicked out of the band, and it's still a label that haunts him. It's part of what precipitated his move to Austin in March: though no one would ever say anything, he knew people in Deep Ellum still thought of him as the guy who didn't make the final cut. And now, perhaps, he and his old bandmates can exorcise that bit of their past together--relive the good times, perhaps create some new ones, but discard whatever bitterness is left over from six years ago.
"If anything, maybe it'll make them [the band] feel better because they've cleared the slate," he says. "Maybe they'll feel better: 'We've played with Brandon and maybe we don't have to feel so weird about all those years we didn't play with him.' But it's an all-around thing. I needed to come back and convince myself that...I don't know. I think it'll be good to come back and do it again and have a completion finally."
It was Aly, along with bassist Brad Houser and guitarist Eric Presswood, who was there at the birth of the band a decade ago--as, of all things, a ska-pop band that eventually grew into something farther-reaching. As changes in the band took place--as Edie Brickell and guitarist Kenny Withrow and percussionist John Bush came in, as Presswood left--and as local fame burgeoned into the potential for national prominence, Aly remained one of the sole constants; if the New Bos weren't necessarily his band, then at least he was a powerful equal among friends.
But when the band flew to Wales to record their first record for Geffen in 1988, Aly found himself the odd man out. As the story goes, producer Pat Moran and the label forced the band to oust Aly and bring in drummer Chris Whitton (and, later, Matt Chamberlain) to re-record tracks Aly had already laid down (Aly is heard on a scant few of the songs on Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars). Around the same time, Geffen also placed Edie's name in front of the band's, solidifying the impression that the label had hired a singer and her disposable backup band.
The experience shattered Aly, and he returned to Dallas feeling that everything he had worked so hard for--recognition, a record deal, a shot at something larger than Prophet Bar and Club Dada--had been stolen out from under him. He felt betrayed and confused, wondering how, in a band where each member was equally important, they could replace him so easily.
"Having to start over was probably the hardest thing I've ever had to do in my life," he says now. "Probably the hardest thing I'll ever do, especially when you're all the way at the top and have to start over again. I had so much doubt, wondering why it happened, and going over and over in my mind--what mistakes did I make, and what could I have done better that would not have caused me to be released from this band.
"I remember going down to Deep Ellum a lot after that and feeling real sad and thinking about all the times we had, thinking it wouldn't be the same. There was a lot of change going on in Deep Ellum at the time--the end of an era, no more Russell Hobbs or Theatre Gallery or Prophet Bar. From then on, every time I went there it didn't feel the same. Sometimes it was gut-wrenchingly sad to go down there. I'd stand on the street by myself and look around and think about the way things were. Maybe they didn't change much, but to me they felt different."
Aly would eventually hook up with Leroy Shakespeare and Ship of Vibes for five years, till he burned out on reggae. In Austin, he's just "free-lancing" now, and kicking around the idea of starting a band with Fever in the Funkhouse alum Jim Holbrook. But the birth of Aly's daughter a month ago has kept him home, thinking only about his baby. And it has escaped no one that on the day of Jahdene's funeral, Libbey went into labor.
"I just want to think about us getting together and having fun, and when all is said and done, the rest of the band will be karma-free and I'll be able to say I can do it, which is important to me," Aly says. "But as caught up in my own selfishness about this as I may be, the main thing is we're going to raise some money for Jahliese. That's what got us to come together to do this. We probably would have gotten around to a reunion at one point, but this is important. It's a healing for Jahliese, and a way for us to send some love Jahliese's way."
The New Bohemians perform November 27 (with Cartwrights, Soul Hat, and Brave Combo) and November 28 (with Leroy Shakespeare and Dah-Veed) at Trees. Call 821-1656 for ticket information.
Staying on Course
"Has anyone here seen Anthony Headley?," Course of Empire singer Vaughn Stevenson asked during the band's November 12 show at Trees, and no one in the jam-packed crowd responded. "If you have, tell him I say hi." It seemed an odd comment: Headley is Course's long-deposed drummer, having been replaced by Mike Jerome (ex of pop poppins), but the sign outside the club may have offered a reasonable explanation. In front of the words Course of Empire, someone had written "Chad Lovell of Stabbing Westward and..." Course's other drummer (and a founding member) Lovell, it turns out, had been offered a job by Stabbing Westward and was set to leave at 7:30 a.m. November 13 to fill in for the next month during a tour with Killing Joke. His departure didn't sit well with his bandmates in Course, who are now home and writing songs for their third album, and even Lovell was having doubts. Almost immediately after the Trees show--just five hours before he was set to leave, plane ticket in hand--Lovell bailed out and, as the Course members (well, their roadies) were packing up gear, he pulled Stevenson aside and told him he was staying, despite the thousands of dollars and exposure the Stabbing Westward gig promised. "It would have been fun," Lovell says, "but I've got work to do here."
(Former?) Rubberbullet vocalist Beth Clardy, Pervis frontwomen Rachel Strauss and Cristina Harrison, and other local musicians will help usher in the return of Paula Trauma, the woman behind the "Skin Cage" and "Sadistic Sunday" endeavors of a few years ago and the performance-art pieces "Manhandler" and "Damnation of a Universal Girl." Paula and Thoroughbred will debut "Prop Cheese," opening for tribal-industrial punks Crash Worship and Sofa Kingdom November 22 at Trees. Nudity and sweat are promised...
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