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"I put the fun in funeral home!" declares Beverly Henley, one of the few funeral directors and embalmers in Texas who also owns her own business. Lest anyone take offense, Forest Lawn's silver-haired impresario insists she encourages all her employees to have a sense of humor. It balances out the rigors of their profession, as well as Henley's second calling as a critic of corporate funeral homes, whom she describes as "nasty and wretched. They're pretty conniving toward the consumer. The biggies do a lot of things that we independents pay for."
By the time she opened Forest Lawn at Turtle Creek in 1994, her reputation as a national gadfly to the industry had begun. CNN traveled to Dallas to profile her and her claims: that the international funeral corporations--two of which split the city's business almost 50-50, she says--charge exorbitant and often hidden fees, take goods they buy wholesale and mark them up ridiculously and aren't honest about some of their practices.
"I was a free-lance embalmer [working for one of the corporations before she started Forest Lawn]," Henley says. "They'd lead relatives to believe that the embalming would take place at the funeral home of their choice, when in fact the body would be carted away to a centralized embalmer at another location." On more than one occasion, the family would ask to follow their loved one to the funeral home. "I'd think, 'Oh, shit,'" she recalls. "We'd drive to the home, let the family watch us take the body inside, then as soon as they weren't looking, turn around and load it back up [to take to the central embalmer]."
Such frustrations were paramount in her decision to open her own establishment. Like many in the business, Henley is licensed as director and embalmer; she does the lion's share of both at Forest Lawn, holding mourners' hands, preparing bodies and navigating through floral arrangements and religious rituals. Inside an antiseptic back room, she makes incisions with two tubes--one to push in the embalming fluid, the other to push out blood and bile into a urinal-like flush receptacle. She also does her own RA work--"restorative arts," that is. For corpses damaged in accidents, she takes liquid and scented wax skin and refashions ears, noses, cheeks and foreheads by hand.
She thinks it perfectly natural that more women have begun to gain her kind of status in the funeral industry. "We're nurturers," she says. "We're detail-oriented. Planning a funeral is like planning a wedding."
Still, no amount of preparation can anticipate all the variables for such an emotional event. "Funerals tend to bring out the peculiar side of human nature," Henley says. When asked to illustrate this remark, she describes a little scene that she absolutely, positively swears she witnessed. To wit:
One of her clients was an old man who died after a protracted illness. He had several grown sons, as well as an adult daughter from whom he'd been estranged for the last years of his life. Apparently, after her father's demise, she became interested in the possibilities of his will, and there was some feeling she might make a last-minute appearance at the funeral. Also, Henley adds, "I think she was a little, you know..." and taps her own temple.
Sure enough, as the priest read over the casket during the service, a car pulled up and out came the daughter in a trench coat and heels. Her brothers tried to ignore her, but she began weeping and wailing at the graveside, "It should've been me! It should've been me!" One of her brothers started calling her a "cunt." She, in turn, paused between sobs to call him an "asshole." The priest and the onlookers kept their eyes trained firmly down.
As her bellowing reached a crescendo, she threw off her trench coat--turns out she was stark naked underneath--and leapt into the grave atop the casket, again wailing, "It should've been me!"
"It was like somebody threw a firebomb into the crowd," Henley recalls. "Everyone scattered. The priest got in his car and left."
Her brothers spent several long minutes angrily trying to talk her out, but she refused. Finally, one of them said, "All right, it should've been you," picked up a shovel and started filling the grave with dirt on top of her. She scrambled out frantically, her hair and body coated with soil.
How did Henley get such a full view of the fracas? "We were hiding behind a tree nearby," she says.
Forest Lawn Funeral Home is located at 3204 Fairmount St. Call 214-953-0363.
No ferns, no frills, no food (unless you count chips and peanuts) and no TV sports at this 50-year-old establishment, which is what a real, honest-to-goodness beer joint is supposed to be. Open from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 2 a.m. Sunday, Ship's offers $2 domestic beer and can serve from a couple of dozen brands. The stools along the bar are filled with patrons ranging in age from 21 to 71. There's a pool table and one of the best jukeboxes in Dallas, offering everything from Don Williams to Ray Charles. If they ever decide to open a Beer Joint Hall of Fame, this one's got to be in it.
You'd think, judging by the fact that pretty much every car south of Mockingbird Lane sports at least one sticker on its bumper/windshield advertising the driver's Tejano radio station of choice, this city runs on the upbeat of a conjunto soundtrack. You're probably right. The Arbitron ratings might not reflect that yet--maybe they would if Arbitron actually reported in all the areas that matter, not just North Dallas--but it's true nonetheless. Perhaps the best place to see and hear for yourself is Tejano West, the McDLT among local Tejano venues, where the cerveza is cold and the dance floor is hot. Feel free to explore others, but we guarantee your boots will scoot back to Tejano West.
Lizard Lounge is the closest thing Dallas has to Studio 54, and depending on how uptight you are, that's either a good or bad thing. OK, so it's not that close to Studio 54, but it does have everything you want in a dance club: good music (provided by, among others, Edgeclub host DJ Merritt), good-looking men and women (clad in materials usually reserved for the interiors of cars) and the good chance that you'll see at least one person with a lot less clothing than he or she walked in with. The last part isn't exactly crucial for a dance club to be entertaining, but it sure doesn't hurt. Madonna tried to buy it at one point; how much more of an endorsement do you need?
Call us naïve, but we were shocked to learn the predominantly female audience at Melissa Etheridge's recent Fort Worth concert booed when she pulled a fan onstage to share a tequila shot...because she chose a man. Being of the male persuasion ourselves, we've always felt welcome at most of the area's lesbian clubs. We've heard tales that gay places like the gargantuan Village Station and Moby Dick aren't nearly as hospitable to women. Hell, there have been nights when the Station wasn't nearly as welcoming to us as, say, its next-door neighbor, Sue Ellen's. Over the years, Sue's has admirably maintained its balancing act of charming opposites--friendly but sorta elegant, universal but very specific in its identity, streamlined but able to hold a spill-over crowd. You can walk in dressed up or dressed down and feel right at home. And the small dance floor prevails as a place for socializing, not exhibiting your gym bod or your rhythmic skills. Maybe it's just the Cowtown gals who get pissy when a guy occasionally steps into the spotlight.
Some nights end badly. Some nights end with a public humiliation by the jackboot of the state in front of the teeming crowd of your peers, the assorted boozers and ecstasy-addled clubbers of Lower Greenville. After midnight you can witness the local cheese rousting belligerents on this corner, usually stuffing them into the white paddy wagon. The best part's the public frisk--always look for signs of amusement or disgust on the cop's face.
The best alternative club this year is not the same one as last year, even though both are named Trees. Since that time, Trees has undergone a significant makeover, classing up the joint (oooh, a velvet curtain!) while making it more fan-friendly in the process. Meaning: You no longer have to crane your neck around the air conditioner if you want to watch a show from the balcony, and the same goes for downstairs, where the revamped bar doesn't obstruct anyone's view of the stage anymore. But the extensive remodeling, the new furniture and a fancy light system don't have much to do with the fact that Trees is still the best alternative club in town. The reason: music. Duh. Trees is the place where you can see and hear Mudhoney, the White Stripes, Murder City Devils, At the Drive-In, Luna, Mos Def, Mogwai, Mouse on Mars, Tortoise, Idlewild and so many more. And now you can do it all in a more comfortable environment. Don't fight it.
Not surprising that The Cavern is the best rock hangout in town, given that it's named after one of rock and roll's landmarks, the Liverpool bar where John, Paul, George and Ringo played before anyone cared who they were. But the name is almost irrelevant (at least its origin is), and so is the Fab Four décor; this isn't a theme park. The bar really is a cavern, though--dark and comfortable, exactly the kind of place where you can lose yourself for a few hours inside a tumbler full of bourbon. The jukebox is full of small treasures, and on Mondays, The Cavern spins old rock and punk classics. And nothing is more rock and roll than drinking on a Monday night.
Ricki Derek doesn't look much like Sinatra, but he sounds kinda like him and, goodness, does he bring out a quirky crowd. Under his surreal crooning the bar becomes a haven for those who would rather be disemboweled by butter knives than go to the Beagle next door. There is no stereotype for the kind of person who enjoys Sinatra impersonators; they come from all walks of life, every social strata. In the dark confines of The Cavern you'll find drug-addled hipsters, aging swingers with tacky shirts and neighborhood types having a post-barbecue pint.
At most of the jazz clubs in town, with the exception of maybe the Balcony Club, the music there is nothing more than wallpaper, something to ignore, something that you won't remember five feet outside the door. At Sambuca, however, they never let you forget that the music is the reason you're there, and if you ignore it, it's not because they didn't do their best to open your eyes and ears. There aren't enough venues in town that care about jazz one way or the other, so Sambuca makes up for quantity with quality, doing it right every step of the way, from sound to talent to ambience to anything and everything else you might think of. Sambuca, at its best, provides a little bit of old Deep Ellum, a time when jazz and blues ran Commerce, Main and Elm, not developers. It's worth a visit for that reason alone.
Built in 1911, Sons continues to be the one legit honky-tonk island in a sea of bland imitators. It's one of the few venues that still books Texas and roots-country acts, and even though the Gypsy Tea Room offers many of the same performers (the Derailers, Tish Hinojosa, etc.), there is no match for Sons' atmosphere. From the long bar and jukebox downstairs to the dance floor, folding chairs and small stage upstairs, Sons is a respite of C&W joy for those of us who still love to swing, two-step and do the longneck bob.
Blues music might not have been born in Dallas, but we definitely helped raise it. It's kind of hard to remember that time now, an era when Blind Lemon was a man (Blind Lemon Jefferson, the prince of country blues) and not a crappy bar. Leadbelly and Aaron "T-Bone" Walker lived here, played here, and if you don't know those names, get yourself to a bookstore and pick up a copy of Alan Govenar and Jay Brakefield's 1998 book, Deep Ellum and Central Track. Even if you don't know those names, well, we're sure Stevie Ray Vaughan will ring a bell. Yep, he's from here, too. You can still find the spirit, if not the talent, of those men at Hole in the Wall, which is just what the name implies. It's one-stop shopping for Dallas blues.