Best Way to Be Famous and Not So Much at the Same Time

Being a member of The Polyphonic Spree

When you're in a band with, like, 24 other people, you're not going to get rich anytime soon. Probably not ever. You can, however, be famous--sort of--if that band happens to be The Polyphonic Spree. You'll tour with David Bowie, travel around the world for free, see your face in magazines and on TV, hear your voice or flute or French horn or whatever on the radio, maybe even be detained by the FBI from time to time. And as soon as you take off your choir robe, not a single person will know who you are. It's the best of both worlds, getting all the cool stuff with none of the hassle. Only downside: Anyone under the age of 40 who owns a white choir robe and can sway in a rhythmic fashion can pretend to be you. But that's pretty cool, too, right?

This chunk of concrete and steel on Skillman Street near Northwest Highway was a Don Carter's All Star Lanes, with peewee leagues where kids would win tiny trophies and learn the thrill of victory and the agony of an ill-timed gutter ball. Now--nearly $10 million and two and a half years of construction later--you'd barely recognize it. Renamed the Rosewood Center for Family Arts, it's the home of the Dallas Children's Theater, where kids take classes on being tiny Laurence Oliviers and learn the thrill of professionally produced drama starring adult actors, some of whom also teach at the facility, which houses two theaters (one seats 400; the other, 140), classrooms, DCT's offices, a scene shop, a prop studio and a costume warehouse. The fund raising has been mostly grassroots, donated by fans of children's theater--both individual and professional--and the renovations continue as money comes available. Gone are the Oscar Mayer hot dogs. It's time for some Oscar-aspiring performances.

While all the other talk jocks seem to be collapsing into a single personality and voice, Mark Davis gets more distinctive. First of all, he actually knows some stuff and appears to have a life, something beyond skimming the front page and then trying to channel Rush Limbaugh. Some of his tangents are arcane, like his passionate interest in the sport of curling, but at least you know he gets out of the sound booth once in a while. His callers are often an intriguing lot, like the woman who, while calling, was being attacked by a basset hound, a toy poodle and a dachshund/Chihuahua mix but wanted to keep talking to Davis anyway. That's animal magnetism! Generally speaking, Mark Davis provides a uniquely engaging perspective on the city's everyday life.

Readers' Pick

Russ Martin Show

Live 105.3

Overheard at Best Buy last year: "I'm into all kinds of music. I listen to Nelly and Limp Bizkit." Right, buddy. Now, granted, everyone winds up claiming musical impartiality at some point in his life, but there's no way a person can like every single genre in the world. Do your tastes honestly jump from Tejano to punk rock, from mainstream rap to lo-fi folk, from electroclash to country? If so, you must be one of the five fortunate souls in Dallas who can actually hear KTCU 88.7's The Good Show on Sunday nights. Tom Urquhart's wholeheartedly anti-commercial blast of musical variety will test both your claims of musical appreciation and your radio's antenna, but if you can pick up an effin' signal without driving west on Interstate 30, you're in for a sonic range unavailable on any other frequency in town. Watch out for the DJ banter, though, because when Tom, Chris and Tony aren't interviewing local musicians, they're wasting precious minutes on debates as odd as, say, the superiority of Nelly over Limp Bizkit.

Here's yet another reason to feel guilty about not pledging, or not paying your pledge, to public radio. Glenn Mitchell's noon-to-2 p.m. show on Dallas' public radio station, KERA-FM, is not only wildly entertaining, dastardly informative and harpooningly to the point, it's the local intelligentsia's preferred manner of intercourse. It's conveniently scheduled as well, while we're mad-dashing around town at lunchtime trying to find any parking space on Commerce or Elm. Content of the show defies categorization or even adequate description, but Mitchell's first hour is usually programmed for audience call-in or e-mail participation with a celebrity, notable, topical or otherwise interesting guest in the Dallas studio. The second hour is often one-on-one interviews he conducts with authors, poets, politicos, historians and others with something to share. The variety of the guests and topics makes Mitchell's show the best; and we like the soft, Jimmy Stewart-like Everyman quality of his voice, too.

Readers' Pick

Kidd Kraddick

Back-alley cockfighting is deplorable. Good can come from it only if it's out in the open, broadcast even. And without using roosters. In fact, the best cockfights involve no cock at all. We prefer head-to-head combat between two new songs, instead of poultry, and each weeknight at 9, 102.1 the Edge provides that battle and right on our FM dial. Now hosted by Ayo (he took over for Josh Venable in August), the competition is decided by phone-in and e-mail votes from listeners. No throwing down crumpled fivers, no feathers flying. It's good, clean radio fun inspiring rabid debate among listeners. And no cocks are harmed on any of the broadcasts.

Ask anyone in town for the name of the premier political consultant in Dallas and you'll get two names: Carol Reed and Rob Allyn. Since their offices are on separate floors of the same building on McKinney Avenue, and since they often find themselves in competition, you might assume that there's a war going on in the stairwell. Your assumption would prove false, at least most of the time.

We've all heard much about political consultants, but what do they actually do? "I consider myself a general contractor," Reed says. "I help design the blueprint and then take that blueprint and make sure that everything gets done on time and according to plan. I set the budget, hire the subcontractors and then make sure that they do their jobs well and according to budget.

"I may be the one who makes the trains run on time, but Rob's great gift is his ability to translate a plan into a message and then deliver that message in the most effective and motivating way."

The two may be competitors, but they often hire each other for big projects, and while their relationship stops well short of that of James Carville and Mary Matalin, there appears to be a genuine friendship behind the scheming, bare-knuckle intensity that attends big-time politics. There's also mutual respect, collegiality and, at times, just the faintest whiff of Oedipal drama between the one-time mentor and her former protégé.

"In politics, truth is always one of the alternatives," Allyn deadpans. "And one of the things that I admire most about Carol is that she tells the truth to her clients." Here's what Reed has to say about Allyn: "As gifted and creative a writer as Rob may be, his biggest strength is his focus, his ability to stay on message for his clients."

Most of these clients are Republicans, and the same can be said of most of Reed's clients as well. Two notable exceptions: Reed handled Democrat Ron Kirk's mayoral campaigns as well as his run for the U.S. Senate, while Allyn helped Laura Miller become and remain mayor, defeating Reed's client Tom Dunning in the race to complete Kirk's term. Allyn also helped the mayor best Mary Poss (not Reed's client) in the election for a full term in the nominally non-partisan office. Aside from these walks on the political wild side, the two consultants have, between them over the last 20 years, worked for virtually every major Republican office holder in the state, as well as the two Presidents Bush and President Reagan.

Reed and Allyn are now working together to help pass the bond issue that would move the Dallas Cowboys to Arlington, a campaign spearheaded by Allyn. "I fought as long and as hard as I could to bring the Cowboys to the Cotton Bowl," says Reed, a former president of Friends of Fair Park. "After we lost that fight, I decided that I might as well take the money." Both predictably but probably accurately express optimism that the bond issue will pass.

The Dallas Cowboys campaign is emblematic of the consultants' involvement with lucrative clients and causes that are political but only quasi-governmental in nature: bond issues. The two have worked together successfully on referendum campaigns for the American Airlines Center and DART. Reed's solo victories include the Trinity River project, the 2002 DISD bond campaign and many bond campaigns for Dallas County, while Allyn's résumé boasts of successful campaigns on behalf of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts and the Houston Metro.

One distinction between the two is that while Reed does business in other cities, her heart seems to be in Dallas, while Allyn casts a broader net, with offices in Austin, Phoenix and Mexico City. Allyn's international clients have included Mexican President Vicente Fox and Prime Minister Perry Christie of the Bahamas, as well as political parties and causes in Asia and the Middle East. Reed, on the other hand, has been extremely active in Dallas civic affairs, serving, among many other offices, as chair of the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau, president of the Dallas Rotary Club and on more than two dozen civic and charitable boards.

"A genuine difference between us is that while I certainly do work outside of Dallas, my community involvement keeps me focused here, while Rob actively seeks more national and international projects," Reed says.

Allyn, who sold his company in 2002 to Fleishman-Hillard, a public relations firm with offices in more than 100 countries, agrees. "We've always treated politics like a business," he says. "By definition, this approach also works for corporate clients. Our new affiliation gives us leverage and support to pursue business all over the world."

Meanwhile and for both, as long as there are elections, they plan to plan them.

"Corporate clients offer a challenge and pay the bills, but once politics is in your blood it remains your passion," Reed says. "You can go to rehab, but you're hooked forever."

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