Putting it to bed

Bedhead has a van it would like to sell you. They will not need it anymore, because there will be no more tours--and, for that matter, no more records or anything else. Bedhead, you see, is dead, broken up, disbanded, the band's ashes scattered into the thousand-degree wind that blew the Kadane brothers from Wichita Falls to Dallas to, in Matt's case, New York and then Boston. Three albums and a handful of EPs and singles later, and it's goodbye and farewell and nice to know ya, chief. Just like that, one of the very best bands ever to have come from Dallas disappears--with a one-page press release written by Matt, a statement devoid of sentimentality or drama but long on explanation. Finally, after seven years of listening to him half-bury his words beneath droning-then-exploding guitars, Matt speaks clearly--about, of all things, the death of the band he and brother Bubba started at the beginning of the decade.

"We are all still friends--friendship has nothing to do with this," Matt writes, explaining that the band can no longer sustain itself with its members spread across the country: Matt is in graduate school in Boston, guitarist Tench Coxe is in New York, while Bubba, bassist Chris Wheat, and drummer Trini Martinez remain in Dallas. Because of the distance, he writes, "it is nearly impossible to learn new songs, and none of us wants to play in a Bedhead tribute band. More to the point, we don't want to tour anymore, and it is by touring that we have compensated for being spread across the country. If it weren't for the distance, would we still be breaking up? I think all of us agree that if it weren't for the distance, we would have broken up and killed each other, in that order, three years ago."

Unlike the end of Course of Empire, which disbanded last month amidst so much frustration with record labels and radio stations and a career spent fighting battle after battle, the demise of Bedhead is not accompanied by so much melodrama. In the end, it's just a band breakup, one of those "inevitable and ubiquitous" (so says Matt) things that happen when the gas runs out and it's time to abandon the car on the side of the road. "It's not like we're married," Bubba says, matter-of-factly.

The band has, in seven years, created a rather estimable catalog that includes three magnificent LPs (1993's WhatFunLifeWas, '96's Beheaded, and the recent Transaction de Novo), two EPs (4SongCDEP in '94 and The Dark Ages in '96), and two singles on Direct Hit Records. No one could ever accuse Bedhead of dicking around, even with its members separated by so much distance.

And each one of those albums and EPs and singles was truly remarkable, the sound made when a whisper turns into an explosion. Theirs was a melancholia that was at once serene and devastating. Rock and roll's standard tools (guitar, vocals, bass, drums) were turned inside-out and upside-down till guitars sounded like string sections and the drums sounded like a roller coaster off its tracks (especially on "Psychosomatica" off the Steve Albini-produced Transaction de Novo). With the exception of, well, Ronnie Dawson, no other local musician in this city's history has compiled a better back catalog. And no other Dallas band ever puts as much of itself into its songs--the Kadanes' were confessionals, but never so revealing you couldn't put yourself into the song without feeling like an unwelcome guest.

In the end, it was the Kadanes who decided to end the band, shortly after Bedhead returned from its European tour earlier in the summer. (The last Bedhead performance was a radio session for VPRO, Holland's national radio based in Amsterdam, on May 20.) After all, they wrote the songs, sang the words, played the guitars, taught the rest of the guys their notes, and defined the sound--they were Bedhead, in essence. That is not to discount the other members' contributions, not at all. Without Coxe, Wheat, and Martinez, Bedhead would not have sounded the same--they were as essential to the making of music as the electricity needed to power the instruments, amps, and DAT machines. Coxe--a member of the local rock scene for even longer than the Kadanes, having played in End Over End and Three on a Hill before joining Orange Schubert, Bedhead's precursor--provided the third guitar that pushed the Kadanes over the edge on songs such as "Bedside Table" and "Exhume." And Wheat and Martinez were the rhythm section that gave a little muscle to the songs' fragile bones.

Bedhead will still release one more single through the now-defunct Trance Syndicate label, which Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey closed down in recent weeks. "Lepidoptera/Leper" (one side recorded by Albini, the other by Leaning House Records owner Mark Elliott) will hit stores in October, marking the final Trance and Bedhead record. After that, who knows--the Kadanes will likely record together, but for what label and under what name remains to be seen. (There are also some jazz recordings and other live tapes still in the vaults that may or may not see release at a later date.)

But if the Kadanes record together again, they will not use Bedhead's name, despite the fact the name has tremendous national and international rep (even if Dallas long took the band for granted). After all, they counted Luna, Yo La Tengo, Bob Mould, and Come among their biggest fans and managed to sell out New York City's legendary Knitting Factory and San Francisco's Bottom of the Hill. (According to SoundScan, which doesn't count independent record stores, Bedhead sold more CDs in the Bay Area than in any other metropolitan area.)

"Because it's so inevitable and ubiquitous, a band disbanding should not necessarily be a sad event," Matt insists. "Bubba and I made music for over a decade before Bedhead formed; in some form we will continue. Tench is starting graduate school in the fall. Trini will accidentally build a house with his bare hands in the near future. And Wheat? God only knows. A statistic or a household name by the turn of the millennium. In any case, we'll all see each other, just not with strung guitars around or necks or drumsticks in hand. So does anyone want to buy a van?"

So sad.

See Jack run, see Jack record
Little Jack Melody and His Young Turks are also breaking up--sort of. Saxophonist Jacob Duncan and drummer Chris Michael are leaving the band--Duncan for Europe, where he will wander the land as an "itinerant sax player," says Steve "Little Jack" Carter, and Michael for New York. But that's nothing new for Carter, who replaces musicians more easily than Rangers general manager Doug Melvin supplants third basemen. For years, the Young Turks thought a revolving door was a percussion instrument.

But Carter is distraught enough over their departures to memorialize the musicians by taping one of their final performances with the band. So on August 7 at Dan's Bar in Denton, Little Jack Melody and His Young Turks will record their fourth album and make it a live one, for release on who-knows-what label to hit stores who knows when.

"I think the band is better live," says Carter, who insists this lineup is his most jazz-sounding to date (promises, promises). "With the studio stuff, you try to get everybody's hair to lay down and take all the cowlicks out and sometimes find a group portrait looks a little stuffy. Economically, we can go in and do it on site, and it'd be much cheaper. But it's also trying to harness the energy level. It's frightening, because it's without a net, but I've always wanted to do a live album. We'll see. Sometimes you make lemonade, and sometimes you make applesauce. You do the best with what you've got. We'll see."

If nothing else, the result should be fascinating: After three albums of harmonium-driven cabaret-pop, Carter says the new material relies far more on piano. He also plans to perform (if not release--he'll see) such crowd-favorite covers as "Is That All There Is?" and the immortal "99 Luftballons," which is surely not what Kurt Weill had in mind. Of course, if the covers suck, "it's not in my best interest to release them," Carter says. "I still do approach the songs on a case-by-case basis, and I've written a spaghetti country-and-western song for this record, because it's about the great drug battle between the Clinton administration and the international drug community." Oughtta rock.

Scene, heard
Word is Darlington, those cute little punk-rockers, are moving to New York--or so says the e-mail from Christy Darlington (or the artist formerly known as Chris Mess). This move will allegedly take place on November 1, with a seven-inch and possible full-length record to see release sometime at the beginning of the year for the Mutant label. Waytago, kids. But you can't use my truck.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky