V4N6: August 1998
Volume 4 Number 6
Table of Contents
The 1998 Young Latino Artists Exhibition by Maria Rios
Despite the exclusionary social-academic reference in its name, this year's exhibition reveals the strength of discovery and experimentation of the young artist as an artist rather than a fashionable cultural perspectives.
33 Degrees of Syncopation by Paul Klemperer
Thirty-Three Degrees is one of the hippest record stores in town.
Hear the Details by Allyson Lipkin
Epistrophy Arts is a new production company in town. Welcome. Everybody say it: e-PIS-tro-PHY.
J'envie de manger by Manuel Gonzales
Little Slices of Life...From Cinematographer Lee Daniel by Allyson Lipkin
In 1991 director Richard Linklater and cinematographer Lee Daniel broke wide open the independent film scene with Slacker. It put Austin on the map in the film business, and in its wake are a bunch of films (and an MTV sitcom) that are recording the sights and sounds of Austin.
Up All Night by Harold McMillan
It's damn hot out there? So what. If you've found your own swimming hole, get on out there, take your clothes off and jump in.
Much has been written and said lately on the national and local resurgence of swing music. American preoccupation with the fashion of past eras has become an identifiable national trait.
Viva Teatro by Sandra Beckmeier That is part of my mission to establish us as a nationally recognized company. At this point we haven't done much touring, but I have met people across the way, so those possibilities are open.
-- Rodney Garza
The 1998 Young Latino Artists Exhibition by Maria Rios
Despite the exclusionary social-academic reference in its name, this year's Young Latino Artists Exhibition, which closed July 18th at Mexic-Arte, reveals the strength of discovery and experimentation of the young artist as just an artist rather than a figure limited by the perceptions of a licensed few creators of genres based on unfamiliar or fashionable cultural perspectives. Curator Herlinda Zamora effectively captures the aggressive spirit of these twelve artists, who seek visual vocabularies through aesthetic resolution and process, by selecting those specifically producing work in a series. Emphasis, then, falls on the nuts and bolts of visual creativity in which the medium (acrylic, ink, video, dirt), together with references to how the work itself was put together are important in understanding many of the pieces. Her inclusion of performance and video art, moreover, calls attention to the expanding definition of art and how this issue is manifested by the local and regional artistic community.
Although at times their work teeters awkwardly in the face of their intent, these 12 artists should be commended for their ability to share the subtle humility found in the action of learning, giving their art a golden foundation of integrity that marks their progression toward artistic maturity.
Most exemplary of the spirit of the show is work produced by video artists Ana Saldana and Delia Avila, painter Bill Maceyra, and sculptor Aldo Valdes Bohm. Upon entering the gallery, we find ourselves in the presence of a television featuring the work of Delia Avila and Ana Saldana. These two University of Texas students engage the spectator through the same medium, but in vastly distinctive ways. In Disassociations of a Cyborg, Saldana, using a split screen, simultaneously presents two scenes representative of thematically bipolar situations that involve both wanting familial acceptance and the desire to live out one's true personal identity. Her work is an intimate confession, its energy derived through the frankness and sincerity of her inner struggles. Delia Avila, on the other hand, creates short, poetic vignettes of juxtaposed sounds and images that lean heavily toward abstraction. Avila's Untitled #1 (media eye), video footage of an eye amidst the products of its own observation, literally records the act of multisensory seeing through image and sound overlaps. Not only does the work examine the effects of technology on western culture, this stimulating piece introduces a plethora of related themes in the little over seven minutes of its duration.
The paintings displayed by Bill Maceyra reveal an exploration of major trends in art such as figuration and abstraction. He juxtaposes an outlined figure reminiscent of Rodin's The Thinker over a mostly white background painted gesturally with geometric shapes and lines. His depiction of the act of thinking in what appears to be an ocean of abstracted space challenges the viewer to confront the work on its own terms, rather than as just a vehicle of representation. Finally, the majestic, large-scale sculptures of Aldo Valdes Bohm call to mind the infrastructure of a boat that cleverly refers to Welsh mythology in which matriarchy and inspiration complement intellect and progress.
The 1998 Young Latino Artists Exhibition is a proud example of the the talent and labor of artists whose inspiration transcends a genre which sometimes collapses itself into stereotype. Their push toward concept and universality is their strength, and Mexic-Arte should be congratulated for the thoughtful curation of this year's show. Unfortunately, this exhibition has come and gone, but don't hesitate to catch the serigraphs, paintings and other works by Chicano artist/activist Malaquias Montoya and the exquisite photography of Mexican photographer Nicolas Triedo, both on view until August 29. For more information call (512) 480-9373.
33 Degrees of Syncopation by Paul Klemperer
Thirty-Three Degrees is one of the hippest record stores in town. Co-owners Bob Coleman and Dan Plunkett began their mission by selling alternative CDs, LPs and 7-inches at record conventions in Palmer Auditorium. The response was so favorable that they opened their first store in July of 1995 next door to the Crown & Anchor Pub off Duval in a small space that, so the story goes, had an interior wall angle of thirty-three degrees.
By September of 1997 they were able to move to their larger current location, the old Dismukes Pharmacy building at 4017 Guadalupe. Ever the preservers of tradition, they kept many of the old glass pharmaceutical bottles, which now adorn the back wall of the store. The new space affords greater display area, as well as allowing for in-store shows by local and visiting artists.
Coleman and Plunkett's success is based in a simple but strong philosophical mission: to expose people to new ideas through new kinds of music. From their experiences at record conventions they learned that there was a sizable chunk of audiophiles hungry for new, truly alternative sounds. While larger record stores may carry a greater selection of mainstream sounds, 33D has found a niche on the "harder, more abstract end."
The alternative approach of 33D covers rock, jazz, and modern classical composers. They have a website which sums it up pretty well. Thirty-Three Degrees "specializes in sub-genres: experimental, punk, progressive, electronic, garage, gothic, psychedelic, noise, techno, electro-acoustic, ambient, non-jazz, isolationist, twee-pop, improvisation, and other uncategorizables without the corporate crud to bum you out."
The impact 33D is having in Austin is best reflected in their support for alternative jazz artists. While large chains like Tower Records offer a comprehensive selection of traditional and big-name jazz recordings, 33D has greater offerings of avant garde artists like Albert Ayler, Sun Ra and Eric Dolphy, as well as rare recordings and imports. Some of the names that pop up include Marion Brown, Anthony Braxton, Sunny Murray and Cecil Taylor.
33D has also been making waves with some great in-store concerts. The recent concert by drummer Sunny Murray and saxophonist Sonny Simmons brought a capacity crowd. Joined by Epistrophy Arts promoter P.G. Morino, Coleman and Plunkett have helped prove that Austin will support experimental jazz. One of the most interesting aspects of that concert was the demographic range in the audience, particularly in the large number of young listeners.
When I asked about upcoming concerts, Coleman told me that P.G. Morino will be attending a jazz festival in Atlanta to make contact with more touring artists. At this time, saxophonist Sam Rivers is scheduled for a concert, as well as New York based pianist Matthew Shipp. In addition, 33D is committed to helping alternative and new bands reach their listeners by making the space available for in-stores.
By making alternative music available through recordings and live shows, 33D hopes to see a ripple effect in Austin. "Already," says Coleman, "local DJs see that there is an audience for more outside jazz." Though this kind of programming is generally restricted to radio's wee hours, the more that listeners request this music, the more DJs will feel justified in playing it.
Coleman is optimistic that 33D's ripple effect will continue to expand. They have undoubtedly established a firm base of support in Austin. "We always listen to our customers and what they're asking for," he explains. "Before you know it, you've opened up a whole new thing for people." That is certainly a refreshing attitude in the music business.
Hear the Details by Allyson Lipkin
Epistrophy Arts is a new production company in town. Welcome. Everybody say it: e-PIS-tro-PHY. Then think Jazz giant Thelonious Monk, from whom the name is derived. P.G. Morino, the founder of Epistrophy Arts, has recently brought some jazz giants to town and produced some really cool shows. He started his company over the Internet in January, and since then he has brought acts like Susie Ibarra, Yseef Sahar, Arthur Doyle, Joe McPhee, and Wadada Leo Smith. Most recently he brought Sunny Murray and Sonny Simmons, a duo of Drums and Sax, to Thirty Three Degrees record store.
Many of you haven't heard of these musicians? That's because some of these guys are obscure -- down here. Why? Maybe because Austin doesn't get to see much avant garde jazz, or because we like mainstream music so much that there is no room for something "experimental."
Luckily, that's not true. Recently we've seen Steve Lacy at the Continental Club (a duo with Coltrane...that would have been nice), Jason Marsalis (my personal '98 Austin Jazz Festival favorite at the Victory Grill), and of course those crazy American exiles Sunny and Sonny. All of these names represent what is cutting edge...like masta' saxman David Murray, at the Performing Arts Center. (Check him out in Downbeat magazine with James Carter this month).
And so yeah, Austin is finally seeing some of this, and it's about time. What's better is that Epistrophy is doing something. It's a grassroots organization, not Ticketron. P.G. is dedicated to "presenting the finest in creative or improvised music or avant garde jazz." And with that in mind, he will present Marshall Allen of "The Arkestra" with Lukeman Ali, a sax and drums combo in the fall. There is also a show October 1st with Wilber Morris, a bass player who toured with Murray in their infamous '84 appearance at the Ritz here in Austin as an octet.
P.G. explains, "Originally the trio was going to feature legendary drummer Dennis Charles, who played with Cecil Taylor and Steve Lacy, a bunch of people. Unfortunately he died last year, so they are performing the tour as a tribute to him. They replaced him with Reggie Nickelson, who comes out of Chicago's AACM organization. The reed player that is coming is Thomas Borgman. He represents sort of the European improvisational community. He has played with Peter Brotzmann and Anthony Braxton -- that's exciting. And Sam Rivers is interested in coming, hopefully we can work out a solo show or with his regular trio in the fall."
I asked PG some questions about how he got Epistrophy rolling. He replied, "I just sent a bunch of proposals to folks and saw what came back. From there we just talked on the phone and worked something out. Our first show with Susie Ibarra and Yseef Lahar [William Parker]. We were just very lucky that they were driving down to Houston. It just happened to be that it was the same weekend that we had arranged for Joe McPhee and Arthur Doyle to come. A friend of mine in Houston is involved in Diverse Works, an art gallery. They gave him a small budget to put on the show. We used that money to fly them down and we added the show in Austin to sweeten the deal. With Leo Smith, I received an e-mail from someone at A&M who I had been in contact with. They wanted to present some avant garde music for an aesthetics seminar; a multi-disciplinary event involving the English department, the Art department, and a couple of other academic departments. They paid for his flight to Texas, and that show was very successful. With Sunny and Sonny it so happened that the proprietors [of Thirty-Three Degrees] were in Chicago to see a number of concerts. They caught the duo at the Hot House; incidentally Robert Plant was at that show. So afterwards they chatted and said that someone in Texas was presenting this kind of music so the next day they called me up. We immediately charged their plane tickets because we knew there would be a good following. We weren't sure, but everyone seemed to know their names." Ultimately, Epistrophy Arts would like to bring fuller acts to town. Trios, quartets, quintets. Showcasing is a problem in Austin, and that is linked to funding.
"Our chief problem is venues. To do it at a more traditional venue would be more expensive. We would like to look into funding and underwriting to possibly bolster our future efforts...Ideally, comparing to other cities our size, there seems to be a museum or some kind of art space; with a single stage, sound equipment...that could feature other kinds of music. Shows at certain bars seems fine; but for other kinds of music that demands a lot of attention it sometimes is not a great environment. While the record store Thirty-Three Degrees has been good, we have sort of outgrown it. Ideally, a museum or public space, park, maybe a rock club for certain things."
It is true. At a rock club you've got all of those wonderful things -- tons of cigarette smoke, no profits for the touring artist, loud frat boys, a dumpy dive. To appreciate music, especially jazz, one wants to get up close, squeeze up to the front, listen to the intricacies of the motion -- hear the details.
P.G. was on his way after the interview to Atlanta to hear more free jazz. "While Epistrophy is on break I will take a trip to see a three day concert series sponsored by the Gherta institute. That is the German Cultural Arts Council, [sponsoring] part of the National Black Arts Festival. For a week Atlanta will be inundated with people from all over the world. Abby Lincoln, Regina Carter. But the series is going to be at the Museum, the National Hill Museum of Art. There is an auditorium there. Some of the leading figures of European free improvised music will be there. A lot of people influenced by Coltrane, Aylers, Ornette Coleman. The liberation of jazz in the '60s. They have been pursuing that music for 20 years now and they will be playing in Atlanta with some of the leading American improvisors, like Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, Andrew Surreal who was just here with David Murray. Fred Hopkins, Leo Smith, Rosko Mitchell, and George Lewis, along with Europeans like Peter Brotzmann, Alexander Van Shlippenbach, and Peter Cowalt. The idea of the International Black Arts Festival is that it draws from all of the arts. Movies, dance, performance art, all sorts."
So, there you have it. Look for upcoming shows from Epistrophy Arts -- you might want to step off the beaten path...for a while.
J'envie de manger by Manuel Gonzales
Luis would have us over for dinner Monday nights, this just before John left for Japan. It first happened by accident. John and I met for drinks and to write and work, and afterwards we were to meet his friend, Mohammed, to play a little music. We ate and drank and worked and then drove to John's house to call Mohammed, but the plans had changed. We were meeting him at Luis's house for dinner and music, a potluck, bring what you can, preferably wine. But we had eaten already and were full, and then I was nervous because Luis and Ephraim are real musicians. But John said the music will be good and the food possibly even better, what with Mohammed and his Persian rice, so what can we do for our hunger?
It was cold and so we went to the springs since John didn't know how good the water felt in the winter, and we swan and the air was cool and the water, when we first stepped in, was cold, and John splashed his arms and legs to warm himself, and by the time we swam half a lap, the water was warm and our bodies were comfortable and our stroke smooth and controlled. Changing into dry clothes, we froze, but we weren't so cold with the adrenaline, and we drove quickly to Luis's house, my drums and John's guitar in the back of my truck. We picked up a good, inexpensive bottle of red on the way.
I do not remember what we ate that first night, except for Mohammed's rice. Mohammed would pour the tallest glass of wine, and he would make the finest rice - sprinkled with saffron and stir-fried with cashews and sun-dried cranberries - and as he cooked, he would sing, and his songs would make the rice right. John would play Spanish on his guitar, and Eprhaim would play soft, in and out, soft and fine on his trumpet, and if Luis weren't cooking, he would play his stand-up, and the four of them would be the music, and the rest of us would play the rhythm, spoons tapping on glasses, knuckles knocking on the table, hands beating against the walls and clapping in time and slapping against the stools or chairs or each others' backs, and the food would cook.
As the food cooked and as we played and sang and drank, more people would show up - Sasha and her smile and her rosemary bread, Yashi and Caleche and Angela, all lovely and talented, Christie, who dances, Teresa and Ximena and Corrie from next door, Isaac and Angel and Charity, and, once, even Abel, who didn't bring food, but brought his trés, which was even better as he plays and sings as well as most foods taste. They would come with a bottle of wine or a dish - potatoes or pasta or fish or chicken, and soon, the table would be so full of food and drink, we couldn't play rhythm anymore, or we would have to move to the living room and stomp our feet or play on someone's drum. That first time, I had my drums but did not play them, because I was nervous and because the music felt too good to play to, and I would rather concentrate on listening than on playing, and if I weren't playing, I could walk around the house and smell and taste the food and drink more wine and talk to more friends, or just sit and listen to conversations in Spanish and Portuguese and even Farsi.
Sometimes, after we had eaten and all there was to do was wash our food down with more wine and rest in the living room and listen to the music, Mohammed would drum and he would sing. I would watch him play and listen to his harsh, beautiful Persian voice matched against Christian's voice and guitar and John's guitar and Ephraim's trumpet, playing soft and deep, like velvet. And Luis would come out of the kitchen, out from washing the dishes, and he would play and his fingers would be like oil or water or both, fluid and effortless, sliding over the neck of his bass, and it all would seem very much like foreplay. We would sit and listen, or those who hadn't eaten too much would dance or just sway, but the rest of us were too full. Too full to dance, too full to move, almost too full to talk - full from Mohammed's rice and Angela's fideo or her creole salmon or Yashi's homemade cornbread and croquettes, Dylan's pan-peach cobbler and sweet potato pie. Full from the yogurt-dill-cucumber salad, the fruit salads, the Spanish omelet, the lentil soups, the tamales, the chilies, the cheeses, the breads, the wine . . . Full and content and rested, we would let the music carry us off in a haze, until the music stopped, and the house would be empty again except for us few, and we would retire to the kitchen, to finish the wine if there were wine left, and to finish cleaning the kitchen, nibbling here and there as we cleaned. Saying good-bye, we would hug and kiss and hug again, and, drowsy, we would drive home.
By the time you read this, Luis and Sasha will be on their way to Costa Rica. John is even now in Japan, teaching, playing, writing. Ximena is headed to Brasil with Destino2000. Ephraim may soon leave, taking his trumpet with him. The potlucks have all but ended, and so I write this in memory of you. Sentimental, but true.
Little Slices of Life...From Cinematographer Lee Daniel by Allyson Lipkin
In 1991 director Richard Linklater and cinematographer Lee Daniel broke wide open the independent film scene with Slacker, starring a bunch of Austin freaks. That movie achieved the type of success that artists aspire to: great ideas realized with no cash followed by huge critical acclaim. It put Austin on the map in the film business, and in its wake are a bunch of films (and an MTV sitcom) that are recording the sights and sounds of Austin. Lori Taffet and I talked to Lee at his East Austin home over beer and tequila, with the sounds of Austin tejano guys Los Pinky's floating about.
ADA: Tell us about the New York Documentary Film Festival you attended.
LD: I went to the film festival because John Rushe was there -- you might call him the grandfather of cinema verite -- he made a film called Chronicle of the Summer, and coined that term. That preceeded Breathless by Jon Luc Goddard. Rushe was the spark that set off the whole French New Wave.
LT: Which influenced a whole generation of Americans.
LD: He took that to be known as direct cinema in the U.S.; Albert Masels, Richard Leetock, whatever -- Wiseman.
ADA: Were Richard and yourself influenced by documentary filmaking with Slacker?
LD: With Slacker it had to do with what limitations we had technically. I just had a portable 16 mm which I owned. We had six lights. We couldn't really do anything really elaborate in a fictional context. So yeah, we were trying to make it look like real life, and that goes back to Rick and I's intrest in the French New Wave -- guys like Goddard, Bunuel. We wanted it to be kind of cyclical -- sort of non-linear. A baton passing from one character to the next -- little slices of life.
ADA: What documentaries in the film festival did you see that influenced you?
LD: Nothing that really influenced me. Maybe a bit down the road. There was a film called The Cruise that I think people will see. It's about a guy that does double decker bus tours -- the "Apple Tours" of New York. He's a free wheelin, rappin' kind of free associative poet guy that gives more or less a people's history of New York -- a very unorthodox way of giving a tour.
ADA: I was thinking about documentaries like Roger and Me that got out to the mainstream. It seems like documentary filmaking is this sort of elite genre of moviemaking that doesn't reach a wide audience.
LD: There was a panel discussion that included John Rushe, Albert Massels, and D.H. Pennebaker; and every chance he got he brought up Michael Moore because he despises the guy. He sees him not as a documentary filmaker at all but a petty entertainer. So here you've got guys that build their careers, and they are not very lucrative careers by the way, but they are well known in these circles. Documentary, or cinema verite if you will. I feel like Albert Masels -- he's old -- I feel like he's threatened by people like Michael Moore.
LT: Maybe because he's pushing boundaries, making it a little different. You always find people who are old school...like this is the definition of documentary -- how the genre should be.
LD: That was the point of that particular panel discussion; about defining it. I think their point is well taken because that's the whole point of direct cinema or cinema verite. Define truth; and he felt Michael Moore was a conniving entertainer rather than someone who is speaking the truth.
LT: I think that's weird, because what is truth? There is no absolute truth! No matter how you slice it, one always is coming from a certain perspective. I would have argued truth in cinema needs to be defined by the viewer.
LD: It ends up in the existential realm. You have someone like Jon Luc Goddard to define truth -- a film is true at 24 times a second. But here we have a serious panel of filmakers -- it was an experiment about truth and the idea was to keep objectivity out of it until -- and this is the key -- until you start editing. There is no way you can really be an objective editor; but the idea was to be as much as you could an objective viewer on the world through the camera.
ADA: So in terms of the Austin film scene, where is independent film headed? How does it compare to 10 years ago?
LD: Well, Slacker was like 10 years ago. I could count every filmaker in town on one hand. There are very few people -- even professional crew people I can count on both hands. So yeah, we are undergoing a renaissance, nothing less in this town, as well as other towns around. Independent film is breaking out everywhere. I think interest in documentaries here is greater that any town I've been in the whole country.
LT: We have the "Texas Documentary Tour."
LD: I think the "Texas Documentary Tour" sold out every night in Austin. You know you can't sell films out like that in New York.
LT: Does New York have a good film society?
LD: Yes, The Public Film Forum, the Anthology Film Archives, Collective for Living Cinema. These places have been around forever but there is so much going on there that you're not going to find lines around the block to see something that would show at the Texas Documentary Tour. See in Austin it used to be just music, no film. We had the Varsity Theater, Cinema Texas -- you know, that Louis Black started. We lost the Varsity Theater, Cinema Texas, now subsequently the Texas Union....
LT: And more currently, Cinema West!!
LD: Oohhh, Cinema West!
ADA: So, Lee -- besides pornos; what are some of your goals for the future as cinematographer?
LD: I guess my goal at the moment is to find a challenge. Either visually or just a good story. So if you know anyone out there that has a good script and has money...I talk to a lot of people that have great ideas and scripts but they can't get it together. I think the indie film scene is burning out slowly because it is fusing its way into commercial Hollywood. I believe they use the term independent as a euphemism for exploitation: crew working cheap. At the end of the day, what's going on? What kind of movies are these so-called independents? They're not that much different than Hollywood movies.
LT: How does that relate to unions? How is it possible to get unions to work cheap?
LD: They can't get unions to work cheap, but they are working on that. Now unions are working with producers to have "special deals" for independent films. You don't see it much around this part of the country because there is not much union presence. See, it comes from the top down. It's the demographers that have a negative impact. The evil science of finding out what people where will do. The psychological method of marketing. The studio execs rely on this and they do extensive testing and marketing research without regard to making a meaningful and worthwhile product.
LT: As director of photography, where do you come in? Do you work with the director on the screenplay or is it different with every relationship?
LD: It's different with every relationship. It is preferable as DP from my perspective to work with a director that knows cinematography. Some people easily slap the term auteur on there. Hollywood producers and studio execs overuse the term. It was originally used to describe some of the European filmakers like Francois Trauffot; a sole visionary. But in filmaking, a director that knows cinematography makes it more of his/her vision. Too many movies rely on the DP; especially a first time director and a DP that has done 30 or 40 movies. Studio exects like fresh young ideas because that's the audience they are going for. These directors often don't understand cinematography, so they get an old time DP to hold their hand through the picture.
ADA: So when you say "understanding cinematography," what do you mean?
LD: Basically blocking, which means setting up the camera, choosing what angles and lenses. Master shot, close up, over the shoulder, reaction shot. There are four or five shots standard to every movie. Directors rely on the DP to block and set the camera so many times. Every shot is different, but I think it is the job of the DP to interpret the director's vision or mood.
LT: So how was the director/cinematographer relationship between you and Linklater?
LD: Rick is not a really visual director, not real cinematic. But I understand the type of stories he is telling are not inherently cinematic. I like to stick with that, if that's what he wants. I don't go out of my way to make it look so-called beautiful when it is not called for. Rick understands lenses and camera movement and what motivates camera movement.
LT: What would be your ideal cinematic situation? What do you feel passionate about?
LD: I sometimes dream of doing an episodic road movie. Directing or shooting it. One a year for 10 years...more or less an expanded type of Slacker, but traveling the world. An episodic road movie...
LT: 'Screams PBS!
LD: 35 Up is something Mike Apted did. He goes back to the same group of kids he interviewed when they were seven, every seven years. It's a sociological, ethilogical perspective, but it 's very cinematic, too. That's the kind of thing that interests me.
Check out these movies by cinematographer Lee Daniel: Slacker, Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, and Suburbia.
Maybe by Jenna Colley
The alarm buzzes and she glances over to the night stand. She knows what it says -- 5:30am just like it has every morning for as long as she can remember. She's been awake for hours even though it doesn't make a damn bit of sense. When she isn't dreaming about burnt coffee and runny eggs, the goddam cling of the cash register and the smell of dirty pennies...she's livin' it.
She swings her thick legs off the side of her single bed and lets her head hang down just far enough to see the effects of time and hard work and loss. She notices the slight sag of her breasts and the chipped paint on her toenails -- "Vixen". The lady at the grocery store told her it was guaranteed to knock a man to his knees. "Sweetie just try it!" She did and it didn't. The last man that got down on his knees for her is long gone and it's better that way. She slips off her night gown and stands naked in front of the bathroom mirror, but not for too long. She reaches over to turn the shower on and watches her reflection fade as the steam rises and seeps deep into her throat through her nose...into her. She wonders if Liz Taylor ever feels like this but like most questions she just lets the answer go and moves on.
Christopher called last night form Santa Fe. He's doin' well and livin' fine and misses her sometimes, she can tell. God knows she raised him to be a good man in a crooked man's world and that makes her days a little easier.
She fiddles with the notion of lyin' down on the bathroom floor all day while the cool tiles caresses her skin but it's already 5:45 and she better get her tired ass in gear.
The water does what it can to beat out the tough spots and she's thankful. Sometimes the smell of her cheap Revlon shampoo and Dial soap just makes her want to throw-up. The same shit, she thinks, every morning. Her mind wanders back to the old apartment on Pilot Street when she and Michael first got married. He would take her to the grocery store and she would fill her baskets with all kinds of wonderful things...face masks and foot lotions and hot oil treatments. Goddam if she didn't fell like a queen! He would come home from work, tired and hungry and she'd be waitin' -- dressed fit to kill. They never went out much, but there's just somethin' about young love that makes you want to stay at home.
She was never restless then. She knew he would love her and take care of her and respect her 'till death they did part...and that was all it took. Her mind wanders back to that muggy August afternoon, and the bright yellow kitchen. She had just finished feeding Chris his lunch when the phone rang and her life changed.
She was staring at her baby boy rub something all over his face in his usual fashion when she heard the news and the first thing she thought, the very first thing she thought was no. No, sweet Jesus, no. She never could stand the color yellow after that.
She shuts off the shower and dries herself slowly. She gets angry now. It wasn't easy raising a baby and God knows she did it alone! At least she hopes he knows. She took the job at the diner not long after and it was 5:30am from then on.
She grabs a fresh pair of underwear out of the drawer and snaps on her bra. She dreads opening the closet and pulling out her faded pink uniform. Why do they always have to be pink? she wonders as yanks it off the hanger and wrenches it over her hips. She glides her hands over those same hips and winces with something like regret. Faces creep into her mind and she shivers slightly. Cowboys, construction workers, even a cop once. She always did appreciate a hard workin' man.Once she tried a lawyer but he was way too rough. Seems like the weaker they are, the meaner they act. Once she met a sweet ranch hand from Amarillo and he touched her so tenderly she cried until the sun came up.
But after Michael everything she gained never quite made up for what she lost and there was always Chris to think of. She never brought a man home while he was growin' up and she knew he loved her for it. There comes a point in a woman's life when she is a mother first or at least that's how it was with her. But Chris is gone and she gets lonely more now that she ever did.
Sure she's wondered over the years what her life would have been like if Michael hadn't fallen off that rig...if he had had a little more sleep the night before and if he had watched his step. Wondered if it was her fault for loving him too much; for being happy. But that was a long time ago and it isn't worth thinkin' about. A woman can drive herself damn near insane if she thinks about a crazy thing like that for too long. He's gone, she's not, and that's that. It's 6:00am and she's late. She grabs her keys and hustles to the door. She never even got a chance to turn the living room lights on...never got a chance to have her coffee or read the paper...never had a chance to grow old with her husband or kiss him good-bye, and never will. But life just plays out that way.
It's Sunday morning and the diner is probably already packed with people, chewing and slurping and slingin' their bullshit like they'll live forever.
She grips the doorknob and falters on the turn. Maybe she just won't go in today. Maybe she'll just go back to bed. Maybe she'll go to the store and blow her whole goddam paycheck on wonderful things, and maybe she'll go to church this afternoon and sit in the front where the music of the choir will lift her soul so high she can't even look down. Maybe...maybe.
Up All Night by Harold McMillan
I don't know how many of you noticed, but Austin Downtown Arts takes the month of July off. So, if you did look for us last month and thought we had gone the way of most of Austin's short-lived, non-mainstream (I hate to use the word "alternative") publications, rest assured, we're still here. We just need a little break in the summer.
At this point we remain a 10 issue per year publication -- June and July, December and January are combined issues. Keep reading us. And tell your business-owning friends to keep advertising with us. We like what we do and want to be here for a long time.
Just how hot is it?
Summer in Austin has always been hot. This, after all, is Central Texas. It's suppose to be hot. But this thing that's going on now is really amazing. It's hot everyday, all day, all night. So hot that even doing activities to cool off are just too much trouble. It's too hot to go swimming. It's too hot to get in the car to go to the movies or the library. It's too hot to take a nap and dream of being up in the mountains of New Mexico. It's hot!
You just gotta sit there in the air conditioning ( and I hope you got it) and be cool. Don't move around too much. Don't go outside. Just stay closed up inside and miss out on the natural world that surrounds us. After all, the great out-of-doors can be dangerous to your health.
As hot as it is, breaking temperature records and all, it's still hard for me to accept that it's some kind of strange occurrence going on here. Hasn't it always been hot in Austin in the summer? Once it gets to be 95 degrees, does it really matter if its five degrees hotter? These days it seems to matter. But that hasn't always been the case.
One of the things that I once liked about Austin, believe it or not, was being here in the summer. I've come to realize, during our recent heat wave, that I don't deal with the summer heat like I used to. Maybe it's just my imagination, but it seems like Austinites (perhaps this was only true in the olden days) at one time just got out there and had a good sweat. Summer heat or not, folks were always outside in the parks -- listening to and playing music, throwing the frisbee, swimming and tubing. And for those folks who had the time -- and there seemed to be a lot of us -- summer in Austin meant going to the lake several times a week. You know, tripping to the lake, just hanging out, reading, drinking, napping, smoking, swimming, boating, camping. That was part of what living in Austin was all about, finding the right spot on Lake Travis and forming a little party community for the summer.
My first regular swimming spot on Travis was down the cliffs behind Teck Cemetery, on RR 620. It was one of those places that had the "No Trespassing" signs, some barbed wire, and huge rocks placed in the road to keep you from going there. Of course, all of this meant that we had to park, grab the ice chest, blankets and inner tube, and hike a quarter-mile to get to the water. It was quite a hike down a steep hill, through the mesquite and cedar, over big limestone boulders, and finally you got to a really nice little cove. Oh, but once you got there...nice clean water, a jagged, rocky beach with big flat limestone rocks semi-submerged in the water, shade trees, about thirty yards out a little island to swim to, friendly folks just hanging out enjoying the water, nature.
It was "cool." A peace-love-dove atmosphere where everyone took their clothes off, tolerated each other's weirdness, shared their beer and smokes, and felt like we were among the chosen few who knew about this great secret place for talking to God, swimming nekked, and only rarely getting hassled by the lake police (or owners of the property).
It was hot at Lake Travis in 1980, too. But we didn't notice so much. We thought we were so cool.
Well, you know what happened next, right? As it turned out, we were not the only ones who knew about Teck Cemetery. It got more crowded, it got trashed. It got snatched up for development and the fence got very tall and scary looking. We had to find a new swimming hole.
Now, I could repeat variations of this story for a whole handful of other nice secluded spots on Lake Travis. The same basic story works for Windy Point, Marshall Ford, Hippy Hollow, and a bunch of others that I don't know about. It wasn't always private development that took these little treasures away. Unruly partiers gawking at skinny dippers, drunks who trashed the beaches, and the county's rules, admission fees, and parking lots with curfews and gates all contributed to the disappearance of some of the nicest mostly-natural swimming spots on the lake.
Now, I realize that part of what I am doing here is just some personal reminiscing of the old days in Austin. And this is not really about the weather as much as it is about how some things change, and others stay very much the same. There is still an underground scene of "lake snakes," I'm sure, who don't worry about the heat wave as much as they worry about the heat from the cops. There are still thousands of Austinites who, like me in 1980, don't have kids or straight jobs, don't have any problem hanging at the lake three days a week, and don't understand why folks are making such a big deal of it being hot in the summer in Central Texas.
The thing I'm really thinking about is that, just like I'll never be 20-something again, Lake Travis will never again be as beautiful and clean as it was in 1980. Austin will never again be the hip, big college town it was 15 years ago. But you know what, Lake Travis nor Austin proper never will again be as clean and beautiful and cozy as they are right now. That's the part that stays the same, the fact that our Little City is gone forever. This is just another coming of age story.
This is not a lament about the hot weather or the passing of the old days. What I'm really thinking about is how important it is for us, at least to some extent, to live in the moment. Those of us who are not 25 any more probably don't want to go back there. But you guys who are 25, please remember: this is your only shot at it.
It's damn hot out there? So what. Do something...Sweat. If you've found your own Teck Cemetery swimming hole, get on out there, take your clothes off and jump in.
Believe me, 15 years from now, it won't be there for you.
Verities by Paul Klemperer
Much has been written and said lately on the national and local resurgence of swing music. As in most every cultural trend, there are pro and con factions. As an armchair revolutionary in training, it seems only appropriate to come down firmly in the middle, casting some oily sociological analysis on the troubled cultural waters.
First, while the trend is generally labelled as swing, it is only partly about the music. The other main components are the dance steps and the fashion (clothes, hair, even cars for the truly devoted). Let's examine each component on its own merits.
American preoccupation with the fashion of past eras has become an identifiable national trait. While some scholars argue that it is cyclical, based on a 20-year gap (in the 1970s we fixated on '50s fashion; in the '80s it was bell-bottoms and peace signs; in the '90s it's disco culture), this seems a bit simplistic. Clearly each decade has its own unique developments in fashion, as well as the nostalgic reinterpretation of previous decades. The common thread of fashion nostalgia is the need to act out fantasy using the past as a safe vehicle. It's like Halloween but not as intense.
At this point in the analysis, some social critics point out that it tends to be white America, more than any other ethnic group, which leads the fashion charge into the past. One explanation is that minority sub-cultures are struggling to assert their identities and have little stake in glorifying past decades when their living conditions were even worse. To the extent that they do reinterpret the past, it is with the goal of strengthening their resolve, recognizing past heroes and unsung pioneers in the struggle for a better life.
But fantasy is not necessarily a decadent thing. People need it; otherwise they wouldn't have it. It only becomes decadent, in my humble opinion, when it's separated and protected from social reality. Let's not be defensive about fantasy; let's celebrate it! You want to dress up in a double-breasted suit, two-tone wingtips and a fat tie, grow a pencil mustache, drown your hair in pomade? Go to it, I say.
The real problem with fashion is the consumer culture which controls it. Conservative as a result of market pressures, consumer culture tends to strip away the controversial, intellectually challenging parts of history, in favor of bite-sized morsels of the past. But what fun is that? What makes history interesting is the fact that in spite of all their emotional frailties and misguided beliefs, people (of all races) struggled to make things better, both for themselves and others. In the process they left to future generations hope for a better life, as well as some very cool clothes.
Which brings us to dance. Swing dancing is fun. It brings people together, and gives them a great way to express themselves, to respond to the music being played, and to look good in those cool vintage clothes. But like fashion, dance is more than a recreational diversion. The dance steps people learn today were conceived and refined over time, going back to the very beginnings of jazz. Scholars of dance history have traced a connection between swing dance steps and traditional African dances. This should be no great surprise. The music of swing has African roots, and the music and dance are part of the same cultural trajectory.
Here again some social critics say that the swing trend follows the same pattern of so many cultural trends in white America: a tradition that originates in a non-white culture is appropriated by white America, stripped of its cultural meaning, and reduced to just another recreational commodity of consumer culture. To which we might reply: "I just want to be loved. Is that so wrong?"
My point is that swing dance, like swing fashion, is a way to immerse oneself in fantasy, and that's a good thing. It doesn't have to be an isolated recreational thing. Rather it can open the door to a greater understanding of history, of what was really going on when these dances originated. As an example, some of my friends who are very much into the Austin swing scene are starting to explore the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and '30s, placing dances like the Jitterbug and Lindy Hop in their cultural context.
Which brings us to the music. Swing is a particular style of jazz, which had its heyday in the 1930s and '40s. Like all components of American culture, it reflects the aspirations, creativity, and contradictions of its proponents. There were sub-genres: white swing, black swing, Kansas City swing, New York society swing (strictly upper crust), female swing orchestras, to name just a few. Some of the music was great, some pretty awful. The great stuff is ours to rediscover, appreciate and expand upon. As always, the vitality of the music resides in the efforts of its players to discover and perfect new sounds.
Just as swing dancers constantly strive to add to their repertoire of moves, refining them over time, jazz musicians do the same with their music. It is a journey of discovery. A fun journey, but not a trivial, merely recreational one. If we limit ourelves to a consumer culture mentality, we miss out on how much more there is to swing music and dance.
Discovering the vitality and depth of this part of our cultural heritage can inspire us to create more beautiful things in all parts of our lives. It's not just nostalgia; it's a recognition of the creative genius of past generations. They took something from their fantasies and made it real, then passed it on to us. Let's make it real; that's where the good stuff is.
Viva Teatro by Sandra Beckmeier
"Teatro, may I help you?" says Artistic Director Rodney Garza as I walked into the tiny office he shares with Ellos Gallery. I mistakenly thought he was talking to me. The phone call ended and our interview began. Leaning on critical points, and dodging leading questions, Garza gave me insight into Austin's only bilingual theater company, Teatro Humanidad Cansada.
As I waited for our interview playing with my tape recorder, Garza flipped through pages of a script, challenging the notion for what best suits the company's overall vision for the stage. THC is quickly becoming known for perseverance and sincerity, taking a serious stab with hilarious references in successful efforts to shatter Latino stereotypes. The Revenge of the Latino Comedy Project is the company's precursor to Latinos Anonymous, a rocket-fueled production and THC's first endeavor working with a large venue.
Garza founded Teatro Humanidad Cansada in 1993 to participate in one of the FronteraFest experiments at Hyde Park Theater. It was a one act play, "on shoestrings," as Garza recalled, and in the fall of 1994 enough money was pulled together to produce I Don't Have To Show You No Stinking Badges. The play was written by Luis Valdez, who also authored Zoot Suit, and it put the company on the map and under the wing of city sponsorship. "My original intention was to produce Zoot Suit, but they didn't have the rights available at that time," Garza said. Later that year brought the success of two productions, Operation Peace On Earth, and the Lakota Creation Story.
In 1995 a trend began when Garza produced the roller-coaster comedy Petra's Pecado. Made in Albuquerque and San Francisco and based upon a small town character about to lose her tortilleria (factory) to the IRS. The character makes a last ditch effort to help out her workers by calling in free cable for a month, while ending up being paid a miraculous visit by the Virgin de Guadalupe after perusing the playboy channel and asking for penance for observing fornication.
"There aren't too many bilingual theater companies geared toward Latinos who are creatively linked to San Francisco, Houston, and San Antonio," Garza said. "Some of the people in other cities have been around since the '70s, and since they're still around that has kept us connected, not only land wise, region wise, but also time wise. Now the younger generation is getting a hand on things and moving forward."
"That is part of my mission to establish us as a nationally recognized company. At this point we haven't done much touring, but I have met people across the way, so those possibilities are open. After we close Latinos Anonymous I'm taking off to Seattle for a residency which will connect us to the Centre de la Raza, which has been around for 25 years, and is the Smithsonian for certain kinds of people," Garza stated. "One of our goals is to get our name out there. Right now I'm talking to Luisa Leschin, from Los Angeles and one of the writers for Latins Anonymous. So now it's like let's call L.A., New York, and where things have sprung up pretty quickly here in Texas, in part because cast members have relatives coming up from regions that are Hispanic-populated. People have to come up here because there isn't this kind of stuff down there."
Latinos Anonymous opens August 7 at the Paramount Theater and runs through the 9th. It is the last planned production of the season, but keep a lookout for Basement Refugees, scheduled to open early November. "We're waiting on another script from that author, who wants us to produce this other script. So we'll see what happens," Garza explained. "From there we'll have three or four productions which will carry us into the spring, some of which are certain and some we're still contracting."