The frighteningly swift end of Traditional Culture

It's hard for me to admit it, but in my relatively short life in music I have witnessed the demise of a traditional art here in Texas, Puro Conjunto better known as Tex-Mex music. It's a long sad story that I will relate here someday, but suffice it to say you've probably seen and heard the last of the traditional San Antonio style Mexican American dance band in it's native environment. It sure will live on I'm sure on festival stages here and there, but only as a faint echo of a once vibrant culture. Texas Bohemian and Czech music is on it's knees for years and doesn't look too well, and Brian Marshall has completely shuttered his Polish dance band for simple lack of interest in his own community.

Then I read this Time article on Polka music and it's current status. My folks used to travel from our home in Northern Oklahoma to polka halls in Kansas and Nebraska, and I grew up in a house where Square Dance and Polka music were family activities. It explains a lot about my musical career since. I passed the Times link around to my local Polka people and they shared with me their perspectives.

From Brian Marshall:
"it's happening everywhere...I played in Eunice, LA last Saturday at the The Liberty Theater (with a Cajun band)...a well known gathering place....played to a crowd of about 90 people.

I believe it's just a cycle...there will always be a desire for the traditional styles....but maybe never as prominent as it once was."

And from Jeff Brosch, drummer for Mark Halata & Texavia and son of legendary Texas Czech band leader Jimmy Brosch:

"Interesting article. The decline of Polka is not news to me. I've watched decline for the past 20 years. It started in the late 70's actually. Of coarse I can only base this from playing with my dad. I did get to witness Polka it in it's hey day however. Large crowds, Etc. But even my dad wanted to play something more progressive like country music.
He always found he could draw a bigger crowd if you played everything, not just Polka.

Did I mention? I think Polka is really a blue collar love affair.

I've never met a millionaire that wanted to hire or sponsor a Polka band.
But if you mention a name brand artist then they're all over it. The sky is the limit for payment.

Playing Polka took me to many Czech wedding parties. I was NEVER over paid. Often negotiating downward to play the wedding and stay booked up. The caterer was making $5000 and the band made $500. Make sense?

The next generations of Czechs are more educated, more employed, more successful, therefore more removed from the immigration process of past years. Not really embracing there heritage. So... the culture is simply a VERY watered down version of past generations.

I can't every see this changing again in my lifetime."

Sadly, nor can I.

Insert YOUR culture here and pause for a moment. What do we lose when we let go of an unbroken chain like this? Or do we simply get the culture we deserve?


KGOU and the trick of memory

Found this in my email in box today:

Hello, fellow KGOU alumni: In January, KGOU is celebrating its new studios and the 25th anniversary of becoming a public radio station. You and any significant others are invited to a reunion! When: Saturday, January 19, 2008 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. (Come and go) Where: KGOU’s new studios, Copeland Hall, Room 313, on the OU campus What: Free pizza and salad buffet There’s a place on our website to leave contact info, RSVP, take virtual tours of the old and new facilities, and share your memories: http://www.kgou.org/reunion.php I know some of you date back to the pre-public radio days (me, too!). Come swap stories and see what has become of KGOU! Laura Knoll Membership Director/Webkeeper KGOU

Here's my RSVP:

Hello Laura,

Though charmed as I am to be included, and genuinely surprised that you found me, I reckon you're not familiar with my tenure there at KGOU as host of "Roots, Rock, Reggae." Nor I guess are you aware with the circumstances of my swift dismissal there and acrimonious departure which would preclude my wanting to be feel even a tad positive, much less nostalgic about a reunion.
I am however cheered by the notion that the guy who gleefully fired me dropped dead soon after, so no chance running into him again any day soon. At least, I hope. Regardless, all the best and congratulations on the milestone, Mark

Oh dear, there are soooo many stories I could tell you about hosting alternative radio is a two-horse Midwestern college town. A lot of my musical life from 1981 up until they kicked me out in 1983 was wrapped up in co-hosting a weekly, 3 hour heavy manners Jamaican Reggae radio show. Back before the Wal-Mart like NPR uniformity was brought on, just like here in Austin today and everywhere everywhere else, there were a handful of pretty damn well programmed Alternative Radio shows in KGOU.

That is, until John Mooneyham played FEAR's "Fuck Christmas" one lovely Christmas Eve. I was actually there in the control room when a boozed up University booster, dragging along his equally inebriated trophy wife, stormed the station hurling epithets and then actually swing punches at the hapless DJ, while myself and a few other local punks mocked and laughed at them gleefully. In the aftermath, we were all one by one singled out and cashiered in the fallout, and when they finally succumbed to the NPR juggernaut, I lost my paying gig there as a Classical announcer, simply by dint of association.

Truth is, I was in that control room quite a bit, sampling the newest releases from the library in the production studio while John, or Kurt on "Fear Of Music" or some other local freak was playing the latest Bauhaus 12 inch dance mix at 2am. For me, it was a finishing school for the radio end of the music business and a genuine education. More than I ever got in the RTF department there I assure you.

It would be years later before I got a chance at the radio again, this time at KUT. But alas, nearly the same series of events occurred here as well, and no longer will you hear my programming on the radio. Trust me when I say I'm not too sad about it however, as anyone can see it's essentially a dying, if not already dead, medium.


Why my hometown is cooler that yours, continued..

OK, let's assume your done with the turkey leftovers like we are here at Casa Hasta no Vista. While everybody else seems to head for the malls, we sleep late, crawl into our PJs and head up Lamar Blvd. to Fuego's.

It's kinda tricky to get to as they are in a terrible location, accessible only from the south bound access road where Hwy 183 meets Lamar. But people, it's well worth the hassle. The menu is California style Mexican which is quite a bit different than the manteca based Tex-Mex we have around here mostly. Pictured is my favorite, the Carne Asada Fries, which are just what is says it is. They have possibly the finest salsa verde in town, though Taqueria Arandas #3 on Burnet Rd. may still hold that title.

It's a little Mom and Pop operation dedicated to the slow food experience of fresh ingredients prepared to order. The experiences we've had there routinely rival the finest gourmet restaurants. Like many small independent businesses, they're struggling to stay open, but folks seem to be catching up with the place. Do your self a favor and check it out. The Cheese Enchilada plate, the Shrimp Scamp and the entire breakfast menu (Lemon Ricotta Pancakes!) all get high marks in our household. Call ahead as they are closed at some mighty odd times. (512) 524-1164


At long last...

Finally, a pop culture term for these snot nosed punks I have to contend with.

Anybody see 60 Minutes tonight? Boy was I happy to see that I'm not the only one who thinks this latest batch of kids coming up is entirely sheltered, over pampered and weak of character. Personally, I thought it was only in the performing arts field where I live and work. But it seems this "me, me, I deserve whatever I want because I'm special" spoon-fed, Mr. Rodgers generation is genuinely pathetic right across the board. (In Austin they tend to gather most regularly on a stage at a overpriced BBQ joint downtown called Lamberts if you feel like checking out such a geek show.)

To be clear, it's not their fault really, it's their idiot parents who thought Hawk a fine first name and that "little Billy just doesn't thrive in a structured environment, so we've worked to create a comforting place where he can find his true nature free of the strictures of traditional society" kinda horse shit I see everyday in my day job. Methinks the white slave trade will soon enough be filled to the brim when these dubiously enfranchised and fully empowered knuckleheads hit the cold reality that the rest of the world has to wake up to every day. ("Hostel, the Series: this time it's for real...")

George Carlin hipped me to this sad trend in 1999 when he riffed on an HBO special called "You Are All Diseased" about "these kids today, they're being raised fruity and soft." (Look, you read this rant and tell me it doesn't ring a bell with you.) Now they have a word for these folks, they're called the
Millennial Generation, and boy do I really dislike the prospect of having to live in a culture where they'll be in charge. Today these dolts think the Weary Boys are Bluegrass and the Moonhangers are mistaken for Country. Amazing as the prospect is, it really could get much worse.

Spare the rod and then answer to these rudderless people of no manner. Argh! I'm so pissed I cannot even write about it without my head exploding!!! Here, read this stuff and pray for me:

Whassup? A Glimpse Into the Attitudes and Beliefs of the Millennial Generation
What ever happened to "show up on time or you're fired."

Here's what:
Managing Millennials In other words, their parents screwed up and now it's your job to tell them how to behave like adults. Can you believe this shit?

Generation X and The Millennials: What You Need to Know About Mentoring the New Generations ("mentoring?" How about get a job, hippie!!)

Come to think of it, here's a generation that could truly benefit from a National Draft. And not like our old ones where you could buy your way out of it, or get drummed out for "emotional" problems (even our Military is reduced to molly coddling it seems.)
Lord know we'll be making War somewhere in the world for years to come, generations I'll bet.

A few weeks dodging IED's in the Sunni Triangle and I'm sure we'll all be singing a different tune.


Gary Primich Followup

The funniest thing happened last month when I posted a deeply personal note about the untimely passing of my old running buddy and musical compatriot Gary Primich. Not funny "ha, ha," but funny really, really sad.

As if you hadn't noticed, this here "blog" is just for me, my family and anyone else stupid enough to read it. I never imagined that anyone else would turn to it as a news source. Well imagine my shock and surprise to receive at least a dozen of the most hateful and vitriolic comments from anonymous posters using the death of my friend to make vicious personal attacks on me. It's a blog, fer chistsakes, read the description in the left column. Of particular issue to many these gutless cowards was my noting that it was evidently Gary's addiction that killed him. I really should have saved all of them so you could all see just how churlish and mean spirited these missives were, but ultimately I felt no need to infect that sort of negativity into Gary's memorial, a guy who from what I recall never said a bad word about anybody. At least not in my presence.

True enough, I had no possible way of knowing what killed my buddy, but I have had a lot of junkie friends and the one's who died too soon, they died of junk. There's no way to sugar coat it, or speak in codified language; the path of heroin is death. Period. Maybe today, maybe years from now. Just like everybody dies eventually, though most folks try to deny it evidently, junkies (and fat people like myself) die much, much quicker. It's tragic and sad, but as the 400 lb comedian said "it ain't exactly unexpected."

In my opinion to turn your gaze away from this simple truth, to sweep it under your rug, is to be in fact an enabler. Made all the more ignoble in postmortem. "The truth," as my old man was fond of saying, "only hurts a liar."

My old friend Danny Barnes was on all of those Steve James sessions with Gary and me. He too has had his own hard fought battles with substance abuse over the years and on the occasion of hearing of Gary's passing he shared with me these thoughts on the gruesome nature of addiction. I think they bear repeating.

He said "i been thinking about your pal gary and sobriety and the whole thing. you know, alcoholism, drug addiction is a progressive disease. in other words, even if you are not drinking at the moment, the disease gets worse and if you start up again, things get real bad and real dark and real fucked up real quick.

in any AA group of size, once you get in there and get to know everyone, you lose one or two folks a year to the shark of the disease. without fail. maybe more. some guy will quit coming to meetings and the next thing you know he blows his brains out in a drunken rage. or does something really weird and goes to the pen. if a person with the disease doesn't get the program, that's his other options.

i had heard that GP was going to meetings and had put together some sober time. i'm sorry he didn't make it. lots of folks don't make it. he probably did experience some sobriety and maybe had some light in his life. but he must have turned his back on that and went back to the dark place. we've all done that. sometimes it kills us. one of the things that makes sobriety really hard is that you can get fucked up once in a while and it won't get you, but eventually, it does get you. you just don't know when. so better to just stay sober and go to meetings and work the steps and read the book."

Pretty damn wise words if you ask me.

Now to business. An open letter to all you folks who felt the need to drop me a line, hike yourself up on my friend's corpse and use my personal expression of love for him and his life as a platform to tear me down:

I wish you love. I wish you a ray of sunlight that illuminates what must be a very dank place that you find yourself in to spew such bile and hatred. I hope that in your darkest monets, you will hear the sound of Gary's harp and that you will use the purity of his love and honesty as a key to unlock your evidently diseased and withered soul to open to the spiritual commonality of all beings. I hope that you will use the message of the end of his life to inform the rest of yours.

Either that, or you can go fuck yourself. Whichever works for you.

Great, now that's out of the way I'd like to share with you a note a got from Gary's sister. She's referring to the memorial gathering where a lot of Gary's musico pals gathered to celebrate his life, share stories and play his tunes. (Most did by playing his tunes way too loud and playing the harp poorly, effectively putting into sharp focus just how much better he was than anyone else. He would have loved the irony.) It was a generally positive and uplifting event all told, which I hope seals Gary's spirit in our collective memory. I did an acoustic tune with Steve, when my emotions got the better of me and I pulled the bridge clean off my bass when I was playing, wrecking the bass entirely. I wandered around the stage while Steve kept playing looking for some way to rescue the tune, when I saw the drum sticks out on the house trap kit. To save face I sat down and played out the tune on the drums. I had to split so I could wrap up the Rob Curto session I was producing, so I didn't get a chance to talk to any of Gary's kin.

The next day, I got this from Gary's sister:

(The family has asked me not to publish any personal communications. Suffice it to say, I feel quite vidicated.)

And I promised myself I wasn't gonna cry.

And don't forget: Change your oil every 3000 miles.


Fat Man with small Ukulele

Here's a glimpse of my life at my day job, Violins, Etc. I'm nominally in charge of the basses and the "Etc." so the boss decided to have a TV ad that showed what we had in stock presently. (Eagle eyed viewers will note uke master Pops Bayless on mandolin and charango, but some other dude on uke, go figure....)