Saturday, January 28, 2006

"I Saw" No. 114

The following took place at Rick's (home of the Tuesday half-price burgers) at 6:42pm.

A petite woman, face draped by a hoodie, walks into the open-style, small tavern, alone, wearing sneakers, jeans, and a snug, hip-length white shirt. She heads straight back to the restroom as three female bartenders gather and whisper. Hoodie woman then types into a Sidekick as she stops before going into the restroom. Minutes later, she comes out, head down, and leaves.

Half the bar thought the staff was talking about some person who just came in to use the restroom without asking. The other half knows it was Paris Hilton.

Three covers I heard and thought, "I like that"

"Thunder Road" (Bruce Springsteen) - Tortoise and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy off The Brave and The Bold (always loved the line 'You ain't a beauty/But, hey, you're alright/Oh, and that's alright with me')

"The Best of All Possible Worlds" (Kris Kristofferson) - Eddie Spaghetti off The Sauce

"Ride Me Down Easy" (Billy Joe Shaver) - Bruce Robison and Kelly Willis off Compadre


**Bonus Non-Cover

"Waco Moon" - Todd Snider

This song appears on same album as "Ride Me Down Easy." Billy Joe Shaver's longtime guitarist, Eddy, was also his son. Eddy overdosed on New Year's Eve 2000. This song's about him, the overdose, and it ends with a few poignant lines from Shaver's "I'm Just An Old Lump Of Coal (But I'm Gonna Be A Diamond Someday)."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

My two cents ...

James Frey wrote great fiction.

It didn't sell.

Years passed.

Someone offered to buy it as truth.

It sold.

James Frey wrote great fiction.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Tales From a Great Indoorsman

J.S. Bankston returns from San Antonio with a post.


Nyssa, James's wife, was given two paid days off as a Christmas present from her bosses, so she decided she'd spend December 28th going to San Antonio with me and James.

On the way south down I-35, they wanted to look at and price steel shipping containers, but were unable to find any. These are the big boxcar-like structures used to store things that are shipped on freighters and such-like. J&N want to buy one to put out on their ranch to handle their storage overflow. If that proves successful, they may encourage such storage-challenged friends as me to put storage containers out there too.

Our first stop in SA was the McNay Art Institute, which is housed in the 1920s Spanish-style mansion of the late socialite Marion Koogler McNay. The structure has always been one of my model dream houses. It looks like something a silent movie star would've built. Arranged around a huge courtyard, it has all sorts of cool spaces, a tower, galleries and balconies, tilework, and so forth. It was designed by Atlee and Robert Ayres, architects I mentioned in a recent blog.

We went through a few galleries containing Mrs. McNay's Monets, Renoirs, Van Goghs, etc. (what the hell happened to those Picasso collages that used to be there?), then went into the special exhibition halls to see what we'd specifically come for: a traveling show of Pre-Raphaelite art—paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, engravings, jewelry, furniture, and much more, even a copy of William Morris's “Kelmscott” edition of “The Canterbury Tales.” Everything there was exquisite. Twenty years ago I decided if I ever got rich I'd collect Pre-Raphaelite art, but I never got rich, and the market blew wide open. I hear Andrew Lloyd-Webber has the world's foremost collection of Pre-Raphaelite art now.

I never thought of the McNay as a large museum, but it took us two hours to get through the regular collections and special exhibits, by which time we were very hungry. We went to Earl Abel's, the legendary 72-year-old eatery that I recently learned is soon to be bulldozed to make way for a fucking condo tower. My family and I used to eat there when I was a child, after visits to the zoo, the Witte Museum, or Playland amusement park. I rediscovered the place in adulthood, and since I have a neurotic level of nostalgia for the past that, as I've said before, would put Charles Foster Kane to shame, I was gutted by the news the restaurant was closing.

I will admit that the place is Hell's Waiting Room to some extent, due to the advanced age of most of the patrons, but the food is delicious, the portions are large, the service is excellent, and the building is one of the finest examples of “Googie” architecture in Texas (though the interior is now more 1960s than 1950s).

We waited about 45 minutes in the crowded foyer, chatting with other customers. I knew the place was closing soon, but these others told me December 31st is the last day. We had great people-watching that hour, including a mob of old ladies from a “red hat club.”

Although I wasn't in the mood for fried chicken, I knew the restaurant was famous for its chicken. When Colonel Harland Sanders first started up KFC, he went around to established restaurants around the country and convinced the owners, Earl Abel among them, to sell chicken made to his recipe. Later Earl came up with his own recipe.

I ordered two breasts, and damned if that was not the best chicken I ever ate, lacking all the bitter sections or gristle or other crap that usually gets in the way when one eats chicken. J&N were so hungry they wanted an appetizer, and decided to share a slice of chocolate icebox pie before they got their main course. The waitress thought this a bit odd, and I admitted, “Well, the part of the country I'm from we have dessert after we eat, so I'll probably get pie later.” then turning to James I said, “Now I realize I'm not a big believer in delaying gratification, but there are limits.” James responded to this by feigning masturbation under the table.

But sadly, the chicken and taters and dinner salad filled me up so much I had no room for dessert. James said his happiest memory of Earl Abel's (I'd taken him there before) would be the time he ate his dessert first. I took a bunch of pictures, tipped the waitress 33% for old time's sake, thanked the cashier for all the good times, and left heartfelt encomiums in the guest book they had set up for the restaurant's final weeks.

From there we went to the SA Central Library, where we caught the last hour of the daily book sale. This is a staple of the visits J&N and I make to SA, but one of the strange attractions of the sale, apart from the books, are two of the volunteers who work there, an old married couple who argue bitterly with one another in front of the customers and patrons. After that circus I wandered the building, taking photos and re-taking others that I took last spring and that the fuck-wits at the camera store accidentally erased.

The library is one of the most amazing contemporary structures I've ever been in, and the handling of light, color, space, and volume is such that no one entering the building can fail to be infused with joy. From there we headed downtown, intent on seeing the traveling exhibition, “St. Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes,” at the Convention Center. What none of realized, though, was that the nearby Alamodome was hosting a major basketball game between some colleges from Michigan and Nebraska. I have never before seen and am unlikely to ever see again so many white-bread, honkey mother-fuckers in downtown San Antonio, all dressed in either red or blue, like the Crips and Bloods of the Heartland, whooping, cheering, making team-related noises, and heading east in endless clottings.

Traffic was a bitch, but we actually found a parking place pretty quickly. J&N and I got a little caught up in the atmosphere, and I led them in a few verses of “It's Peanut Butter Jelly Time!”

The exhibition was fascinating, with artifacts from Roman times, charts, maps, drawings, sculptures, mosaics, documents, well-preserved vestments, dazzling chalices and other liturgical materials, the first map ever drawn of Australia, a full-scale replica of the tomb of St. Peter, located in a mock-up of the Vatican catacombs, and another mock-up of the Sistine Chapel as it looked when Michaelangelo was painting it, complete with scaffolds and tarps.

But oddly enough, I was most interested in the items from the last 200 years. There was newsreel footage of my favorite Pope, Pius XII. One of the things about Pius I like is that during his reign a lot of post-cards and photos were produced with composite images of him superimposed alongside St. Peter's, but at least twice as tall as the dome. These photos make him look like a Papal Godzilla getting ready to stomp Vatican City into pieces.

They had the tiny slippers of John XXIII (Odd, since he looked like such a stout guy). There was a gold hammer used in the past to tap on the bed-ridden Pope's skull to ascertain if he was dead or alive, and then to crush his Papal ring if it was the former. There was an elaborate prie-dieux of inlaid wood that had belonged to Leo XIII, that I immediately recognized from an antique post-card I have of Leo's bedroom.

This show was put together in John Paul II's lifetime, and included many items pertaining to him. I was struck by how small his vestments were—he also seemed like such a large man—especially in his earlier years. The last exhibit you'd see before you left was a cast of his hand in bronze, which visitors were encouraged to touch and examine. Again, his hand was quite small.

I was struck most by a glass-and-tin Communion set that had been made by prisoners in a World War II prisoner of war camp, and by the bent pastoral cross John Paul always carried in public, especially on his foreign trips. It was, as James pointed out, much more powerful an item than the other gaudy, bejewelled things in the show, by virtue of its simplicity, if nothing else.

After this I went to prowl the gift shop and buy a show catalogue. They had a fairly predictable selection of merchandise: posters, coffee mugs, books by John Paul II, rosaries, crucifixes, and holy cards, and a stack of lavishly-illustrated Bibles---Protestant Bibles, that lacked the seven books that are part of every Catholic Bible. We took only about 90 minutes to see the Papal exhibition, so we had plenty of time to kill. The hoop fans were still mobbing the streets; we fought through them trying to get to St. Joseph's Church—we were going to photograph the statues and stained glass, but the door was locked. Nyssa suggested the Alamo.

We walked the block over to Alamo Plaza, and I took them through the Menger Hotel, since they'd heard me talk about it a lot, but had never been in there. They picked up a major “Shining”/ “Overlook Hotel” vibe there, and said they could easily imagine a younger version of me riding a Big Wheel through the empty hallways.

After that we went back out into the Plaza. Night had fallen, and several Hispanic families were playing football in front of the Alamo under the watchful eyes of a State Trooper. (There's a lesson to be drawn from that image, but I'm too lazy to think what it could be.) We walked down several downtown streets, and took more pictures. Nyssa suggested we go look at the Riverwalk, but James didn't want to, though we did get some great shot of the Riverwalk Christmas lights from a street-level bridge.

We had dinner at Schillo's German deli, but I was unable to finish. For most of this year I've only been eating one meal a day, even though that's not reduced my weight any. We went back to the car, and stopped by Half-Price Books, where at last-call I was approached by a chummy Japanese gentleman who complained that when he goes shopping at a bookstore he loses all track of time—he looks up and finds the sun has gone down and they're closing up, but that when he shops with his wife time drags one and on and on.

We went back to Earl Abel's on our way out of town. We didn't go inside—we just took pictures of the neon-lit exterior. Once I got home I was less than impressed with the night shots I'd gotten. The only decent ones I took were those I'd used a timer on. James just showed me how to do that today, and I'm still getting the hang of it. The other night photos looked fuzzy.

I pondered running across the street to get some full-length shots with my tripod. James said if I didn't do it tonight I'd never get another chance. So I went across, and while I was snapping away, a car slowed down as it made a right turn, and the people inside waved and cheered at me for getting a permanent chronicle of the old landmark before it's torn down.

James and Nyssa and I had just driven into the Austin city limits when we passed a self-storage place, marked by a tall electronic sign with red lights that sent ads, messages, and slogans in a crawl from right to left. I shouted, “What the hell was that?! That self-storage place just flashed a message that said, 'Live the Dream!' What the hell does that mean?” James and Nyssa began howling and crying and James managed to spit out, “Yeah, live the dream. Get divorced by your wife, and have to move into some shitty apartment and put all your stuff in a tiny storage facility that costs three times what it's worth a month!” Nyssa, fortunately, recovered quickly enough to get one more look at the sign before it passed out of view: “Uh, guys? Apparently, the 'Live the Dream' is just something wishing luck to UT in the Rose Bowl.”

[Earl Abel's is closing its doors forever at 1am on March 15th. I'm debating whether I should go down there for that.]

**Lead photo by James Delaney; additional photos by J.S. Bankston

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


This was sent in by Anonymous (aka ILovedMary-KateAndAshleyBeforeAnyOfYou).

I was at a small bar attached to a trendy restaurant near downtown Houston on Friday night. It was around midnight and the after-dinner crowd had thinned, leaving only a dozen or so people in the bar. I ordered a Chimay and while waiting for my drink noticed a joyously elfin man posing for pictures with various camera phone-toting patrons. A tallish blonde leaned on the bar near him and a tall guy with long dark hair hovered nearby. My beer arrived and I asked the bartender who the apparent celeb was and was delighted to learn that it was Lars Ulrich, legendary drummer/leader of Metallica. I chatted with my companions and casually watched Lars as he generously talked to his fans and enjoyed the company of his friends. Quite amazingly, whenever he posed for a picture, he assumed a rock-and-roll posture, complete with contorted face, tongue out and appropriate hand gestures -- the consummate entertainer.

Not content to gawk, I decided that I wanted a bit of interaction with Mr. Ulrich. Not being one to particularly value autographs or photos, I decided to go for a shared chuckle. Armed with my Windows Mobile SmartPhone, I quickly Googled Lars and was able to pull up a picture of the heavy metal icon backstage somewhere, standing nude with some other rockers. I figured a good way to get some face time would be to show him the photo. When the blonde went to the restroom, I moved in.

I opened with, "Hey, is this you standing nekked backstage?"
"Let me see that,"
he responded, followed with, "That's a riot. Where'd you get that?"
"Just found it on my phone; pretty funny, eh?"
I countered.
"You know who that guy is next to me, right?" he queried.
"It's too small on here, I can't really tell," I lied, even if it was an 8"x10" portrait, I doubt my heavy metal knowledge would have revealed much.
"It's the singer for Iron Maiden. That guy's a trip," he answered.
"Ha, pretty cool. You guys are crazy," I replied.

We shared a bit more small talk until I saw the blonde approaching. We shook hands and bid each other goodnight.

Before leaving the bar, I learned who the blonde was. Turns out, it was Connie Nielsen, the only female cast-member of The Gladiator.

I wasn't able to find a naked picture of her on my phone, though.

Monday, January 23, 2006

No. 18: Name that celebrity

submitted by tj1972

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Jingle this

Lenny Kravitz recorded a song (ad) for Absolut. Jack White recorded a song (ad) for Coke.

Rather than hear my words on this, here are their words.

Lenny Kravitz on the Absolut ad:
" [I was] inspired by the brand's core values of clarity, simplicity and perfection. There's nothing more simple, clear or perfect than the essence of true love ... Once I felt that, the track just came." - press release

Jack White on the Coke ad:
"I've written a song and I wrote it really quickly. It's an interesting commercial that's been made. I certainly wouldn't want a song that I'd already written to be used on a commercial. That seems strange. [But] to be asked to write something particular along one theme of love in a worldwide form that I'm not really used to appealed to me." -


"Breathe" (Absolut ad) - Lenny Kravitz

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Rare, Rare Find: Jon Dee Graham

I am going to try to follow my own advice on this one.

Sounds Like: Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen

The Story: After a stint with Austin punk band the Skunks, Jon Dee Graham joined brothers Javier and Alejandro Escovedo in the early roots-rock band, the True Believers. Got a major label contract. Had some success. Released a Jim Dickinson-produced album. Fought and broke-up. This was the mid-80s.

He stuck around L.A. Played with folks like John Doe and even had a song ("One Moment to Another") recorded by Patty Smyth that went gold.

In the mid-90s, burnt out, he came to Austin and quietly got to work as a carpenter ... until Kelly Willis lured him back as her guitarist.

Skip ahead to now. He's released four critically acclaimed solo albums including his latest, The Great Battle. And if you live in Austin, you might even be tired of hearing his name. You're lucky if you are.


The True Believers are said to reunite and hit the road with Los Lobos - just like they did in 1986. For years, Graham and Alejandro Escovedo were not on speaking terms. I interviewed Escovedo during that time at his home in South Austin. After a couple of hours of talking and as he was walking me out, the topic of No Depression magazine's recognition of him as the "Artist of the Decade" came up. He said, funny story about that. When Graham heard about Escovedo's honor, his response was: 'Thank God the decade's almost over.' Escovedo half-laughed as he told me.

When my interview published, Escovedo reprinted it on his website. It was a long, rambling, 2,000-plus word piece. It needed editing. The part Escovedo choose to cut: the final paragraph where I retold his Graham/No Depression story.



No. 17: Name that celebrity

submitted by tj1972

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Writing about Coldplay is like dancing about architecture

Most interviews with musicians don't serve a purpose.

Give me two simple things: sounds like [insert known reference point] and any story behind a song. Then step back, and let me listen. I have a similar philosophy for my bartenders.

What I can't stand? Musicians who say 'our music is hard to describe. It really doesn't sound like anything.'

Give me any song, 10 minutes, and I'll chart a 'six degrees of separation' that doesn't lead back to Kevin Bacon.

The second unbearable? Musicians who don't give a straight answer to a sincere question.

Here's a story. Coldplay plays Austin City Limits. Prior to performing, they hold a press conference for what appears to be young, eager-to-learn reporters. Not professionals.

One scribe asks - 'Where'd you get the name Coldplay?' A band member responds, sincerely, 'We stole it.' And then, a not-so-sincere Chris Martin chimes in, 'Yeah, we saw a band walking down the street with the name and [insert condescending comment].'

Next question. And thus, the kid's left with a what-the-fuck? expression.

The clip below includes this scene along with one of Martin saying, at the end of an official interview, something about Austin City Limits, like KCRW, shares the band's ideals and so they are happy to come and [insert sincere sounding comment].

Early Dylan was one of the worst criminals of this.

Click on exclusive 1o-minute video here.


**True origin of the name, found on Coldplay's site:

"Chris, Jonny, Wil & Guy were called "Starfish" originally and their friends were called "Coldplay". When they didn’t want the name anymore, "Starfish" asked if they could use it instead. The original Coldplay took the name from a book of collected poems and can still be found on Amazon today."


Check out CHW's post for all the good things about Chris Martin's appearance on Austin City Limits that I failed to mention.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

5 thoughts in more than 5 days

Here's what has been going on in my head.
  • I don't give a fuck how it is labeled or categorized. James Frey is an original voice with something interesting to say.
  • I would love to know how much Dylan makes for licensing his name to Lucky Brand for those shirts.
  • Biggest movie disappointment so far this year: Matchpoint. It's like Woody Allen took a screenwriting class and was given the following assignment: "Ok, Woody, you really do this neurotic, NY-thing great ... but you have to be more versatile as a writer. I want you to try to write a version of The Talented Mr. Ripley. Try not to rely so heavily on intelligent, witty dialogue. Make sure you have obvious, grand themes like 'I'd rather be lucky than good.' Don't force your audience to have to think so much. Oh, and make the title an obvious connection from beginning until end."
  • "I Saw" No. 111: Caught Dyan Cannon walking up a steep street to Sunset Blvd. She was with what appeared to be her grandson, walking two small dogs before heading to the Lakers game. Impression? Sex with a 69-year-old doesn't seem so far-fetched anymore.
  • "I Saw" No. 112 & No. 113: Santa Anita racetrack. The Club House. A very tan Merv Griffin, looking like a 'parade float' version of himself, with his extended family, watching his highly favored horse, Stevie Wonderboy, take second. Two tables down, looking muppet-like even in person, Michael Dukakis with his immediate family.
  • Favorite artists of 2006: Pernice Brothers (beautiful pop), Okkervil River (dark alt-country), Kathleen Edwards (enjoying sex and booze as much as Lucinda, and I'm grateful for that), Hustle & Flow Soundtrack (guilty pleasure) and Bobby Bare Jr./Drive-By Truckers (dirty, off-key rock-country).

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