Saturday, June 28, 2008

A Fan Under The Influence

The Hole In Wall is a bar on Guadalupe around the University of Texas' campus that quite literally is a "hole in the wall." It's also the bar where the late, legendary musician, Townes Van Zandt, played on occasion. Everytime I pass by that bar, I think about how amazing it must have been to see a legend like Van Zandt play in such a small dive. Why didn't more people go out and see him while he was alive, you might ask? Well, the simple answer to that is that legends never truly become legendary and mythical until after they die. Johnny Cash was, of course, famous in his day, but the wheels of the Johnny Cash bandwagon are about to collapse from the weight of his new found fan base since his death.

In the current internet age, however, it's nearly impossible to keep an underground superstar from being...well, underground. Yet, here in Austin, it exists. What Townes Van Zandt was to the Hole In The Wall, Alejandro Escovedo is, currently, the underground troubadour of Austin's Continental Club. And I have seen Escovedo live more than any other band or artist in Austin for the simple fact that I am relishing the moment of seeing a living legend perform in such a small, intimate setting as the Continental Club. Of course, I wouldn't go see him at all if the music weren't great, which it is, but the possibility of Escovedo obtaining mainstream success grows more and more plausible with each release and the threat of me losing "intimate" Escovedo to "mainstream" Escovedo is always in the back of my mind.

I have secretly prayed to the music gods in hopes that the popular music website - - will either not review Escovedo's new album - Real Animal - or that they will give it a really bad review so as not to "hipsterize" my little slice of heaven that is Alejandro Escovedo's residency at the Continental Club. I know that sounds incredibly petty, but those who truly worship music the way that I do will understand. The more and more you come to love something, the more snobbish you become towards it and I'm not willing to part with Escovedo just yet. He is a legend. Period.

As a kid in California, he would regularly watch The Stooges practice. In the 70's, he formed a punk band called "The Nuns" which opened up for the Sex Pistols on their infamous last show in San Francisco. He then moved on to New York City and lived in the notorious Chelsea Hotel at the time when Sid Vicious killed his then girlfriend, Nancy Spungen. From there, he made his way to Austin and adopted a more country/roots rock sound and, musically speaking, he is creating the best work of his career, aging like a fine wine. His newest album, Real Animal(which I have yet to hear), is being hailed as his best work yet, which is all the more amazing considering that he almost died five years ago of complications from Hepatitis C.

In his 57 years on this planet, Escovedo has lived a full life and he is talented enough to create a unique brand of music that expresses it. Aside from my simple-minded, selfish outlook, if anyone deserves the mainstream success that has eluded him for so long, it's Escovedo. With his new release and a concert film in the planning stages by Silence of the Lambs director, Jonathan Demme, it very well could be right around the corner. Mainstream success, however, is of little consequence to the man himself as Escovedo has said before that he has always had a soft spot in his heart for the musician's musician - artists who have lived for the music rather than the myth. Escovedo is the quintessential musician's musician and perhaps that is why he continues to dwell in the underground. As a result, we - his fans - are the beneficiaries.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Austin Invasion

Is there a better music scene right now in the United States than Austin, Texas? I often hear Austinites who have been here longer than me(I've been here a grand total of five years) say that the music scene in Austin isn't what it used to be. Well someday, someone will look back on 2008 and speak of a music scene in Austin that was pretty untouchable. With solid releases by the Black Angels and Shearwater, as well as the anticipated upcoming releases by White Denim and the criminally underrated Alejandro Escovedo, Austin is poised to invade many year-end top ten lists of best albums. And if Spoon - if not this decade's best band, then certainly it's most consistent - were to release an album this year, it would indeed be a coup for the "live music capital of the world." It's good to be the king.

07/13/2008 - I just obtained the new Willie Nelson album, Two Men With The Blues, which was in collaboration with jazz musician, Wynton Marsalis, and it is one of the best albums of Willie's career. It's the perfect blend of genres and, I assure you, it will be considered a classic in the future. Chalk up another victory in 2008 for an Austin musician.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Loretta Lynn

Before I went to the Loretta Lynn concert Friday night at Stubb's, someone made a comment to me that "the only reason Loretta Lynn can even play Stubb's is because Jack White revived her career and that the crowd at Stubb's would be nothing more than a sea of hipsters anticipating a possible guest appearance on stage by White himself."

While Jack White certainly introduced Lynn to a whole new audience with his work on her highly acclaimed 2004 album, Van Lear Rose, the core constituency of country music listeners needed no introduction whatsoever. With a career that includes 17 Number 1 albums and 27 Number 1 singles on the country charts as well as an Oscar-winning movie about her life, Loretta Lynn needs little, if any, help from Jack White.

And while many misinformed individuals continue to believe that country artists are nothing more than conservative, Christian hillbillies; Loretta Lynn wrote songs that were banned from many radio stations including her song "The Pill," about the sexual liberation brought about by the introduction of birth control pills, as well as a protest song against the Vietnam War entitled "Dear Uncle Sam." In the current climate of manufactured country pop stars, Loretta Lynn is one of the few who talks it like she walks it. In my opinion, she is the undisputed queen of country.

As for this "sea of hipsters" that I was supposedly wading through Friday night, they did a good job of disguising themselves as blue-collar, rednecked Texans who adore Loretta Lynn, a country music icon who did not sing one, solitary song from Van Lear Rose. Hey, when you've got 27 Number 1 singles under your belt, how much help do you really need from a White Stripe anyway?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Obama and Israel

I've never been more excited about a presidential candidate as I am about Barack Obama, and it has nothing to do with the fact that he is black - it's because his views on foreign policy are in sharp contrast to any other presidential candidate before him. In an earlier campaign stop in Iowa, Obama said, "Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people." This was an unprecedented comment to be made by a presidential candidate because it can be political suicide to not only speak out against Israel, but to stand up for anyone in the Middle East and, yet, here was Barack Obama doing just that - standing up for an unpopular cause.

The current system of apartheid in Palestine by the Israeli government is one of the greatest injustices in the world today and because Israel is an ally of the U.S., we have turned a blind eye to it. Our hypocrisy towards the Middle East does more to promote terrorism than it does to suppress it and, yet, we continue blindly down the path of our own destruction because of our misguided policies.

However, in a speech on Wednesday to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee(AIPAC), Obama pledged his full support for Israel and insisted that any peace deal between Israel and Palestine must preserve Israel as a Jewish state with Jerusalem as its capital, despite the fact that Jerusalem is not recognised internationally as the capital of the Jewish state because the east side was captured by Israel in violation of international law. This has upset many Palestinians and rightly so, but you have to realize that Obama faces an uphill battle in his bid for the presidency because, first and foremost, he is black and this country's history of race relations hasn't been a smooth one. I think reality has finally set in for Obama and he realizes that he is going to have to say some things that he doesn't agree with ideologically in order to win the presidency. In Abraham Lincoln's bid for the presidency, he often spouted racist rhetoric and, had he not, the greatest president this country has ever known would have simply become a minor footnote in history. The reality of politics is that you need votes to get elected and in order to obtain those votes, you have to sometimes say things that you don't agree with. Despite his recent comments, I have full faith that, if he is elected president, Barack Obama will do his best to undo the mess created in the Middle East by U.S. foreign policy. If, however, is the first hurdle.