Archive for the ‘biography’ Category

The musical merits are better discussed over cigarettes and cough syrup, but arguing Van Zandt’s greatness isn’t Atkinson’s goal here. Neither is biography. Nor is I’ll Be Here in the Morning the place for the uninitiated to start. That would be 2004’s Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt, or Live at the Old Quarter. This book is a little more like a public wake.

Read the rest of my review of Brian Atkinson’s I’ll Be Here in the Morning: The Songwriting Legacy of Towns Van Zandt in the April issue of the Texas Observer.

Read Full Post »


I’ve taken a lot of shit over the years, a good amount of it deserved, for my tolerance for sappy folk music. I tend to fall for what I conceive to be the non-sappier variety of contemporary folk, but it’s hard to find one entirely free of the other. And everyone’s got slightly different definitions of sappy.

I like Lyle Lovett and James McMurtry a good deal and Dave Alvin more than a little and I tolerate Townes Van Zandt‘s sometimes deeply sappy indulgences the way I’d tolerate the occasionally embarrassing farts of a great and wondrous god, if I particularly believed in one, which I don’t, but still, and I think a lot of people can comfortably keep up with me this far.

Alejandro Escovedo‘s most cringingly adult-contemporary moments are earned in context. Even Rodney Crowell’s

I start to really lose the more punk-inclined of my friends at, say, Greg Brown, to whom I once spent at least six months straight listening, possibly not to my ultimate benefit. I mean it was Dream Cafe. That record aged me 10 sap years the second time I heard it. Slant 6 Mind is a far less sappy record, but even so, it’s got “Spring and All.” And “Vivid”, for fuckssake. See what I mean?

I don’t care. I like a lot of that shit. I like old folkies from Houston you’ve never heard of, like Eric Taylor and David Rodriguez. I mean, I can’t listen to Nanci Griffith, or Shake Russell OR Dana Cooper—who could?—so it’s not like I’m indiscriminate, but I do possess what I understand to be an unusual tolerance for Houston-pedigreed singer-songwriters of a certain vintage that was several Houston-scene evolutions prior to my brief time being a young adult and paying attention.

Oh well. I do like Vince Bell. Check this out.



Long time ago.

That’s his new book above with the cheesy cover, which you forgive, because it’s not about the book cover. He’s got a new record and a new one-man show, too. Here’s a clip from that. It’s a long one.



He’s kind of a ham. I dig him.

I wrote about him when he released Phoenix in 1994. That’s a pretty seriously great record. Listen to “Frankenstein.” Hell if I can figure how to make it play here.

I just wrote about him again.

He tells his own story here. 

It’s a hell of a one.

Read Full Post »

img035Aww man. Working in newspapers sucks. Just bitterly, brutally bad news every which way but loose.

Nothing new, but the Houston Chronicle is taking the next step in its nosedive toward something much smaller. It laid off 80 people a few months back, and it started laying off another reported 12-14 percent of its “workforce” today. That number was rumored to be higher in the editorial department. The cuts, announced generally a month ago, continue tomorrow.

Fire someone in fucking Human Resources for that stunt, you ask me.

Check out Rich Connelly at the Houston Press‘ Hairballs blog for the full skinny. 

I just wanted to acknowledge here that one of the good guys who got laid off was Books Editor Fritz Lanham, who’d been there since the early 1990s.

True story: In maybe 1993, 1994, I decided to try my luck as a freelancer in Houston, and I carefully prepared two manila envelopes with cover letters and a resume and a few Xeroxed clips from Portland’s Willamette Week and the Houston Press. I addressed them to Fritz Lanham at the Chronicle and Elizabeth Bennett at the Houston Post, which wasn’t dead yet then.

Elizabeth Bennett called a few days later to let me know, graciously, that I’d accidentally put the cover letter addressed to Fritz Lanham in the envelope addressed to her. I was mortified of course. I know how she felt, now. I know it every time I get an application from a would-be copy editor who’s addressed his cover letter to Bread Tyler.

Fritz never mentioned the mix-up that I recall. Even better, he tried me out on a review. I wish I remembered what that first one was. I guess I could look it up. But I did dozens for the Chronicle on and off over the years, as recently as last year. Fritz is a generous editor and never made any of my reviews anything but better than they were when I delivered them, and he sent a few back when they needed it. That’s not particularly common, but it’s much to be desired by a writer, and if I were to think of the editors from whom I’ve learned something necessary, however passively, about editing, Fritz is on the not-long list. 

I used to joke, without really joking, that I wanted Fritz’ job someday. Doesn’t look like those jobs are going to last though. Fritz’ll be fine — I’m not trying to eulogize him. He did good work, he did a good job, and he did well by me, and I appreciate it is all.

Re the book: Hearst Corp., descended from Willie, whom I’d never call that even on a blog if he was alive in the age of blogging, owns the Chron, and a bunch of other stuff, all of which I’ll revisit in a Texas Observer column I’ll post later.

Condolences to all at the Chronicle. There’s lots of good people and not just a few good friends over there.

Okay, back to drinking…

P.S. The count is 32 as I finish this, and I see now that Claudia Kolker is on the list. Goddammit. I remember when Claudia Kolker came to work at the Houston Press. We shared a cubicle wall and we took it down as a mutual small rebellion against cubicles. She went to the Chron pretty quickly and went to the editorial page pretty quickly after that. She’s brilliant and will land somewhere good. But goddamn.

Read Full Post »

Can you judge a writer — or anyone else, for that matter — by the books he reads, or even the books he just keeps at hand? There seems to be a slew of recent titles (if by “slew” you mean “two” — and I do) suggesting that yes, you can. 

Take this, from the latest such:

When he was discharged in May 1897, he was not allowed to take his accumulated books with him and faced what he called the horror of ‘going out into the world without a single book’.”

Anyone care to venture a wild guess as to who was so horrified at the prospect of booklessness?

And since we’re on the topic, remember this?

our discussion of unread books offers a privileged opportunity for self-discovery, akin to that of autobiography, to those who know how to seize it…”

One wonders, considering these new book-length discussions of character via literature, how many volumes of the subjects’ respective libraries were ever truly read, and how many were planted there for the benefit of future biographers…

Read Full Post »

So this kid walks into a library and says to the librarian: “I’m looking to build a library of books to never get around to reading.”

And she hands him this.

(Although still, of course, it’s not like The Sorrows of Young Goddamn Werther are immediately gonna turn you genocidal. So, you know, easy on the Germans. Peter Handke’s not their fault…)

(I don’t know what that means.)

Read Full Post »

Read Full Post »