February 28, 2013 § Leave a comment
(This is about the most obscure title I have ever come up with for one of my ramblings in aphasia, but I love the sound of it. It derives from the phrase, “walking Spanish,” which appears in the penultimate paragraph below. The origins of the phrase are obscure and its meanings are many, but two of them pertain  to the final walk to the execution chamber and  walking in an ungainly, undignified manner, both of which apply somewhat to today’s subject: bad driving.)
Austin proudly proclaims itself the Live Music Capital of the World, But we are also arguably, if not the worst driver capital of the world, the worst driver capital of Texas and perhaps the United States. Anecdotal evidence provided me by hundreds of disgruntled out-of-towners over the years is damning enough to suit me, but then there are the studies …
A November 2011 study by CarInsuranceComparison.com ranked Texas as having the third worst drivers in the U.S. CarInsuranceComparison.com based the study on drunk driving, failure to obey signals, fatalities and traffic tickets. Missouri and Louisiana were the only two states that ranked worse than Texas.
Excessive speed and reckless driving are common factors in wrecks, drunk driving arrests, failure to obey signals, fatalities and traffic tickets.
According to the 2007 Allstate America’s Best Drivers Report, Austinites got into more crashes than drivers in any of the 20 other Texas cities on the list. Austin ranked 179 out of 197 cities nationwide and Austin drivers were 31% more likely to get into a crash than the average American driver.
Texas drivers were among the worst in the country, and Austin drivers were among the worst of the worst, according to a 2005 Allstate Insurance survey. Austin residents went, on average, only 7.5 years between automobile crashes, as opposed to the nationwide average of 10 years. The survey looked at policies in 197 cities across the country and how often the policyholders reported accidents. Austin came in at 176 among all locations.
The surveys did not include bicyclists, many of whom are as scofflaw as Austin automobilists and motorcyclists, but the bikies mostly confine themselves to the minor but annoying offenses of failure to obey traffic signals and yield right of way.
Bad driving in Austin did not begin with the automobile, although cars have certainly accelerated the problem. Bad driving is part of the DNA of Austin, so let’s go back to the “good old days” when the weapons of Austin’s speedsters and bad drivers had four legs and single tailpipes that dumped their pollution directly onto the streets.
“Two colored females of the fast order” got on a little spree on February 22, 1874, and procuring a buggy, started out for a ride. They started up Congress Avenue driving from right to left, at a furious rate, not only whipping their own horse but every one they came across on the street. In their sudden turns one of them was thrown out and captured by the police; the other started at full speed up the Avenue, and was captured near the Capitol grounds by a policeman. They answered before his Honor the Mayor the next morning in city court for their little spree.
Fast riding generally set you back $5 and costs then, as did riding on the sidewalk. By the late 1880s, the fine had risen to $10 and costs.
An Austin Statesman reporter was passing along Cedar street on February 24, 1880, where the city railroad turned to approach Pecan street, when he noticed a little boy about ten years old driving a small spring wagon. There was a little girl apparently six years old seated in the wagon with him, and when they reached the city railroad, the horse refused to go forward and became decidedly balky. The little boy used the whip freely notwithstanding the horse made dangerous plunges, and at times it seemed he would overturn the wagon. He at last got his steed turned in the direction of the Central freight depot, and suddenly started off at a breakneck speed, and the reporter was confident for a time that the wagon would be upset and the children severely injured if not killed outright, but fortunately the horse, after running a short distance, slowed up and his little driver got him under control. The reporter could not learn to whom the horse belonged, but one thing was certain, he was not a safe horse for children to drive. “Parents should be more cautious,” he concluded.
As we know, not every driver takes a shine to being arrested, especially when under the influence. Back on February 26, 1880, a man named Boyce, brother of Rube Boyce, a famous stagecoach robber who had escaped from the Travis County jail back in early January, took it upon himself to do some remarkably fast riding upon Congress Avenue, which being contrary to law, Officer John Chenneville promptly arrested him, and was proceeding on foot with the prisoner up the hill to the mayor’s office, when Boyce suddenly struck him over the head with a quirt and, jerking loose, made tracks in direction of the river, with the officer in hot pursuit. Just as Boyce got opposite the new post office, he discovered a horse hitched and was about to mount, when Chenneville, who had been close upon his heels, came up and again took the gentleman in charge and locked him up, and the next morning he figured in the mayor’s court, charged with fast riding and resisting an officer. Officer Chenneville was well armed at the time Boyce struck him and escaped, and had he followed a well-established custom, Chenneville would have shot him down, surrendered to some other officer, been tried, released and looked upon by the rising generation as a hero and a fit example to be followed. But he didn’t do all this, and, the Statesman pronounced, “certainly deserves the praise of our citizens, and it is hoped that in the future his example will be followed by all other officers.”
Reese Erwin, a gay (not that kind of “gay”) young man of some 20 summers, made a night of it one Saturday evening in May 1880 and along about the wee small hours was having an exceedingly lively time down in Guytown. He first visited the establishments that flourish in that locality, and then got in a hack and went home where he procured a horse, and mounting him imagined that he was a valiant knight of old and set out to do mighty deeds and courageous exploits. This, of course, was entirely out of his line of business, and he made a miserable failure and had to content to himself with riding his horse at breakneck speed and firing his pistol as he went. Sunday, to his very great astonishment, he was arrested and locked up, and the next day a jury, composed of Austin’s best citizens, found him guilty of firing a pistol within the city limits, and assessed his punishment at a fine of fifteen dollars and costs. There were two other charges against him, one for carrying a pistol and the other for fast riding. His was one of two arrests that month for “riding in a gait faster than a walk.”
John Craft, a Mr. Finley, and a Mr. Strudenhorn, three young men from the country, were in town on August 5, 1880, and took in the sights, which so elated Officer Johnson that he expressed his admiration for the aforesaid young men by taking them in hand and comfortably storing them away at the police station. It seems the above men were impressed with the idea that they couldn’t take in this city in fine style without the cheerful assistance of John McLaughlin’s carriage. They procured it, and were suddenly seized with the brilliant idea of getting two damsels of color from Guytown to ride with them. They procured two and were riding around the city at a lively rate when arrested by Officer Johnson. The two females were also locked up, and they and the three young men played an important part the next morning at the mayor’s matinee.
H. Walters and A. Horne, two festive cowboys, were in town in late November 1880, and filled up with soda water, beer and such things and made the streets lively by riding at a rapid gait through them. They pled guilty and each was fined ten dollars and costs.
Then as now, the streets of Austin were dangerous for pedestrians. A little boy, the son of a mechanic living adjoining the “Two Brothers Saloon” on Colorado street, on the evening of May 13, 1881, came very near being crushed to death under the heels of a horse in front of Cloud & Devers livery stable. The young man who was riding the horse was moving at a slow gallop, when a delivery wagon passed at full speed. The boy in dodging the wagon ran immediately in front of the horse, when he was knocked over. He was picked up by his father senseless and bleeding at the mouth, and carried home. His injuries, though severe, were not dangerous, and in a day or so he was out and about again. Boys should be careful how they play in the streets.
While men made up the majority of fast-paced offenders, women were also possessed by the speed demon, as we have already seen. In early June 1881, two of the female denizens of Guytown, for being drunk and indulging in fast riding, were fined $14 each by his honor, the mayor, the next morning.
During August 1882, city police made 167 arrests; 125 convictions were obtained, as follows: Intoxications 39, disturbing the peace 55, sleeping in public place 9, carrying pistol 6, vagrancy 4, offensive language 5, interfering with an officer and resisting arrest 4, exposure of person 3, discharging firearms 1, fast driving 1.
Despite only one conviction for fast driving that month, the Austin Statesman was prompted to write on September 24, 1882, “Fast driving for some time has been an intolerable nuisance, and many persons have barely escaped being run over and seriously injured. The city authorities have determined to rightly enforce the ordinance against fast driving, and the lightning-like jehus had better be careful, especially when driving on Pecan street and the Avenue.”
Unlike automobiles, horses have minds of their own, and runaways were a common problem, like this one in October 1883: “Old Peter,” as he was called – and no one seemed to know him by any other name – had a furious runaway one day on Pecan street. His team got away and ran down the street at a fearful speed. They came near running into Jack O’Brien’s hack, but fortunately he got out of the way of them. Strange, but lucky, to say they were stopped without any damage being done.
We’ll close today with a rather humorous, though painful incident. While Austin streets and highways by no means resemble those of Los Angeles, in terms of million-dollar cars, the town is increasingly full of expensive four-wheeled geegaws driven by people with more money and hubris than sense. Vehicular self-indulgence was no different in the 1880s, for the few folks rich enough to indulge in exotic forms of wheeled transport.
A couple of those lucky men were Alex Sweet and J. Armoy Knox, founders of the wildly successful humor weekly located in Austin, Texas Siftings. We’ll let the Austin Statesman tell the story of the object of their affection and subsequent disaffectation:
April 17, 1883
A LET DOWN.
The Sifters have introduced the Dublin two wheel gig here, as everybody knows. It is made for the purpose of giving people an artificial case of St. Vitus dance. Well, Sunday the Sifters were out riding in the gig, and were going along at a fine speed, jerking and jolting the liver and bile machinery of Mr. Knox up in such a way that was an unsanctified terror to all liver medicines. Just as they were rolling down Magnolia Avenue, the dreamy reverie of the Sifters was disturbed. In fact, the thread of their mental discourse on the legislative investigation committee was abruptly broken. The Sifters were lowered in the estimation of a hitherto too-confiding world of at least four feet. Both wheels came off the gig, and the Sifters came down on a stump. If they preferred a seat on a stump to one in the gig, the horse did not understand matters, for he moved the crowd onto a big rock and leaned them against it hard; and before they could be comfortable, the horse hurried on to the next stump, and then, to save more rocks, lifting the Sifters up and sitting them down again in a very italicized manner. This made the Sifters mad, and they tried to coax the horse to stop, as he began to be in a big hurry.
The horse ran into a deep cut, and had to stop; and the Sifters got out, walked Spanish, and put the horse in Mrs. Bostick’s yard till they could get patched up and call for him. The wreck of the old gig is down there yet. Any farmer wanting a hen’s nest apparatus can apply to the Siftings office.
Stay sane and drive safe now, y’all hear?
February 27, 2013 § Leave a comment
Back in December 2011, I wrote the following:
“A thoroughly wretched drive to San Marcos today for a doctor’s appointment, but it gave me a chance to check on the progress of the old Hays County jail restoration (page 260). The outer walls’ stabilization appears largely completed and the old bastille looks nice and tight, not fixing to crumble and fall like before. The windows are all boarded up with what appears to be gun metal gray steel plates, but which are probably plywood. The jail is fenced off so closer examination was not possible. The lot on which it sits has also been cleaned up and is free of weeds.
“Unfortunately, there has been no progress on the future Eddie Durham Museum (pp. 260-61), and the sign proudly announcing its coming is fading into illegibility.”
I am happy to say that the jail stabilization work has been completed and it looks tight as a drum. Hopefully its interior will be restored and it will be open to visitors some day.
Restoration work has finally begun on the Eddie Durham Museum bungalow, and there has been substantial exterior progress.
I would have taken pictures, but my daughter absconded with the digicam last week to Mexico.
February 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
I have never hated the melodious sounds of wind chimes until today. Shingles trying to fly off the roof, limbs from my neighbor’s dead trees falling on my roof and in my yard; one nearly fell on my son’s head while he was helping me outside repairing the roof and almost broke our picture window to boot. I’m not even going to mention my bike road home from work into the teeth of this monster. God ain’t loving Texas this afternoon. And I will refrain from expressing my feelings toward the Almighty at this moment. The birds aren’t very happy; not a peep from them.
February 24, 2013 § Leave a comment
February 20, 2013 § 2 Comments
(With thanks to the Holy Modal Rounders)
“It has been said that the pioneers of most new countries and settlements are made up of young men of reckless and dissolute habits, impatient of restraint and of the trammels of society; they rush into danger for excitement’s sake, and the freedom attending a half wild life. But in the first installment of young men who comprised the clerks of the departments and citizens of Austin, there was a class of men of such superior mental and moral culture and intellectual endowments, that their equals could probably not be found in any place of similar size in the older states. During the first years after the settlement of the place, there was much of that native chivalry and gallantry that distinguish the true gentleman.” – Frank Brown (early Austin settler, newspaperman, Travis County Clerk and local historian)
Not only were these young men smarter and better educated than the High Popalorum and Low Popahirum (look that up!) they served, they were also better paid ($5 per day) than those members of the Republic’s Congress, as well they should have been. After all, they did all the hard thinking and heavy lifting.
On March 25, 1841, the Austin Centinel described the lofty Austin lifestyle:
“Could a gallant knight of the sixteenth century arise from his tomb, and find himself suddenly transported to Austin, he would scarcely suppose that he had slumbered away more than 200 years. It is true, he would find no tournament or mailed brother, to break him with a lance, but he would on every hand, find bold spirits, equipt for the pursuits of war, and fair ones for whose smiles he might well afford to peril life. The days of chivalry appear, indeed, to have revived, for here every citizen is a soldier, and every lady a heroine.
“From all we can learn, Austin is the gayest, healthiest and happiest spot in Texas. We have more improvements, as much business, more strangers, more excitement, and finer, higher times here than anywhere else. All those idle reports about Indian murders, and Mexican depredations, are mere stuff, and only serve to keep off the ennui. While the citizens of the low country are tugging and splashing about in the mud and the mire, here we are coursing it over our high hills and green plains, with light hearts and dry heels, as freely as the happy Nimrod and his gleesome followers of old. Here, we are not confined to the margins of a river, or the circuit of a single prairie in the tame chase of fox and deer; but away, and away do we follow the red man and the mountain roe, pursue the wild mustang across his boundless home, besiege the buffaloe or antelope while browsing upon our lawns, trace the bear and the tiger to their deep caverns amongst the craggy cliffs of the highlands, or snatch the spotted trout from the currents of our rapid rivers, and still and crystal pools.”
On May 23, 1840, the Austin Sentinel (The paper had changed the spelling of its name.) announced, “We have had three public celebrations in our city during the past few weeks.” It then went on to smugly say that there were no behavior problems associated with the events, much unlike Houston, where the papers recently rejoiced that the city had gone a couple of days without some major act of crime.
The first form of public entertainment in Austin was the Lyceum, which featured lectures and debates in the Senate chamber. Ladies and gentlemen were invited. Lyceum members met every Thursday evening, and a lecture, address or essay was delivered on the second and last Thursdays of each month.
On March 25, 1841, Mr. T. G. Foster delivered an address to the Lyceum “upon a subject on which he must be interesting. For eloquent must be the man indeed, who has love, matrimony, and the ladies for the inspiring subject of his discourse. Therefore, if every body don’t go this time, we will never say Lyceum to them again.”
Unlike most other boom towns, Austin had a newspaper, reading room, geology museum, and debating society before it had a proper bawdyhouse, burlesque show (called variety theatres back in the day), or saloon.
Houston, on the other hand, had the Houston Theater, which was a far cry from anything Austin had in the way of entertainment. The Houston Theater had opened a little over a year earlier, and the inaugural production is best remembered for the death by opium overdose of one of the actors. In the spirit of Janis Joplin 130 years later, he had been nervous and just wanted to chill out a bit.
The first public burlesquing of the ruling chuzzlewits of Texas took place on Christmas Day 1841, a fitting holiday gift for all the generations of satirists to come.
On December 12, 1841, the Austin Daily Bulletin printed the following Bulletin! No. 1:
The Congress Extraordinary of the Rounders of the Republic of Texas will convene at the Grand Hall above the Bexar Exchange on Saturday the 25th instant.
All distinguished Rounders of the Republic are invited to attend. Several members have already arrived; among them are the members from Screw-Auger Creek, Screamersville, Schubatansville, Squizzlejig county, Toe Nail, Kamchatska, Epidemic, Hyena’s Hollow, and Racoon’s Ford.
The Dictator General of the Rounders of the Republic is hourly expected. The message of his Excellency is expected to combine originality, vigor, philosophy, and sage advice to the members of the Fraternity.
We are requested to publish the two subjoined rules, and call the particular attention of members to their provisions prior to the commencement of business.
“If any member is too drunk to rise from his seat to speak, the Chair shall appoint a committee of three to hold him up; but provided the member shall be dead drunk, and unable to speak, the Chair shall appoint an additional committee of two to speak for him: Provided, however, that if the member is able to hold up by tables, chairs, etc. then and in that case one of the committee shall gesticulate for him.
“No member shall absent him from the House, unless he have leave to be sick.”
Christmas day 1841 was cold and damp and all without was uninviting, but inside the grand hall above the Bexar Exchange the merry Congress Extraordinary of the Rounders of the Republic met in high spirits. The Congress was as rollicking a set of madcaps as has ever, probably, congregated in obedience to the proclamation of one man, since Falstaff rallied his force at the “Boar’s Head,” in Eastcheap. It was mainly composed of Clerks of Departments: the Chief Clerks composed the Senate, and the Assistant Clerks the House of Representatives.
Their acts of the day, and extraordinary deliberations and pratorial efforts prior to their passage, were without parallel. The great Congress of Sovreigns at Vienna was not more magniloquent, nor half so jovial.
The Republic of Texas, the civil and judicial officers and the Congress that convened on the hill were abolished without ceremony, and it little more time than it took to relate it. The country was then placed under new and more efficient government, bills were introduced and passed with a celerity that would have done credit to more practiced legislators; and one of the standing rules being that no member should be required to speak with any relevancy to the subject under consideration, there was a diffusion of humor and a latitude of figure and simile, beyond any previous example. Bills were introduced and passed, corrective of the general ills of society, and the troubles, difficulties and inconveniences of Austin, and the pecuniary embarrassment of the members in particular.
Valuable reports on finance and other important subjects were made, and ingenious projects for gulling the world were adopted. The general tendency of the legislation was to benefit the people a great deal, and the Congress much more, a course for which there was plenty of precedent.
The Congress was liberally supplied with plenty of the source of hilarious vitality, and never, it was ventured to say, had a more intelligent, witty or business-like body convened in the world.
The message of the Dictator was a document which dealt less in the sophistications of government and diplomacy, than such documents generally do; and there was a plain directness in its advice and recommendations worthy of imitation by other high dignitaries. Wit and eloquence flashed upon, and lighted up, the assemblage from morning till night, and grace of posture and gesture date an epoch from the day that the first Congress of the Rounders of the Republic assembled.
It will be readily inferred that the object of this extraordinary gathering was to burlesque the regular Congress. It was regarded as a success. Some of the Congressmen, who were admitted to the Rounders’ Hall during the discussions, stated that it contained more talent than the national Congress; and that was before our legislators had become drawfed to pigmies. It furnished the staple of conversation for a considerable time to the citizens of Austin.
As this Saturnalia commenced on the first of the Christmas holidays, by proclamation it was convoked to re-assemble on the first of January, 1842, in the year of confusion 5845.
February 14, 2013 § Leave a comment
September 21, 1882
Washington [County] has now in her county jail ten lunatics for the boarding of whom the county pays fifty cents per day cash, and also for their clothing and medical attendance. At this rate the county is now paying at the rate of $150 per month for the board of her lunatics, each of whom should be in a suitable lunatic asylum provided for and maintained by the state. Nearly every county in the state has more or less lunatics confined in its county jail, simply for the reason that the state lunatic asylum is already crowded with patients. It is the duty of the legislature to pass laws for taking care of the lunatics, all of whom are adopted as a charge by the state. All the counties are required to pay state taxes for the support of the general government. The state takes care of and provides for her convicts and under the Constitution should do the same thing for her lunatics, in fact the constitution says that the state must take care of her lunatics. Taxes have been collected until an enormous “cash balance” * has been accumulated in the state treasury, while in the meantime a large number of unfortunate lunatics are accumulating in county jails. The last legislature made a niggardly appropriation for the enlargement of the state lunatic asylum which is not yet completed, and when completed it will not be large enough to afford any relief in the way of ridding the county jails of lunatics. At present this county is maintaining her lunatics at an expense of about $2000 per year. Until the state provides suitable accommodations for the lunatics she should refund to the several counties the money expended by them in maintaining them.
* The predecessor to today’s “Rainy Day” slush fund.
February 12, 2013 § Leave a comment
The Sacramento (California) Bee editorialized the other day, in response to Gov. Perry’s recent ad campaign beckoning California businesses to check out Texas:
“Check out a state that ranks dead last in the percent of its population with high school diplomas. Come check out a state that is last in mental health expenditures (emphasis mine) and workers’ compensation coverage. Come check out a state that ranks first in the number of executions, first in the number of uninsured, first in the amount of carbon dioxide emitted and first in the amount of toxic chemicals released into water.”
The Old Curmudgeon used to keep a similar list of Texas’ accomplishments in things it should be ashamed of, and failures in areas other states take pride in, but after filling two pages with such feats he decided to move on to less-demoralizing pursuits. But Curmudge’s list did not include the last in mental health expenditures ranking. Not that he is surprised; turns out it is yet another one of Texas’ proud traditions.
San Antonio Express, June 28, 1893
There are 4000 insane people in Texas, while the aggregate capacity of the asylums is but 1500 patients. Where are the 2500 unfortunates who cannot be accommodated? Principally in county jails and poor houses.
Think of demented men and women cooped up in prison cells, attended only by those whose business it is to deal with criminals! Of unfortunates entitled to every care, to the most skillful medical attendance, the most pleasant sights and sounds, herded on a poor farm with vagabonds!
Is that the way Texas ministers to minds diseased? Compared with such methods shooting the unfortunates were humane – the avatar of mercy! Texas, paying a coterie of political hacks $40,000 a year for sitting idle, or meddling in matters of which they know less than nothing, while maniacs are shrieking in county jails, must cause the world to wonder! Governor Hogg putting back the sugar bounty lest it compromise the “dignity” of a convict sugar camp, while demented women are wandering around the desolate county farms, must have tempted the thunderbolts of the Almighty.
If we cannot spare the money to enlarge our asylums; if we are so wretchedly poor that we cannot take care of our unfortunate, let us send a committee to charitable Boston to implore the aid of the Puritans! We allowed Yankee railway magnates to complete our World’s Fair building for us; why not pass around the prescription list and beseech aid to enlarge our asylums?
There is no greater or louder crying shame in Texas than her totally insufficient provision of accommodation for her insane.
February 10, 2013 § Leave a comment
Last night was one of my favorite nights of the year, Gerald “Captain Daytripper” McLeod’s annual birthday party at the Roger’s Ranch 9-Pin Bowling Club out in the middle of nowhere, a few miles north of Lockhart and a few hundred yards east of FM 2001, AKA “The Farm Road Odyssey.”
Nine-pin bowling (as opposed to 10-pin) is an old German game that once flourished ithroughout the Hill Country between Austin and San Antonio and still hangs on in hamlets like Fischer (See the “Riding the Fault” chapter in Central Texas. Instead of keeping individual scores you keep team scores. Whenever the pin with the red top or “the Kaiser” is the last pin standing, then the team scores extra points.
And like the good old days, there is no automated pin-setting machinery; “pin monkeys” worked as pinsetters during the night. My son, Andrew, used to love pin monkeying as a kiddo, but last night he graduated to team captain. We now have a new generation of eager pin monkeys to set up the pins and roll the balls back.
As usual, there was way too much food and some interesting wines from Central Texas and the Hill Country to try. I wish I could say they were good; we’ll just leave it at “interesting.” Area wineries keep popping out like zits on a libidinous teenager, such as Three Dudes in San Marcos. Their “Texas White” was slightly on the sweet side, with no depth, reminiscent of Ste. Genevieve Texas White, an uninspired but inoffensive blend of grapes.
Much more interesting was the Blackberry Mead from Rohan Meadery in La Grange. According to Tom, a beekeeper of many years and something of an expert on mead, which is based, obviously, on honey, this was no mead. It was a decent blackberry wine, suitable for dessert, if you’re into sweet wines. There were other, weirder, fruit essence infused concoctions from Helotes, but since Helotes is off my beaten path, my poor tastebuds were spared.
Thusly full of Dutch courage, I hit the lanes with some success and our team won our game – although after 20 years I still don’t understand the scoring of this game.
So, happy 60th, Cap’n; I’m three short months behind you. And be sure to read the adventures of Captain Daytripper in the Austin Chronicle every week.
February 7, 2013 § Leave a comment
Blazing Saddles, Mel Brooks’ paean to perfidious politicians, opened in theaters on this date in 1974, giving me all sorts of excuses to cast asparagus today at our own reigning William J. Lepetomane, but in the words of Lili Von Shtupp, “I’m tired … “
I love barbecue brisket almost as much as I love my mother, but after the first week or two of eating it, like Lili, “I’m tired … .” And for today at least, I’m tired of “funning” our gallery of rogues up on Capitol Hill. So I’m taking a break from roasting our elected elite of tweedledums and tweedledumbers to look back at some of the hoi polloi of back stabbers and con artists who have made this date memorable in Austin history.
February 7, 1857
FIGHTS. – The “winter fights” are drawing to a close but they maintain a character for briskness. In the course of the week the boys have indulged smartly in this exercise. Tables, chairs, sticks, knives, derringers and six-shooters figured, but, fortunately for the parties concerned, all ended without much bloodshed. It is a very interesting variation to the monotonous proceedings of a magistrate’s court to spice them with a nice little row, and the abstraction of claret from noddles instead of bottles. It may give the grand jury business; it enlivens the dullness of the times, and keeps the boys from “spiling.”
February 7, 1886
A Peripatetic Merchant.
Wherever a fakir plants his flaring lamp at the corner of the street, and exhibits either his vegetable ivory or patent medicines, his ingenuity gathers about him a wondering, listening, purchasing crowd. His medicine generally is a panacea for all known diseases that flesh is heir to, but even if its virtues only extended to the elimination of corns from fretful feet of limping pedestrians, he has his purchasers, and one standing near would imagine that the passing crowd was wonderfully afflicted with corns.
The land of the Lone Star has been invaded by the fakirs, even the capitol of the state seems to prove a ripe field, yielding many golden grains to their enterprise. The one that established himself last night in the rear of the Statesman office displayed the ingenuity of the craft. With an ordinary furniture wagon, by spreading a curtain along its side and lighting strong lamps at either end, he extemporized something between the counter of a booth at a fair and a throne for a peripatetic Punch and Judy show, and as from his lofty purge his voice rang out on the night proclaiming his wares, people collected from every quarter. The medical faculty opened the doors of their offices on the stairway opposite. The late dweller on the drive with a fast horse, the purchaser of Sunday marketing with bundles in his arms, man, women, children and Mexicans stopped spelled bound by the magic of his story and eulogy fulminated from the tinsel throne of the fakir. The small boy was out in full force and rewarded him with vociferous applause at every threadbare joke told, and every significant allusion to the virtues of the medicine offered.
It is said that the same man has for the last week gathered in numerous shekels from the confiding public.
One cannot help wishing the efforts of this ingenious and vociferous class of men success, although if compelled to try the remedy, his intelligence and prudence might revolt. However that may be, their general success in selling whatever they offer, proves two things, and suggestive of many others, First, that any occupation industriously followed will be compensated, and in next, that the gullibility of the American people cannot be wondered at becoming proverbial.
February 7, 1889
The Whitechapel Murderer.
Managua, Nicaragua, via New Orleans, February 6. — Either Jack, the Ripper, of Whitechapel has immigrated from the scene of his ghastly murders or he has found one or more imitators in this part of Central America. People have been greatly aroused by six of the most atrocious murders ever committed within the limits of this city. The assassin has vanished and left no traces for identification. All the victims are women of the character who met their fate at the hands of the London murderers. They were found murdered just as mysteriously and evidences point to almost identical methods. Two were butchered out of all recognition. Even their faces were most horribly slashed and in the cases of all the others their persons were frightfully disfigured. Like Jack the Ripper’s victims, they were found in out of the way places. Two of the victims were possessed of gaudy jewelry and from that it is urged the mysterious murderer had not committed the crime for robbery. In fact, in almost every detail, the crimes and their characteristics are identical with the Whitechapel horrors.
IS IT THE FOUL FIEND HIMSELF?
The citizens of Austin and those familiar with the celebrated servant girl murders here in 1885, will be specially interested in the dispatches from Central America which we print this morning. It gives an account of a series of murders of women, which the writer of the dispatch, a resident of Managua, Nicaragua, himself, states are exactly similar and their characteristics identical with those of the Whitechapel murders. It may be added also, in mystery similar to the Austin murders. The Managua telegrapher points to the circumstances that the assassin or assassins left absolutely no clue to their identity. The victims were all women of frail reputation. Their bodies were mutilated, especially were their faces cut. The dead bodies of all were discovered in out of the way places. Silence and mystery brooded over the crimes. There are characteristics of the Austin assassinations and of the Whitechapel murders. From the surrounding circumstances does it not seem possible that one and the same person, some wandering, bloody demon, who, after finishing his dreadful tasks, seems to vanish with supernatural skill — may be the author of some of the Austin homicides, the Whitechapel butcheries and the Central American assassinations?
February 5, 2013 § Leave a comment
Hail Dweezil, full of grace, Frank is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst guitar players, and blessed is the fruit of your mind, Zappa Plays Zappa. Catholic girls, down on your knees, go all the way for us sinners, now and at the hour of our dearth. Ahh, man!
11 p.m., January 26, 2013.
Just got back from Zappa Plays Zappa at Stubb’s and am a long way from the Land of Nod. Stubb’s as a concert venue sucks thousand-year-old eggs, but getting to see ZPZ again overcame my natural distaste for things akin to swallowing vomit. Frank is dead nearly 20 years now, and just when we need him more than ever. But son Dweezil and company channel him like rain through a gutter, and more so every time I see them. They played perhaps their most powerful and ambitious set to date. It showed off Frank’s mastery of the rock, jazz, orchestral – even Broadway musical — genres of music.
There was the usual healthy quota of Frank’s funny (Montana, Zombie Woof, Baby Snakes) and psychosexual songs (Penguin in Bondage, Ride My Face to Chicago,) but tempered with a healthy dose of his serious compositions featuring biting social commentary and complicated orchestral arrangements.
Hungry Freaks Daddy
Penguin in Bondage
I’m So Cute
Trying to Grow a Chin
Here Lies Love
Let’s Make the Water Turn Black
Harder Than Your Husband
Wind Up Workin’ in a Gas Station
Ride My Face to Chicago
The Evil Prince
Who Are the Brain Police?
Willie the Pimp, with Eric Johnson
Every Zappa album cover has featured the Edgar Varese quote: “The present-day composer refuses to die.” Frank had no gods, but Varese was a major inspiration for Frank, an artistic compass point, which sounds sort of like a god to me.
Frank said he made music to amuse himself with; if anyone else liked it, fine. But he had the belief that people would listen to it. People who shared his unique mix of cynicism and optimism, isolation, anger, vulgarity, nobility. Not many people, necessarily, but enough to make Frank happy.
It’s amazing how relevant “Hungry Freaks, Daddy,” and “Who Are the Brain Police” are nearly 50 years after their introduction to the world on Freak Out. “Help I’m a Rock” and “Trouble Everyday” from the same album also bite the asses of self-absorbed mainstream American society, and it would have been nice to hear them as well, but ZPZ has played them on previous occasions and is quite correctly expanding its repertoire of Frank’s nearly endless catalog of work.
Lots of folks have one sort of a beef or another with Frank Zappa, especially for seemingly misogynistic songs like “Titties and Beer,””Wet T-shirt Night,” and the “Illinois Enema Bandit.” Or anal-centric numbers like “You’re an Asshole,” and “Bobby Brown,” which poke fun at the now sacrosanct sexual practices of gay men, and tastelessly named songs like “Teenage Prostitute,” “Dirty Love,” “Willie the Pimp,” and “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” But these people are focusing on the icing and ignoring the cake below, which is biting, spot-on social commentary.
Rock is not dead; it just smells funny. I wish I could have thought up that line. Lots of other people have used it. It’s a riff copped from “Be-Bop Tango (Of the Old Jazzmen’s Church)” on the album Roxy and Elsewhere: “Jazz is not dead, it just smells funny.” The one jazz number of the night was everyone’s favorite, “Willie the Pimp” from Hot Rats, with Austin’s own Eric Johnson as guest guitarist, Eric having just finished playing with ZPZ on the European tour.
Frank was a buffet of great lines: “Being cynical is the only way to deal with modern civilization, you can’t just swallow it whole.” “There is no hell. There is only France.” “Remember there’s a big difference between kneeling and bending over.” “To me, absurdity is the only reality.”
If only Frank were still here to engage in verbal jousts with the likes of Bill Oh Really?, Lush Rumball, Glen “The Second Coming” Beck, et al. Back in the late 1960s, he appeared on Joe Pyne’s show, Joe being the premier mouth foaming, spittle spewing conservative pundit of the time. Joe’s other chief claim to fame was his wooden leg. Joe’s opening line to Frank that night was, “Well, I guess your long hair makes you a woman.” To which Frank, never at a loss for words, shot back, “I guess your wooden leg makes you a table.”
Anyone of age in the 1980s should remember Frank’s forceful appearances before Congressional committees and on political talk shows defending his — and our — first amendment rights against the well-intentioned but horribly misguided efforts of Tipper Gore and her mothers’ mob determined to censor recorded music that appealed to young people.
Frank was considered a deviant, but he was a patriot (not your average stripe) with a lifelong interest in politics. Beyond his defense of the first amendment, Zappa’s interest in politics manifested itself in ways beyond the social commentary found in his songs and interviews.
He timed the U.S. leg of his 1988 “Broadway the Hard Way” concert tour specifically so that voter registration booths could be set up in the lobby at each show. And he lobbied his audience, hard, to step up to plate, register to vote, and then vote.
In 1991, despite the battle with advanced (incurable) prostate cancer that would soon kill him, he publicly contemplated an independent, nonpartisan run for the White House. In a survey conducted by a Los Angeles TV station, 86% of 1800 responders said they would vote for Zappa, the long-outspoken critic of U.S. government policy and the status quo, were he to make an official White House bid.
But when it came to political beliefs, Frank was no lock-step, left-wing, peace-and-love hippie. He hated drugs (other than cigarettes and coffee) and any band member or roadie caught using them was immediately fired. He was vehemently against labor unions, as expressed in the songs “Rudy Wants to Buy Yez a Drink” and “Stick Together.”
In a 1991 interview from his home, Zappa said, “My main qualifications are that I don’t play golf, I don’t take vacations and I do think the U.S. constitution is one hell of a document and that this country would work better if people adhered to it more closely. But if a miracle were to occur — and it would take just that — and I really ran for office, you can believe that I’d be serious about the job.”
Zappa’s presidential platform would, he said, center on eliminating federal income taxes, raising most state taxes except for those on staple food items, and “getting the government out of people’s faces.”
Asked about the U.S. military’s role, Zappa replied: “The only thing the military should be used for is protecting the country, not bad foreign policy.”
Zappa said that if he ran he would like then-obscure Texas industrialist H. Ross Perot to be his vice presidential running mate. His preference for attorney general was Harvard University professor and constitutional law expert Alan Dershowitz (in his pre-O.J. Simpson defense attorney era).
Zappa described himself as “a reluctant candidate” who was “volunteering” to run for the presidency. “If there was anybody else who could walk in from outside and do this, I’d vote for them,” he said. “But I don’t see any other volunteers.”
I’ve never had much respect for John Aeilli of Austin’s KUTX radio because he has never had any respect for Frank Zappa. All he seems to know of Frank are his peepee caca doodoo songs, the nature of which he doesn’t understand, being the politically correct fascist that he is. Frank was never afraid to use the seven forbidden words in order to make a point (or not, other than exercise his first amendment rights, which he always spiritedly defended on behalf of all of us), which gives Aielli the excuse to never play Frank’s music, because he says he never knows when a shit or fuck might show up in a song. That’s what interns are for, John, to screen music for you. And you do have interns.
John appears to be unfamiliar with Sleep Dirt and Strictly Genteel, which are pleasant, instrumental albums; not a word, good or bad on them, and Strictly Genteel is suitable listening for even the most strait-laced of grandmas. My mother is 81 and she enjoys Strictly Genteel.
“Outside Now” and “Packard Goose” are from Joe’s Garage, a powerful indictment of the sad state of the music industry at the end of the 1970s, as Frank saw it, and the album skewers new wave music, the record industry, groupies, bands willing to sell their souls, cocks and balls for 5 minutes of fame, scientology, innocent gullible young would-be musicians, the Catholic church, muffins, Jack in the Box, and airport music as it tells the story of a group of teenage boys who jammed every day in Joe’s Garage, got the idea to try and make it big time, and the results of their efforts.
Roxy and Elsewhere is one of my favorite albums, a double album recorded live in LA, with titillating songs like “Penguin in Bondage,” “Pygmy Twylyte,” “Echidna’s Arf” and “Dummy Up,” where Frank initiates one of his most immortal, insightful and biting dialogs on the wastefulness of smoking pot and the state of American education. A reality that many out-of-work or burger-slinging college graduates can relate to:
FZ: The evil dope pusher is cutting up a white gym sock, formerly owned by Carl Zappa and still damp. The shredded sock will be placed inside of a high-school diploma and ignited with a sulphur preparation …
Napoleon Murphy Brock: Wait a minute ….
FZ: His first taste of big city life
Napoleon: That’s okay, wait a minute … wait …
(DUMMY UP … )
Jeff Simmons: Hey! The roach of this is really gonna be good, so I’ll save it …
FZ: Have mercy!
George Duke: Awright … awright …
Napoleon: What d’you do with that thing?
What do you do with that thing that you have?
Wait a minute
Wait a minute
Wait a minute
What do you do
With that thing?
I wanna know
Napoleon: Wait a minute
FZ: Now the next step of this operation
Napoleon: Wait a minute!
FZ: The evil corrupter of youth is going to take him from Step One, which is a mere high-school diploma stuffed with a gym sock, to Step Two, which is a college-degree stuffed with absolutely nothing at all. Smoke that and it’ll really get you out there!
Napoleon: I still don’t feel as good as I felt this mornin’ … yeah yeah …
FZ: You’ll grow out of it …
Jeff: DUMMY UP!
Napoleon: I heard it again, somebody said …
Jeff: You see this?
Napoleon: What d’you mean? College!
Jeff: That’s college-rhythm
Napoleon: You mean if I smoke that
It’s the same as if …
As if I was at college?
Roll it over up!
Roll it over up!
Roll it over up!
Gimme a …
FZ: No, no, the college-degree is stuffed with absolutely nothing at all, you get … you get nothing with your college-degree …
Napoleon: Oh …
But that’s what I want
FZ: I forgot, I’m sorry
You get nothin’,
But that’s what I want
FZ: A true Zen saying: Nothing is what I want … The results of a higher education!
ZPZ chose not to play “Dummy Up” this time (they did on their first tour with Napoleon as guest vocalist), but they played the similarly scornful “Wind up Working in a Gas Station” from Zoot Allures, some of the lyrics of which (You wanna know now all your education, Let me know how your education, Won’t help you no how, You’re gonna wind up workin’ in a gas station … Pumping the gas every night … “) I twisted to fit my own immediate post-collegiate situation: “You ought know now with all your education, you’re gonna wind up working in a bike shop … twisting the wrenches every day … ” I sang the song every day, as I watched all the luscious UT co-eds walk past the bike shop’s windows on their way to class. It was a bit of bitter fun.
In introducing “The Evil Prince,” Dweezil explained that he, Moon and Frank had gone to see Cats, which left Frank to write a Broadway-style musical of his own, Thing-Fish. He had already made the album, Broadway The Hard Way, full of show-style arrangements but definitely not a musical with a storyline.
Thing-Fish, according to its Wikipedia entry, was originally released as a triple album box set in 1984. It was billed as a cast recording for a proposed musical of the same name, which was ultimately not produced by Zappa, but later performed in 2003.
The album’s storyline is inspired by Broadway theatre, AIDS, eugenics, conspiracy theories, feminism, homosexuality and African American culture. It involves an evil, racist prince/theater critic who creates a disease intended to eradicate African Americans and homosexuals. The disease is tested on prisoners who are turned into “Mammy Nuns” led by the story’s narrator, Thing-Fish. The story within a story is a satire of a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant couple, Harry and Rhonda, who attend a play performed by the “Mammy Nuns,” and find themselves confronted with their pasts: Harry presented as a homosexual boy, Rhonda presented as a sex doll brought to life.
The story was constructed during the recording sessions, which included producing new overdubs for recordings on that had earlier appeared on Zoot Allures, Tinseltown Rebellion, You Are What You Is and Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch. Thing-Fish was initially received poorly by critics, who criticized the use of previously recorded material, but has since been reappraised for its highly satirical content.
This being Austin, it was de rigueur to include content from Bongo Fury, recorded here in 1975, and ZPZ obliged with “Muffin Man” and “Debra Kadabra.” The anthemic “Kosmik Debris” (from Apostrophe) was the first of three encore numbers, but Frank’s longtime opening song, “Stinkfoot,” was missing from this night’s playlist. No matter, we had heard ZPZ play it on several occasions previously, and its absence opened up time and space for new numbers such as “Moggio,” “Harder Than Your Husband” (one of Frank’s few “cowboy” songs) and the closing number, “Strictly Genteel,” from the instrumental album of the same name, which shows off Frank’s prowess as a serious composer.
Dweezil and the rest of ZPZ are anything but pretentious, and always make themselves available for audience interaction after the shows. Tonight was no different. My brother walked away on air with a $35 T-shirt autographed by Dweezil and the multi-talented, Grammy winning Scheila Gonzalez. Dweezil hit it out of the park when he recruited Scheila, a music educator who sings and plays several woodwind instruments and keyboards for ZPZ. Even Frank, who had a knack for finding and hiring the best talent, would be jealous of Dweezil’s find.