Thursday, May 25, 2017

Andre Dubus: The writing doctor with healing powers




(A piece I wrote from the Austin American-Statesman shortly after the famed short story writer's death in 1999.)

 BY JOE O'CONNELL
Special to the Austin American-Statesman

The day after Andre Dubus died I was discussing his short story, "The Doctor,'' with a student. In the tale, a doctor discovers a boy caught under a heavy slab in shallow water and can think of no means of rescue. He must watch the boy drown.

It's about defining yourself by your profession, by your outward self, and dealing with the inevitable failures.

Louisiana-born and bred, Dubus made a name for himself writing about the small and large pains of ordinary lives. That he is often mentioned in the same breath as Chekhov speaks to the truth to be found in his fiction.

Tobias Wolff said Dubus' writing is . . . ``driven by the conviction that the possibility of freedom and grace, even heroism, abides in every life.''

The title character of ``The Doctor'' responds to his failure by preparing for future heroism. Too late his mind hits upon the solution. He cuts a small section of garden hose through which the boy could have reached life-giving air.

In 1986, 11 years after that story was published, Dubus became just such a hero. The burly ex-marine and devout Catholic stopped to aid stranded motorists only to be struck by another car. Dubus lost one leg and the use of the other, but was able to push the woman driver of the first car to safety.

When I met Dubus in 1993, I was a graduate student studying creative writing at Southwest Texas State University. I was impressed and asked to work long distance with Dubus on the book of short stories that would be my ticket.

Two years later I was handed a cassette tape, special delivery from Dubus.

I somehow managed to slide the tape into a player. I pushed a button and Dubus was in the room. He had a cold and was grieving the loss of a friend, but was ready to read my work with a critical eye.

The advice was big and small. Tape your writing and listen to it for rhythm. Be careful about imprecise simile. Tack your stories to the wall so they can be viewed as wholes not just individual pages. Trust your material. Read Alice Munro.

``She is amazing, astonishing, astounding. All of those A's,'' he said. ``She has given me the confidence to know stories don't have to do what we've always been told they have to do. They just have to be."

``I know too many good writers who can't handle rejection,'' he said. ``Don't be one of those. You've got great talent here and things should work out well for you. Like the rest of us you'll probably have to have a day job. But, so what? We volunteered."

With that Dubus signed off, but let the tape continue to run. He silently turned on a radio and a snappy Big Band tune filled the air. His wheelchair scraped harshly across the floor. His fingers shuffled through papers and began to do what came naturally. He wrote.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Attack of the dog people

Nameless humans pay homage to canine cult in the park


BYLINE: joe o'connell    
DATE: October 9, 1997 
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman (TX) 
EDITION: Final 
SECTION: XL Ent 
PAGE: 64
They lapse into baby talk, are convinced proper training is the key to a healthy relationship with their ``kids,'' and have pockets that stink of liver. They are Dog People, and, praise Lassie, I unwittingly have been sucked into their cult of canine personality.

It started innocently a few years ago when my sister and her family moved into an apartment that didn't allow pets. Their pooch needed temporary shelter and I provided it. My young nephew had named the critter Patch after a star of his favorite movie, ``101 Dalmatians,'' but, while Patch certainly was animated, his spots looked like they'd been left out in the rain. 

Patch had so much nervous energy that he once ate an entire couch. There was no getting around it, I had to walk him or face the consequences.Easy, I thought. At least it will keep him far from my cat, whose disgust was marked by hairball projectiles aimed at Patch with hair-trigger accuracy. And, hey, I lived down the block from a hike-and-bike trail and the exercise couldn't hurt. 

I attached the leash to Patch's collar and we were off, and running. He strained at the cord and pulled me down the trail, leaping randomly to the left, the right. By the time we'd reached the designated off-leash area, he was calm, so I gave in to his smiling eyes and their pleas for a little freedom to roam. Patch walked with me for a few yards, then stopped, looked both ways, and ran all the way home at top speed. 

If at first you don't succeed, get stupid again. This time Patch was the picture of poise. At least until radio personality and jogger extraordinaire Jody Denberg ran past at a steady trot. Patch, an apparent music buff, --decided to race the KGSR deejay.I bought a longer leash and started training the errant mutt. Over time he settled down, and I exhaled and began to notice a few details about life on the hike-and-bike trail.

 For instance, a male walking solo is given a wide berth and wary stares, but provide the same guy a dog to walk, and he's judged to be a harmless, all-around fun potential dog-sitter. How could anybody with that cute of a pooch be anything but? 

That goes double if the judgment is being made by one of the Dog People. You see, as I soon learned, Dog People travel in packs.Discover more than a few unoccupied square feet of green space in Austin, and you can bet Dog People were there first with their dogs' legs raised in unison to mark the spot. Every day after 5 p.m. Dog People cluster at covert locations around Austin, recruiting others to join them in the ritualized fun. After all, dogs are social, and it's much easier to stand around and watch them play with each other than it is to actually walk. The logic was enticing. 

Patch and I arrived every night at 4:59 p.m. sharp to see his friends. I had officially joined the cult.Membership has its privileges. I was invited to my first dog birthday party as ``Patch's Daddy,'' because Dog People don't know each other's names. 

I was given directions to a West Austin home and told to bring a gallon of vanilla ice cream: dogs can't handle chocolate. The crowd was already off-leash when I got to the small, well-kept house. Claws clicked across the hardwood floors in glee as a videotape of the Westminster Kennel Club show played on the TV in the background; Dog People exchanged knowing glances. 
Spike in business attire.

Our host, Cricket's Mom, had prepared two standing rib roasts, and the mouth-watering aroma wafted toward us as we rushed the table. I sat by the parents of Sasquatch, a hulking black lab known for her psychotic infatuation with large rocks, and the father and visiting grandmother of Thurber, a smallish, peppy critter. 

Dogs perched eagerly by our sides throughout the meal as we, the doting parents, were instructed to feed our kids at least as much roast beef as we consumed. Patch was in heaven. If I weren't already his official Dad, he would have eagerly slapped a paw print on the adoption papers. 

His love grew to new heights as I served him a heaping bowl of ice cream before scooping out the scant leftovers from the carton for myself. The Dog People looked on approvingly and began to discuss the merits of the new flea pill.Thus went my exotic life as a Dog Person, until the day the other paw dropped. 

My sister's brood had purchased a house and a large back yard awaited Patch. My cat burped up a hairball and licked herself in glee. Dog People friends shunned me. People on the hike-and-bike trail averted their eyes when I passed. I was crushed. 

Desperate people do desperate things, so I bought my cat a harness and a leash.I wasn't crazy; I knew she wouldn't go willingly -- at least the first time. So I primed her with a mound of catnip until her eyes were bloodshot and droopy. Then I quickly pulled the harness out of its hiding place and attached it and the leash before she could focus. 

We made it to the staircase easily, but then kitty curled into a ball like a pill bug. I had to drag her down, one step, one plop at a time. Outside it was overcast, and a light mist was falling. She perked up on the trail, walking slowly and sniffing, almost like a dog. Hey, I thought, this just might work! 

Then one of the Dog People approached. My cat arched her back and bounced wildly through the air like a, well, like a cat who's been mistaken for a dog. I grabbed for her, but she got to me first, claws imbedding themselves deep in my chest. 

The walk home was an awkward dance of pain.Six months later I embraced my Dog People-ness, and Spike entered my life. He's a pure-bred, gangly dalmatian who has yet to eat a couch but has eaten almost everything else (including cat food) not nailed down or hidden on top of the refrigerator. Recently Patch came back to me as well, and he and Spike couldn't be happier. Most evenings you can find the three of us at the park cavorting with our pals. I'm the one wearing half-eaten shoes. You know, the guy who smells like liver.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dammit Doll, vent your frustrations!

Stuffed creature helps folks deal with rigors of everyday stress


(I wrote this story for the Temple Daily Telegram in 1989. It was picked up by the Associated Press and appeared in every major newspaper in Texas--including the Austin American-Statesman from whose archives I grabbed this. Since newspapers had a larger subscription base back then, it's not a stretch to say 2 million people read this little article.

I'm posted it here because I was shocked to see someone got away with trademarking Dammit Doll. Basic research tells you that name and the doll dates back many decades. If someone wants to call this guy on the trademark, here's your proof!) Oh, if you want to make your own, here's the pattern!
 

BYLINE: Joe O'Connell AP AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN 
DATE: March 5, 1989
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman
EDITION: FINAL
SECTION: BUSINESS
PAGE: B15

TEMPLE (AP) - A retired City of Temple employee has found a cure for the everyday stresses of the working world and it comes in the form of the Dammit Doll. Inez Hargrove has shared her secret - the Dammit Doll - with a number of current city workers. The odd-looking doll has a triangular-shaped head, a scruffy mustache and a handy instruction manual.

"When you want to throw the phone or kick the desk and shout, here's a little Dammit Doll that you can't live without. Just grasp it firmly by the legs and find a place to slam it. As you whack its stuffing out, yell Dammit! Dammit! Dammit!" the instructions read.

Hargrove started giving the dolls as presents after getting the pattern from a friend who made them for a church fund-raising event. They became so popular she went into business.

"I always say it's not a cursing thing," she said. "You're just taking your frustration out on the doll and saying her name - Dammit, Dammit, Dammit!"

The strange creatures have popped up on desks all around the Temple Municipal Building. "When you want to say things and you can't, you just beat that thing," said Mary Goad, administrative assistant in the planning department. "You get it out of your system. I hit my desk with it."

Laura Doughty, a city legal secretary, has sent about 20 of the dolls as gifts to friends in faraway places like Montana, Tennessee and Illinois.

"There was once that I grabbed it and started beating it," Doughty said. "It made me laugh. It keeps things light and things shouldn't always be serious in life."

The little stress relievers have become such a hit that Hargrove can't keep up with the orders from friends and friends of friends. She has sold about 100 of them, each made in about 2 1/2 hours and sold for $5.

"I just think it's something people enjoy," Hargrove said. "I've never seen anyone take it in their hand and read it that didn't laugh."

She even gave one to her church pastor who displays it proudly in his office. "I guess we Baptists just have more slang than other people," she said with a grin.

The secret to the doll's construction is extra stuffing in the head and legs that are limber enough to provide a good grip, she said.

"You hit it on the back of the head," Hargrove said. "I haven't got a report of anyone beating them up (to destruction) yet."


-----------------------------------------------
Here are two letters to the editor that later appeared in the Austin American-Statesman after this article ran:

BYLINE:   AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN 
DATE: March 28, 1989
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman
EDITION: FINAL
SECTION: EDITORIAL
PAGE: A11

Doll promotes violence

Re: March 5 Associated Press story, "Dammit Doll, vent your frustrations."

What a disturbing picture - a doll that you can "slam" around in order to vent your frustrations. This was the story we read March 5 - the same week we heard about the man convicted of murdering a baby by "slamming" it against a wall or by "fierce" blows to the head. If we, as a society, do not begin to recognize our problems with violence and learn more positive means of dealing with our frustrations, I believe we can only expect to see more and more violence.

If Inez Hargrove, who makes and sells the Dammit Doll, wants to do something with her time, now that she is retired, she should volunteer to help out in a children's program or at the local battered women's shelter -maybe then she will understand what violence is doing to our society.

ROXANNE McKIMMEY
San Marcos


BYLINE:   AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN 
DATE: April 12, 1989
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman
EDITION: FINAL
SECTION: EDITORIAL
PAGE: A15
COLUMN: Letters

Dolls redirect abuse

Re: Roxanne McKimmey's March 28 letter, "Dolls promote violence."

If it weren't for Dammit Dolls, then we would use real-life dolls - our children or husbands, wives, family pets, etc.; beat them black and blue, and like the song Dear Mr. Jesus, we would write: "Dear Dammit Dolls, I didn't mean to slam you at all, but my kids are screaming and my husband has the flu, and I'd rather use you than make them black and blue. Please help me, Dammit Doll, on those days when I want to climb the wall. Because you see, I don't want to hurt anyone at all."

Suggesting that Dammit Dolls promote violence is as absurd as saying that little boys who play with G.I. Joe dolls will grow up and want to spend their vacations in El Salvador.

We do have one complaint against Dammit Dolls. When are they going to make a Spanish version for Hispanic people to vent their frustrations?

So we say let the senior citizens make the Dammit Dolls and have fun in whatever way they choose. For if we all don't take life a little more lightheartedly, we may all end up victims of abuse.

PATRICIA HUTCHISON
SYLVIA ORTIZ
Kerrville

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Uranium Savages celebrate their 25th anniversary

Savage Craziness

BYLINE: joe o'connell   
DATE: December 9, 1999
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
EDITION: Final
SECTION: XL
PAGE: 8

The night Steamboat closed, the Uranium Savages were on the edge again, belting out such classics as ``Idi Amin Is My Yardman,'' ``Massage Parlor Blues'' and the perfect Austin anthem, ``Stranded in the '60s.'' The band's non-musical contingent and pseudo-fraternal organization, the Shrovinovers, waved giant artificial phalluses at every audience member (pun intended) who got in their way, including actress Sandra Bullock, who was innocently waiting for her favorite band, the Scabs, to perform. On stage, the Savages rocked like it was 1974, like it was shiny and new.

Since Dec. 12, 1974, the Savages have stretched the bounds of sanity. As with any family, there have been squabbles. Founding member David Arnsberger, famed as the man behind Spamarama, even sued in a struggle over the band name. But current members say they still consider him a card-carrying member of the Savage fraternity. Tonight they celebrate their 25th birthday with a show at the Continental Club and a proclamation from the mayor, but this band measures time in riots, not years.

A handful of current band members sat down to recollect the history of the self-proclaimed ``band that was too dumb to die": Guitarist Kent Temple, head Shrovinover and band historian Artly Snuff. lead jokester, singer and accomplished poster artist Kerry Awn, bassist Tom Clarkson and horn player David Perkoff. It's a game of table tennis with too many balls and no table. 

Kent: I can't imagine playing with anybody else where I can laugh the entire time. The guys are so talented, and Kerry in particular is so damn funny. Sometimes I have to stop playing. And this is after doing the same thing for 20 years, the same songs.
Kerry: Go ahead, blame it on me. Artly: Kerry was the first Funniest Guy in Austin and hasn't quit since.
Kent: It's an outlet for expression even beyond the parodies and satires we do. It's incredibly funny.
Kerry: A big in-joke. To us, at least.
Kent: I think we're like a weird fraternity.
Kerry: Boys' choir. 
Artly: Boys' club
Kerry: Boys' club? Men's club.
David: Boys' town. Artly: We just keep commenting on the Austin music scene.
Tom: And the news too.
Artly: If a mastodon bone is found, we'll comment on it.
Tom: We had a whole set on the O.J. stuff. (sings) Last day for a white waiter. . .
Kent: And the eternal ``Wife Stabber."
Artly: By the O'Jays.
Kent: I will say that lately we've been doing songs about old people.
David: Oh yeah, lately we've got a whole geezer set.
Kerry: (sings) Yeah, we're going to Sun City. Two divorcees for everyone.

It began with a challenge from Ritz Theater house band the Plumbers, which included Clifford Antone on bass, to a battle of the bands. Three bands, the Sons of Coyote, Gypsy Savage and the Uranium Clods joined together to create the Sons of Uranium Savages. (The name was later shortened.)

Kerry: We thought the only way we could beat them was to get as much chaos as possible. We got girls on stage, an on-stage bartender, as many guitar players as we could get.
Artly: We pumped pot smoke into the audience.
Kerry: They were a traditional blues band. We said we want to play first. We had a plan to go on and have all of this crazy stuff, girls, costumes, blowing smoke into the audience, giving away stuff, surfboards on stage. Then when they got on stage, we'd pull the plug.

Why the Savages no longer perform at Symphony Square (where no one else plays anymore either).


Kerry: The last year we played . . . What year was it, Artly?
Artly: It was right after Reagan was shot, 1981.
Kerry: The place was packed. We threw a couple of TVs in (Waller Creek) for ``Kill Your TV.'' A surfer girl came down and surfed on the creek.
Tom: We did a song called ``Young Republicans.''
Artly: To David Bowie's ``Young Americans.''
Tom: One of the guys comes out in Ronnie's head.
Artly: A rubber mask.
Tom: But Artly had somehow gotten down to the creek from a block away and comes slithering up. He whips out a starter's pistol and starts shooting Ronnie.
Artly: It was right after the assassination attempt.
Kerry: After the show the president of the symphony came backstage and said I want to speak to you, come up to my office. I thought, oh boy, he's going to congratulate us. Everyone was so happy. We get up there and he goes, DON'T EVER DO THAT AGAIN. You'll never play here again! I'm like, don't do what? Don't throw the TVs in? The big dildos? I said, what did we do? He said, You shot the president! I started cracking up. (The booking agent) got a call that night. Mike! There's a problem. The Savages have shot the president!
 
Why crowds now walk in circles on Sixth Street every Halloween.

Artly: Jim Franklin did a pumpkin stomp every year since he first invented art. So we're playing the Ritz Theater on Halloween of 1982.
Kerry: He'd say Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater, get on a ladder, throw a pumpkin down and everybody would stomp on it. This time we got on the marquee of the Ritz. Here's Franklin in his garb. Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater and he'd throw that pumpkin in the street, and everybody would cheer. After a while, people said, let's throw these pumpkins back at all of these people, 20 or 30, who shouldn't be on the marquee anyway.
Artly: They started throwing whiskey bottles and broke all of the neon on the Ritz sign. We had to flee for our lives. We happened to have a U.S. Army smoke grenade. Why mention names.
Kerry: No names.
Artly: It's been seven years (the statute of limitations) and he's not in the band anymore. We were very fire conscious and set out an upside-down washtub and on top of that the smoke grenade was put. Smoke is heavier that air so it was like a curtain that poured off the marquee like water. They did stop throwing things at us, but the smoke went into the Ritz Theater as well. Somebody called fire in the theater.
 Kerry: Don't ever do that, I've heard.
Artly: They called the fire station, which was one block away. They could not get there because of the mob of people. The next year they realized they had to do something in case of emergencies, so the barricades went up. That's why everybody walks in circles on Halloween.
Kerry: Or at least that's our version of it. We'll take responsibility.

Changes.

Artly: About 100 people have come through the band.
David: We all have artificial knees.
Kent: Not to mention prostates the size of grapefruits.
Kerry: Most of us don't live together now. We all have our own homes.
 
Future Savages.

Kent: My two sons are now sitting in with the band, so it's truly a generational thing. The sax player (son) got his girlfriend from sitting in with us.
Kerry: They understand the concept.
Kent: Be in the band, meet girls, be with the girls.
Kerry: How old is she? Is she one of our 45-year-old stragglers? You're cute, sonny. Come here. Can I buy you a little whiskey?

A few days after that final gig at Steamboat, a gimme-capped college student who is younger in years than the Uranium Savages have been a band, spotted Kerry Awn out and about in Austin. His eyes widened as he recognized the wild man from the stage. ``We were just cracking up,'' this newest fan said. ``Y'all are much dirtier than the Scabs!''

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Slinky: Secrets of the Divine Coil, Who guessed that the future really would be in plastics?


 I wrote the following piece inspired by Ed Shirley's comment to a Freshman Studies class at St. Edward's (it's near the end about stretching a Slinky out). Ed died suddenly a little while back and a variety of his possessions were just auctioned off to fund an All Faiths Meditation Garden at the school. I knew I had to own his Slinky. And now I do.




 BYLINE: joe o'connell   

DATE: March 6, 1997
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman (TX)
EDITION: Final
SECTION: XL Ent
PAGE: 57

I have found God and He is Slinky. I confess, for many years the closest I came to a church was watching fat men with Astroturf hair and bad suits punch squirming people in the face on Austin Access Television (your hemorrhoids are HEALED). My favorite was the bearded guy from California who smoked huge cigars and showed footage of his large-breasted girlfriend riding one of his many horses (God don't work for free, but he loves to play the ponies).

No, religion and I were distant relatives. I was raised in the Catholic Church, but we moved when the parishioners complained about the campfire. From there I went straight to hell -- public schools.Austin schools, contrary to rumors propagated by heathen Zoroastrians, are full of prayer (Dear God, don't let Eddie Lumbago, the guy with one eye and a fashionably shaven head kill me.)  My personal prayer was answered and I graduated.

In college, I prayed that I wouldn't graduate and that my parents would keep the checks a-coming. God failed me. After six years, 30 gallons of trash can punch, 873 pizzas, 247.5 cases of beer, and three blackouts (or so I'm told), I was the proud owner of a fine looking piece of paper. My dark night of the soul had finally arrived.I was told to go forth wearing suit and tie and get thyself a job.

What tiny splatter of faith I had amassed was severely shaken. Wasn't this kind of like what those religious guys on bicycles did while sweating Rorschach inkblots of the fat Elvis onto their short-sleevedwhite shirts? Under duress and still recovering from that college hangover, I moved to small-town Texas, found semi- gainful employment and realized I was surely a sinner. A few years dating a Baptist believer from Baylor (sinning is BAD, BAD; let's do it again) offered little relief.

So I moved back to Austin and tried to make sense of it all. Was God dead? Was there really such thing as original sin? Which is better, pizza or Chinese food? (Mexican food, of course, damned non- believer!) Is God really a right-winger as Jack Chambers, Austin's misshapen Rush Limbaugh in training would have us believe?

Why, chicken have wings, I thought. I'm not a chicken (beak, teak teak). I'm a human being, or reasonable facsimile of. I tried flapping my arms loudly, but accomplished little more than drawing a crowd to the grocery store (Aisle 5: catnip, catsup, cobalt) and being healed by Eddie Lumbago, who had grown up to have his own ACTV show, ``An Eye On God,'' and was coincidentally shopping for a blessed six-pack.

Dejected and dazed, I wandered down Aisle 7 (tobacco, toys, terra cotta) and saw Him. The answer was hidden in the name. How had I missed it? Slin-ky. I had found the key to Slin, ur, sin.

There was no denying it. I had rediscovered a secret every four-year-old knows instinctively. As long as there are stairs, Slinky will go down them. Slinky is eternal.

I fell to the linoleum in awe. I quickly wiped the awe off and examined him more closely. Oh, He had changed a bit from my childhood dabblings in the coiled arts. He had left the metal age behind and, verily, He was plastic. This change I accepted as part of the grand design. Slinky understood plastic allowed Him to be one color when seen from one side, and a separate color from the other. Desegregation! We are the world!

Then I began to wonder. Why is the word of Slinky not ringing through the streets and churches of the world? Where were the priests? The nuns wearing slinky Slinky outfits? Did they not know that the universe itself is coiled like a giant Slinky? Certainly the wisdom of the ages can be summed up thus: a Slinky stretched to its limits is but a wire. As are we all.

Ah, but in a moment of enlightenment I realized His servants had been under my nose the whole time (ahhhh-choo). The true believers were disguised as parents hosting birthday parties for little boys and girls with minds clear and ready for the Truth. And, most ingenious of all, followers were posing as credit card salesmen who doled out the sacred ``toys'' for merely completing a credit ``application.

''Since that day my tie hasn't felt as constricting and my job has been at least tolerable. I keep a shrine on my desk and coworkers stop by occasionally to let the Great One undulate between their fingers.The word of His divine coil is spreading quickly, with services scheduled regularly at a toy store near you. Last one there is a Frisbee lover.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Punks: How the Austin Do-It-Yourself gang grew up

BYLINE: Joe O'Connell
Austin American-Statesman
November 25, 1999

SECTION: XL Ent; Pg. 6

LENGTH: 1684 words

Down on the Drag, the sun gleams against the brick wall that was Raul's, burning away the years one by one. Slowly the names of old friends surface beneath the dark paint meant to bury them forever. F-Systems first in the far right corner. To the left, Toys. A little lower, the Dicks.

It was a blip on the radar screen of Austin music, but that blip was loud at Raul's and a few other nightclubs. Punk rock and its later incarnation, New Wave, flamed angrily alive in the late '70s/early '80s and fizzled away just as quickly.
But like the names emblazoned on that wall, the creative forces behind that Do-It-Yourself, hippies-need-not-apply movement won't go away.


Some haven't performed in years, others dabble in everything from rockabilly to folk. Seemingly all live with a touch of the punk attitude stirring in their breasts. It pushes them to look at the world from a new angle, to strike out and shape it anew.

Jesse Sublett
(writer)

Back onstage at the Continental Club with ex-Skunks bandmate Jon Dee Graham, an ashen Jesse Sublett, all 120 pounds of him, looked like a junkie. His emaciated 6'3" frame was six months into treatment for a cancer that had invaded his neck, requiring surgery and chemotherapy and leaving his voice with a cool rasp.

This Dec. 2 will mark two years since surgery, and the once-cocky prince of Austin punk is doing fine.

"I was just conceited enough to think I could be a rock star, and I was just conceited enough to think I could get through this," Sublett said. "I guess I was saved by rock 'n' roll."

Sublett and future Go-Gos member Kathy Valentine played the first punk gig at Raul's with their band the Violators.

It was during his later days as the frontman of the Skunks, arguably the hottest Austin band of its era, that Sublett began a love affair with hard-boiled mysteries a la Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. The Skunks song "Push Me Around" even includes vignettes straight from the James Cagney gangster flick "Public Enemy."

He's since written three mystery novels with such titles as "Boiled in Concrete" and "Tough Baby." All feature a -- surprise -- guitar-playing detective named Martin Fender. There's even serious talk of molding Fender's adventures into a television series.

Sublett also has penned the scripts for 30 TV documentaries, including this year's "Killer Storm."

But the project closest to his heart is the memoir he began writing to help him survive cancer treatment. The Johnson City native also will reflect on the exciting road he's traveled since leaving home.

"I haven't been bored since," Sublett said. "I haven't been fabulously successful at anything, but I've always been able to do creative stuff and have fun."

Kris Cummings
(ceramic artist)

It took 15 years, but Kris Cummings finally played keyboards again with nuevo wavo bandleader Joe "King" Carrasco. This time, Joe "King" was backing her as Cummings opened a show of ceramic art at San Antonio's One9zero6 Gallery.

"I felt like it was just yesterday that I was playing with him," Cummings said.
Joe "King" Carrasco and the Crowns originally confused punk audiences with their border-tinged, peppy music. The owners of Raul's, which began as a Tex-Mex bar before taking a turn to the punk, loved the band, but the patrons weren't sold at first.

Cummings, who started begging her parents for a piano at age 5 and finally won at 12, grew up on classical and Professor Longhair. She happened into the Crowns after designing an album cover for Joe "King."

Cummings told Carrasco she'd stick with the band if he could get them a gig in New York City. Two months later they were performing at the Lone Star Cafe. CBGB's and the Mudd Club followed.

"Word got back to Austin that we were playing at the Mudd Club and that was it," Cummings said. "We had been opening for the Standing Waves; now they were opening for us."

The rest was a whirlwind. Signed to Stiff Records, toured Europe, appeared on MTV. Quit the band. Had a baby. Cummings settled down in Wimberley with husband Joe Nick Patoski and went back to school to study art.

"Once my hands touched clay, that was it," Cummings said. "I like the shape, the form, what it represents. I try to ask questions about life and what we're doing here through my art."

That exploration has included giant locks, the corporate culture, big babies, chains and, in a recent show at St. Edward's University, masks.

"I feel like an alchemist and inventor at the same time," she said. "I'm jazzed. It's a great way to age. I don't want to be a rocker when I'm 60."

George Reiff
(pastry chef)

George Reiff never stopped rocking. Since his days on stage alongside Cummings as a member of the Crowns, he has played bass with Kelly Willis, Ian Moore, Charlie and Will Sexton, Jon Dee Graham, Beaver Nelson and Michael Fracasso. He also bakes a mean cake.
Reiff is a self-taught guitarist and chef. He admits lying his way into his first chef gig in a Dallas restaurant where he waited tables. He was given a week to prove himself, and a second career was born.

In Austin, his pastry has graced the tables of the Granite Cafe, Shoreline Grill and, for six years until just recently, Jeffrey's.

"They were amazingly good to me," Reiff said of Jeffrey's. "They allowed me to come and go as I pleased, which allowed my music career to flourish as well as my pastry career."
The two fields have more in common than might be apparent.

"I get the same instant gratification rush baking as onstage," Reiff said. "Onstage, you have to be in the moment. In a restaurant, the menu changes every day."

Reiff says his creativity can sometimes go over the heads of people who, when it comes down to it, are looking for a good piece of pie. But the creative juices he honed in the punk scene won't stop flowing.

"We were a bunch of DIY (Do-It-Yourself), expressive people who wanted to create with their hands or minds," Reiff said. "In '78, the weapon of choice was a guitar. Those same people might have been visual artists, architects or writers."

Randy 'Biscuit' Turner

(collage artist, actor, film set decorator)

Randy "Biscuit" Turner closed the chapter on another band, the Swine Kings, who recently had their final performance. And he made the final mortgage payment on his South Austin home. Is the former frontman for the Big Boys finally growing up? Not hardly.

His house is overflowing with more than 100 of his bright and quirky collage pieces he describes as "psychedelic Mexican folk art."

Turner moved to Austin from East Texas in 1970 . The Big Boys were formed when he and some skateboarding buddies got together and combusted into a band.

"Our goal was skateboarding and rock 'n' roll as much as our little brains would let us do," he said. "We were not trying to do anything but have fun."

The Big Boys defined Austin punk to the rest of the nation, thanks to extensive touring and outrageous stage presence.

These days, in addition to his visual art, Turner has starred in low budget films like "Night of the Killer Piatas," and sees film prop work as his goal, aided by his extensive collection of boomerang ashtrays and poodle statuary.

"I've not got time to get all of the things done that I want to get done," he said.

De Lewellen
(comedian, artist)

The story goes that then KLBJ-FM owner Lady Bird Johnson personally called to demand that "Too Young to Date" never be played on the station again.

The tongue-in-cheek 1979 song about a precocious young girl was clearly tongue-in-cheek to its co-author and singer De Lewellen, but that didn't stop nine college radio stations from banning it. Or fans at Pasadena, Calif., radio station KROQ-FM from proclaiming it their favorite while their mothers picketed outside.

The furor was typical for the theatrical Lewellen (a former member of Esther's Follies and the Blandscrew Sisters), described by one reviewer as an "emaciated Judy Garland."
Behind Lewellen's powerful Garland-like vocals, D-Day, which included David Fore of Bubble Puppy fame and John Keller (now Lewellen's husband), was a force to be reckoned with both in Austin and on the West Coast. Lewellen even passed on a chance to audition for "Saturday Night Live" to chase her punk rock dream.

Lewellen continues musically with Zydeco Ranch and comedically with Jokers Wild, a troupe of ex-Esther's performers.

But three years ago, after recovering from hepatitis C and weaning herself from alcohol, she found another artistic outlet: nechos, small Mexican altars she fashions from cigarette boxes.

The pieces focus on the Virgin de Guadalupe, Mary Magdalene and the power of women, Lewellen said, and are sold at Alternate Current Art Space on South First Street.
"I have to have a release of creativity somewhere or I go totally berserk," she said.

David Cardwell
(TV crime reporter)

David Cardwell was in the crowd at Raul's the night in 1978 when Phil Tolstead of the Huns was taken from the stage in handcuffs for bad-mouthing cops infiltrating the bar.
Many say punk rock Austin-style was born at that moment. University of Texas students Cardwell and Larry Seaman lived in the Ark Co-op with the Huns drummer, and the pair got a serious case of the punk bug. The Standing Waves were born of Seaman's penchant for cutting-edge music such as the Velvet Underground and Roxy Music.

Originally a cover band, popularity forced them to write songs.

"It felt like an exciting, slightly dangerous cultural explosion," Cardwell said. "We all got swept up in it. We wanted to get on a ride and see where it took us."

The Standing Waves were influenced by the Talking Heads; now Cardwell works with real talking heads. He covers the crime beat for FOX Channel 29 in San Antonio. That follows reporting stints in Waco and at Austin's KXAN.

"Both are fun, full of adrenaline and excitement," Cardwell said. "You do TV news because you always liked show-and-tell in school. You do music because you want to share something. You want to say, 'look at this!' "

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

'THE GOONIES,' A CAVE AND THE FELDMAN

June 13, 2002

Austin American-Statesman

BYLINE: JOE O'CONNELL

SECTION: XL Ent; Pg. 4

LENGTH: 771 words



Before you enter the cave, you must do your best Truffle Shuffle. Pull up your shirt, flap your elbows like chicken wings, shake it all about and yelp like you mean it. Enter, true believer; you are one of the few, the proud, the embarrassingly committed to '80s teen-movie magic.

Welcome to Longhorn Cavern near Burnet. You will watch "The Goonies" in a cave with film brethren and then sit before its star, Corey "Mouth" Feldman while eating passable barbecue and reveling in retro childhood joy.


Upon arrival you get a checklist of film minutiae, a Baby Ruth bar just like Chunk's and your instructions: "Don't eat the Baby Ruth bar in the cave." "Don't leave any litter." "Don't breathe." (Just kidding.) "Keep your voices low so as not to wake/scare the bats."

Jenny Ridenour welcomes the Alamo Drafthouse's call for this quickly sold-out adventure. "I can't remember the Truffle Shuffle, so I'm a little nervous," she says.

Two people toting huge reels of celluloid walk past you into the dark hole. Remember the edict of Alamo Drafthouse owner Tim League: "Video is the medium of the devil and has no place in the ultimate 'Goonies' experience." Amen. Jenny does her Truffle Shuffle before a video camera (the results will be posted to www.rolling- roadshow.com.) and you and more than 100 pals are in. As sayeth Goonie Mikey, "Down here it's our time!"

Beware the low areas and booty traps, ur, booby traps as you venture down, down, down. "Don't touch anything but the floor," you are told. Sarah Hopkins, a 20-year-old with red boots and magenta-tinged hair sprouting in ponytails a la Chrissy Snow of "Three's Company," has seen "The Goonies" 10 times and expects an "awesome" experience. She saw a television report late last night featuring the Feldman-Michael Jackson feud and wants facts.

Los Lobos plays through hidden speakers as you settle a blanket on the Indian Council Room floor. Behind you, League is a T-shirt clad wizard fiddling with dials. The dirt is cool to the touch, the air a constant 68 degrees.

Look up at the mottled rock and imagine. Be a child. Over there: praying hands. Everywhere: bumpy layers of thinly sliced pastrami compressed by time. To your left: gray, wrinkled elephant knees and slimy chicken rolled in flour and ready to fry.

After many delays, the boyish League, grease covering his shirt, says this odd event isn't the last. "The Big Lebowski" will be shown in a bowling alley parking lot in July (tickets go on sale today), followed by "Jaws" in Lake Travis in August. Your eyes widen.

Finally League makes today official. "We've got a few Corey Haim --" The crowd gasps at his boo-boo. "Please swear you won't tell the other guy," League begs. Then he introduces once-coming attractions from Feldman's once-precocious career. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." "Gremlins." "License to Drive," with the other Corey. "Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter."

Lights flicker across a white screen. Cyndi Lauper sings the theme song. Jeff Cohen as Chunk does the authentic Truffle Shuffle! Feldman as Mouth strolls in wearing a Members Only jacket and you are transported to a dimension of goofy gadgets and pirate treasure hidden in a cave. The air is damp and water drizzles upon your head as your cave melds with the "Goonies" cave on screen. Chunk hands his Baby Ruth to the freakish man named Sloth and becomes buddies for life. Bats attack from on screen and you look above expecting real ones.

When the credits roll, you stumble from the cave into the next crowd of "Goonies" lovers. They study you like a soldier returned from the front lines. Their eyes convey respect? Envy? Soon they will understand.

"Was it so cool?' one person blurts out. You nod. It was.

You eat barbecue on a park bench. Feed the deer. Corey arrives and perches his tiny frame atop a picnic table. Questions fly. A "Goonies" sequel? Maybe. "It's got to have the same feel as the original," Feldman says. "If it doesn't have that, it's not worth making."

Sarah hits him with the Michael Jackson report. He explains a fight that led to Jackson barring him from a bus leaving New York City on Sept. 11. Feldman sneaked on anyway. Why the fight? "I wrote a song about him on my new album called 'Megaloman,' which is short for megalomaniac. I was upset at him for being a disrespectable human being." Sarah smiles at the insider scoop.

Favorite film of Feldman's career? In terms of artistic value, he picks "Dream a Little Dream" (again with the other Corey). But "The Goonies" was the most fun.

You and your new "Goonies" family accept this truth as Gospel.