(re)View From The Past #4
fourth in a retrospective series by Andrew C Schlett
first published February 23, 2011
Twenty years ago, our scene positively thrived. Never before in my lifetime in
Houston had there been such an abundance of clubs, venues, concert halls, and special
time-slot hours featuring local music on radio stations. Rivethead, Public News, and a
couple of other small papers covered the local scene so extensively that even the Houston
Post and Chronicle took notice. And there were so many musicians. Everywhere you
looked around town you could spot musicians. Underground record stores, of which
there were lots, simply teemed with them. There was so much going on back then in
terms of creativity, originality, and loud artful expression. Our scene was huge, our bands
had paid their dues on the local circuit and many of them had loyal followings, with vinyl
or cassette releases to back up their live performances. The sound was tight, the time was
right. Everybody involved was ready and looking for that first national break that we
knew with certainty was coming soon. Speculation ran rampant about which band would
be the first to get a major record deal, but the safe money was always on dead horse. So
who came out on top? What band rose above the others to capture the public’s attention
and bring their city, and their scene, into the national spotlight?
“What?” you say. “Nirvana ain’t from Texas!”
Yes, I know. I’ve heard of Seattle and the whole grunge thing. That’s kinda the
point. Once Nirvana broke, they broke like little else since Elvis or the Beatles, and there
was simply no room in the public forum nor any interest in the public mind for anything
that was not Seattle- or grunge-related. Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, and
others rose to the top of the charts. Grunge eclipsed everything else for the rest of that
decade. Indeed, VH1 named “Smells Like Teen Spirit” as the song of the 90’s. Simply
put, we all got squeezed out. After the release of Nevermind in 1991, nobody else had a
But, to delve into common cliché, that was then, and this is now. Kurt Cobain has
lain these many years in the ground, Pearl Jam is being played on classic rock stations,
and I for one haven’t heard anything from Chris Cornell since Audioslave.
Grunge really did burn itself out pretty quickly. The music started with a sort of
shaded optimism in the mid- 80s, bands like Mother Love Bone and Green River street-preaching
about hope and promise in the face of daily struggle and despair. Andrew
Wood then died of a heroin overdose just as Love Bone was becoming large; this made
him into something of an early martyr, an example if you will, to the Seattle sound.
Following the 1994 death by suicide of Cobain, however, grunge music descended almost
wholly into its dark side. Pandora’s box had slammed shut, there was no further hope,
only grimness and misery for the grunge musician. I’m quite sure that somewhere in the
world, it did rain when Layne Staley died. The grunge genre could simply not support
such a high mortality rate. Godsmack is about all that’s left
Look around now at the post-grunge musical landscape of this nation, and be
saddened. We live in an age where virtually any absurdity can be considered artistic and
relevant so long as it is shocking and over-the-top. Lady Gaga is a perfect example of
this. Or consider, perhaps, the rap stylings of Afroman, pushing up against your ass, who
with his left hand is rubbing on your titties, and with his right is smoking grass. Are these
lyrics, in any sense other than that the words rhyme? I doubt it. Is this art, in any sense
whatsoever? Again, I really don’t think so. And that’s not a slam against Afroman. The
fact that people love this stuff, eat it up, consume it as though it is something of real
substance, well, I just find that disturbing. There can be little hope for a world in which
the proceedings of “American Idol” are reported like hard stories on the evening news.
Hasten the Apocalypse!
Prior to the onset of World War Three, though, we should all take a moment to
pause, to look around the musical landscape of Houston, and be thankful for our richness.
The soil is fertile, and loamy. We have a solid history of making good music, going back
many more years than I’ve been involved in the scene. The bands who’ve come out of
Houston are way too numerous and varied to be listed here, in a separate column, or
anywhere else but in a comprehensive overview of Houston Music History (now there is
a project for the ambitious writer! That would be quite a thick volume indeed.) You
name it, we’ve played it, and chances are we played it our own way, and we played it
pretty damned good.
To our additional credit, a great number of our players, our friends, if not our
bands themselves from back in the old days are still around. The Haaga brothers are
currently busy, I have seen. Greg Main is very active, playing with Manhole at the
smashing WWRHT showcase. Helstar just did an album release concert a couple weeks
ago with Metal X. And there is other talent too, now, people I’ve heard of before,
like Marzi Montazeri and Heavy As Texas, who I checked out through the Rivethead link
and am now a big fan of. Look for a review of his material on this page, or the new
website, at some point after I get hold of the disc. Our wellspring still runs deep,
Houston. The fact that our talent pool is so tremendous, and so diverse, and that our
legacy is so solidly rooted in Texas tradition, these are both our greatest strength and our
Having lived almost 19 years now in self-imposed exile out of the Motherland, I
fully understand that people in Texas don’t care if the sun don’t shine. (with a nod to
Charlie Daniels right here.) If the rest of the nation wallows in musical hog-slop, we
really could give a damn less. We’ve got our own scene, our own success, and our own
satisfaction. And it’s not as though I’m implying that nothing ever came out of Houston
that went anywhere. On occasion up here in Colorado I’ve worn my FM666 shirt to
various concerts, and somebody will always recognize it and comment on dead horse.
Peaceful Death did go nationwide. It’s just that we don’t require the attention that the
national spotlight would bring. We don’t need the bullshit. There’s enough of that in
Houston already anyway, just look out into any open field that you drive past. And we
sure as hell don’t lack for any sort of legitimacy. We established that years ago. There is,
however, something that we do need, and that is the very thing that Rivethead is here to
provide: A voice for the musical community at large.
In the short time that the Rivethead Facebook page has been up and active, we
have by now come to average a little over 1500 followers every month. Less than that if
you break the numbers down by the weekly or daily hits, but still, that’s a pretty good
crowd we’re picking up here. Lisa E, who gets 100% of the credit for this revived fb
version of our beloved H-Town music rag, will be happy to unveil our new website,
www.rivetheadmagazine.com sometime in early March. We urge you all to visit this site
after it opens. I have no idea yet what it is going to look like or how it’s going to work,
but I do know exactly what it’s going to do. In the old days, our mission was to keep the
reading public informed on upcoming concert events, reviews of previous shows, album
reviews, music interviews, and generally anything deemed of interest to our readers.
Nowadays, and especially with the advent of the new website, you readers yourselves,
you musicians, you players and pickers and scratchers and singers and screamers, you
don’t any longer have to wait for Rivethead to get to you, see your show, interview your
band, and then publish like three weeks later if there was room in the paper that month.
Y’all can do all that yourselves now, instantly, with the magic of the Internet, through us.
Rivetheadmagazine.com will be like a sort of community bulletin board.
We fully intend to continue to serve the musical interests of Houston in the same
manner and style as we always have before. Only now, we can do it faster, there will be
virtually no limit to the amount of input we can handle, and we can do it in a way that
makes our scene accessible to outsiders if they choose to show interest while still
focusing primarily on our own; dancing, as it were, with them that brung us. All comers,
all musical styles, are welcome. I guess you don’t really even have to be from Houston,
but it helps! The future is bright for Rivethead and for the Houston music scene as a
whole. I, for one, plan to enjoy this ride and have great hopes with regard to my recent
re-involvement in Rivethead and the H-town sound, albeit from a thousand miles away.
Come on, isn’t that what the Internet is for?
Just a quick little personal plug: Lisa says I will have my own page on the new
website. If I can figure out how, or if I can have someone help me, I plan to stock it not
only with my latest efforts, this series of “Past” columns, but also transcripts of classic
Rivethead material, reviews, editorials, artwork, old-timey ads, album covers, concert
fliers, just whatever catches my fancy and is appropriate to the theme. Anybody who
wants to send me stuff please do.
Until next time, all my down-home playa’s and homies, tip those bartenders and
waitresses, but tip them even more if they’re not trashed-out heroin junkies, because we
don’t want to end up like all those people in Seattle. Peace out y’all!!! -- Andrew “C”
The Editor's Desk
Because the Music Matters!!!