Zippidy Doo Da

I'm not stupid, I'm from Texas!

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Reviews: The Sons of Hercules/Snowbryd




I know I’m as old as the amount of hope I’ve lost.

Sometimes I wonder if things have truly changed for the worse, and not just changed. Like I have to bag my own groceries because I don’t want kids who have become mentally retarded by the constant exposure of depleted uranium, microwaves, and rapid fire electronic images mishandling my food purchases. Like the retired Castle Hills colonel screaming at children to get off his lawn, I have been hollering to an embarrassing degree about the death of the American music industry. The thing that makes me especially hopeless as I write this is that the answer to the question about what to do is so clear and yet unheard. But you have to keep hoping or you’re dead.

Before I talk about two great musical groups, (and their recent records) it would be helpful to back up a little and look at what has happened before that shaped these artists and, in turn, how they managed to shape things in return. Both The Sons of Hercules in A Different Kind of Ugly, and Snowbyrd with Diosado pay great homage to the legendary Taco Land, in loving and reverent ways.

Ram Ayala was a jolly old reprobate who ran the ramshackle tavern in the heart of the upper San Antonio river area, near the old Pearl Brewery, that was prime for River Walk development - the life blood of the city's economy. His bar was surrounded by a community of homeless people who had lived there for years. I knew a lady named Josie Flores, a retarded dwarf, who stayed in a rusty old jelly bean trailer with her man Joe, who beat her when he was drunk. She’d wash clothes in the river and survived that way, and was one of many such folk who didn’t panhandle, or make trouble, and who needed to be there because it was relatively safe. Ram was always providing support for the people there in exchange for odd jobs, so the area was always clean and free of serious crime.

The place was cherished by musicians as a forum where anybody could play, and had national acts stop in town for shows as well. If a band didn’t have any money to get home, Ram would give them money, tacos, and a case of beer to help them on their way.

Then some asshole pumped a slug into his stomach and then shot two of his close friends, one of whom died later. The timing was odd. There were sure to be no cops around because of a big game in the dome. It was then that the legend was born and the myths continue.

Look, San Antonio has always been a crooked town. Always. The powers at be always wanted that land. Those people had to go. If one is to believe the allegations of Otto Koeller, the Pearl heir who claims he was kidnapped and locked in the State Hospital for the insane and continually drugged while the city and county stole his land, then it is likely to be believed that the death of Ram Ayala was an assination to get his property, and clear out the homeless. Even if not true, the end result was the same.

The community of artists, musicians, and the lovers of music and art felt robbed and the tragedy of his death remains to this day.

The two times historically when music was on the ropes, 1975 and 1989, it was saved by youth returning to the basics. Making music without rules. That is what Rock N’ Roll is: rebellion. The punks saved it, twice. One man I know of was there on the front lines; in the trenches, fighting hand to hand. His name is Frank Pugliese. His band is The Sons of Hercules.

When the Sex Pistols did their second and last American tour in 1978, Frank was there shocking the public in The Vamps, who opened up for the Pistols at their Austin show. By then punk had opened up a flood of new music from new wave to techno, and turned the nauseas wave of disco and art rock back into the darkness where it belonged. Not completely defeated., the forces of stifling commercial banality threatened again to suck the life out of rock in the late eighties, only to be repulsed by the second punk movement, called “Hard Core,” The Sons of Hercules, served up ample portions to a starving audience of grateful fans.

Today the musical horizon is bleak. The mind numbing sterility of music has left the people in utter thorazine-tinged babbling catatonia. As kids use a fractured system of electronic downloads, and remain at home to consume their media, there is seemingly no community to shoulder a movement that would return creativity and energy to mass culture.

The Sons of Hercules are here. But can they fight?

A Different Kind of Ugly, as they say in their press, makes no great departure from their time-tested formula. You can hear at first run that this true, to a point. What has changed over time is they have become very, very good at what they do. The playing and production is impressively sure-handed. Dale Holon’s guitars are poised, powerful and polished, but still full of energy and verve. The rhythm section is as strong as anything you’d want. And Frank Pugliese is more Iggy than Iggy is Iggy.

They have helped make punk an American musical genre just as real as any other. Like anything that sells, punk has been bought and sold and raped senseless and is currently branded as “Neo-Punk.” Bands like Sons of Hercules are master practitioners of the art form they helped create as much as B.B King is to the blues, or Merle Haggard is to country western. Punk has established a musical and thematic orthodoxy they can claim to have carved and made rule. Attempts to pigeon-hole them for the sake of media promotions are stupid. They are the purist of the pure. It is like comparing Dylan to Springsteen for the sake of sales. Would you rather listen to Stevie Ray Vaughn or Albert Collins?

They cannot be dirivitive of themselves because they are the standard.

The Sons of Hercules are the Texas Godfathers of Punk and a national treasure.

My feelings about Snowbyrd’s new CD Diosado, come straight from my heart.

This record is, in part, a tribute to Manny Castillo, their drummer, who died of cancer before the release. This is to Manny,

Your drum playing is breath-taking, without over-shadowing the music. We saw you and the Lutz’s play at Taco Land all the time. But you guys were not just a bunch of jerks playing badly, loudly. You are a talented group beyond the norm; standouts in composition and pure creativity.

A lot of people seem obsessed with finding some way to categorize you by comparing you to some other band, which is lame. It’s so simple, really. Snowbyrd is original, and originality can never be categorized. When listening the first time, I did hear the 13th Floor Elevators screaming at me to put my doobie down and pay fucking attention to what y’all are doing. Thus chastened I was enlightened.

I always honor bands like yours who are unafraid to go the full monty by creating a total musical album that incorporates theme, style and concept. This record goes big, and stays there. It is challenging to the listener. That’s the way it should be.

If people don’t get you, fuck ‘em.

You might have known how sick you were when you making the record, but it doesn’t show, with you or anybody else. It is a suitable tribute to your life. You were much loved and will be remembered. Your musical legacy lives on. Good job.

“Light It Up,” is just plain bad-ass, and stays on my playlist.

p.s. how did you get all those bass players on one bus?

R.I.P.

To the rest of you, Taco Land is gone, and the space is all covered with tourists. Obviously, by making sure the place had a sound track of sorts, Ram made a big dent in things in what would otherwise be a forgotten story.

I hope that some place, kids who are growing up believing that there is no future find something to make a loud noise with to voice their rage, and to let the world know they’re here and that they matter.

Keep hope alive.

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