Texas Pride Swells

March 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby

During the flag-burning debate before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 21, 1989, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor asked a Texas attorney whether a state has as much interest in protecting its state flag as the American flag. Justice Antonin Scalia interjected, “Well, Texas maybe.” The Texas attorney replied, “Texas, absolutely, your honor.”

Yes, our Lone Star State is a unique place, which is why we celebrate Go Texan Day! Yee-haw! (Is there a Go Vermont Day or Go North Dakota Day?) This month, Houstonians, from dentists to dumpster divers, are putting on their boots and belt buckles, and trying to walk like John Wayne and talk like Chill Wills. But to really play our role, we must know a little bit about Houston and Texas.

Old hands and newcomers alike will be asked questions from visitors to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo who come from foreign lands, such as Australia, Canada and, quite probably, caves in Pakistan. They may be asking you, “Where is your biggest oil refinery?” “Do you have a nuclear power plant nearby?” So, here are a few items of interest to learn that will enable you to sound like a real Texan.

Size does count: When Texas joined the Union in 1845, it was the biggest state in the nation. Even our state song, the totally forgettable “Texas, Our Texas,” used to go, “largest and grandest,” but after Alaska became a state in 1959, we had to change the lyrics to “boldest and grandest.” Perhaps we moved too hastily. Global warming will reduce Alaska to the size of Delaware. Meantime, Texas remains big — larger than any country in Europe, save Russia. Dalhart is closer to six other state capitals than it is to its own capital. Considering what is going on in Austin these days, that might be a blessing.

Native-born Texans include Ollie North (San Antonio), Steve Martin (Waco) and Lou Dobbs (Childress). On the other hand, George W. (New Haven, Conn.) is the first governor we’ve had since W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel (Malta, Ohio) not to be born in Texas.

Among the 50 states, Texas is first in executions. Since 1976, when the Supreme Court permitted states to resume capital punishment, Texas has put to death 380 people, far more than second-place Virginia with 98. On the other end, we are 50th in state spending on the arts — 23 cents per person per year.

Marble Falls was laid out by a blind man. Houston was laid out by a newspaper editor, Gail Borden, who later invented pasteurized milk. This explains why Houston is the crème de la crème of sleepy fishing villages on the bayou. Speaking of our hometown, Houston was originally called Hughes’ Town after its founder, Howard Hughes. Like Boys’ Town (Boston) and Washing Town (Washington), the name eventually was changed to its present form.

In Houston, matching mud flaps are de rigueur. Dallas Cowboy T-shirts are not. The correct terms are “pot plants” and “ice tea,” not “potted plants” and “iced tea.”

Lyndon B. Johnson taught public speaking and was coach of the debate team at Sam Houston High School from 1930 to ’31. Clark Gable was a struggling young actor here in the early 1920s. He worked for a local stock company but could not conquer his stage fright and was fired. Gable eventually became a Houston hit and married a rich local socialite 17 years his senior, Ria Langham. They went to Hollywood. When the actor divorced Langham, she came back to Houston with the then-record divorce settlement of $260,000.

More than one out of every four Houstonians (26.42 percent) is foreign born. If we get any more immigrants, we’ll be eating at Mex-Tex restaurants. We have 83 foreign consulates, third behind New York City and Los Angeles. In area, the city of Houston, at 634 square miles, could contain the cities of New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis and Miami.

What to say to show you’re a real Houstonian:
I only watch Fox News.
God bless Roger Clemens.
Turn signals are for girlie men.
Mass transit is a liberal-commie plot.
Any building that gets a second coat of paint deserves a historical plaque.
Come sit rat cheer.
$80 a barrel is good for the awl bidness.

What not to say:
Crème de la crème and de rigueur.
I only listen to Air America.
We need a state income tax.
We also need more orange barrels along our freeways.
Elizabethan poetry for $100, Alex.
Mario Williams was obviously the best choice.
I understand the fortunes of the Bush and Hobby families stem from ownership of their airports.
Don’t you just love the Dixie Chicks?

OK, that’s all we need to know to make everyone think we’re real Houstonians and Texans. Don’t forget to remember the Alamo, and never drive faster than 70 mph while talking on your cell phone and eating a hamburger. That’s unsafe. Put the car on cruise control. Finally, before we get too smug, remember that when others say, “Go, Texan,” it usually means to leave the premises.

Guy Clark

March 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Edit

A legendary Texas troubadour

If you grew up in Texas, you most likely can find something to which you can relate, deep down in your soul, when you hear songs written and sung by the legendary Guy Clark. The very word “troubadour” was coined in the 11th century to define “a class of poet-musicians.” Clark is that songwriting legend, “the poet-musician,” who projects images and characters in his writing that have earned him a reputation as a literary master, who has won the admiration and respect of his peers, and whom young artists and seasoned writers study and attempt to emulate.

Many of Clark’s songs flow with memories of his days growing up in the small West Texas town of Monahans, where he was raised by his grandmother, who ran the town hotel. (His mother worked, and his father was in the Army.) One of Clark’s most famous songs, “Desperados Waiting for a Train,” tells the story of an oil-well driller who stayed in the hotel. Many of his other songs, such as “Texas 1947” on his debut album Old No. 1 and the 1992 song “Boats to Build,” recount in vivid detail and with emotional fervor his formative years in Texas.

Clark describes those early days in Monahans as “bleak, desolate … you had to learn how to amuse yourself. I lived in a pre-TV house, where we all sat around and read. My mom and dad were bright, well-read people, and I was exposed to good literature. Mom would pass around a book of poetry, and we all read. I remember hearing a 16-year-old girl playing the guitar and singing Mexican songs … all border songs, nothing in English. I was stunned and absolutely hooked; I knew then I had to learn to play the guitar.

“We moved to Houston in the ’50s, when my dad went to law school and later worked as an attorney,” he says. “I went to a couple of colleges and, finally, to the University of Houston. I loved all kinds of music and was very interested in John Lomax (the folk music historian), his American folk songs and the Texas Folklore Society. But, Chuck Berry was my favorite. If you ever listen, really listen, to his songs and pick them apart, you know it’s poetry … extremely well-written poetry.”

In the ’60s, Clark worked as an art director for KHOU Channel 11 during the day and began writing and performing his special brand of folk- and blues-influenced country music by night, playing the Jester Lounge (on Westheimer and Post Oak), the Sandman Coffee House and the Old Quarter downtown. It was in Houston that he met a lifelong friend, fellow songwriter and performer, Townes Van Zandt, who toured with Clark until Van Zandt’s death in 1997. Clark credits Van Zandt with being a major influence on his songwriting.

After a brief sojourn to San Francisco, Clark returned to Houston, where he met and married his wife Susanna, a songwriter and artist. A move to L.A. ended quickly, but not before Clark had penned one of his classic songs, “L.A. Freeway,” which Jerry Jeff Walker recorded and turned into a hit. Next, the Clarks made the permanent move to Nashville.

By the time Clark’s first album premiered in 1975, he was considered one of the most promising young writers in country music. Many of his albums reflect his Texas roots, and all of his songs are masterfully crafted with honest, folksy lyrics and melodies that he has devoted his life to writing. For decades, he’s put out a steady stream of music, with albums such as Texas Cookin’, The South Coast of Texas, Guy Clark, Better Days, Old Friends, Boats to Build, Dublin Blues, Keepers, Cold Dog Soup, Together at the Bluebird Café (with Townes van Zandt and Steve Earle) and The Dark.

Additionally, many of Clark’s songs have been hits for other artists, such as Johnny Cash, Vince Gill, George Strait, David Allen Coe, Ricky Skaggs, The Highwaymen, Jimmy Buffet, Steve Wariner, Rodney Crowell and Lyle Lovett, who recorded Clark’s first song, “Step Inside This House,” that had never been recorded before.

When asked if one of his songs is his favorite, Clark insists, “I like ’em all!” But, after a brief hesitation, he says, “‘She Ain’t Goin’ No Where.'” On the same track, Clark has a hard time putting his finger on his current favorite artist. “Oh, I have so many,” he admits. “But, there are two sisters, The Waifs, from Australia: full of enthusiasm and energy.”

Skilled at working with stringed instruments, Clark’s music mastery goes beyond the notes. “It started with my ability to work with wood and my love of guitars,” he says of his luthier skills. “Most of it was by trial and error: I’d take ’em apart and put ’em back together.”

With so many songs on the charts, Clark keeps a schedule to produce all the hits still to come. “Well, I start early in the morning when I’m brighter, quicker, funnier,” he reveals. “I sit in my guitar shop at my writing desk and just start writing. I never write at night. I’m still thrilled when it comes together; it’s very rewarding when I think I’ve done good work.” He even advises novice song writers to “write with a pencil and a big eraser.”

“The feeling I get from performing: Sometimes it’s perfect … you hit a hole-in-one … and that’s an awesome feeling,” he says. “It’s a really hard job, what with the travel, all the airports, maybe 10 or 12 hours to get there. It’s a lot more involved that you might think and can get pretty tedious. Obviously, I love doing it. What I do is the best that I can … play and sing my best — and have some fun while I’m at it.”

Known as an Americana legend, Clark reveals that it’s simply all in a day’s work. “I like what I’ve done with my life. You never get to be the best; you never get there. It’s always the next song; I’m always working on the next song. I like good work! Nothing matters more than the quality of the work! I feel responsible for that.”

Hard work has obviously paid off for Clark as he has been recognized by the public and peers alike for creating masterful, poignant melodies and insightful lyrics that touch the heart. In 2004, he was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Foundation’s Songwriters Hall of Fame and was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Songwriting by the Americana Music Association in 2005. “I’m flattered, and I do appreciate it,” he says of the recognition. “But it didn’t change my life; it didn’t make me a better writer. I’ve got to get up in the morning and work.”

His latest body of work is in his 11th studio album, Workbench Songs, that was released last September. Warm and cozy, Clark has collaborated with other writers on most of the songs. “I’m proud of it,” he says frankly. “When I get 10 or 12 good songs, I’m ready to do a new album. I really like the upbeat ‘The Walking Man’ and ‘Magdalene.’ ‘No Lonesome Tune’ by the late Townes Van Zandt is included. I miss my friend of 40 years; I miss his brightness and his humor.”

Again, harking back to memories of Texas, “Tornado Time In Texas” paints a vivid picture that is indelible in the minds of most Texans and almost lets you smell the Texas dirt.

Well, the sky was blacker than a funeral suit. Hotter than a depot stove.
Hide in the cellar — here comes Amarillo. Blowin’ up the road.

You got ya hailstones, big hen eggs, boys. Clouds as green can be.
Ol’ Mother Nature’s raisin’ hell. She parked the pick-up in a tree.

Tornado time in Texas. Take the paint right off of your barn.
Tornado time in Texas. Blow the tattoo off of your arm.

Campaign for Creativity

March 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Edit

Shaping the future of our youth and community one art project at a time

Eighty-nine percent of Americans believe that arts education should have a place in schools; however, diminishing budgets and other factors continue to decrease the number of arts programs offered in both schools and communities. Culture Shapers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving young artists, works to reverse this trend by supporting local students who have a passion for the arts. From photography to film, and painting to singing, the organization aims to help young Houston artists through unique citywide visual and performing arts contests, namely the Visual Arts Contest and the Young Voices of Houston Contest.

On March 5, the last monthly semifinal contest will take place to determine which students will compete in the annual Young Voices of Houston final competition on April 9. Twelve vocalists, selected from hundreds of students to represent their high schools and school districts, will compete in the March semifinals by performing a song of their choice before a live audience. The contestants are judged by both the audience and a panel of three judges and are evaluated in the following five areas: vocal ability, interpretation, movement, stage presence and overall showmanship. The winner is automatically eligible to return and compete in the annual Young Voices of Houston final competition, where cash prizes total more than $5,000.

Motivated to positively impact the lives of high school students after the 1999 Columbine High School tragedy, a group of business and church leaders founded Culture Shapers with the mission to touch as many students’ lives as possible. During their preliminary research, the founders of Culture Shapers discovered that athletics and natural sciences receive far more attention and reward in school programs than do the social sciences and humanities. Committed to encouraging young men and women all over the Houston area to use their creative talents to affect their future in a positive way, they began sponsoring arts contests and paving the way for our next “culture shapers.”

Over the past seven years, Culture Shapers has awarded nearly $600,000 to young artists from counties all over Houston. Interested in helping the organization raise even more money to promote arts in the community? Take part in Birdies for Charity, a program held each year in conjunction with the Shell Houston Open PGA Tour event, March 26 — April 1, 2007 at Redstone Golf Club. Intrigued? Here’s how to play:

Visit www.cultureshapers.com, and complete the Birdies for Charity pledge form, which designates Culture Shapers to receive 100 percent of your pledge. You can pledge any amount — starting from a penny per birdie made Wednesday through Sunday. Then, guess how many total birdies will be made at this year’s Shell Houston Open. After the tournament, you will be billed by the Houston Golf Association for the amount of your pledge. (For instance, if the pros make 1,500 birdies and you pledged one penny, you will be billed for $15.00). Guess correctly, and you’ll also earn a chance to win a 2007 Buick Lucerne. (Hint: Last year’s winning number was 1,753!)

Outside the Box

March 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Edit

Suchu Dance offers audiences an intimate experience with ‘Drift Battalion’

In 1998, Jennifer Wood created Suchu Dance, an award-winning, contemporary dance troupe, with a mission to create and present an unpredictable dance theater production for audiences. Eight years later, Suchu Dance continues to do just that. Armed with an imagination in perpetual overdrive and a never-ending supply of inspiration, Wood, as artistic director of Suchu Dance, continues to create and choreograph inventive work that audiences are more apt to call an experience rather than a mere dance performance.

Suchu Dance will present its latest work, “Drift Battalion,” March 16-April 1 at Barnevelder Theatre. Voted “Best Modern Dance Company” by Houston Press in 2005, Suchu Dance has a history of creating its own small-to mid-size unconventional performing spaces, and “Drift Battalion” is no exception. The audience is seated in a single row around the perimeter of the performing space, and the dancers perform inside and outside the square the audience creates. In this way, the dancers — six in “Drift Battalion” — reconstruct the audience’s perception of space and create a newly imagined space. “The arrangement for this show,” says Jennifer Wood, “is intended to be a room within a room, like nesting boxes, with the audience being among and in very close proximity to the dancers.”

In developing the choreography, Wood began thinking about places and the concept of what place is. “Places, and the concept of place, are under continual renewal,” says Wood. “Places in our cities — the spaces that we hold in our minds and that lend structure to our lives — are renewed by human actions. Places are changed by how we think about them. In this context, I set about translating these ideas into a way to work within the performance space and a way to approach the making of a dance. ‘Place’ has become translated to ‘space,’ meaning the dancers’ spatial relationship to each other, to the floor area, and to the audience.”

Not a “dance person”? Not to worry. Suchu Dance has been drawing in — and mesmerizing — audiences that range from the non-dance camp to the seasoned dance crowd since its inception. Besides placing a strong emphasis on creating new work with great frequency (i.e. no two performances are alike), Suchu Dance aspires to make the audience’s evening memorable by ensuring that it’s not just about dance. Great care is taken with other performance elements, such as the production value and overall visual design.

Know Before You Go: There’s No Right Way to Watch Dance Interested in watching a dance performance, but hesitant of what to expect — or even what you’re supposed to look at on stage? You’re not alone. According to Louie Saletan, managing director of Suchu Dance, there’s no one correct place to be looking during a dance performance. “Just like there are multiple facets to any verbal conversation, so too, there are in dance: the things being stated outright, the things being emphasized, the things being implied, the things that subconsciously slip in, the things being intentionally omitted,” he says. “There are many subtexts behind what we are communicating; some of them totally subconscious. What you get out of participating in any conversation — or watching dance — depends on who you listen to and how you listen. Depending on who you want to watch, where you want to look, you get a very different experience. As we perform, there are many personal ‘conversations’ occurring between different performers and different audience members at the same time. Pick one, and roll with it for a while.”

Behind the Scenes

March 1, 2007 by  
Filed under Edit

Floyd lends a hand to ensure that Rodeo Houston is a world-class affair

It’s rodeo time in Houston — the 75th anniversary Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, to be precise! As Houston’s biggest charity, HLSR’s attendance could top 1.75 million this year. An army of volunteers enables prices to stay low, while proceeds support educational programs in Texas schools. In 75 years, HLSR has given more than $200 million to support the youth of Texas. The first direct college scholarship was bestowed 50 years ago in honor of the 25th anniversary show; and this past fall, nearly 2,000 students went to college on direct HLSR scholarships.

RodeoHouston is an entertainment extravaganza. The cheapest ticket is $16 and includes: a world-class concert, the world’s largest rodeo, AgVenture, livestock and horse shows, competitions, a carnival, shopping mall, art show, and more.

Rodeo’s three action-packed weeks allow us to flaunt Houston’s western heritage — from fancy boots and bolo ties to diamonds and denim. If you don’t have that drop-dead outfit, you can find it at Reliant Park. The shopping is glorious.

Seventeen thousand volunteers on 90 different committees help in every aspect of the show, which draws guests from 52 countries. Heading up the 75th anniversary celebration is one particularly special volunteer, Charlene Casey Floyd.

Spirit of strength
Serving as HLSR vice president, Floyd knows how to corral a herd of volunteers. She spent a year in Iraq, shepherding 8,000 military personnel, managing morale, welfare and recreation for seven camps in the war zone. Rodeo must seem like a piece of cake!

The middle of the Iraqi warzone is quite a change from her North Zulch, Texas (population 400), upbringing. Working with Transco Energy Company (eventually bought out by Williams Gas Pipeline) for 17 years, she rose from administrative assistant to manager of community relations, managing a $3 million-plus corporate giving program. Williams employees, lead by Floyd, raised $24 million for United Way through Riding The Pipelines bike rides. On Sept. 10, 2001, she kicked it off live in New York on the “Today Show” with Al Roker. The next morning in a van on her way to Camden Yards with other riders, a call came about the 9-11 attacks.

The decision had to be made: Call off the ride or continue? Floyd had 250 riders poised beside Williams’ pipelines all across the country. “The President and CEO told me it was my decision,” she recalls. “I decided to go on with it. We weren’t going to give in to the terrorists, and it gave us something positive to do.”

Change of plans
Floyd was planning her retirement when Enron tanked. “It was guilt by association,” she says. “People thought most of the companies were doing what Enron was doing. That wasn’t the case. Even so, Enron took most of the oil and gas stocks down with it.”

Floyd had most of her savings in Williams stock. It went from $50 a share to 70 cents a share. Plus, Williams had to cut jobs; and hers was one of them. A friend suggested she look into Halliburton’s efforts to fill positions in Iraq. She applied online and was offered a job the next morning over the phone. For the next year, she worked in Iraq.

Days of thunder
“My first camp was in Tikirt — Saddam’s hometown,” she says. “I was like a mother to these 18- and 19-year-old kids. I remember one young woman crying her eyes out as she walked through the camp on Christmas Day. I asked her, ‘What’s wrong?’ Her boyfriend had just broken up with her … on Christmas!”

Floyd’s heart still aches for another young soldier who was excited his deployment was almost up and video conferenced home at a computer in the recreation area. “His wife told him not to bother to come home,” she remembers. “He asked, ‘Why?’ And she just panned her camera over, and there was a man in his briefs standing in the soldier’s bedroom. That poor boy was nearly suicidal.” It gets uglier. Workers from the town were targeted. “Their heads would be dropped off at the front gate of our camp,” she states.

“Two mortars landed on either side of my hut,” she says. “It blew me out of bed. Every Friday, on their Sabbath, they’d shell the camp. Amazingly, no one was killed. And, riding in helicopters was especially scary. I do believe God was watching over me in Iraq.”

While in Iraq, she continued with the rodeo. HLSR sent her a tape of the pay-per-view broadcast to show in the movie room. “It is very rewarding to work with the soliders — trying to keep our country safe, and trying to give Iraqis a better life — and working with the show volunteers, who are trying to help students with their education so they can have a better life.”

Rodeo time
Floyd began volunteering in ticket sales with HLSR 23 years ago. “When you’re from a small town, you appreciate the need for college scholarships,” Floyd explains. She became the first person to sell $100,000 worth of tickets.

Besides heading up the 75th Anniversary Special Projects, she is also officer in charge of Corporate Development, Rodeo Ticket Sales, the Trailblazer and Western Heritage Community Challenge, and Junior Rodeo committees. Additionally, as manager of member services for the Greater Houston Partnership, she is in the perfect position to encourage companies and schools to allow employees and students to dress western for Go Texan Day.

You’re probably noticing the 85 six-foot painted cowboy boots displayed around town. Well, that’s Boot Scoot 2007, initiated by the Western Heritage Community Challenge Committee. Similar to the city’s parade of cows that was here a couple of years ago, Boot Scoot 2007 encourages groups, youth and artists to decorate the statues, as well as businesses and individuals to underwrite them. (The 20 boots judged as the best surround Reliant Center.) Getting younger folks involved is also on Floyd’s agenda. She and Bob Livermore are behind a new Junior Rodeo committee, which they hope will be “rolled out to the public next year.”

As a consistent leader, Floyd epitimozies the volunteers who work with the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Veteran rodeo volunteer Carol Sawyer says, “Charlene is awesome. She is a take-charge lady who will surely take the show in great new directions.” And with a history that includes pushing through the aftermath of 9-11, surviving the collapse of Enron and a year stint in war-torn Iraq, we’re confident she will prove everyone right.