If I have a relaxed deadline, sometimes I like to have something on in the background but I’m particular about what I listen to. Top 40 won’t do it because it doesn’t inspire anything. Still, it needs to be more interesting than fan noise. So I’ve ended up with an odd collection of music that does that for me. They span a few generations and genres but they’re all made by interesting people who made art they wanted (or were compelled) to make.
Jandek has independently produced his music in Houston for several decades and is said to be one of the most elusive outsider musicians, preferring his musical “product” to speak for itself. Those products are eerily dissonant tunes dripping with undertones of folk and blues.
Wesley Willis If you spent some time in the 90s punk scene, you’ve heard of Willis. He got a lot of play on Rice Radio and beyond for his absurd and quotable lyrics. Willis’ music was a coping mechanism for his schizophrenia and said he wrote songs to “gross-out” the demons he imagined so that they would leave him alone.
Bingo Gazingo was an elderly Queens NY musician of tireless self-promotion. He sang and yelled his rhythmic spoken-word songs on the streets and anywhere people would listen. Lyrics were hilarious and based on current events or happenings in his life. (He is the man in the cover photo for the Spotify album.)
Jad Fair is a visual artist and musician who started writing and playing lo-fi alternative music in the grunge-influential band Half Japanese in 1975. Since then he’s continued to inspire and work with a wide range of musicians.
Erik Satie was a Parisian composer experimenting in the late 1880s. Although he influenced greats like Debussy and Ravel he never gained success for himself. He produced a concert performance with Picaso and other great artists that caused a riot and landed him in jail with charges of “cultural anarchy”. Never considering himself a composer, he insisted he was a “phonometrographer” with science as the dominating factor in his creations.
T. Valentine was an R&B amature and playwright in Chicago in the 60s. He wrote the cult classic “Hello Lucille are you a lesbian” and distributed it widely to get back at his wife for leaving him for another man. He also wrote a play called “The Vampire” which he performed in east side clubs for a run of three years until he “ran out of actresses who could really scream”.
Many of these artists are also featured in a great 2003 documentary titled “Outsiders”.
Don’t call Alan Sheldon Vannoy a Renaissance Man. He’s only the entrepreneur behind Alpine food truck Cow Dog, designer of the iconic Saddle Club sign, a handy-man, a classically trained book artist, and a talented print maker. Instead, Vannoy prefers to be known as a “seeker” of happiness. According to his philosophy, we’re all here to enjoy the quest for happiness and that is exactly what drives his life, work, and artistic pursuits.
Vannoy’s studio reflects his philosophy. It’s a self converted three car garage, containing an organized mix of traditional repair tools, playful ephemera, and print-making supplies. A few large working tables line the walls with shelves and drawers above and below storing papers, brightly colored inks, and rollers. In a set of worn garage utility drawers I find nuts and bolts among drawers of googgly eyes. One wall (and and then some) is devoted to what Vannoy jokes is the “detritus” that inspires him: a cover of David Bowie ripped from “Rolling Stone” magazine, a large collection of energy drinks, black velvet nudes, Japanese stickers, posters of his previous exhibits, a “BEWARD OF GOD” sign, and dollar store toys arranged in an antique printing press type specimen case.
He asks if we want to see a printmaking demo as if I’d decline. The press is the first thing you see when you walk in to studio and it had been all I could do not to demand a demo before all the proper cordiality. He grabs a small tin of ink and starts smearing persimmon onto a plate with a raised pattern of M’s and Q’s. He wipes the top of the plate clean, leaving ink only in the sunken negative space between letters. Then, he soaks a photocopied image of a carnival prize doll with some magical formula and then rolls black ink over it. By some kind of voo-doo the ink doesn’t saturate the entire image- it only sticks to the black lines of the photocopy. He swears this works best with copies from very old books, and shows us his stack of crumbling specimen books on the shelf above. Finally, he places the inky doll on the plate of letters, and tops it with a wet piece of paper before putting the whole stack under the press. The resulting print is vibrant and truly one-of-a-kind as Vannoy spurns the printer’s tradition of making numbered editions of his prints. He attaches the damp print onto a piece of plywood with a copious border of staples. He smiles admitting that this isn’t the “proper way” to let prints dry. But the results are better.
I got about halfway up Hancock Hill Saturday morning before noticing a strange structure glimmering in the distance. Doubling back for a closer look, I discovered it was a plastic wrap sculpture of six ghostly figures kneeling, their arms flailing in the air. The largest of the life-sized figures is headless and it’s unclear if this is artistic license or the work of ravenous deer.
When I looked closer, I could see that what I at first thought was structural wire, was actually LED lighting. Each figure is wired and has it’s own power supply box with on/off switch. The desert is a rough place, so I didn’t expect the lights to work- but by some miracle they do!
I spent the next two days wondering what the hell it was supposed to mean. I wanted to go back and visit the sculpture again at dark, but wasn’t able to get back up the hill for two days. It was visible as a ghostly speck of light on the mountain each night. When I finally hiked back up tonight, the sculpture had mysteriously disappeared without a trace. Perhaps this is a traveling installment, moving with each gust of wind.
A misfit team of creatives met in the dark corners of Artist’s Alley during Alpine’s 2015 Big Bend Comic Con. These local artists: Simon Curry, Chris Ruggia, Austin Smith, and Tommy Tessier would go on to create Galeria Sibley’s current exhibition titled “REDS”. The exhibit, showing now until April 10th, opened Friday night with a mix of drawing, photography, and painting that gives Alpine a much needed hit of the avant guarde. It’s obvious the exhibit is inspired by graphic drawing and comics, but it’s remixed with quirky desert culture and artful theory that can only be bred in Alpine.
I took the Blind Bard (George) to the opening and did a terrible job of describing the art for him. Look at Curry’s intricate pen and ink drawn patterns long enough and you’ll spot hands, hoodlums, and other playful Easter eggs. Ruggia, inspired by the African tradition of animal masks, exhibits a series of human characters disguised as common desert animals. Smith’s mixed media text and photo diptychs left viewers creating their own narrative to fill the gaps left between text and image. Smith also showcased several of his strangely absurd comic books. Tessier’s series of large painted wooden boards mimic the panels of the comic page and seem to follow a blue figure on an epic space adventure. I overheard several patrons creating their own story, but never got Tessier’s take.
I’m not sure if Simon Curry was playing an April Fools joke on me, but he told me before the opening that the band was going to play some “chill background music”. Instead we got a heavy metal debut from guitar/drum duo “Time Waves”. George decided to head home at this point, citing the importance of a blind man maintaining hearing faculties. The night rocked on with moshing, break-dancing, and a dog who wandered in to lick the drummer and various crowd members mid-set.
“God damn tourist eatin’ up all the bagels!” screamed a white-haired old lady in line ahead of me at the Bread and Breakfast. I shrunk behind her hoping she wouldn’t turn and identify me as one of them. Because that is exactly what I was in 2004. One of those awful people from Houston who come into town going the wrong way on the one way streets, smiling at the town deer, and eatin’ up all the food before the locals can get up for their usual. I don’t remember what the old lady looked like. I probably see her all the time, but don’t recognize her because now that I’m a local(ish) she’s probably real sweet and I probably let her cut the line ahead of me at the grocery store.
I’ve actually lived in Alpine during two periods. I moved here the first time in 2006. During that initial period I stopped living in sin with my now husband, David, and I worked three jobs: one at a dollar store, one at the Alpine Avalanche, and one at the Alpine Public Library. David and I left Alpine in 2011 to attend the University of North Texas for our Masters in Library Science. It’s odd that it was during my time away from West Texas that I began illustrating George Covington’s bi-weekly column in The Big Bend Sentinel. As a bonus, this came with a gratis copy of the newspaper so I was never behind on Big Bend happenings. As luck would have it, I had the opportunity to come back to Alpine in 2015 and in many ways it feels like I never left.