1. Abbott Forming
The moment Rick Perry announced that he was not running for a fourth full term as governor, all eyes turned to Attorney General Greg Abbott, who instantly became the most powerful Republican in the state. The 55-year-old Wichita Falls native has long been viewed as a serious candidate for the Governor’s Mansion, and he has sharpened his conservative credentials (he is pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Bible, and pro–suing the lights out of the Obama administration), raised the cash (a daunting war chest of more than $20 million), and, incidentally, handled his disability with grace and humor (a star track athlete at Duncanville High School, he was paralyzed in 1984 from the waist down in a freak accident while jogging with a friend; he recently told me, “The only thing I wasn’t faster than was a falling tree”). Abbott has been in office since 2002, and though a recent poll showed him doing better than Perry against a slate of Democrats, 43 percent of voters still had no opinion of him. That will change in the coming months, as Abbott strives to extend the legacy of the Perry administration while putting his own face on it. But his strong play for the conservative vote prompts a question: If Abbott wins, will he be a transformational figure who guides the Republican party through an era of massive demographic change? Or a transitional figure, sandwiched between the longest-serving governor in history and an emerging tide of Democratic challengers? Either way, the future of Texas politics begins now. —Brian D. Sweany
2. Box Set in the Summertime
From 1968 to 1975 Sly and the Family Stone’s string of hits managed to infiltrate the pop, soul, and even underground rock formats of American radio, and the four-CD retrospective Higher (Legacy) offers beautiful remasters of those familiar songs in their original mono. But the box set also provides an illuminating look at what came before. Sly Stone, who left his hometown of Denton for California when he was still a child, spent his early twenties as a Bay Area writer and producer for hire, which allowed him to experiment in the studio and try out a number of styles. The singles he recorded for independent labels—rarely heard until now—display a strong talent grasping for an identity. Some of the previously unreleased material with the Family Stone is superfluous, but there are real discoveries too, including a raw-edged early take of “I Get High on You” and a blistering 1970 performance at the Isle of Wight Festival that belies Stone’s reputation as a drug-addled performer. Stone’s sad decline over the past four decades has been well documented, but this vital collection does the far more important work of celebrating his climb to the top. —Jeff McCord
3. The One-Question Interview: Jeff Guinn
Forty-four years ago this month, the cult leader Charles Manson and his “Family” engaged in their most infamous crime—the murder of five people, including the actress Sharon Tate, in a Los Angeles mansion. Fort Worth journalist and writer Jeff Guinn, the author of books about Bonnie and Clyde and the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, marks this bloody anniversary with Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson(Simon & Schuster). Guinn’s book, which includes interviews with Manson family—and Family—members who have never gone on the record before, reminds us that there’s a terrible Texas thread in the murders: Tate and her killer, Charles “Tex” Watson, were both born in the Dallas area and, though they did not know each other, somehow found themselves on opposite ends of a knife during one of the most horrifying nights in contemporary American history.
Q: Is it true that Charles Manson hated Texas?
A: Charles Manson loathed Texas. He had two of the worst experiences of his very tumultuous life here. The first one came in 1959. Charlie had already been in prison for a couple of years for auto theft and was on the run from charges in California for check forgery and for violating the Mann Act because he took some prostitutes across the state border. He thought if he ran to Texas nobody could possibly find him here—it was just too big. But he was picked up in Laredo and extradited to California, where he was sent back to prison for his longest stay. The thing he hated about Texas was that he felt Texas was supposed to be independent from everyplace else, so why in the hell were they cooperating with the gestapo in California?
Then, in late 1967, when Charlie was first putting the Family together, he was tooling around the Southwest in an old school bus and he came back to Texas and had a terrible toothache. A dentist he went to see said, “Well, we’re going to have to pull all those teeth, Mr. Manson.” Charlie, who expected to become a great singer, bigger even than the Beatles, thought that it was some kind of Texas conspiracy to keep him from reaching his musical excellence. He was furious, refused to have the teeth pulled, and hauled the Family out of Texas as quickly as he could. Nobody is exactly sure [where this happened]. Amarillo is one of the guesses, and there are some people who think he got as far east as Dallas. The Family was on a lot of drugs at the time, and their sense of geography was pretty limited.
4. Back in Texas, for the Very First Time
Can you be a great Texas filmmaker without ever having made a great Texas movie? For years, that’s the question a lot of us have been asking about the Arkansas-born, Richardson-raised writer-director David Gordon Green. There’s no mistaking his talent, on display in dreamy indies like his debut, George Washington (2000), and Hollywood hits like the stoner action-comedy Pineapple Express (2008). Yet despite his far-ranging résumé (he also directed episodes of HBO’s Eastbound and Down as well as the 2012 Clint Eastwood–narrated Chrysler Super Bowl commercial), Green—who lives outside Austin—has steered clear of Lone Star State stories. That changes this month with the release of Prince Avalanche, loosely based on the 2011 Icelandic movie Either Way. Set in 1988 on a lonely stretch of East Texas highway, the film follows two mismatched screwups (Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch) who have arrived to repaint highway lines in the aftermath of devastating forest fires. One part buddy comedy, one part coming-of-middle-age reverie, it’s an exceedingly small-scale effort that certainly won’t be confused with the summer’s CGI blockbusters. What it offers, instead, is a poignant reaffirmation of a classic Texas theme: the idea that, no matter how broken your heart or how ravaged your surroundings, it’s never too late to start over. David Gordon Green might have taken a while to do his state fully proud, but a Texas movie this generous and tender was worth waiting for. —Christopher Kelly
5. What We Talk About When We Talk About the Border
In “Baby Money,” the first story in Ito Romo’s collection The Border Is Burning (University of New Mexico Press), the Rio Grande has overflowed its banks during a tropical storm and flooded the Nuevo Laredo home of a woman who is forced to take her two small children and flee to her sister’s “cardboard house across town.” When she finally returns, she discovers that the waters have delivered to her home a deformed fetus floating in its formaldehyde bath—a sideshow attraction at a nearby carnival that was also inundated by the river. “The two-headed baby, still in its giant mayonnaise jar, was half-buried in the muddy floor,” Romo writes. There’s a $500 reward on offer, money the woman and her children desperately need. But she looks at the misshapen creature, places the jar on her bed, drapes a crown of plastic flowers around the lid, and descends into a rage, yelling, “I don’t want your dammit baby money,” over and over. Not every story in this San Antonio artist and writer’s first collection is quite so effective—Romo deals in very short stories, and a few of them never transcend their fragmentary nature—but more often than not these South Texas meth addicts, lonely hearts, aimless teens, brutalized lovers, and part-time Walmart employees stake a claim on our attention and our sympathy in a few brief pages. In other hands, this material might come off as lurid or exploitative. But Romo never goes there—his gaze is something finer, at once pitiless and merciful.