1. NASHVILLE, TEXAS
Even if Kacey Musgraves wins none of the six Country Music Association awards she’ll be vying for on November 6, she’ll still be the Nashville story of the year. No female debut artist has ever before topped the CMA nominations list, and Musgraves achieved that honor with an absolute minimum of toeing the Nashville line. Her chart-topping album, Same Trailer Different Park, features approving lyrics about pot smoking and same-sex dalliances, set to music that occasionally recalls Musgraves’ songwriting hero, the longtime country-music outsider John Prine. But Musgraves’s unlikely ascendence is more than a personal victory. It’s a sign that the Nashville machine is loosening up to make room for oddballs and rebels. Which is to say, Texans. In the early seventies Willie Nelson launched the modern Texas country scene when he left Nashville after years of frustration and came home to make the kind of music he had always wanted to make. Ever since, Texas—and Austin in particular—has taken pleasure in regarding itself as the anti-Nashville. Lately, though, the exodus has gone in the opposite direction: Musgraves left the East Texas town of Golden for Nashville (with a stop in Austin) to make the kind of music she had always wanted to make; her East Texas neighbor Miranda Lambert had done the same a few years earlier. Then there’s Lubbock’s Amanda Shires, who grew up playing fiddle in western swing bands before moving to Nashville, where she recently released an album that bears at best a glancing resemblance to country. Toss in such non-Texan nonconformists as Jack White, the Black Keys, the Kings of Leon, and Jason Isbell, and you can understand why Rolling Stone recently declared the city’s music scene the best in the country. If Nashville in the early seventies had been more like the Nashville of today, Willie might never have left. Of course, one could argue that Nashville in the early seventies was a lot like the Nashville of today. Though Willie was indeed badly used by RCA’s country division, the town itself, as Michael Streissguth’s recent book, Outlaw: Waylon, Willie, Kris, and the Renegades of Nashville, establishes, was undergoing a transformation just as he was heading for the door. Streissguth portrays a Nashville that was upended by the counterculture, with West End clubs that catered to longhairs and a music industry that was forced to pay attention. In 1970 Johnny Cash had a number one hit with Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down”—as bleak as any song Bob Dylan ever wrote—and won the CMA’s Song of the Year award for it. Soon after, Texans such as Rodney Crowell and Guy Clark came to town and started coloring outside the lines too. For sure, after the outlaw movement ran its course, Nashville went through an era of homogenization that made it easier than it should have been for Texas to boast about its supposed musical superiority. But today it’s hard for us to keep making that case. Kacey Musgraves, like a handful of others, is recording top-drawer Texas-style country music, and doing so even though she’s GTT—gone to Tennessee.
2. The best opening sentence from the new short-story collection Dallas Noir:
“Diego Smith woke up in an empty bed with a head full of hurt.”
And the worst:
“We all went over to Pauline’s to admire her breasts.”
3. The One-Question Interview: Matt Zoller Seitz
Dallas-born Matt Zoller Seitz is the television critic for New York magazine and the editor in chief of RogerEbert.com. At the Dallas Observer, he was one of the first journalists to write about Houston-born director Wes Anderson and his 1996 breakthrough film, Bottle Rocket. Seitz’s new book, The Wes Anderson Collection (Abrams), is a coffee-table-format gathering of interviews with Anderson and essays about his work. Seitz will be doing events in San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston on November 5, 7, and 9. —Christopher Kelly
Q: Anderson has enjoyed a great deal of acclaim and been nominated three times for an Oscar. But in some respects he still seems like a cult figure; his highest-grossing movie, The Royal Tenenbaums, made only $52 million. Is he destined to be one of those artists who are always just a tad undervalued?
A: I don’t know about undervalued, though critics and some audience members seem to damn him with faint praise a lot or complain that he’s too neat or too flamboyant or too something. His sensibility may very well be too peculiar and special to attain a Spielberg level of success, and whether that ends up being the case doesn’t strike me as something Wes loses sleep over. He could be one of those directors who make one interesting movie every two to three years without ever winning an Oscar, and then they give him an award posthumously and everyone collectively pretends they always appreciated him. Or the next movie could win Best Picture. You just never know.
4. Rockets Science
The lineage of Houston Rockets centers is fat with impressive legacy. Moses Malone, Ralph Sampson, Elvin Hayes, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Yao Ming, all of whom rate favorably in any “Big Men of the NBA” conversation, have worn the R on their chest. This fall, Dwight Howard—a semi-polarizing figure who has never established any sort of low-post game; if he can’t catch it and dunk it, then he’s lost—will join that hallowed grouping. So here’s a multiple-choice quiz testing your knowledge of the low-post history of the Houston Rockets. —Shea Serrano
a) Ralph Sampson
5. FOUR THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT PROPOSITION 6
On November 5 Texas voters will be asked to approve Proposition 6, which would divert $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund to establish the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT). (And the State Water Implementation Revenue Fund for Texas, but let’s try to keep this simple.) Yet while proponents say Prop 6 is a sound investment that will help us deal with our chronic drought, opponents claim it’s a boondoggle. Should we open the spigot? Here are the facts you should know before casting your vote.