Here at Texas Monthly, we love Texas culture, both the classic and the new. On a walk through our office halls, you might find a staffer writing to the sounds of Willie Nelson or spot a dog-eared Molly Ivins anthology on a bookshelf, but you could also encounter an editor revising to the sounds of Khruangbin or a fact-checker theorizing about the latest Texan to grace the stage of RuPaul’s Drag Race. Sharing our new finds and obsessions with other curious Texans is one of the best parts of the job. We hope you enjoy these recommendations as much as we do—and let us know your new favorite finds in the comments.
Lynn Wyatt Narrating Brandon Maxwell’s Spring Collection
When the high-profile designer (and new Project Runway judge) Brandon Maxwell creates a collection, the fashion is just one part of it. Maxwell and his fiancée, Jessy Price, who both studied photography at Austin’s St. Edward’s University, direct videos and other visuals that tell a complete story around the clothing. A powerful example is the fall campaign they did last year around Maxwell’s beloved grandmother Louise Johnson, who was a buyer at a women’s boutique in his native Longview for many years. The three-minute video for his spring/summer collection takes a much more playful approach with the help of that most fabulous Houstonian, 83-year-old Lynn Wyatt. In her dry-wine drawl, she narrates footage of Emily DiDonato (“She is a beautiful model, mmm mmm mmm”) as DiDonato dance-poses around what can best be described as an elevated tailgate, complete with pink Yeti coolers, folding chairs, and a beat-up pickup with a bed full of flowers. Wyatt praises the clear purse that can hold a Champagne bottle (“Is that the best or whuut?”) as DiDonato pops the cork (“Go for it, girl”), shows off different accessories (“Oh, it’s a chain of B’s! That’s adorable. That’s ADORABLE!”), and, of course, tries on Maxwell’s colorful dresses. You will watch it many times. Although a total riot, this playful romp has its roots in self-reflection and serious artistry. Last March, Maxwell, who is based in New York, and his team designed his spring line in Marfa, a process that they documented in yet another video project, “Back to Dust.” In the short film, Maxwell reveals the three women who inspire every collection: “Jackie O., Lady Bird Johnson, and the ultimate: Lynn Wyatt.” When you love Texas women as much as Maxwell does, it always works, on every level.
—Kathy Blackwell, executive editor
Countdown 5, the Best Texas City Garage Rock You’ve Never Heard Of
On a recent Saturday, I was puttering around the kitchen, half-listening to WFMU, my husband’s favorite radio station (and one he’s constantly streaming). The station is in New Jersey, but that morning, Michael Shelley, who does a weekly music podcast, interviewed Mack Hayes, the former lead singer of a Texas City band from the sixties called Countdown 5. The five-man band was influenced by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Paul Revere and the Raiders (whom they got to tour with), and a band called Clarence Perry and the Perrymates. In its time, Countdown 5 played weekly sold-out shows at Galveston beach venues such as the Bamboo Hut and Grass Menagerie and even toured as the opening act for bands like Steppenwolf and the Dave Clark 5. As the interview progressed, I became absorbed by the story of a band that almost made it and even had a couple of Billboard Top 100 songs (“Uncle Kirby from Brazil” and—apropos of the times—a song called “Shaka Na Na”) but never quite reached stardom. Mack Hayes is a great interview—personable, humble, funny, and with a Southeast Texas accent that reminds me of my dad. He was full of great stories about what it was like to be on the cusp of stardom that never came—but to move on and have a good life and be able to still play music.
—Amy Dorning, assistant editor
“Top of the Mountain,” Tejano Rock and Roll by Patricia Vonne
I’m a fan of seventies rock and roll, indie, and pop music, so when a stranger on the bus mentioned Patricia Vonne to me in passing, it was fate. Her album Top of the Mountain is suffused with an equal balance of country, hard rock, and Tejano. A native San Antonian, her most recent album features both songs in both English and Spanish, with a recurring motif of overcoming life’s obstacles. Vonne is reminiscent of a younger Joan Jett (her song “Lil’ Lobo” reminds me of Jett’s “I Hate Myself for Loving You”) but with better boots, more fringe, and a strong Latin influence. Her latest album has a song for anyone who has experienced hardship, heartbreak, or triumph.
—Jessica Reyes, intern
The Leftovers, a Post-Rapture TV Show Set in Texas
After hearing about the show from a friend, I recently binge-watched the entirety of HBO’s The Leftovers. The supernatural drama takes place after 2 percent of the world’s population has mysteriously disappeared. The show is worth watching for its ambitious storytelling and takes on themes like redemption and religion but even more so for its Texan cameo. Without giving away too much, in season two, the cast moves from the fictional city of Mapleton, New York, to a city called Jarden (also referred to as Miracle), Texas, where no disappearances have happened. Lo and behold, Miracle is actually Lockhart, and it makes for the perfect backdrop to a post-rapture world. The quaint and peaceful town is transformed into a destination where thousands of desperate would-be residents can’t get in due to the high demand. (HBO even made a website for Miracle where it discourages people from traveling or moving to the town.) The small-town boom is oddly similar to the influx of people moving to real-life Lockhart. And all fiction aside, the show solidifies that Texas, amid any and all chaos, is in fact paradise.
—Arielle Avila, office assistant
Give Up Your Ghosts, Rebecca Loebe’s Album of Adolescence
As a father of two teenage girls, I watch them grow from moment to moment. If you have kids, you know their lives can be mirrors, reflecting our own memories of lessons we learned growing up. If there was a soundtrack for this, written both from their perspective and ours, it would be Give Up Your Ghosts. Ms. Loebe’s melodies and hooks are strong, threaded together with great production. But her words, seemingly from personal experience, cut deep and urge us to emerge stronger and wiser from the stories we’ve all lived. From the track “Popular”: “No one feels cool / No one feels popular / Nothing they say has ever really been about you anyway.”
—Brian Standefer, multimedia producer