A look at what to read, hear, and watch this month in order to achieve maximum Texas cultural literacy.
Things We Do at Night, Blue October (Up/Down-Brando Records, November 20)
This platinum-selling quintet formed in Houston and is based in San Marcos, but the music on its concert DVD/CD—think U2-style chiming guitar lines, anthemic choruses by the yard, and lyrics that bounce between the confessional and affirmational—could have come from anywhere. Which doesn’t dampen the Dallas audience’s enthusiasm one iota.
The Big Fist, Stiletto Feels (GTZ Records, November 20)
The debut of Austinite Geoff Earle’s latest guise is a wildly coloristic, digitally enhanced mash-up of drums, guitar riffs, synth lines, and hicuppy quick cuts. But what distinguishes him from all the other smart alecks with production studios hidden inside their MacBooks are his sweet, Droopy Dog melodies and his archly funny lyrics, which acknowledge a life lived outside the confines of his laptop.
Mimi and Dona (PBS, November 23)
When this affecting documentary begins, 92-year-old Mimi Thornton is coming to the realization that she has grown too frail to care for her 64-year-old mentally disabled daughter in the Dallas ranch home they have lived in for decades. What happens next, as recorded by Mimi’s granddaughter (and Dona’s niece) Sophie Sartain, includes a surprise turn and then another, sadder, final turn.
TCU versus Baylor (Amon G. Carter Stadium, November 27)
With both teams likely to be undefeated when they go head-to-head near the end of the season, the odds are great that either Baylor or TCU will represent Texas in the quest for the national championship. Which one, though, will be determined by this matchup, which you could regard as a sort of twenty-first-century update of the classic UT-A&M rivalry.
Janis: Little Girl Blue, directed by Amy Berg (December 4)
This documentary portrait of Janis Joplin isn’t quite riveting, but it has an unusual and admirable interest in her way with words. Berg’s use of vintage on-camera interviews and the many letters Joplin wrote to her parents in Port Arthur (read in voice-over by the musician Cat Power) reveal the combustible mix of strength and fragility that helps explain her art and her downfall.
Carrying the Black Bag, Tom Hutton (Texas Tech University Press, December 7)
As a neurologist in training, Hutton had the good fortune to study with A. R. Luria, the Oliver Sacks of his time. Following his mentor’s example, Hutton has penned an engaging collection of case studies, including the tale of a Lubbock man who, thanks to his Parkinson’s meds, hallucinated a daily game of pinochle with a pack of imaginary dogs.