The day after last year’s shooting in downtown Dallas, Peter Simek posted this thoughtful essay on FrontBurner. It’s a great piece of writing, especially when you consider how quickly he put it together and that it was posted without an edit. For that essay and several other posts, Peter last night won the best online column category at the City and Regional Magazine Association’s annual convention, beating out writers from Los Angeles Magazine, Seattle Met, Pittsburgh Magazine, and Yankee Magazine. You can find the full list of winners here.
Congrats, Peter. Now send me the story I’m waiting on. You’re late.
Cinestate, the Dallas-based production company building its own multimedia universes, today released its first “ear book,” The Narrow Caves. The three-hour story, with voice acting by Vincent D’Onofrio and Wyatt Russell, among others, was written by S. Craig Zahler, who directed last year’s bone-crunchingly memorable blood-spattered western Bone Tomahawk.
I’m imagining something of an old-fashioned radio drama, with better voice acting and probably some more R-rated content, but the world of narrative fictional audio content is admittedly unfamiliar territory for me, and I’m curious to see hear whether it works. I’m getting a 30-day trial membership to Audible, and will report back. If you’ve already listened to it, let me know what you think.
Here’s the plot description for The Narrow Caves:
In Florida, 1983, two college students meet at a yard party and do not hit it off. Walter and Ruby have no reason to reprise this antagonistic encounter, but something strange and almost primordial burgeons within each of them. Their thoughts and dreams turn toward each other, and in very little time they find themselves in an intense and unique relationship. What lies at the bottom of their strange connection is unearthed when Walter joins Ruby on a holiday trip to her home in upstate New York, where a living darkness inhabits the woodlands that surround her family’s mansion. This engrossing and unpredictable blend of mystery, horror, and romance subverts the idea of “fated love” while exploring strange compulsions, intense desires, and ancient mysteries that are best left buried deep in the earth.
My first job out of college was a three-month paid internship as a sports editor at the Dallas Morning News. The DMN, along with the Boston Globe, had the best sports section in America. I didn’t know the term “imposter syndrome” at the time, but I certainly felt the effects of it every time I took a seat along the editing ring and pulled up a story to edit. No one gave one damn that I was young, dumb, and petrified. A dozen or more editors surrounded me every night, and they had neither the time nor the inclination to help me get through my shift without wetting myself.
Except for one person: Mike Hashimoto. Hash, as he was and is known, was there for me when I needed it — helping me rework dumb headlines, cut dangling strips of copy off the boards with an X-Acto knife minutes before deadline, whatever I needed. He didn’t coddle me. In fact, I felt pretty stupid every time he chided me with that deep, sighing baritone of his. But I have no doubt he kept me from being fired, which enabled me to get my next job, at D Magazine, which led to every other job I’ve been lucky enough to have in Dallas.
He was a helluva stand-up guy and a damn fine newspaperman. That’s why it didn’t surprise me when he became an editor on the news desk. He was a pro’s pro, someone who would make reporters and their copy better, no matter subject matter.
What surprised me was his move to the editorial writer-columnist role at the paper. That he could write smart takes was obvious; that he was so conservative shocked me. Because, c’mon, how could an insane liberal like me admire someone who admits to being “torn between conservatism and libertarianism”? How could I consider required reading the works of a person described as “the world’s only Japanese-American redneck”?
Because Hash was and is so damn smart. That’s how. Together with his then colleague Rod Dreher (the author of that redneck quote), the pair cranked out the sharpest conservative columns you could read anywhere in the country, let alone in Texas.
I disagreed with him often — I thoroughly enjoyed sending him emails mocking his faith in Mitt Romney four-plus years ago — but his columns were always thoughtful and well-written. Even when he was hammering Craig Watkins during his 2010 campaign (I was running Watkins’ media campaign at the time), I respected his tenacity and heart. He hated bullshit, and he called it on anyone who deserved it, no matter his personal relationship with the subject.
Hashimoto is leaving the DMN because of his declining health, which is terribly sad. But he’s still a tough-minded sumbitch, one who says he wants no sympathy. So I’ll give him none. I will, though, say this is not only a loss for the paper but for the city, too. I think that is the sort of thing upon which we can agree, no matter our politics.
The lead-up to my recent re-arrest by the U.S. Marshals Service and subsequent illegal four-day detention — a detention that only ended after one of the nation’s most prestigious law firms threatened to go to a judge — began a week prior. On Thursday April 20, I walked in to the Volunteers of America halfway house in Hutchins, Texas, for my biweekly case manager meeting with Victoria Dean, a VOA staffer. In the course of our conversation, I noted that I was doing an interview with VICE the next day, and that PBS would be coming a week later. Dean asked me if I had checked with the Bureau of Prisons on that; I replied that I had not, as I was not required to do so. As I explained to her then, the Bureau of Prisons Program Statement on News Media Contacts is the relevant policy document; it does not give the BOP the right to interfere with an inmate’s access to the press. Dean said the BOP requires halfway house staffers to notify them when a resident is about to speak to the press. I told her that was fine and left.
Later that afternoon, Dean called me at home and said she had spoken to BOP representative Luz Lujan, who had said I was required to fill out some forms before any interview, and that media representatives would have to do likewise. I told her I would do so as soon as the program statement granting the BOP the right of prior review was provided to me.
The next morning, the crew from VICE met me at D Magazine, and we began shooting for an episode of Cyberwar, to be aired next September. On camera, I called both Dean and Lujan, leaving messages to the effect that I still hadn’t heard from them on this imaginary program statement and wondering aloud if Lujan might not perhaps be thinking of an entirely different form, one which a news media representative is required to submit to a prison in order to gain access to an inmate, on the prison grounds. Those clips have now been made public by VICE.
I didn’t hear back from either Dean or Lujan on this over the following days. The next Wednesday, when I was summoned to the VOA for a random drug test, I saw the director, Merrill Wells. He asked me if I’d gotten the forms taken care of, and I told him I needed to speak with him about that. He said that he had a meeting right then. I said that perhaps it would be best if the matter were discussed in some more formal manner anyway. He replied that he would in fact be available to speak right then. I briefly explained that the BOP’s request, facilitated by Dean, was illegal and contrary to both BOP policy as put forth in the program statement as well as all current readings of the Constitution as applied even to inmates, and reminded him that I’d been doing interviews without any approval whatsoever for four years, both from prison and from his halfway house, and that his staff had been well aware of these things. He said that he had not been aware of this, and that they were merely required to report any press interviews, and that this was laid out in their operating guidelines.
After urinating in a cup for the glory of the state, I walked back to Dean’s office to see these forms she had been given. Dean was in Wells’ office across the hall, and the two were speaking with some degree of agitation, though I couldn’t make out what they were saying other than my name, which I consider the most wondrous of sounds and to which I have trained my ears. When the two came out, they were surprised to see me. I reminded Dean that she’d told me to pick up these forms. We all went in her office, and I again explained why their position was criminal and immoral and whatnot. But I took the forms with me.
That afternoon, I received a call from Dean and Wells, which I recorded; it’s available here. As can be heard, Dean tells me that my failure to fill out one of the two forms and to require media representatives to fill out and submit the other before interviewing me would be regarded as a “refusal.” Here she refers to a “Refusing an Order” infraction. I reply, at inimitable length and unwieldiness of tongue, that if the state and its servants believe that a refusal to comply with unconstitutional and imaginary rules that the state itself refuses to identify constitutes a refusal, then, by golly, what a wonderful world we have created for ourselves. Then I inform them that I am recording this conversation and will be “uh, submitting it” (I hadn’t actually decided what one does with a recording of this sort), and that it is my right to do so (which it is; laws on recording vary from state to state, but in Texas, one doesn’t even have to inform the other party, which I do just for fun).
Afterward I went on a Houston/Dallas radio show hosted by Kenny Webster, who was filling in for some other fellow, and whose other program, Pursuit of Happiness, I appear on about once a week. I explained the situation up to this point, and we attempted to get Luz Lujan on the phone but only got as far as her voicemail message, which we promptly mocked.
Shortly after that, I received another call from Dean, who said Lujan wanted to do a conference call. That call is here, and was relatively short since Lujan hung up after I told her that I would not speak to her or any BOP official without recording on my end, and that at any rate we had nothing to discuss as I merely wanted her agency to cite the rule that I was being threatened into following. Also I wanted to play video games, which I subsequently did, after first having the two recordings sent to the Courage Foundation and Free Barrett Brown organizations to be uploaded.
The next morning, I received a call from the halfway house telling me to report there immediately. I actually had to go in anyway for my twice-weekly regular check-in, but clearly this was something out of the ordinary. When I arrived, halfway staffer Woody Hossler asked me if I was recording, and I said no. Wells arrived and told me that he didn’t know what was going on but that the BOP had said that I should be called in and made to wait. I made a series of calls to journalists I know, as well as to Dallas City Councilman Philip Kingston, who started looking for a lawyer. At around 10 a.m., two U.S. Marshals arrived and took me into custody. I was taken to the Federal Building and shortly after was transferred to Seagoville Federal Correctional Institution, which has two jail units for those awaiting trial, sentencing, or further transfer, and where I spent the bulk of 2014 writing columns for D Magazine.
Incidentally, I caught up on a great deal of high-quality prison gossip over the next four days, including updates on people I wrote about in past columns (like the redneck Muslim gangster with whom I shared a cell in the SHU after our demonstration against a deranged guard, and who flooded our cell in the course of a mini-jihad against our captors). I shall resist the urge to digress, though it is strong. All of that will be covered in a separate piece a bit later.
At no point during my incarceration was I provided with any written explanation as to why I had been arrested. One staffer was able to tell me that the Marshals had been told by the BOP that I had “refused an order,” but no such infraction report materialized, whereas in nearly all circumstances such a report must be filed and provided to an inmate within 24 hours of the incident.
Meanwhile, David Siegal of Haynes and Boone, whom D Magazine publisher Wick Allison had retained for my use, had initiated communications with other BOP officials with a firmer understanding than Lujan of what they’d gotten themselves into, and made clear that the matter would be brought before a judge if I were not released immediately. Thus it was that on Monday morning, the counselor at Seagoville’s J2 jail unit summoned me to his office and told me, “You won. Get your stuff ready. You’re leaving.”
Woody Hossler, the aforementioned halfway house staffer, had to pick me up in his car and take me back to Hutchins, where I was given a breathalyzer and drug test before being cajoled into meeting with Wells, who this time had some other fellow in his office with him whom he identified vaguely as his new “program director.” After commenting that I “look mad,” Wells said that the BOP wanted me to sign two forms. I asked him what would happen if I didn’t. He replied that in that case we would “be back where we started” and that he would have to call the BOP. I asked who at the BOP had told him all this; he said that Lujan was absent that day and someone else was acting in her role. I spent about two minutes trying to get him to admit that I was being threatened with yet another unlawful arrest if I failed to sign these two inappropriate forms, an idea that he attempted to depict as wholly silly. I asked, for instance, if I could take the forms with me and talk to my lawyer first; he would only reply that he would have to call the BOP if I didn’t sign them right then and there. Finally I told him I would sign the forms if I were allowed to take copies with me; he agreed to this, all the while taking pains to note that he’s “not [my] enemy,” a regular refrain of his.
These latest forms may be seen here. One, the “Release of Information Consent,” I had already signed at my own insistence five months prior, when Lujan was telling reporters she couldn’t talk about my situation until I’d signed it. The other was one of the two forms I’d originally been asked to sign, “News Interview Authorization,” which is intended for inmates about whom a prison has been approached by the press. There was no more talk of my seeking permission to do interviews, and no more forms to be forced upon journalists seeking to speak to me. The “Media Representatives Agreement,” which the BOP had just last week claimed I was required to get press to fill out and submit for consideration, was no longer anywhere to be found.
As there has been some confusion in the press on this point, I will note again that federal inmates are not required to seek permission from the BOP to speak to the press, period. Some previous language to that effect was rescinded 17 years ago, as noted in the Program Statement (under “Directives Rescinded”). That’s why I was never given any infraction for doing so over the four years in which I did interviews from half a dozen different facilities, by mail and phone, and it’s why the BOP was not able to hold me in prison after Haynes and Boone threatened to go to a judge. The forms involved, as noted in the Program Statement, as well as the requirements described in another section that put forth conditions on press access to institutions — having to seek comment from the BOP, refrain from taking pictures without consent of inmates, etc. — apply entirely to a separate agreement that a news organization enters into in return for being allowed into a facility to interview a particular inmate, who himself has either given consent or denied it via the News Interview Authorization form, which is presented to him within 24 hours of a qualifying outlet submitting the Media Representative’s Agreement. I have filled out the authorization form several times, dealt with the BOP over four years, familiarized myself with the Program Statement and even filed grievances over the BOP’s failure to abide by it (such as when Alex Winter submitted a request that was ignored for eight months before being rejected).
I’m reiterating this because the BOP thrives on ambiguity and would like nothing more than to see major news outlets continue to ignore this story on the vague grounds that maybe I broke the rules and perhaps the BOP didn’t actually just conspire to deprive countless media outlets of their very specific and unambiguous right to speak to an American citizen, and then retaliate against me with an illegal arrest when I failed to help them do so. The BOP, like all U.S. “law enforcement” and intelligence agencies, depends for its continued de facto extra-legal powers on a press corps that is largely incapable of sorting through facts, that is easily distracted, and that cannot even be depended upon to defend its own rights, nor the rights of individual journalists. Already I have documented in my columns for D Magazine and The Intercept, via documents obtained by various means, the demonstrable criminality of this organization.
There may very well be further legal action against some of the culprits in this case, just as the FBI and DOJ officials who illegally tracked down donors to my legal defense fund are now struggling against a lawsuit filed a few months back in California. But what interests me most is whether the establishment press that saw fit to count me among their number last year when they gave me the National Magazine Award for commentary, among other honors, will also see fit to report that I am once again being subjected to state-sanctioned retaliation for trying to defend our common right to report the news. This is not just about me; it is about this republic and the dark places to which we are headed.
Last week, Barrett Brown was locked up again for a pretty flimsy reason. Yesterday, via his mother, he had the following to say:
Federal Correctional Institution
April 30, 2017
Last week I was re-arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service on the orders of the Bureau of Prisons, which still technically holds sway over my life until May 25th when my sentence officially ends. Contrary to BOP policy, and indeed federal law, I was not provided a written infraction report, much less given the disciplinary hearing that normally precedes punishment. When one is taken back to prison or put in the hole, the institution has 24 hours to give you the infraction sheet detailing your offense. After 72 hours, I have still received nothing.
Luckily, in the days leading up to my arrest, I managed to make audio recordings of BOP regional chieftain Luz Lujan and two halfway house staffers threatening me with a “refusal” or “refusing an order” charge if I did any further media interviews without seeking Lujan’s prior approval; Lujan also demanded that outlets seeking interviews first fill out and submit to her a form which is in fact only required for news representatives seeking to actually enter a federal prison. As I explained to Lujan and the halfway house staffers in those recordings, there is nothing in the BOP media program statements that requires even actual inmates to seek permission to communicate with press, much less those like myself, who have already been released to home confinement; as the policy is publicly available, anyone may verify this for themselves.
Anywho, D Magazine Publisher Wick Allison has been kind enough to enlist the services of David Siegal of the Haynes and Boone law firm for my defense; my attorneys Jay Leiderman and Marlo Cadeddu are also involved. In the meantime, I have agreed to briefly revive the Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Jail for D Magazine, and as The Intercept editor Roger Hodge has noted, I will have a column in to them presently, as well, IF ONLY I CAN THINK OF SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT.
Looks like we won’t be getting a City Council report from Barrett Brown anytime soon. This morning he was arrested. After being called in to his halfway house for a drug test, the good folks from the Bureau of Prisons showed up and arrested him. What for? Are you ready for this? They arrested him for giving interviews. Barrett’s mom, with whom he’d been living under home confinement, sends the following note:
Barrett was re-arrested during routine check-in this morning and is being transferred to a BOP facility that is unknown. He has not missed a check-in over the last five months of his early release. He has not failed any of the random drug tests administered. He has been on home confinement status since February and has been home each and every time they called the landline at 1:00 to 2:00 a.m. for “bed check.”
He believes this is only because of his refusal to get “permission” from crews to film and interview him. He has had many interviews since his early release, on November 29, both by phone and in person. Last week VICE had a group in to film him for two days [ed: they filmed a bunch up here at D Magazine headquarters], and he was scheduled to be interviewed tomorrow by a group working on a documentary for PBS.
Ms. Luz Lujan, his BOP contact, refused to provide him with copies of program statement rules saying this is a requirement during halfway house and/or home confinement status. The forms that they finally came up with yesterday, after he had been requesting documentation for the past two weeks, are forms offered to media when requesting a visit with an inmate in a federal prison setting.
There was never any mention of these rules during the past four months of his federally approved employment at D Magazine when he was working with media and involved with a range of interviews.
His mom still has no idea where Barrett was taken. Her guess is that they’ll hold him till May 25, when his original sentence was set to end.
If your social media feeds haven’t bombarded you in the past couple of days with mentions of “My Aryan Princess,” then you follow different people than I do. It’s a seven-part, 18,000-word Dallas Morning News series about a government informant named Carol Blevins who helped bust a whole bunch of bad guys that ran the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. Scott Farwell wrote it. You might recall his “Girl in the Closet” series. After staying up late last night to read this new piece, I’ve got some thoughts. Initially, as I tweeted while reading, I thought the thing was a minor disaster. Having digested the entire piece and then reread parts of it this morning, I’d like to walk that back a bit. But I do have some serious concerns.
First, the good stuff. The online presentation is wonderful. The photography is great, and the illustrations by Michael Hogue are moody and compelling. There is some GIF work that I don’t quite get. The one of Carol throwing back a fistful of pills troubles me. But the one of two ABT dudes fighting each other in a backyard is impossible not to watch five times.
It’s a good sign that the DMN supports this sort of work. Beyond the digital resources that went into the design, I’m told that Farwell worked on this story for two years. His last byline in the paper was a short piece, written with someone else, that ran in July 2016, which tells me that he worked exclusively on the story for somewhere around 10 months. He says in the story that he interviewed Carol over 17 months, hundreds of hours. So that’s all to the good. In this publishing environment, committing to long narratives isn’t an easy choice. Kudos to the paper and its managers who made that decision.
But why dedicate all that time and money to telling a long story and then publish it in a way that tells your readers you don’t think they like to read? I’m talking about paragraph breaks. Newspapers publish short paragraphs because they’re trying to appeal to an audience that reads at an eighth-grade level. This story isn’t for eighth-graders. It’s for adults. And adults can read paragraphs that run longer than a single sentence. In fact, they prefer it. Here’s what I’m talking about:
The investigation took six years and cost at least $5 million.
In the end, the feds wrapped up 36 ABT members in one case.
Carol’s work sealed 13 convictions, contributed key information to at least 16 others, and juiced the careers of her government handlers.
This is her story.
It’s like Farwell thinks he gets paid based on the frequency with which he hits his “return” key. If you think I’m picking nits, you are right. But these nits are the size of houseflies, and there are thousands of them. It’s ugly. An editor with a “delete” key was needed.
Okay, next up. If you’ve got a badass story, one that’s worth 18,000 words, then just tell the story. Don’t tell me how badass it is. In the first installment, after a taut, gripping lead and then some background about the ABT, the story reads:
My Aryan Princess is a seat-of-the-pants crime drama, a gritty and voyeuristic journey into drug dens, inner sanctums of power and the ritualistic savagery of avowed racists.
This report is anchored by volumes of public records and private medical reports, a dictionary-thick stack of confidential law enforcement documents, sealed court records, and more than two gigabytes of photos, videos and secret audio recordings.
Imagine if, in Rogue One, right after the opening scene where Galen Erso’s wife gets killed and little Jyn goes scampering off to hide in the cave, the movie stopped. And then Gareth Edwards, the director, stepped in front of the camera and said, “This movie is a thrill ride of an action flick. It took a long time to film, and we spent a lot of money making it. For example, we made all these costumes ourselves.” I apologize for the Rogue One analogy. I rented it a few days ago, so it’s top of mind. But you get my point. Some notes about the production of the story were probably called for. But they shouldn’t be in the story.
That’s a minor quibble compared to the problem with this story that really troubles me. The hero of this tale, Carol Blevins, is not well, and I think publishing this story screws with her life in two serious ways. First, it makes her a bigger target to the ABT. This graph appears early in the series:
She’s afraid of the ABT, but Carol said telling her story doesn’t put her in much additional danger — gang members already know who she is and what she did.
Sure they do. But now she has effectively taken a victory lap. If one of the biggest transgressions in the ABT is snitching, then how must they view snitching and telling the whole story to a reporter so that he can write a seven-part, 18,000-word story? And is she really fit to decide whether it was a smart move to tell her story?
That’s the other way I fear this story will screw with her life. Carol has several mental illnesses and she’s addicted to all sorts of drugs. In the first installment, Farwell describes watching Carol have a psychotic episode in her apartment:
On this October night, eight amber-colored bottles lie at Carol’s bare feet. Six are empty, a boneyard of antidepressant and antipsychotic prescriptions.
The whispers in her head have grown into howls, taunts and threats crashing in her ears.
“White bitch, we know what you did! Nasty whore! You’re dead!”
Carol leaps off the couch.
She’s fighting back, head wagging side to side, the “you want some of this?” posturing of the street.
Hands on hips one moment, finger jabbing the air the next, she spits vulgarities, strutting across her living room — two steps, bow up; pivot, back down — a war dance of the delusional.
She doesn’t last long, a minute maybe.
Winded, sweat collected in the creases of her neck, Carol seems frozen, taking in an imaginary insult from an imaginary opponent.
The indignity is too much. Eyes wild, she charges the locked front door: “Bitch, you don’t know who I am!”
Medical records suggest Carol suffers from a range of mental illnesses — bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder — as a result of her work as a confidential informant.
She’s been committed to psychiatric hospitals at least 20 times in the last decade.
Healthy, well-adjusted, sober people often have difficulty imagining how a published story about them will affect their lives. I can’t see trusting Carol with that calculus. The story suggests in two places that she might try to kill herself. If I were the writer or the editor of this thing, I wouldn’t want my work to push a troubled person in the wrong direction. Too big a risk.
That’s how it looks from where I sit, anyway. I’d love to hear from other people who’ve read the entire story.
There are podcasts, and then there are podcasts. We produce a little thing you might be familiar with called EarBurner. Part of the reason we record it in a bar is because we promised ourselves when we started the podcast that we wouldn’t bog down with editing. The ambient noise of the Old Monk makes editing pretty impossible. If someone says something reprehensible or just plain stupid, it stays in the show. Well, except for that one time when the comedian Paul Varghese was a guest. Things got a little out of hand. Mistakes were made. Editing became necessary.
Anyway, there’s the way we do it, and then there’s this new KERA podcast with Seema Yasmin and Lauren Silverman. It is being tested for a possible national rollout by National Public Radio. The first episode of the unnamed show is about the Chicago Tylenol murders of 1982. The women did a lot of reporting for this thing. And the production is topnotch. I can only imagine how many hours of editing went into it.
It’s worth a listen. And every spin will help convince NPR that the show deserves to be picked up.
Today’s paper brings us another offering from Jacquielynn Floyd that I do not understand. I explored in an earlier post her tendency to wander aimlessly far afield in search of material for her Metro column. Her latest is about Bill O’Reilly. Her point, if I get it, is that O’Reilly is a creep and Fox should have fired him long ago. Not only does that opinion not break even a thimble’s worth of new ground, but 100 other outlets across the country this morning are publishing carbon copies of it. Give me something about Dallas, please.
Even harder to understand, Floyd didn’t mention that O’Reilly used to work in Dallas. Here’s some delightful video of his work for WFAA Channel 8. You know what would have made for a good Metro column? Call some of the local folks who worked with him. They’d tell you that O’Reilly was a big jerk back in the ’70s. At the very least, they’d tell you stories about Dallas. Call David Margulies. He worked with O’Reilly. Call Tracy Rowlett. He got into a fight with O’Reilly. Call Ed Bark, for goodness’ sake. He wrote about some of this in 2007. He knows lots of TV folks in Dallas. He’s a cheerful guy who is always happy to help.
The phones at the Morning News must be down. That’s all I can figure.
Yesterday, as Holland mentioned in Leading Off, Mike Wilson, the editor of the Dallas Morning News, subjected himself to an “ask me anything” session on Reddit. If you’re familiar with the platform, then you know that users vote up the best questions. In theory, then, the questions should get worse as you scroll down. In theory. In practice, it turns out that I am the best judge of questions. Here were my six favorites:
6. Couldn’t you have come up with a better name for your dog than Story? (from ThrowItInThe214)
5. Who is your favorite employee and why is it Rudy Bush? (MoeWanchuk)
4. What the hell’ll happen to the Stone of Truth? That whole building? Aren’t you nerds shrugging that thing off for some cheap space? (ass_calliope)
3. How do you and the paper navigate the issue of false balance, both in the news department and on the editorial page? (For example, does the DMN really need to give safe harbor to a buffoon like Mark Davis so that it can claim a conservative viewpoint?) There are two sides to every story, sure, but when one side is relying on conspiracy theories and fake news to bolster its case, it seems disingenuous to give both sides equal weight. (afhsdhfkjsdhakfjhwir)
2. Competing against all other Dallas area journalist/media personalities (TV, radio, or print), which Dallas area journalist/media personality would win in a:
• hotdog-eating contest?
• Dallas-centric game of Charades? (Gabeeb)
1. Is Story the worst name ever given to a dog, or is it ABSOLUTELY the most terrible name ever given to a dog in the history of dogs? (Cictercimon)
I’ve done this a couple of times. Is it really possible I haven’t done it in five years? That does not seem like me at all. At any rate, with Opening Day coming up next week, and Yu Darvish set to take the hill (that’s a baseball term), here are a selection of Yu-based puns to get you through the insanely, pointlessly long baseball season.
All Yu Need Is Kill (subhead: “Can Darvish get back his mean streak?”)
Yu-topia (after a great first month)
Now Yu See Me (general)
That Thing Yu Do (also general)
He’s Just Not That Into Yu (after Darvish is passed over to start All-Star Game)
Southside With Yu (after great win over ChiSox)
Curling Darvish (offday fun at the ice rink in Toronto, I guess)
Melt With Yu (summer calendar piece about Rangers games)
Yu Tube (after video of Darvish tearing up the club is leaked, goes viral)
The Company Yu Keep (after Johnny Manziel is spotted in leaked club video)
Yu Can’t Do That On Television (video still in the news cycle)
(Everything I Do) I Do it For Yu (takeout feature on Yu’s translator and American team, as the team tries to change the conversation)
10 Things I Hate About Yu (cranky Kevin Sherrington column)
Nathan For Yu (after former Rangers closer Joe Nathan begins mentoring Darvish, following what is now being called “The Manziel Video”)
Yu Got Served (run above photo of Darvish turning to watch towering home run)
I’m Gonna Get Yu, Sucka (rival GM details plan for acquisition)
If you caught This American Life over the weekend, you’d have heard Killer Mike and El-P give coming-of-age advice to teen girls, and then you’d have heard Dallas Morning News editor Mike Wilson on his crusade to determine why people were turning against the city’s only daily.
Then it’s off into his email inbox, which had a few complaints from peeved readers: “Please pass the tissues so I can wipe away the tears for the media,” one read. And it finishes with Wilson inviting them to the newsroom to hash out their complaints, revealing through the drab boredom of a daily editorial meeting that there is no overarching secret scheme to imbue fake news into its pages or skew one way or the other. One of the two readers still lets off some frustration about the framing of its headlines. Can’t win ‘em all.
Just imagine. Bud Shrake, Dan Jenkins, and Gary Cartwright all working at the same newspaper. And Blackie Sherrod was their boss. It’s impossible. How could that have happened? And now, with the passing of Cartwright, Jenkins is the last one left. Michael Granberry wrote an excellent obit in the DMN, and he talked to Jenkins. You should read it, especially if you’re not familiar with all the names in this post. And then you should read John Spong’s fine remembrance of Cartwright over at Texas Monthly. It is filled with links to Cartwright’s stories for the magazine. Follow every one of them.
Jacquielynn Floyd is a Metro columnist for the Dallas Morning News. With the departure of Steve Blow a while back, she and James Ragland are the only two left. I guess Robert Wilonsky could be considered a Metro columnist. I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure out what, exactly, he does (aside from everything). Anyway, Floyd has been at it a long time. She knows the drill. So I’m confused by her recent selection of columnar material.
In recent weeks, she has written about the tumultuous, short tenure of the mayor of Corpus Christi; a rattlesnake found in a toilet north of Abilene; and, today, a crazy obituary that appeared in a Galveston newspaper. Each of these stories had been widely shared on social media before Floyd came to them, almost as if they were bacteria that had spread throughout the populace. The stories had gone bacterial, as it were. So why would Floyd choose to write about stuff that has absolutely nothing to do with Dallas? I can think of only three reasons:
1. Her husband’s recentillness has made it difficult to focus on writing her column. If that’s the case, she has my sympathy. But I’d rather she write more about that struggle than toilet snakes in Abilene.
2. The crushing, relentless Metro column deadlines have taken their toll. She’s out of gas. If that’s the case, she again has my sympathy. But a change needs to be made. She’d be happier doing something else.
3. Her editor has seen the traffic that Floyd’s column gets when she writes about bacterial stories, and that editor has encouraged her to write more of the same. If that’s the case, she totally has my sympathy. But I can’t think of a surer strategy for driving the paper into the dirt than writing about whatever flits through your Facebook feed. If the DMN wants to survive in these click-baity times, it needs to bring me local content that I can’t find anywhere else. Less news from Galveston, please. I’ll take fewer toilet snakes from Abilene, thank you. I’d like to read about what’s happening in North Texas. If you’ve got a smart take, people might even pay for it.
That headline is a lie. Sorry. They are outsourcing only their design and print layout. You know, the people who actually make the paper. An Austin firm will now do the work. Twenty people will lose their jobs. And so it goes.
As I pointed out earlier, Texas Monthly has a new barbecue list that strikes me as controversial for the sake of being controversial (a point proven by this post?). But let us focus on the cover itself. Here’s a comparison of TxMo’s last barbecue cover, from 2013 (far left), with the current cover and D Magazine’s cover from last year. Who wore it best? (I’ll tip my hand by saying that the cover in the middle is a crime against meat and that its author should be ground up, mixed with peppery seasoning, and stuffed into lamb intestines).
There’s a good story in The Atlantic that I recommend you read. It’s about America’s favorite racist, Richard Spencer. It was written by Graeme Wood, who has an unusual perspective on Spencer, because Wood went to St. Mark’s with him. In fact, they were chemistry lab partners. It’s a long story, so here’s a taste:
“My upbringing did not really inform who I am,” Spencer said with a shrug. Then he reconsidered. “I think in a lot of ways I reacted against Dallas. It’s a class- and money-conscious place — whoever has the biggest car or the biggest house or the biggest fake boobs,” he told me. “There’s no actual community or high culture or sense of greatness, outside of having a McMansion.”
Then, after you read the story, I recommend that you go watch a few clips of Spencer getting punched to music.
Oh, dang it. I meant to give you more advance notice about this event. It’s called the American Freedom Tour, and it’s happening right now at the Sheraton. Maybe if you hurry you can still catch Tomi Lahren. The thing goes till 5 o’clock. What, exactly, is this thing? Well, it’s Tomi and Willie Robertson from Duck Dynasty. And they are going to teach you — um, stuff.
This one day event will give you the inspiration and training you need to succeed in today’s America. From personal success to business and money, the American Freedom Tour will give you the motivation and education necessary for success. Learn from America’s most successful and outspoken entrepreneurs how to achieve and live the American Dream. Learn how they did it and how you can too!
So, yeah. Learn how to rant on Facebook. Or make duck calls. Makes perfect sense.
If that’s not your thing, though, go read sometime D Magazine contributor Joe Guinto’s profile of Tomi that Politico posted Sunday. It’s titled “Tomi Lahren Won’t Shut Up.”
I just talked to Barrett Brown. He was fresh out of the bathtub and sounded no worse for his three days in prison. “I got to go back to Seagoville and see some of my old buddies,” Barrett said. “Then today, they came in and told me, ‘You won. Get your stuff ready.’ An assistant from the halfway house had to come and pick me up in his car.”
Barrett says they made him sign some documents at the halfway house that make no sense, given that he was ostensibly re-arrested for not getting permission to talk to the media. One of the forms he was asked to sign gives the BOP permission to talk to the media about him.
Major credit for freeing Barrett goes to David M. Siegal, a New York-based Haynes and Boone attorney who worked with our Dallas-based Haynes and Boone attorney, Jason Bloom. In a written statement, Siegal said: “The treatment of Barrett Brown by the Bureau of Prisons was unjustified and in violation of his First Amendment Free Speech Rights. Unfortunately, Barrett was forced to spend three days in a federal penitentiary when he should have been out living his life. We are happy we were able to work with Barrett and his family to achieve his return home today.”
Barrett said he’ll be along tomorrow on FrontBurner with a few words about what the last three days were like. Stay tuned.
Yesterday I wrote a few words about some problems I have with the Morning News’ 18,000-word story, titled “My Aryan Princess,” about a government informant named Carol Blevins and how she helped bust a bunch of guys in the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas. My biggest problem with the story centers on Blevins’ mental health. As the writer, Scott Farwell, acknowledged in his piece:
Medical records suggest Carol suffers from a range of mental illnesses — bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder — as a result of her work as a confidential informant.
She’s been committed to psychiatric hospitals at least 20 times in the last decade.
Writing so intimately about such a troubled woman seemed to me like an unwise move. Now comes a bit of back patting from the News’ editorial department, which writes:
It’s a textbook case of just how insidious drug abuse can be, and how it can fuel mental illness. And it underscores a long campaign by this newspaper to advocate for improvements in the mental health system, both locally and statewide.
As a colleague put it to me: “Boy, they are really using the whole buffalo on this one.” Indeed they are. Now the paper wants to claim the story is about mental health, not just “a seat-of-the-pants crime drama” and “a gritty and voyeuristic journey,” which is how Farwell described his story in the story itself. Nor did he mention “underscoring a long campaign” by the paper to “advocate for improvements in the mental health system” in this NBC Channel 5 promotional piece on the story. To me, it seems that if the paper cares so much about advocating for mental health issues, it could start with Carol Blevins. Is stripping her life bare in an 18,000-word seat-of-the-pants crime drama the best thing for her health?
I asked someone I know. He’s a mental health counselor who has worked with a lot of people who fit Blevins’ profile. He read the relevant parts of “My Aryan Princess.” His take:
“Sick and exploitive are two words that come to my mind. When you’ve worked within populations of individuals meeting the criteria of the diagnoses mentioned in the article, the author is exploiting a vulnerable and impaired person. The risks are huge considering how often individuals in fringe groups as this [meaning the ABT] suffer from mental illness.”
We in the media all have to be marketers to a certain degree. In social media and in our own pages, we have to call people to our stories and entice them to read. But if I were the Morning News, I’d be extra cautious with this one.
Beginning today, you’ll see the May issue of D Magazine rolling out on newsstands. That’s it on the left. The name Ira Tobolowsky figures prominently on the cover. I’m willing to bet many of you remember that name. For one, Tobolowsky was a highly regarded attorney who operated for decades out of a small office on Lovers Lane, west of the Tollway. And two, he was burned to death in his North Dallas home just under a year ago, and police have still yet to charge anyone with the crime.
But the family believes they are close: “We are a little bit of evidence short of getting this case taken to a grand jury, getting an indictment, and moving forward with a capital murder trial,” says Ira’s 28-year-old son, Michael, who now runs his father’s practice. “We’ve been here a couple months or so. The type of information we’re looking for we believe someone has out there. We’re just trying to reach out and connect with that person.”
Michael, along with his siblings and his mother, spent hours with D Magazine writer Jamie Thompson for her cover story, “A Place Where Something Evil Happened.” What emerges is a picture of a family driven to get justice, another family torn apart by greed and anger, and an overtaxed police department trying hard to solve a bizarre and unthinkable tragedy but coming up just short. Head to newsstands to read it now. (It’ll go online in a few weeks.) But first, I wanted to leave you with how Michael described his father:
“Ira was definitely the type of person who had more personality than you could imagine. He was hands down the smartest person in the room, no matter what room he was in. He was caring, he was affectionate, he was a loving guy. He really was a perfect combination of all the good attributes you would want in a husband, father, friend, everything. He was amazing.
“Dad was actually what I would call an old school lawyer. He was a true councilor, someone who would help you on your business transactions, he’d help you in court, he would help you if you had just a little dispute where you needed some advice. No matter what it was, he was there. After all this happened, I started talking with a bunch of different lawyers. Dad did both transactional and litigation, and I found the transactional attorneys telling me, you know, ‘Your dad is a very good transactional attorney, but what he’s best at is litigation.’ I had the litigators telling me, ‘Your dad is really good at litigation but what he was best at was transactional work.’ That really made me smile, because it proved he was one of the best at each and every aspect of law that he practiced.”
After you pick up the May issue and read Jamie’s story, flip one page to learn about the next Floyd Mayweather (minus the ever-mounting legal problems, we pray) under our noses. We’ll find out on May 27, when DeSoto native Errol Spence Jr. flies to London to battle International Boxing Federation welterweight champion Kell Brook, who’s 36-1. Spence is 21-0, with 18 knockouts, and he’s got the eye of people like Mayweather, who had this to say: “The guy that I think that’s gonna really make the most noise in boxing is Errol Spence.”
Our dining critic, Eve Hill-Agnus, has a pair of important pieces—a review of famed restaurateur Nick Badovinus’ opulent temple to beef, Town Hearth; and a guide to the finest regional Indian food in Dallas-Fort Worth, a trip that will take you well beyond biryani and butter chicken. Meanwhile, Michael J. Mooney returns to the pages of D by asking attorneys to explore their most memorable divorce cases. He gets dirt on murder-for-hires, pastor-punchers, stalkers, and more.
In the front of the book, Peter Simek chronicles the troubles of the Fort Worth Opera, and city columnist Eric Celeste has an exclusive profile of the Democrat policy wonk who is convinced that he can knock Pete Sessions from his longstanding congressional seat in District 32.
There’s something for everyone. Get to your favorite local newsstand now.
If you’ve been paying attention, you know the name Rod Dreher. The conservative writer once sat on the Dallas Morning News’ editorial board. He wrote the books Crunchy Cons and The Little Way of Ruthie Leming. Last month, he published The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation, which the Times has called “the most discussed and most important religious book of the decade.” The New Yorker just put up a 7,500-word profile of Dreher. You might need to save that one for tonight.
For a quicker read, go check out this piece by Jim Schutze, wherein all his conspiracy theories about Mayor Mike Rawlings and the West Dallas land grab are proven true. Those (like me) who enjoy a good media fight will love the smackdown that Schutze puts on his former colleague Robert Wilonsky. Good stuff.
I don’t know whether ex-Dallas police chief David Brown is a Democrat, a Republican, a socialist, or a tea party guy, or whether he’s even interested in politics. But in a rare speaking appearance at the Belo Mansion & Pavilion Wednesday night, the South Oak Cliff native showed he’s still one of the most charismatic, insightful, level-headed public thinkers around. The kind who—if he ever did want to run for office—could probably write his own ticket.
Now working as a contributor to ABC News, Brown, 56, was the keynote speaker at a fundraising dinner for Just Say Yes, a Dallas nonprofit that helps at-risk kids succeed in school. He told the crowd of about 350 there that he wanted to focus his talk on the days following the Dallas police shooting last July 7, when there was an “outpouring of love and compassion” for local law enforcement—including countless letters that came in containing money for the families of the officers who were killed.
One letter in particular caught Brown’s eye, he recalled. It was from a guy named Lance he’d befriended back during his days at The University of Texas at Austin. Lance had written the four-page letter to touch bases with Brown again, and to offer his sympathy in the wake of the cop killings.
That set the former chief to remembering how they’d met, when Brown—a poor, wide-eyed, African-American kid from the Oak Cliff “hood”—climbed aboard a bus bound for UT, made his way tentatively down the aisle, and sat next to the “white kid” named Lance.
Lance, Brown found out, was traveling to UT on the bus from his home in Missouri, where he’d also grown up poor. Soon the two were talking like old pals, and Brown—discovering as they approached Waco that Lance was very hungry—pulled out a sack of his great-grandmother’s fried chicken he had with him and offered some to his new friend. “We connected because we had similar upbringings,” Brown said.
In his July letter to Brown, Lance recalled the bus trip and wrote, “My views of blacks changed because of how you treated me.” (Reading that, Brown said, “I didn’t start crying, but my allergies started acting up.”) Then Lance confessed: “I always wondered why you sat down next to me.”
Lance’s question was interesting, Brown told the Belo crowd. So, he said, he would confide to them why he’d done it.
Six years before the Austin trip, when he was 11, the ex-chief recalled that he’d been among the first group of local kids bused to an out-of-area school, following a federal judge’s desegregation order. “No one wanted me there” at his new school, Brown said. “I didn’t want to be there. No one spoke to me for three months.”
Then, one day, from out of nowhere, “a little white kid invited me home to dinner—at 3 p.m.!” Brown said. (The first thing he thought, he joked, was, “White folks sure do eat early!”) Brown accepted the offer from the boy, who was named Mike, and walked with him from school to Mike’s home. There, the boy’s mother immediately summoned Mike into the kitchen and “started whispering,” Brown recalled.
“I felt like Sidney Poitier in the movie ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,’ ” Brown said, smiling. But then, after a long, uncomfortable time, Mike’s mother emerged from the kitchen carrying two pot pies. “Mike and I wound up talking until 7 p.m.,” Brown said. “And, eventually, our friendship led Mike to befriend other black kids.”
Recently, Brown said, he was able to reconnect with Mike and asked him, “What were you whispering with your mom about in the kitchen that afternoon?” Mike, who’s Jewish, said he’d reminded his mother about their relatives who’d survived the Nazi Holocaust, and how their counsel had always been to treat strangers kindly—especially those who were “different” from them.
In the end, all three friends—Brown, Lance, and Mike—wound up attending UT Austin at the same time. “So you wonder, is the moral of this story that all we need is fried chicken and pot pies to change the world?” Brown said to the Just Say Yes crowd. “No! But, you can transform lives with the way you interact with young people. The moral of this story is: we all have a responsibility to one another—one life at a time.
“People ask me, what’s the ‘secret’ reason you quit” the Dallas police department? Brown went on. “There wasn’t any secret reason. I was called to the job for a purpose, and I left for a purpose. I grew up poor, in a tough, high-crime neighborhood, and adults invested in me. That’s why I said yes to Just Say Yes. The Lord can call you to do things that you don’t want to do.
“The things you do for these kids’ lives means something. I’m proud to be in the same room as you all,” Brown concluded, preparing to leave the Belo stage. “Now my allergies are acting up again, so I’m going to stop.”
In the interest of brevity and laziness, the show notes on this episode of EarBurner are as follows: DISD trustee Miguel Solis stopped by the Old Monk to talk about his flag football prowess, why he decided not to challenge Pete Sessions for his District 32 seat, what the jurors in the John Wiley Price trial might do, his superhero doctor wife, and Strong Schools Strong Dallas, which is a new coalition that is advocating for a tax ratification election to save DISD. Oh, also, Charles Glover, a previous EarBurner guest and Harvard classmate of Solis’, made a brief appearance. Plus Eric Celeste. It was an action-packed podcast. Stream it through the player below or use whatever dang podcatcher you prefer.
I was perusing the Morning News site just now — something I do a few times a day because I “like” to “keep current” — and I noticed that they are, as you can see, posting from the future. Not too far, of course. Just a day. But that’s how it starts. Next, it’ll be a couple of days. Then a week. Then a month. Then it’s a bad stew of pre-cogs and AI overlords and, you know what? NO, THANKS. Not on my watch, pal. I want my room-temperature takes to stay right here in the present, where I can ignore them as usual.
Barrett Brown will be along in a bit with a report from yesterday’s City Council meeting. To tide you over, I offer the below video, posted yesterday to Reason’s site. It’s about 19 minutes long. If you don’t have the time right now to watch the entire thing, do yourself the favor and watch the first few minutes. You will get to see Barrett thoughtfully smoking his robot cigarette while he loiters outside City Hall. Then there’s a good shot of him loitering in the D Magazine lobby, which is followed by a shot of him thoughtfully drinking coffee at his desk (which desk he was recently booted from, forced to relocate to the area of the office where the women from D Home make their magazine (I’ve yet to hear complaints from them, but one never knows; they might just be too afraid to complain)).
I guess I thought the former SMU professor and editor of the Southwest Review — and only person I’ve ever seen ask an Old Monk waitress (successfully) (twice, I think) to go buy him potato chips from the store next door — had already moved away, as soon as he retired from SMU. Or maybe I thought that, then found out differently, then forgot, then re-thought it. I don’t know. I have a lot of balls in the air, man. But it looks like, from this, that the dapper onetime D Magazine contributor is officially selling his condo and moving away to a split existence in New York and Connecticut.
To celebrate that, you should buy his latest book, If You See Something, Say Something: A Writer Looks at Art, which collects 45 of his Wall Street Journal columns; it was put together by SMU’s DeGolyer Library. If you feel like that’s not enough of a tribute, compliment someone on their “dungarees,” because Spiegelman might be the last person to refer to jeans by that word.
In the latest in the string of bizarre and possibly supernatural incidents that have plagued me since childhood, it was announced Monday night on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that the star of the upcoming season of The Bachelorette is the daughter of Sam Lindsay, the federal judge who sentenced me to 63 months in prison in a case that was denounced as retaliation for my work in exposing government wrongdoing by outlets ranging from the New York Times to Der Spiegel to U.S. News and World Report, by NGOs including Reporters Without Borders and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, by former U.S. prosecutors, and by foreign members of parliament. Lindsay also ordered me to pay $800,000 in restitution to Stratfor, a State Department-linked firm that was revealed by Wikileaks to have conducted surveillance for Dow Chemical on Bhopal activists, among other things.
Naturally I didn’t want to end up facing additional charges in a courtroom run by a judge who didn’t find it suspicious that the DOJ attributed to me a quote calling for the death of Julian Assange that was actually uttered by Fox News contributor Bob Beckel on live television, as Assange himself pointed out at the time. So after the government was forced to drop the bulk of the charges due to fundamental flaws in how they were using the statutes, I pleaded guilty to three counts, including accessory after the fact. You see, I had called the executives of the firm after it was hacked and offered to redact any sensitive information from the stolen emails that could harm its informants living under dictatorships abroad. Incidentally, the search warrant the FBI had originally served on my apartment and on my mother’s house didn’t even mention Stratfor, but rather listed other firms, such as HBGary Federal and Endgame Systems, whose illegal activities I’d documented — as well as echelon2.org, the wiki on which my team presented our findings (and which has since moved). Judge Sam Lindsay didn’t find any of this suspicious, either.
D Magazine editor Tim Rogers wrote a pretty thorough rundown of the January 2015 sentencing hearing when it happened, and the fact that so many normally staid news organizations of all ideological stripes made the unusual decision to come right out and accuse the Department of Justice of having pursued me solely for my role in exposing illegal programs by state-linked intelligence contractors should be sufficiently telling. But in addition to revelations that the prosecution improperly withheld evidence in my case — something that the government prefers to do when it knows that the presiding judge doesn’t have a handle on what’s going on — it has also now been revealed via the lawsuit filed last week by the head of my legal defense fund that the prosecutor and FBI illicitly forced an online payment firm to provide them with the identities of everyone who contributed to my defense, and arranged to have this information sent via irregular methods — an act that is not only explicitly unconstitutional and disturbing, but also hard to square with the prosecution’s claims, accepted by Judge Lindsay, that this case wasn’t about going after dissent.
And as originally reported in D before my sentencing, the two lead agents on my case also went after the Dallas resident who provided server space to Edward Snowden and claimed in a court filing that he tried to avoid them by jumping over his balcony and running away. As Tim pointed out in that D story, the man, Ladar Levison, actually lived on the upper floor of a high-rise. This didn’t prevent Judge Lindsay from deferring to these same two FBI agents during the sentencing phase, in which a judge has to evaluate the evidence presented to him before making a decision about the fate of a human being.
All in all, Judge Lindsay presided over one of the most widely denounced federal cases in recent memory. And it will look much worse as certain other extraordinary details are made public, a process that began last week with the lawsuit against the Dallas FBI and federal prosecutor and which I expect to continue over the next year. In the meantime, it’s reasonable to ask how many other Dallas residents have been wrongly punished due to Judge Lindsay’s incompetence, and how I go about becoming one of the contestants on The Bachelorette.
On February 11, it will officially be 20 years since Erykah Badu released her genre-defining debut, Baduizm. To mark the occasion, I wrote this profile of her, for which I talked to friends and family and collaborators. But unfortunately, as these things go, I wasn’t able to include everyone I interviewed. So here is my conversation with Jeff “Skin” Wade, co-host of The Fan’s Ben & Skin Show and third man in the booth on most Dallas Mavericks broadcasts. When I first met Skin, he was still best known for his role in the local hip-hop scene, which is where he met Ms. Badu.
How long have you known Erykah?
“We started doing stuff with her about a — you know it all kind of runs together because it was so long ago, but about a year before all that went down. We used to do this thing called The Session. It was a freestyle thing. It was me and Ben and Del, the DJ Del Furious, and Erykah, and — at the time I guess he went by Mikey Culture. He was part of IGP. He appeared on some of the Hydro stuff.”
“Cold Cris would come through, and it was like a Wednesday night deal. It started at a place called Rebounds, and we would just — it was kind of like a bar and we just sat there and held these long freestyle sessions. Erykah, I guess, had just come back in town from college. I did not know her before she left for college, but a bunch of the people that we were hanging out with in the scene did, because she was so involved in KNON I guess before she left for college.
Was she still rapping, or was she —
“She was singing. She was mostly singing. In fact, there’s a video from that. Do you know Jeff Schroer? We call him Stottle.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
“He’s got video of that where she is singing the lyrics and the melody of ‘Appletree’ over The Roots’ instrumental for ‘Proceed’ [from 1995’s Do You Want More?!!!??!]. The Roots had just kind of come out on Geffen, and there was all these promo 12-inches, and I think the version she’s singing over is the Roy Ayers instrumental of ‘Proceed,’ and she’s singing the melody right over it.”
“The thing that’s so interesting about that is, I’m pretty sure she was unfamiliar with them. I think we introduced them to her, and a year later she was working with them on her first record.
“The story the way I remember it, when she came out and moved back to town and was doing things, she was doing things with Rob and they were doing shows together, and they were going by the name Erykah Free. It was, Rob was doing beats and rapping, and she was doing her thing. They started gigging.
“I remember I saw them perform one time at SOA, which I don’t even know that it’s called now. It’s down there in Fair Park on Exposition. They used to do these kind of acid jazz nights, because that was still sort of a thing. I remember seeing the perform there, and the way I remember the story was D’Angelo was coming to town on his first record. I went to the show; he played Caravan of Dreams [in Fort Worth]. At the time he was still just kind of a kid. He just sat there in a leather jacket behind his Wurlitzer keyboard. No showmanship, just sat there and sang, right? But, Erykah and Rob got on the bill as the opening act.”
“Kedar Massenberg had been touring with D’Angelo, because he was doing A&R for D’Angelo’s first record. I think it was like Christmas, I can’t remember now. But, he was the A&R guy on it and so he was touring and saw Erykah — and they put on a great show that night — and saw Erykah and was like, ‘I want her.’ So Erykah Free was no more. I’m sure you’ll get a better story about that from Rob.”
“But Rob did end up producing a couple tracks on that first record, including ‘Appletree.’ I think he produced ‘Appletree,’ not 100-percent sure.
“Yeah, it was literally like that, and then — I don’t know man, I’m sure there’s dates on the internet, but a couple months later she was on the High School High soundtrack doing a duet with D’Angelo [“Your Precious Love,” originally recorded by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell].
“Then obviously some people around here got to do production with them, including Ty Macklin had a song on there.”
“Then I remember very, very vividly — hell, I don’t know it may have even been the same night, dude — but I can remember being in the parking lot of SOA, and Kasaan [the Don from Mad Flava] playing a cassette of Jah’s beat for ‘On & On,’ and at the time it was just like a stick beat and the chopped-up piano parts. When you hear the version it’s got like these, all this added extra instrumentation, and it’s very lush sounding. I can’t remember who co-produced it — might have been Bob Power. I don’t remember. But I remember hearing Jah’s original beat when it was chopped-up piano and a stick drum thing in the parking lot of SOA. And Kasaan was walking around with a tape of all of Jah’s beats, because I think dude, Jah was like 17 or 18 then. He was really young.
“So he was tied in with all the guys that ran Exodus. He was the high-school kid that was hanging out at Exodus when Exodus was still a thing. He’d been around, he was just real young, man.
“Definitely ask him about that, and definitely ask Rob about the D’Angelo show. That was my memory of it. I remember I didn’t know that she was opening that night, and when I went out there I was like, ‘Oh, cool! Wow! That’s great gig for her. That’s awesome.’ Then a month later, dude, it’s on. She’s being whisked away to New York.”
So, what was it like when Badu was hit it big?
“Man, it was really insane because she wasn’t getting any play here. It was like you could see the video for ‘On & On’ on MTV or BET and it wasn’t getting radio play here. Eventually they started playing some of the stuff, but she blew up—I want to say she hit big in Atlanta first, if I remember correctly.”
“But it was real frustrating that if you wanted see her it going to be on MTV or BET, they weren’t playing her here. Oh, they were playing her on KNON, I mean obviously they were going to support. But, K104 was still a really big deal back then, and that was that time period — I’m pretty sure you wrote an article about, a long time ago, about the frustrations of trying to get on.
“So that was part of it. Dallas was the last one to get onboard the Badu train. But it was really exciting, man. It was — you just kind of felt like it was going to pump life … As you know we’d had our little ups and downs where something would happen and you’d think it’s gonna break, and I think people were kind of depressed about the way the whole Mad Flava thing went down. It was just a real nice boost for everybody when that thing happened.
“One of the things that’s real cool is when she had her platinum party, platinum disc party, they had it in Deep Ellum, and the whole scene was there just all happy for her. There was no — I think part of it is probably because she hadn’t been in the scene rapping against people, you know. I think everyone was just genuinely happy for her. No one was bitter, nobody was jealous, none of that. It just felt really special. And everyone was happy that Ty Macklin, you know, had a song on a record that went platinum. It was just really good thoughts.”
Weren’t you one of the founding members of the Cannabinoids?
“I was, and that was a little bit out of left field, and a huge honor. I was really shocked that she asked me, man. It made me feel really, really good. That was incredible. I didn’t know what to do with myself, to be honest.”
Had you been in touch with her at all?
“Not really. It was, you know, you would see her at gigs or whatever, and she was nice and friendly and things, but I wasn’t in her inner circle or anything like that.”
“So, I think her vision for that was that was going to be her version of Sa-Ra, and I think what she wanted was, she wanted to get that thing up and going and then it become a life of its own. I don’t think she had long-term visions of, ‘Hey, this my group and I’m always going to be with this group.’ I think that was her way to give back to the Dallas hip-hop scene.
“She had donated money to [EZ] Eddie [D]’s show. She was proud of being from here, and that was just another way to give back to people. So, it’s kind of funny, man, when that thing went on, when that first thing started I had about a hour conversation with her on the phone. We did the opening night at the House of Blues, the first time it ever opened, and then I think — I can’t remember why, I might have written up something for — oh, my god I’m blanking on the name of that Belo paper I was writing for.”
“Yes, I think it was something for Quick, but anyway I did an hour interview with her. And she pretty much laid it all out what she kind of wanted to do and what the vision was. She’s obviously notorious for — god, I couldn’t even tell you how much unreleased stuff she has. I mean it goes on and on. I’m not doing a pun here, it goes on and on and on. I think it was a great vision, I think it was really cool thing.
“Also, for me, I pulled out of it after about six or seven months just because it just didn’t fit my lifestyle anymore. I had a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, and I was getting into radio full-time. That was just starring to take off, and I just didn’t really have available time to go to rehearsal space for four or five hours and not know what we were going to do. Basically I was becoming an old man. So, it was really nice. I ended up doing two or three shows with them, and then I said, ‘Hey, it’s probably best for me to step aside.’ But it was a great honor, dude. I just can’t tell you how good it makes me feel that she thought enough of me to involve me in it.”
What’s she like to work with? I mean, is she collaborative, does she have vision, does she have a little bit of both?
“Okay, so the only times I’ve worked with her was in these sessions for the Cannabinoids. I never recorded with her before that or anything like that. But she’s like, my impression of her, and obviously I think Jah, Rob, and RC would give you way better answers, but my impression of her is she’s looking for a spark. So when we would do some of those rehearsal sessions, whoever got there early, it was like ‘Alright, well, instead of just waiting around let’s just do stuff.’ So those early sessions was lot of like, ‘What do you think of this?’ Then someone would play a beat or whatever and someone would kind of start going on top of it. So when she would come in during those sessions, by the time she’d get in, we’d been doing stuff for four or five hours, and so it’s kind of like walk in and just sort of like, so what am I soaking up here, what am I vibing off of?
“I don’t know how different it was from the way she would work with other producers and stuff. But I think she wanted us to come up with stuff and then she would vibe with it.”
“I don’t know that I think she had a distinct vision for what it would be. She had an idea of what the concept was. The concept was it was going to be collaborative hip-hop — with you know turntablists and keyboard players and beat makers and things like that — and then: Hey, creative people where do we take this thing?
“I don’t know how that compares to her work on any of her other records, but she was sort of like, “Alright, here’s the spark. Where’s this thing going to go, who’s going to grab this?’ And so it’s cool in that regard. It was, I think it was like, honestly I can’t remember it might have been 10 or 11 of us, but I was like, ‘Okay, who’s got this? You start.’ We did settle into that, too, by the way. Where it’d be like, ‘Okay, Jah, you start this.’ And he’d come in with the beat and then, ‘Alright, you’re next.’ We kind of developed a little groove that way. It was really cool.”
That’s cool. Did you ever think she would, after Baduizm started to blow up and she started to get bigger, did you ever think that she would just go away? Move up permanently to New York or LA or something, like generally what people do?
“Honestly, I never gave it any kind of thought. I never really thought about that. I just knew that she was so prideful. So ‘Southern Gul,’ did that come out—that came out after her second album, right? That was a single thing? So, she was always real prideful of being from down here. And I think, too, if you listen to Worldwide Underground, there was like a—you know because what happened was, she also really started to reject the idea of ‘neo-soul’ as a term. She hated that term.”
“I can remember talking to her specifically and she was repulsed by that term. I think she didn’t—she obviously liked all the Okayplayer kind of folks, and vibed with them, and they were kindred spirits. I think my perception of Worldwide Underground is that that’s a real deliberate move to go, Hey, down in the South we like the sound of the 808 bass and we like that sound of this electronic cowbell, and this is us, and this represents us. Even if she’s doing something with Rahzel, she’s gonna bring this Southern element to it.
“I don’t know that I ever thought that she would leave or not leave, or whatever. I just thought that this was in her DNA. And that even if she was in other places she represented here really well. Which is why I think she did the Cannabinoids and things like that. She’s proud of who she is and where she’s from, and we all cherish that because it’s just a good representation of us.”