In December of 2015, I turned forty, an occasion which prompted much existential thought. To “celebrate” the occasion, I compiled My Life’s Playlist, a collection of one song from each year that I’d lived. In the 40 days preceding my birthday, I identified a song a day, starting with Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” from 1975 and ending with Lera Lynn’s “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For” from 2015. In posting my choices to Facebook, I used the hashtag #40Songs40Days40Years. A fun project it was (and a challenge, particularly when I reached the meaningful songs of the early 1990’s, of which there were many). You can read about that experiment – and see all of the song selections – here. If you find yourself on Spotify, you listen to the full set of songs here.

As this year’s birthday approached, I knew I would add a new song to the list to represent 2016, a year which has robbed us of too many artists and musicians. The choice this year was simple: the powerful and somber “Blackstar” from David Bowie’s album of the same name. Released on January 8, 2016 (which also happened to be Bowie’s 69th birthday), the album was somewhat of a surprise foreshadowed only by a few digital singles in late 2015. Bowie’s death just two days later on January 10 stunned the world.

Although it was technically released as one of those digital singles on November 19, 2015 (a month to the day before my fortieth birthday), “Blackstar” properly arrived two months later with the formal release of the album of the same name. I listened to it that day, unaware that the song would become all the more haunting in just 48 hours when we would all learn the sad news. Now, knowing what we know would come, the song – intended by Bowie to serve as his final farewell to his fans – is overpowering:

Something happened on the day he died,
Spirit rose a meter and stepped aside,
Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried:
(I’m a Blackstar, I’m a Blackstar).

I’ve thought about Bowie a great deal in 2016. I read Rob Sheffield’s excellent book, On Bowie, a collection of a music critic’s observations and memories released just five months after Bowie’s death. Not once, but twice, I saw The Wham Bam Bowie Band, a tribute band based in nearby Asheville, North Carolina (a video of whom you can find below). A week after his death, I penned my own obituary of Bowie, in which I wrote:

Now we find ourselves a part of a popular culture absent David Bowie, once its ubiquitous fixture. For many, including myself, there was never until this week a cultural landscape that existed without Bowie thriving therein. As Jemaine Clement, a member of New Zealand’s Flight of the Conchords musical duo, remarked on behalf of that group, “Both born in the ’70s, we hadn’t witnessed a world without Bowie.” To fans and followers of popular music, Bowie remained omnipresent in both his output and influence, and we always anticipated that he would soon release something intriguing and new. Unlike many of his contemporaries who long ago lost whatever edge they once maintained, Bowie never halted his quest to experiment and reinvent himself. One need only listen to Blackstar, his haunting final album released just a few days before his death, to confirm that fact. Its stark album cover . . . now seems especially foreboding in light of what we would soon learn about the state of his health.

There were other songs which resonated with me this year, including Angel Olsen’s “Shut Up Kiss Me,” Radiohead’s “True Love Waits” (an ancient song by the band finally seeing its official studio release), and, of course, Leonard Cohen’s “You Want It Darker” (the emotive impact of which was also amplified by the artist’s death shortly after its release).

But, to me, “Blackstar” was the only choice for My Life’s Playlist for 2016. I chose Bowie’s “Heroes” – a marvelous gem – as the selection for 1977. In fact, only Bowie, Radiohead, and Arcade Fire appeared more than once on the playlist. Requiescat in pace, David Bowie.

Thanksgiving in 1810, 1910, and 2016


Six years ago, I stumbled across “Thanksgiving in 1810,” a 1910 magazine article by author Clifford Howard, who looked back a century and remarked upon the great social and technological changes of the last century. “The world has changed more in the last 100 years than in any 100 years that have gone before,” he observed. Little did he know how much that change would accelerate in the ten decades which followed. He also speculated about the world of 2010, the year in which I found his article. “[W]hat will it be in 2010?” he asked. (Howard’s prose was accompanied by a series of wonderful illustrations by artist C.T. Hill, an example of which you can find above.). After chancing across Mr. Howard’s words, I wrote a blog post about my discovery. It became “Thanksgiving in 1810, 1910, and 2010,” and it is now one of my favorite posts that I’ve contributed to the Abnormal Use law blog. I like to think that Howard wondered if a writer from 2010 might somehow find his article and offer commentary on the progress society had made in the intervening century. I’m pleased that I could be that writer, and since 2010, I’ve revisited Howard’s article. You can read his piece here, and if you like, you can find my own work here.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The Ephemeral Existence of Nirvana


For nostalgic lovers of popular music, September 2016 became an exhausting month of anniversaries of the release of influential albums from 1991. September 24th saw the 25th anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind (which was preceded, of course, by the September 10th anniversary of that album’s first single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”). Also turning 25 in September of 2016 was Blood Sugar Sex Magik by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, a band whose edge has faded considerably in the intervening years. Just days before the arrival of this year’s September, on August 27, we beheld the 25th anniversary of Pearl Jam’s Ten. That these albums and singles which still resonate us with us today saw their release within just weeks of each other in the halcyon days of 1991 is, quite frankly, a marvel.

Two and a half decades after Nirvana achieved superstardom, I realize that for most of its contemporary fans the band existed only for two and a half years. Sure, there were those in Seattle and other hip corners of the country who knew the band from its beginnings in the late 1980’s, but most of us came to learn of Kurt Cobain and his comrades when “Smells Like Teen Spirit” hit MTV. From September of 1991 to April of 1994, Nirvana’s fans bore witness to Nevermind and its endless throng of singles. The band’s success led to the reissuance of its first album, 1989’s Bleach, and the assembly of older and archival material that became Incesticide. In 1993, Nirvana recorded In Utero with famed producer Steve Albini and appeared on MTV”s “Unplugged.” Then, in April of 1994, Kurt Cobain committed suicide, bringing the band’s existence to a close but ushering it into the hall of legends. We’ve seen a good bit of material released in the many years since Cobain’s death, but it struck me recently that the band existed (and thrived) in the public arena for such a relatively short period of time before it came to an end.

Like many then and now, I considered myself a Nirvana fan. In September of 1991, I had just begun my sophomore year of high school in suburban Houston, Texas. I’m not entirely certain when I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or bought Nevermind, but it couldn’t have been too long after September of 1991. I bought Incesticide on the day of its release in December of 1992 (just a few days before my 17th birthday). I even tracked down and purchased the band’s compact disc singles and compilation album on which the band appeared. In December of 1993, I had the chance to see Nirvana perform in Houston, but I foolishly elected not to do so on a school night. Two years ago, upon the twentieth anniversary of the death of Cobain, I penned a few thoughts about him and his legacy:

Cobain was an interesting contradiction. He brought punk rock music to the masses (making 1991 the year that genre finally “broke” into the mainstream). But he clearly disdained the many suburban fans who flocked to his band’s shows. “This is off our first record, most people don’t own it,” he said to the crowd on November 18, 1993 as he introduced “About A Girl” during the recording of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York. With that statement, Cobain passive aggressively suggested that the general public, who had heaped praise upon him and bought his album in droves for more than two years at that point, was somehow neglectful in not owning 1989’s Bleach, his band’s first record. Basically, if a fan was not the type of person he would have befriended in high school, or if a listener did not share his political and social opinions, Cobain didn’t want their support. An interesting marketing strategy, that. We suspect that if Cobain had lived into the Internet days, we’d be hearing a myriad stories about his rudeness to certain segments of fans (which is consistent with some actual anecdotes we’ve heard about him in the early 1990’s, as well).

But you can’t deny his talent. He mixed the elements of light hearted pop with heavy grunge and punk (in a far, far more sophisticated and appealing way than what passes for punk, or the inappropriately named “pop punk” genre, these days).  Even within the same song, he would shift from melodic and almost quiet poppiness to heavily distorted and loud guitar, and in so doing, create an extraordinarily catchy tune. Although he downplayed his lyrical abilities (telling interviewers that the lyrics were the last part of a song he would develop, sometimes as late as the day the song was to be recorded), his words, often contradictory themselves, were more thought provoking than he would claim them to be. In addition to his own merits, he introduced a generation of young music listeners to bands they’d never before encountered such as the Melvins, Shonen Knife, Scratch Acid, Daniel Johnston, the Raincoats, and the Wipers. On the aforementioned Unplugged album, he covered the Meat Puppets, Leadbelly, the Vaselines, and even David Bowie. Back in the early 1990’s, there was no Internet (at least not one that was accessible to the general public), and the task of finding new music – especially that which was not promoted on MTV or discussed in Rolling Stone or Spin – was a challenge indeed. In those days, a decision by a musician as famous as Cobain to don a t-shirt promoting a previously obscure band had an immense effect, and thus, fans of Nirvana, if they elected to do so, could explore Cobain’s own musical influences and save such bands from the ash heap of music history.

September 17th of this year also heralded the 25th anniversary of Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion albums (for all intents and purposes, at least to date, the last notable works of that band). What an odd historical coincidence that the last meaningful hard rock albums from that era arrived in stores just a week before the album that would seal that genre’s doom. 1991, as they say, was the year punk broke, but it was also the beginning of the end of the unironic hard rock and heavy metal genre which had dominated both the charts and the hearts of high school students for so many years beforehand. As a fan of both hard rock and grunge, I mourned the demise of heavy metal but enjoyed the rise of alternative music (or whatever else we were electing to call the new style of music emerging in those days).

Cobain, Krist Novoselic, and Dave Grohl took hold of us and released a significant amount of material over such a small amount of time. Consider what that band accomplished both musically and culturally in that period of time and consider how other bands have squandered months and years of their existence.As a teenager, time seemed to move far more slowly than it does in my more advanced years. Remember those youthful days when we all longed for time to pass more quickly but realized we must endure the slow passage of days, months, and years? So, to the me of 1991, 2.5 years must have seemed an eternity, whereas I’ve now lived that period of time tenfold since 1991. Now, in 2016, 25 years after the release of the band’s most famous album, it doesn’t seem so long ago.

The Quest for Pearl Jam’s CD Singles


Much was written recently to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the release of Pearl Jam’s debut album, Ten, which hit stores in the halcyon days of August of 1991. Like many members of Generation X, the music of Pearl Jam is inextricably intertwined with my coming of age (and now, my memories of that lost youth). The early 1990’s were my high school years, and “Alive” and “Black” became staples of the mix tapes I’d play while driving the suburban streets of Houston, Texas in my 1986 Dodge. The following year, I’d see Pearl Jam perform at Lollapalooza ’92 at that tour’s Houston stop. I’d see the band again in Austin in 1995 when they invited the Ramones to open for them. My fondness for the band remains intact, and I enjoyed seeing them recently in Charlotte in 2013. But it is that first album, Ten, along with its magnificent b-sides, which is still my favorite.

The recent nostalgia for the album reminded me of one of the joys of the pre-Internet days: scouring record stores for obscure b-sides that might not be found on commercially available albums. In the Houston of the early 1990’s, that task required monthly visits to Sound Exchange, Infinite Records, or a number of other now defunct shoppes where I would learn of and discover imports, bootlegs, and other elusive fare of that ilk.

That was the era of CD singles, and like many bands, Pearl Jam released a host of them. But in the band’s early days, Pearl Jam released singles for songs like “Alive” and “Jeremy” in foreign markets without a corresponding American release. Thus, if a fan wished to own a CD containing “Yellow Ledbetter” or “Footsteps,” he or she had to seek out the import of the “Jeremy” single. Imports weren’t cheap. Reading the Wikipedia entry for “Jeremy,” I am reminded that “[w]hile the ‘Jeremy’ single was released commercially to international markets in 1992, the commercial single was not released in the United States until June 27, 1995 and was only available as a more expensive import version beforehand.” In fact, when the American version of the single finally saw its release, the jewel case was emblazoned with a sticker which proclaimed: “Not To Be Confused With More Expensive (Identical) Import Version.” Of course, by 1995, I’d long owned the more expensive import version after buying it at one of the local shoppes. I don’t recall the day I finally chanced across it, but I know that I once did.

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Stumbling across a long sought after album or single is now, for the most part, a forgotten joy when one can easily purchase such things on Amazon, eBay, or Discogs. In fact, with the advent of streaming, one need not even purchase the track; it can be located relatively easily on Spotify or YouTube with extraordinary ease. Although the Internet remains a marvel, it has robbed us a bit of the delight of the quest for rarities. Oh, well.

1998 Letter To UT Austin President Regarding Access Policies To The Texas Tower Observation Deck

Sunday, August 02, 1998

Dr. Larry R. Faulkner
The University of Texas at Austin
Campus Mail Code: G3400
Austin, Texas 78712

RE: Access Policies to the University of Texas Tower’s observation deck, et cetera

Dear Dr. Faulkner:

I have read with interest that you have before you a new student proposal to reopen the observation deck of the Tower. As a UT graduate with a special interest in issues related to the Tower, I would like to offer a few comments without regard to the specifics of the new proposal.

As you know, the Tower’s observation deck was closed to the public in 1975 after a string of suicides. The University’s darkest hour, of course, was on the first day of August in 1966, when sniper Charles Joseph Whitman gunned down 45 people from his perch in the Tower.

Most undergraduates had not yet been born when the observation deck was closed by the Board of Regents. In the past, students have overwhelmingly supported the reopening of the observation deck. Ten years ago, a non-binding student referendum found that 88 percent of students would be willing to pay additional fees to offset the costs of reopening the Tower. In 1992, the Students Association (now the Student Government) authored a proposal to convert the 27th floor into a privately run coffee shoppe. More recently, representatives of the ad hoc group Students for an Open Tower collected 3,200 signatures in support of reopening of the deck. The most recent proposal, put forth by several undergraduates, would allow the public (with an affirmative action of sorts benefitting alumni and graduating seniors) to visit the Tower by paying admittance fees, which would be used to fund salaried security guards who would deter reckless behavior.

Each student proposal had its flaws, but the fundamental question of whether the observation deck should be reopened remains unaddressed. Some students make the mistake of arguing that it is their right to visit the observation deck. As you well know, the University is perfectly within its rights to deny them access, which it does to most requests for exceptions. Regardless of the fate of the latest student proposal, however, you should at least consider enacting a uniform access policy.

When interviewed on the subject last year, Assistant Vice President for Business Affairs Marla Martinez candidly admitted that there is “no uniform policy” governing access to the observation deck. Dr. William Livingston, the University’s Senior Vice President, concedes that “selected individuals” are granted access to the deck at the discretion of administrators.

The absence of a uniform policy has transformed the observation deck into a “perk” offered by administrators seeking to ingratiate themselves to favorable athletic or academic recruits or celebrities. In “The Tainted Timekeeper,” a 1996 history of the Tower, Matthew Mabry reports that while students are perennially denied admission to the observation deck, celebrities such as Regis Philbin are escorted there without reservation.

Journalists are traditionally allowed access to the observation deck, although I suspect this is done because of the University’s preoccupation with media relations. Author and historian Gary M. Lavergne, who recently published the work Sniper in the Tower: The Charles Whitman Murders, received permission to visit while requests from other scholars have been rejected outright.

Administrators have even shown an unwillingness to grant requests that meet their own exception guidelines. Vice President for Business Affairs G. Charles Franklin, who determines what if any access will be granted to those who request to visit the observation deck, wrote in a 1992 memorandum that in addition to professional journalists, “students with classroom writing assignments” may visit the deck, but only after providing “verification of such assignments from their professors.”

Yet students from the Fall 1996 and Spring 1997 sections of Dr. Rosa Eberly’s “UT Tower and Public Memory” course saw their requests denied even after meeting all of the bureaucratic prerequisites. Perhaps administrators were uncomfortable with the subject matter of this course, but is administrative discomfort enough to reject an academic request? Another recent example: Two architecture classes requested permission to visit the deck to enhance their study of the campus’ Mediterranean design. Only one of the classes received permission for a special tour.

Whenever they are confronted with the issue of reopening the observation deck, administrators purport that reopening the observation deck would be too unwieldy an enterprise.

To comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, they claim the University would be forced to make costly renovations to the deck that would make the effort too difficult. However, one could argue quite convincingly that the Act’s “undue hardship”provision would exempt the University from extensive repairs or renovations. Again, the Act may be a convenient excuse offered by those who feel that the observation deck may be more trouble than it is worth.

Another argument they use is the cost of employing security. Quite simply, the University of Texas spends millions upon millions of dollars on frivolous enterprises that are not directly germane to higher education.

The University’s obsession with “student services” has resulted in skyrocketing fee bills for students, who are often puzzled why they must pay for a student child care center when most undergraduates are not parents. Arguments that security costs would cripple the University are rather unconvincing.

Obviously, any decision regarding the future of the observation deck would be a political one. The Board of Regents, who would ultimately make the decision, would be unlikely to address the issue without the support of at least several high level administrators. Students might do better to lobby the Regents directly, or even attend the Texas Senate confirmation hearings of future Regents.

Considering the past rhetoric of high level administrators, it is unlikely that a maverick will appear to counter their conventional wisdom. Former UT president Peter T. Flawn has described the Tower as a “compelling symbol for the mentally disturbed.” Dr. Livingston, who seems uncomfortable even discussing the issue, has called it a “seductive nuisance.” Dr. Livingston was even displeased with a recent radio broadcast (hosted by me and featuring Mr. Lavergne and Dr. Eberly) which offered a scholarly look at the Whitman massacre as well as the University’s response to the tragedy over the years. Affecting Dr. Livingston’s judgment may be the fact that he witnessed the 1966 tragedy and lost a classmate to Whitman’s reign of terror.

Dr. Eberly, an assistant professor in the University’s Division of Rhetoric and Composition, recently wrote in an Austin American Statesman op-ed piece that you, by simply acknowledging the new request to reopen the deck, have instigated a public discourse on the Tower itself. Such a dialogue might establish some sense of closure to the Whitman incident, which may not have directly prompted the closing of the Tower but certainly looms over any discussion of reopening it.

The administration should not offer stalwart resistance to any attempt to reopen the Tower and then turn around and offer admittance to “select individuals.” However you decide to address the latest proposal, you can accomplish a great deal by simply establishing a uniform access policy.

Either the observation deck is closed to the public or it is not. It should not be used by administrators as a “perk,” even if it lures outstanding students to the University or impresses celebrities. Regardless of whether the administration is within its rights to use the Tower in this way, it is inappropriate.

Ordinarily, I would not have written a letter such as this, but you do seem more receptive to input than most administrators I have encountered at the University.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you soon.


Jim Dedman

cc: Mr. Arthur Dilly, Executive Secretary to the University of Texas System Board of Regents
Dr. William Livingston, UT Senior Vice President
Mr. G. Charles Franklin, UT Vice President for Business Affairs
Dr. Rosa Eberly, Assistant Professor in the Division of Rhetoric and Composition
Ms. Anna Lisa Holand, President of the UT-Austin Student Government
Mr. Spencer Prou, Students for an Open Tower
Ms. Martha Shelton, UT student

Songs About The Senses

As you may know, although I often write about the law at the Abnormal Use blog, I occasionally stray into other topics, including popular (and obscure music). In so doing, I’ve become acquainted with a number of lawyer bloggers who fancy themselves music aficionados (or vice versa). This, sometimes, results in unusual contests of musical knowledge. This week is no different. In a recent post about a Florida appellate court’s new opinion interpreting Daubert, attorney Steve McConnell of the Drug and Device Law blog recently dared me to name more songs about the sense of smell than he could. (Apparently, the case at issue had something to do with a Plaintiff losing that sense.).

McConnell and I have a long history of such exchanges. Back in 2010, he quipped that “any rock band with four letters in its name will produce wretched music” (a troubling remark to which I felt compelled to respond here). He redeemed himself, though, with a fine post about the work of The Beatles and the Sixth Circuit. In 2011, our law blogs created dueling lists of songs about lawyers, judges, and attorneys (and our blog’s list, of course, included Don Henley’s fateful tune about expert witnesses). He doesn’t limit himself to music, either. Six years ago, McConnell wrote about one of our favorite topics: Star Wars. Later, in another post,, he compared a qui tam action to a scene from The Godfather Part II.

You get the idea.

So, I can’t say I was surprised when I received an email from him this week directing me to his latest post. His challenge to me can be found at the end of this two paragraph excerpt:

In his poem “To Summer,” Blake begs the season to “curb thy fierce steeds, allay the heat/That flames from their large nostrils!” That is typical Blake; he takes our favorite time of the year and turns it into a satanic beast. We’d prefer to consider the delightful aromas that Summer brings to our nostrils: beach, fresh cut grass, BBQ, citronella, funnel cakes, empty courtrooms, etc. Plus, if we believe the Seals and Crofts song “Summer Breeze,” the scent of jasmine is out there. Summer is redolent of youth and hope.

Sometimes we get the sense that the sense of smell does not get its due. We are taught that seeing is believing. McCartney sang, “Listen, do you want to know a secret?” Morrison insisted, “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon and touch me, babe.” It took us a moment to think of any olfactory songs, but there are more than you might suspect. Primus inter pares, of course, is Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” A mellow Mac Davis asked his fans to “Stop and Smell the Roses.” Lynyrd Skynyrd rocked out to “That Smell.” Todd Rundgren might have been floating in that ocean of cash he got from producing Bat Out of Hell when he wrote “The Smell of Money.” And what was the reason for the great guitarist Buddy Guy’s fixation on all things nosey? His huge catalog of classics includes “I Smell Trouble,” “I Smell a Rat,” and “Smell the Funk.” Does all that Chicago blues stinkiness have anything to do with the fact that the name “Chicago” comes from an Indian word for a malodorous onion? [Meanwhile, expect the Abnormal Use blog to issue a challenge about which roster of legal geeks can come up with more smelly songs. Hey, Dedman, we’re waiting.]

Of course, McConnell named several songs which we all know, including Nirvana’s’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit Spirit” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s’s “That Smell.” (Fun fact: This is not the first time McConnell has written about Nirvana’s epic anthem). He referenced “Summer Breeze” by Seals and Croft but not the 1993 cover by Type O Negative. But what other songs about the sense of smell leap to mind besides those he mentioned?

Scouring my memories, I can conjure up a number of punk anthems, but I suspect it may be best not to quote the subversive lyrics in this post. The White Stripes released “I Think I Smell A Rat” on 2001’s White Blood Cells, while R.E.M. raised eyebrows with its “Mine Smell Like Honey” from 2011’s Collapse Into Now. As Weezer began its inevitable slide into irrelevance, it released “Dope Nose” on 2002’s Maladroit. Green Day offered us “Geek Stink Breath” on 1995’s insufferable Insomniac, while Nirvana gave the world “Scentless Apprentice” on 1993’s In Utero. The Stinky Puffs, a band composed of the children of some early 1990’s alt-rockers, released a 1995 album called A Little Tiny Smelly Bit Of . . . . which included a tribute to the recently deceased Kurt Cobain called “I’ll Love You Anyway.”

But none of those selections serve as a perfect response to McConnell.

For the past few days, I’ve dwelled on the issue, hoping that my mind would direct me to an appropriate solution. Then it hit me: the perfect response to McConnell’s inquiry.

Never suspecting that the effort might aid a lawyer blogger 34 years later, The Replacements released a fifteen minute EP in 1982. It is the perfect answer.


Stink by The Replacements. I win.

What’s Brewing with Regional Alcohol Laws?


If you find yourself in Charlotte, North Carolina in early June, please join us for an upcoming brewery law CLE. As you might know, I serve on the Mecklenburg County Bar’s Continuing Legal Education Committee. As such, I propose and plan CLE programs for members of the local bar. In the past, I’ve organized presentations on the Salem witch trials (featuring colonial historian and novelist Katherine Howe), the fascinating tort of alienation of affection (for a Halloween event at which presenters also explored the legal implications of the Ashley Madison hack), and of course, the regulation of breweries.

My next program is the Mecklenburg County Bar’s “What’s Brewing with Regional Alcohol Laws?” event, which takes place in a few weeks here in Charlotte. The roster of speakers is impressive; it includes lawyer and South Carolina Brewers Guild executive director Brook Bristow of Bristow Beverage Law, Raleigh beverage industry attorney Laura Collier of Strike & Techel Beverage Law Group LLP, and Carrboro trademark law guru Ed Timberlake of Timberlake Law, PLLC. Both Laura and Ed have spoken at past events I’ve planned, and they are not to be missed. For two years, I’ve attempted to plan a program featuring Brook, and now it has finally come to be. The event will take place on the afternoon of Thursday, June 9, 2016 at the Birdsong Brewing Company on North Davidson Street in Charlotte. Known for its famed Jalapeño Pale Ale, Birdsong also brews a seasonal wheat ale called Fake Plastic Trees, named for the sublime 1995 Radiohead single. (The image above of the cans of Fake Plastic Trees is courtesy of Birdsong’s Tara Goulet.).

If you’re an attorney desiring CLE credit, it can be yours, but if you’re not and/or you don’t, there are other pricing options. Registration information can be found here.

By the way, if you find this subject matter appealing, you might also be interested in “Free The Brews: The Perils of Craft Beer Regulation,” an upcoming program sponsored by The Bastiat Society’s Charlotte chapter (of which I am the chapter director). Featuring the Civitas Institute’s Greg Pulscher, host of the “Free To Brew” podcast, the event takes place at Kickstand Charlotte on the evening of Thursday, June 30, 2016. (The podcast’s tagline is: “Without beer there can be no liberty, and without liberty there can be no beer.”). Additional information about this event can be found here. The best part: It’s free.

For posterity, I’ve compiled a list of the past alcoholic beverage regulation programs I’ve planned. You can find it below along with links to the program information for each event.


Blogging for Lawyers and Related Ethical Issues

If you find yourself in Columbia, South Carolina this coming Friday, May 13, 2016, please join us at the The South Carolina Bar Employment & Labor Law Midyear Meeting, at which I’ll be speaking. I’ve been asked to present on the issue of “Blogging For Lawyers and Related Ethical Issues,” which is a broad enough topic to permit me to stray into some new opinions that have been released this year which may affect lawyers’ work online.

In addition to reviewing the daily challenges faced by lawyer bloggers, I also hope to discuss the recent “Ruling Rejecting Jury Questionnaire” and “Order Re Internet and Social Media Searches of Jurors” by U.S. District Judge William Allsup in Oracle America, Inc. v. Google, Inc. (No. C 10-03561-WHA) currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. I also plan to address John J. Robertelli v. The New Jersey Office of Attorney EthicsA-62-14, 075584 (N.J. April 19, 2016), in which the New Jersey Supreme Court found that two lawyers could, in fact, be prosecuted for ethical violations arising from improper usage of Facebook. If time permits, I may also share my thoughts on the State Bar of California Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct’s recent proposed opinion on lawyer blogging and advertising.

The program will be held at the South Carolina Bar Conference Center on Park Street in Columbia, South Carolina. Scheduled to last an hour, my presentation begins at 3:45 p.m. Registration information can be found here.

Many thanks to Greenville attorney Matt Johnson of Ogletree Deakins for the invitation to speak at the seminar. In addition to being an employment lawyer, Matt is also a fan of fine music. In fact, in late 1985, he saw The Minutemen and Jason and The Scorchers open for R.E.M. on the second night of a two-night stint at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre. How about that?

The Postponed Concert Blues


Matt Wake, an entertainment reporter for AL.com, recently interviewed yours truly for “The Postponed Concert Blues,” a piece in which he chronicles the perils of concert cancellations and their effect on ticket purchasers. In our brief but lively conversation, we addressed Bruce Springsteen’s recent cancellation of his Greensboro, North Carolina show (to which I had tickets, which are depicted in the image above). Any discussion of artist cancellations must necessarily include Morrissey, who I once beheld in concert in 2007. However, on several subsequent occasions, the former lead singer of The Smiths thwarted my attempts to see him perform again by axing shows to which I held tickets. Of course, I lamented those fateful experiences to Matt, as well.

Here’s an excerpt of the piece which features some of my quotations:

Dedman was living in Greenville, S.C. when he saw Morrissey, the moody crooner formerly of ’80 British band The Smiths, perform there in 2007. “And he was great,” Dedman says. “He played (The Smiths’) ‘Death of a Disco Dancer,’ which was the one song I wanted to hear most of all. When you lose yourself in the moment like that and the songs that have transfixed you for so long are being played by the original performer, it’s just magic.” A couple years later, Morrissey was touring again and Dedman purchased tickets to see back to back shows in Atlanta and Asheville, N.C.  He booked a hotel room and drove from Greenville to Atlanta to meet up with a friend there for the concert. The afternoon of the show Dedman and his friend went to that city’s High Museum of Art beforehand.

“So we’re just walking around the art museum and I get a text or a call from Ticketmaster saying that the show is cancelled,” Dedman, now 40, says. “And of course Morrissey has a reputation for cancelling. And I’m already there. I’ve already got the hotel room.” A message on the singer’s website indicated the show had been cancelled due to “illness.” The Asheville show was also cancelled. “So I’m out a hotel that night too,” Dedman recalls.

You can read the full article, which offers a handful of other anecdotes, here. If you’re feeling nostalgic for news of Morrissey, you can revisit the original Slicing Up Eyeballs coverage of his March 2009 tour woes here.

Many thanks to Matt for allowing me to share these memories with his readers. I first became aware of him five or so years ago when he worked as a writer for the Greenville News. I’ve followed him on Twitter for a number of years, and if you’re interested, you can do so as well at @MatthewBWake. By the way, he also owns Echo Records, a vinyl shop in Huntsville, Alabama, which I hope someday to visit.

Prince (1958 – 2016)

Prince_logo.svgPrince, the resplendent, bizarre, and extraordinarily talented musician, died this past Thursday of as of yet unconfirmed causes. The cruelest of recent years, 2016 continues to rob us of our most beloved artists and performers. What words are left for us to express our bewilderment and grief when we’ve been forced to use them so many times before in just the past few months? In the past several days, we’ve seen multitudes of eulogies and tributes, and I too feel compelled to write about this devastating loss to popular culture.

As a child in the early 1980’s, when MTV first introduced him to me, Prince seemed to be some type of phantasmagorical oddity. He, along with Michael Jackson, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, and Boy George, defined the popular culture of that era. Taken together, that curious coterie of artists reigned over MTV in its early days. His singles permeated the airwaves, and I have vivid memories of listening to them in the car as my parents drove me to and fro in suburban Houston all those years ago. Then came the summer of 1989. Thirteen years old that year, I greatly anticipated Tim Burton’s Batman for which, of course, Prince authored the vibrant and daring soundtrack. My favorite moment of the film remains that electric sequence during which The Joker vandalizes the priceless works of art in the Gotham City museum as Prince’s “Partyman” echoes throughout the building. It was as if the song became its own character in the film.

His music served as the soundtrack to countless moments of my life. Each time I hear the mad genius of “Let’s Go Crazy,” a song released more than thirty years ago, it’s as if I’m experiencing it again for the very first time. In the early 1990’s, as a high school student, I often drove around Houston listening to the anthemic “7” (after spending the entirety of an afternoon searching for its compact disc single at various local record stores). Music fans of all stripes once quested for the mysterious, unreleased Black Album, which for many years existed only as an elusive bootleg. I never found it, although the album ultimately saw its commercial release in late 1994. In December of 1998, and of course, at the end of the following year, Prince’s “1999” was inescapable, despite the fact that the song had been released more than a decade and a half beforehand. In 2004, the cast and crew of Pleadings, the independent film I wrote and produced, joined together to sing “Purple Rain” at a Houston karaoke bar to celebrate the end of principal photography.

Culturally omnipotent, he worked with or otherwise influenced throngs of other musicians, and references to Prince’s work would often crop up in the work of other artists. He wrote “Manic Monday,” which became a hit for The Bangles in 1986. Sinead O’Connor’s 1990 cover of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” still haunts listeners 26 years later. Known for their catchy 1990 single “Pure,” the members of The Lightning Seeds chose their name after mishearing the lyrics to “Raspberry Beret.” In 1996, a group of Austin bands, including Spoon, contributed tracks to Do Me Baby! Austin Does Prince, a tribute compilation. In 2002’s “The Real Slim Shady,” Eminem revealed that he had “been suspenseful with a pencil ever since Prince turned himself into a symbol.” In 2009, The Fruit Bats released “Singing Joy To The World,” a wonderfully melancholy song which tells the story of a love which germinated, in part, due to Prince’s “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man.” His influence abounds, and without a doubt, it will continue to do so.

In early 1978, when Prince released his first album, I was a mere toddler, meaning that until this week the only world I knew was one which included him. Upon hearing the news of his death, my mind leapt again to the sense of loss we communally felt upon the passing of another great, David Bowie. In January, just a week after Bowie’s death, I wrote:

Now we find ourselves a part of a popular culture absent David Bowie, once its ubiquitous fixture. For many, including myself, there was never until this week a cultural landscape that existed without Bowie thriving therein. As Jemaine Clement, a member of New Zealand’s Flight of the Conchords musical duo, remarked on behalf of that group, “Both born in the ’70s, we hadn’t witnessed a world without Bowie.” To fans and followers of popular music, Bowie remained omnipresent in both his output and influence, and we always anticipated that he would soon release something intriguing and new.

We are, as one Twitter user recently observed, “losing the unloseable.” Like intrepid concert photographer Ben Stas, I now marvel at “the degree to which the man has been omnipresent in my life since I first took a serious interest in music.”

The same is true of Prince, the cool and cryptic crooner, the guitarist, the producer, the actor, the enigma. Unlike so many makers of music in those halcyon days of the early 1980’s, he endured, becoming one of the artists whose work nearly all of us knew. He continued to experiment with both his art and its delivery to his fans. To toy with his listeners, he once released a 45 minute album featuring nine songs combined into a single track on the compact disc. When fans purchased a ticket to a Prince concert, they would often discover that they had also bought a copy of his latest album as a part of the transaction. However, his notorious hostility to the streaming services made it rather difficult to revisit his oeuvre in our bereavement. As one writer noted, “[i]t was a strange mourning, to be at work and wanting to listen to the songs that we all knew but knowing that they wouldn’t be available to illustrate the shared grief.” Despite his reluctance to embrace the Internet, he remained omnipresent in the culture, prompting the great manifestation of adoration we beheld on that sad, sad day.

Requiescat in pace, Prince (June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016).

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Lawyers

Recently, Josh Gilliland of The Legal Geeks kindly invited me to appear on his podcast to discuss the great woe wrought by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The episode in question is titled “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Lawyers.” As you might imagine, spoilers abound, so listen at your peril if you’ve not yet seen the film.

During the episode, we discuss Zack Snyder’s troubling new blockbuster, John Byrne’s Man of Steel comic book series, and the moral compass of characters like Superman and Captain America. Of course, we also spoke extensively of Batman and the surprising fact that Ben Affleck fared mostly well in his first outing as the Dark Knight.

Many thanks to Josh both for extending the invitation and offering his advice on which microphone headset to purchase in order to best participate in the enterprise.

You can listen to the episode in question here.

The Gen-X Recollection Project


A few years ago, I found myself wandering the streets of downtown Athens, Georgia on a lazy Saturday morning. After dutifully visiting the local record shoppes, I chanced across Bizarro Wuxtry, an old school comic book store located on College Avenue. A wonderful mess, the place offered its customers the opportunity to sift through immense piles of back issues, nostalgia drenched toys and collectibles, and other miscellaneous pop culture debris. As I strolled through the store that day, I suddenly caught sight of an issue of Elson’s Presents Super Heroes Comics, the cover of which is depicted above. I was instantly taken aback, as I had been searching for this particular comic book for a number of years. This issue – apparently published in the very early 1980’s when “Elson’s Gift and News paid DC to repackage some of [its] comics” – was the very first comic book I owned. I don’t recall very much about the circumstances surrounding its initial acquisition, but I suspect that my father purchased it for me as a gift during one of his business trips. Some Googling confirms that the Elson’s franchises catered to business travelers during that time period. Somewhere along the way, my original copy of the issue was lost to the ages (likely misplaced during a move or otherwise purged from my possessions during some vainglorious effort to achieve a more minimalist existence). But three decades later, there it was again, sitting atop a pile of comic books and beckoning to me. Of course, I bought it and relived a few moments of my lost youth.

Shortly thereafter, I realizedccomicspresentsd that in my late thirties, and now, in my early, early forties, I have been attempting to assemble a collection of pop culture relics from my childhood. Perhaps “reassemble” is a better term, as I continue to purchase items I once owned long ago, whether they be comic books, novels, cassette tapes, or even vintage toys. For example, I recently reacquainted myself with the works of Stephen King and Robert McCammon, two of my favorite horror writers from days gone by. Perched atop a coffee table in my office is an original Millenium Falcon spaceship toy (the one once manufactured by Kenner). Not too long ago, I reacquired a copy of DC Comics Presents #69 which, if memory serves, was an early addition to my nascent comic book collection all those years ago. (Published in 1985, the cover of that issue is at left, and yes, that’s the face of Albert Einstein to the right of Superman.). Sometimes, I wonder what has prompted the rekindling of my interest in these bygone artifacts. Although simple nostalgia prompts the search for such things, the quest becomes an effort to recapture that wonderful sense of possibility that permeates youth. This curious habit occupied my mind again recently because my old friend, the indefatigable blogger Ryan Steans, recently embarked upon something he has dubbed The Gen-X Recollection Project, an effort to gather together the childhood pop culture memories of those who came of age in the 1980’s. In a recent post at his fine blog, The Signal Watch, he asked his readers and friends to recount their childhood experiences with comic books, science fiction, and the like and compare them with today’s far more tolerant environment of such diversions. As Ryan suggests in that post, while knowledge of comic book lore might earn one “indie street cred” in today’s environment, the culture was not as permissive of those pastimes during the Reagan years. As you might expect, Ryan’s invitation to participate in this undertaking prompted some reminiscences of the 1980’s, the era when I first became an avid comic book reader. As a part of his project, he has asked a number of specific questions of the contributors to this effort, several of which I’ve elected to answer in this post (which will be published both here and at Ryan’s site).

What do you do for a living?

For the past fourteen years, I’ve practiced law. As a part of my job, I also serve as the editor of Abnormal Use, a products liability law blog. Each Friday, we run a column called “Friday Links,” in which we oftentimes analyze and comment upon comic books with legal issues depicted upon the cover. On that blog, I’ve even interviewed a few comic book creators, including Daredevil writer Mark Waid, She-Hulk writer Charles Soule, and Tiger Lawyer creator Ryan Ferrier. Back in college, I majored in screenwriting. A few years after I graduated from law school, I wrote and produced a low budget film called Pleadings. You can read a bit more about my background on my “About Jim” page.

Where do you live?

I live in Charlotte, North Carolina. Before moving here five years ago, I lived in Greenville, South Carolina. Born in Tennessee, I spent most of my formative years in Texas.

How did your interest in comic books, science fiction, and fantasy initially germinate? What year was that? Do you remember what was going on in your life?  

Like most members of my geavengersneration, as a youngster, I followed the Star Wars films with great fervor. Equally of interest was 1985’s Back to the Future, which prompted me, along with every other child that year, to request a skateboard and a guitar for Christmas. Michael Keaton was Batman, and of course, Christopher Reeve was Superman. I watched a lot of science fiction television, whether it be reruns of the original “Star Trek” series, new episodes of “Misfits of Science,” or Saturday morning cartoons like “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends.” I read Choose Your Own Adventure books and, later, Stephen King novels. When my Atari 2600 found its way to obsolescence, I began to save money to buy the new-fangled Nintendo Entertainment System. My favorite computer games, though, were the Infocom text adventures games. After learning computers using a TI-99/4A and then a Commodore 64, I discovered telecommunications and bulletin boards using my Tandy 1000’s 1200 baud modem. And there were the boxes and boxes and boxes of comic books. As noted above, my father bought me my first comic: that fateful issue of Elson’s Presents Super Heroes Comics back in the very early 1980’s. Not long thereafter, I began to scour those iconic spinner racks for back issues. Although my initial introduction to the medium was through DC Comics, I quickly became a Marvel reader, finding my way through older issues of The Uncanny X-Men and The Avengers (the cover of issue #250 of which, released in 1984, can be found at left). I obsessed a bit over The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, a series of comics which featured encyclopedic mini-biographies of super heroes and villains. I shuddered at the drama of the tragic Mutant Massacre storyline and the tale of Scourge of the Underworld, the vigilante who took it upon himself to execute third rate villains. Other favorites included New Mutants and X-Factor (both of which, along with the Classic X-Men reprints, further educated me on the larger backstory of the X-Men). The social and political stakes of the X-Men titles – represented by The Mutant Registration Act, Marvel’s faux political advertisement for which appears below – made the issues presented seem important to young readers. After all, Marvel introduced us to characters who were senators who discussed actual legislation. In the Marvel Universe, mutants were an oppressed class, and X-Men writer Chris Claremont’s nuanced and riveting storytelling during those years was, well, a marvel.


But, as all things do, that hobby came to an end, just a year or two after the release of 1989’s Batman, the major motion picture blockbuster which, curiously, instigated the incremental process of making comic book superheroes “cool” in the eyes of the general public. By 1990 and 1991, my interest in popular (and obscure) music overtook that of comic books. Who cared to follow the misadventures of Captain America or the West Coast Avengers when there was the output of Nirvana, R.E.M., and U2 to be explored? How could I spend my hard earned money on new issues of comic books when there were compact disc singles to be purchased? So, I stopped venturing to comic book stores, save for the occasional lark. A few times in the last two decades, I’ve thought about returning to the habit, but these days, the storylines and wearisome crossovers are too complicated. I haven’t the time to sift through so many reboots, multiverses, and other gimmicks.

Where did you buy comics?

For most of the 1980’s, I lived in either Memphis, Tennessee or Houston, Texas. There are a host of comic book stores from those cities which exist now only in the memories of members of my generation. In Memphis, I frequented the now defunct Memphis Comics and Records which, if I recall correctly, boasted two locations. In Houston, I shopped at Third Planet (which still exists, actually, but in a different location than the one I once visited) and The Silver Penny (which was located within a flea market somewhere near the Town & Country neighborhood). There are others, of course, but their names now elude me. (To no avail, I’ve spent the past few days attempting to recall the name of the comic book store on Gessner Road, just north of I-10 in Houston, which I visited in the early 1990’s.). I can remember patronizing these stores on early Saturday afternoons in the care of my parents armed with whatever money I had cobbled together that week. Decade laters, in an effort to reintroduce myself to comics, my store of choice became Comics Kingdom in Beaumont, Texas, the city in which I first entered private practice as a young lawyer. However, after valiantly attempting to keep pace with the ceaseless onslaught of new titles and issues, I gave up, as the task had become too much of a chore.

Did you have friends who shared your interest? How was your interest in such things perceived by others?

It’s strange what we remember all these years later. In elementary school, my friends and I would debate the various plot points of the latest episodes of “Transformers” and “G.I. Joe,” the two weekday afternoon cartoons we were too young to recognize as mere toy commercials. I clearly recall discussing the merits of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” with a classmate during homeroom at White Station Junior High School in Memphis in 1988. About that same time, my friends and I began to watch the various slasher movies of the period, including releases from the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. Curiously, though, I don’t specifically recall discussing comic books with joker-t-shirtfriends during elementary or junior high school. I likely did, but I have no memory of any such conversations. As Ryan himself noted in his own post in this series, “reading comics [is] something people do on their own, like any reading experience outside of a class.” This is not to say I concealed my interests. In those early years, I brought my lunch to school in one of those metal Star Wars lunch boxes. A few years later, I would occasionally wear a Joker t-shirt, a wonderful image of which I’ve located online and appended at left. I’m not certain what my classmates thought about that particular fashion choice (and I cringe to speculate). Although it is axiomatic that comic books were not a path to popularity, I don’t recall any particular animus directed towards comic book readers. That said, I never took comics to school (a decision borne more of a concern for their condition than a fear of social ostracization). In sum, I knew my peers did not consider comic books to be “cool” in the way that, say, The Joshua Tree, Kick, or Green might be.

Generally, my parents were very supportive of the hobby. At least once a month, they would transport me to the local comic shop to find new reading material. Whenever comic books would make the news, my father would bring the news coverage to my attention. In fact, when John Byrne’s Man of Steel reboot earned national media attention in 1986, my father brought the clippings to my attention (and, of course, that weekend, we made our pilgrimage to the local comic book shop to buy the issue in question).

What is the oddest thing about how comics, superheroes, science-fiction and fantasy have changed in their original form as you knew them?

mmmOf course, the Internet has changed nearly everything, and as such, there are countless websites where readers may discuss comics new and old. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be a young reader with those resources at the fingertips. I’m not certain that the Internet has revolutionized the manner in which we read comics themselves (despite the prevalence of digital comics). But what do I know? I’ve certainly aware of the sheer number of titles being released of late and the daunting task readers face in attempting to keep up with the deluge of new titles and issues. For me, it’s now far easier to follow the various comic book film and television adaptations than commit to an multiple monthly series. As noted above, confusing reboots abound. In 2011, DC Comics rebooted itself with its New 52 brand, and just this year, the company announced it would relaunch itself yet again as a part of its Rebirth initiative. Marvel is no stranger to unwieldy crossovers, whether it be the “House of M” storyline or “Civil War” or what have you. To me, this modern approach seems far more convoluted than the simpler days of Secret Wars II or the Mutant Massacre storyline, both of which spanned a small number of titles during their heyday in the 1980’s. In fact, in 1986, Marvel created a handy Marvel Mutant Massacre Map (depicted above at right) which was distributed to local comic shops. Easy to follow and relatively small in scope, this storyline allowed the company to introduce readers to other potential titles while not asking their customers to break the bank. These days, such an affair would be far more involved and require a significant financial commitment to follow (especially in light of the increasing cost of comics). As such, these days, there’s just a bit to much noise for me to return.

What is your greatest joy when it comes to your memories of discovering comics?

Reading begets reading, whether it be the message boards on those long forgotten bulletin board systems, the aforementioned text adventure games, or the comics themselves. Without comic books, I would not have become a voracious reader. I would not have found the works of Stephen King, Douglas Adams, and other masters of genre. Without finding those novelists, I would not have later delved into Fitzgerald and Hemingway. So, generally, it is the joy of reading that I cherish most when I reflect upon those days.

What is your greatest disappointment?

When it comes to popular culture, my greatest disappoint remains the Star Wars prequels. Although films released in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s may seem outside the scope of this project, you likely understand the sentiment if you’ve made it this far into a post about the whims and caprices of members of Generation X when it comes to these issues. So, for the record, I formally object to the Star Wars prequels in response to this question.

Returning to the topic at hand, I suppose3181257-15 I regret, at least in part, the early focus on comic books as potential investment properties. Back then, we all fancied ourselves “collectors” in part because we labored under the misimpression that comic books purchased in the 1980’s might somehow exponentially increase in value, making us wealthy beyond our wildest dreams. That folly was the one trait we shared with the baseball card aficionados of the era. Looking back, it is astonishing to consider how high the value of the first issues of Marvel’s Star Wars and G.I. Joe ultimately skyrocketed. I haven’t a clue how much those issues might be worth now, but I suspect their value has plummeted. Like many others, I owned a tattered copy of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, which assigned a value to back issues based upon their condition. (An image of the 1985 edition of the price guide I once owned is at left.). When a new issue number one was released, I would typically purchase it, prompted in part by the possibility that it might increase in value. That philosophy led to many, many poor decisions (including the acquisition of a number of Star Comics and New Universe titles to my collection). Instead of meticulously archiving my comic books in plastic bags and cardboard longboxes, I should have treated them more like the ephemeral properties they were and enjoyed them as such. I’m not necessarily suggesting that I should have disposed on the comics immediately upon reading them (as one might a magazine), but I suspect I would have enjoyed the hobby to a greater extent had I relaxed a bit about their protection of their condition. Kids should read comics for fun, not financial worries.

Perhaps, though, my greatest disappointment is the slow but inevitable dissolution of the comic book collection I had so lovingly assembled. Bits and pieces of my collection were lost during various moves. I remember essentially donating hundreds of back issues to a used bookstore in Austin when it came time to move to Waco for law school in early 1999. It would have been nice, I think, to have maintained the collection as a whole, as if in a time capsule, such that I could revisit it in later years and remember simpler times. Unfortunately, the logistical demands of adulthood thwart most efforts to preserve our childhood in some sort of nostalgic amber (which is why, as I noted above, I’ve been attempting to reassemble some portion of that collection these past few years).

As a part of this project, Ryan requested that participants include a photograph of themselves. A contrarian of sorts, I choose to share the photograph below. Taken on December 19, 1979, my fourth birthday, it depicts me, standing and showing my friends the Star Wars action figures I just received as gifts that day. I have no recollection of that day. (Many thanks to my mother for unearthing this ancient photograph.).



The Return of Tanya Donelly and Belly

belly-starYesterday, Belly, a true gem of what we once called alternative music, announced its reunion as well as an upcoming tour. After folding twenty years ago, the band will now play a series of shows in the U.K. and the U.S. this summer. Among the members of Generation X (already excited by the recent return of British shoegazers Lush), nostalgia and anticipation abounded.

Few bands exemplified the dream pop of the 1990’s better than Belly, the act fronted by Tanya Donelly, the lead singer with the unmistakably ethereal voice. The band’s hits, including “Feed The Tree” and the magical “Super-Connected,” perfectly captured the carefree sense of possibility permeating the alt-rock of the mid-1990’s. But, as bands do, Belly soon fell apart, leaving the world just two full length albums and a handful of singles and EP’s.

At the dawn of the band’s career, its prospects seemed promising. Donelly’s musical pedigree was impeccable (having founded Throwing Muses with Kristin Hersh and worked with the Pixies’ Kim Deal on the first Breeders album, 1990’s Pod, a favorite of Kurt Cobain’s). But Donelly had larger ambitions. In late 1992, Spin magazine reported upon the birth of her new project, Belly, and heralded the imminent release of its debut album (which was to be Star, which arrived in January of 1993). For the band, those were the days. As a result of its early efforts, it received two Grammy nominations. The opening act for one leg of its 1993 tour was another band in its infancy: Radiohead. Belly even contributed a decent cover of “Are You Experienced?” to 1993’s Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix compilation album. King, the band’s second album, saw its release in 1995. In a Rolling Stone cover story that year, Jancee Dunn positively characterized the band as trendy intellectual alt-rockers (presumably with a bright future in the industry despite its members’ various quirks and apprehensions):

[T]he folks in Belly resemble hip graduate students. They’re well spoken, well read, funny. They are mindful of the truth (and consequences) of fame and dismissive of the myth of celebrity. This isn’t jadedness as much as cleareyed awareness — and detachedness. Talk of any trappings of fame makes them uncomfortable.

In sum, the band seemed to be going places. Of course, not everyone dug its second album. In a 1995 Austin Chronicle review of King, music critic Margaret Moser noted that the record “may be a kind of sophomore slump . . .  as Donelly’s inclination toward feyness can be suffocating, and tender becomes cloying on ‘The Bees’ and ‘Red.'” But the center would not hold. Just four years after the band’s formation, in late 1996, Julia Chaplin of Spin reported that its members had “amicably” parted ways, ostensibly paving the way for Donelly’s inevitable solo career. On her own, though, Donelly never equalled the success or critical acclaim of Belly (despite releasing a number of solo albums). For the last several years, she has released recordings in her “Swan Song Series,” a title more suggestive of impending retirement than a return to past projects.

As bands from the 1990’s began to reform in the 2000’s, Belly remained conspicuously absent from the 1990’s nostalgia machine. Thirteen years ago, writing in the Austin Chronicle about the band’s greatest hits release, writer Chris Gray questioned the band’s legacy: “Belly deserved much better than they got: two albums and also-ran in the alt.rock sweepstakes.” Would the band be remembered only as a historical footnote as Gray’s review intimated? Would Donelly truly retire from music and leave Belly behind forever? Would anyone have the opportunity to see “Super-Connected” live one last time?

These questions now have answers.

Yesterday, on its official website, the band announced:

Belly is very happy to announce that we will be reuniting to play some shows this coming summer in the US and the UK.  Dates will be announced as they are confirmed, but right now we can tell you with relative confidence that the UK shows will fall in the middle of July, and US shows will be scattered throughout August and possibly into September.

We’ve also got a handful of brand new Belly songs in various stages of writing and recording, that we’ll be releasing one by one over the next few months.  First previews will be right here on the website!

We are very excited to be playing together again, and hope to see you out there in Summer of 2016!

In conjunction with its resurrection, the band also appears to have unveiled new Twitter and Instagram accounts. No word yet on where the band will perform during its tour.

Upon hearing the news of the band’s reformation, I felt a bit of elation. Back in the day, I never saw Belly in concert. Some Internet sleuthing reveals that I had several opportunities to do so when Belly performed in Texas in the 1990’s. The band put on a show at The Vatican, a Houston rock club, in April of 1993 with Velocity Girl as support. Belly returned to Houston in September of that year to headline a gig at Rockefeller’s with Radiohead in tow. In May of 1995, when I lived in Austin, the band played at that city’s beloved Liberty Lunch in support of King, released just a few months earlier in February. But the stars did not align. If the band schedules a show somewhere in the Southeastern United States, I plan to rectify my prior error in missing them back then.

(The color magazine advertisement for Belly’s Star depicted in this post originally appeared in the March 1993 issue of Spin magazine. The black and white advertisement for The Vatican, a rock club in Houston, Texas, originally appeared in the April 21, 1993 issue of Public News, a now defunct alternative newsweekly).


  • Both Belly and Lush released songs called “Untogether” in the early 1990’s.
  • Along with Juliana Hatfield, Donelly covered the theme to the cartoon, “Josie and the Pussycats,” on the 1995 compilation album, Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits. I remember purchasing that disc sometime in the mid-to-late 1990’s (at the now defunct Duval Discs on Guadalupe Street in Austin, if memory serves).
  • “Thief,” a b-side from Belly’s “Now They’ll Sleep” single, also appeared on the soundtrack to the 1995 film, Tank Girl. That album also featured Veruca Salt’s resplendent magnus opus, “Aurora.”



David Bowie (1947 – 2016)


David Bowie now belongs to the ages. In the seven days since the world learned the sad news of his passing, much has been written about the man and his majestic oeuvre. Our communal bereavement compels us to compose online eulogies and assemble playlists of cherished songs which once served as the soundtrack for both recent and distant moments. Mike Doub, writing at 33⅓’s blog, puts it well when he notes that our “degree of collective mourning has been beneficial to [his] own grieving.” Just as so many other admirers have done, I too must share my thoughts on David Bowie.

Although I didn’t appreciate his place in the cultural realm at the time, I first encountered Bowie by way of 1978’s David Bowie Narrates Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. I’m not certain when my parents purchased that record for me, but I do remember listening to it during my very early years. As a child of the 1980’s, I came to know his hits from that glorious decade, including “Let’s Dance,” “Dancing in the Street,” and, of course, “Under Pressure,” his magnificent collaboration with Queen. The soundtrack to the 1986 film Labyrinth, which starred Bowie as the Goblin King, offered us “Magic Dance,” which to this day still provokes a genuinely wonderful joy.  As the late 1980’s fell to the early 1990’s, I found myself listening to classic rock radio and learning a bit of his fine work from the 1970’s (although the disc jockeys of that era rarely strayed beyond a limited set of Bowie’s popular singles). If memory serves, it was about that time that I came to own Changesbowie, the 1990 compilation album, and “Fame ’90,” a remix single released that same year in conjunction with that hits package.

1992 saw the release of Cool World, the curious live action/animated film starring Gabriel Byrne and Kim Basinger. Its soundtrack introduced me to a new version of Bowie, who contributed to that effort “Real Cool World,” a work of what was then called techno. That same year, he briefly appeared in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, a film based on the “Twin Peaks” television series, an obsession of mine at the time. Shortly thereafter, I was taken aback upon first hearing “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson,” the vibrant first single from Bowie’s 1995 concept album, Outside. In the following years, I collected what I could of his sizable discography. When I moved to South Carolina from Texas in 2006, the instrumental track “A New Career in a New Town,” from 1977’s Low, became the unofficial theme song of my journey. Just last year, when I created a playlist composed of one song from each year I’ve lived on the occasion of my fortieth birthday, I chose Bowie’s epic anthem “Heroes,” his finest moment, as my selection for 1977.

The epic concerts we miss haunt us for many years to come. Though I’ve seen many artists perform live, I never beheld David Bowie in concert. I am the poorer for it. He released Outside in September of 1995 in the dawn of my sophomore year at The University of Texas at Austin. Only a few weeks later, on October 14, 1995, Bowie brought The Outside Tour to South Park Meadows, a now defunct Austin live music venue I frequented in those days. My old friend Ryan Steans, an indefatigable blogger who now writes at The Signal Watch, recently recounted that Bowie’s 1995 Austin show served as his first date with Jamie, his wife of now 16 years. Looking back, I’m not certain what occupied my attention that night, but I negligently failed to attend that show (a grievous error, especially since I had just seen Radiohead open for R.E.M. and the Ramones perform with Pearl Jam on consecutive nights at that venue just a few weeks earlier). In 2004, I lived in Beaumont, Texas, 100 or so miles from Houston, where David Bowie stopped at The Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion in April of that year. Unaware of the show, I missed it, as well.

Now we find ourselves a part of a popular culture absent David Bowie, once its ubiquitous fixture. For many, including myself, there was never until this week a cultural landscape that existed without Bowie thriving therein. As Jemaine Clement, a member of New Zealand’s Flight of the Conchords musical duo, remarked on behalf of that group, “Both born in the ’70s, we hadn’t witnessed a world without Bowie.” To fans and followers of popular music, Bowie remained omnipresent in both his output and influence, and we always anticipated that he would soon release something intriguing and new. Unlike many of his contemporaries who long ago lost whatever edge they once maintained, Bowie never halted his quest to experiment and reinvent himself. One need only listen to Blackstar, his haunting final album released just a few days before his death, to confirm that fact. Its stark album cover, appended at the top of this post, now seems especially foreboding in light of what we would soon learn about the state of his health.

We are, as one Twitter user recently observed, “losing the unloseable.” Like intrepid concert photographer Ben Stas, I now marvel at “the degree to which the man has been omnipresent in my life since I first took a serious interest in music.” Upon learning of his death, I could react only by creating a Spotify playlist of my 50 favorite David Bowie tracks. For how many artists could one assemble a list of 50 beloved songs? His vast body of work, coupled with his ostensible permanency in the world of music and film, explains why his death affects so many who never personally knew him. We never thought it would come to an end because we could not conceptualize a world without him. But now he is gone.

Requiescat in pace, David Bowie (January 8, 1947 – January 10, 2016).