The lights are on over at Santa's Enchanted Rip-off and the malls are decked with boughs of holly (plastic, of course). Kathy Willets has a tongue-in-cheek (her own, for a change) Christmas poster for those who cannot throw their money away fast enough already. For the second consecutive week a cold front has blown into town, dropping temperatures into a range where they are roughly equivalent to the IQ of the average David Duke supporter. For the typical South Floridian, these are all signs that the holidays are fast approaching, that it is time to start hanging the stockings by the air-conditioning ducts with care and panicking over the number of shopping days left.
But for those of us in the music business, especially those of us who have from time to time pocketed beer money for pretending to write about the music business, it is almost time for (trumpet blast) The South Florida Rock Awards, wherein a bunch of self-important writers, promoters, disc jockeys, and a host of other people trying to make a living without getting a day job, whose highest level of musical accomplishment is their after-dinner flatulence, get together and come up with a dozen or so nominations for awards in arbitrarily selected categories nobody can figure out. Last year, for example, the category of Best Country Band was included for the sole purpose of giving the Mavericks an award. Lord knows they deserved the accolades, but would it be far-fetched to assume that if the Mavs hadn't come along and been so damn good, the award for Best Country Band might have been deleted in favor of, say, a Best Use of the Guitar as a Phallic Symbol category?
Of course that whole argument violates the first rule of awards ceremonies, which is that nobody but the nominees are allowed to take the damn things seriously, and sometimes not even they do. The highlight of last year's ceremony at the Button South came when, while accepting an award, the emotionally overwhelmed members of Saigon Kick expressed their heartfelt gratitude by exposing their scrotums (scrota? scroti?) to an indifferent audience. Where is Jack Thompson when you really need him?
In addition to Saigon Kick, last year's awards included a healthy mix of avant-garde and off-the-wall bands and musicians. Unfortunately, the proceedings were still dominated by young, white, male members of one-word-name pseudometal bands with monikers such as Autodrive, Race, Accelerator, Farrcry, Whiplash, Roadkill, et cetera, whose members shoehorn their formless little butts into Spandex pants (black, of course), pile their hair up as high as it can go (assuming it hasn't been permed into position already), and meticulously screw their precious faces into the proper scowl/pout. These are the guys who didn't get Spinal Tap, for whom the pinnacle of musicianship would be a guitar solo so fast and loud that no note is distinguishable from the one that precedes or follows it. Their female counterparts are the wanna-be groupies in skirts so tight that if they did have any cellulite it would be squeezed back into their blood streams, where it would circulate until it found a quiet vacant spot to settle (midway between the ears). A day or a week or a month later no one will remember who won anything, and all that will emerge from the whole sordid affair will be a few nagging blisters in embarrassing places.
It doesn't take a genius, or even a Republican vice president, to see that the whole grandiose, self-congratulatory concept of the Rock Awards is flawed. By attempting to appease practitioners of so many diverse musical genres, the awards fail to do justice to any of them. Does any self-respecting mosher care who a middle-age critic thinks is the best guitarist or vocalist? Do thirty- or forty-something bluesmen (or blueswomen) give a flying fannoul who the Best Thrash Band was/is/should be? Of course not. It's like having an all-star ceremony that honors boxers, football players, synchronized swimmers, motocross racers, and chess masters. By failing to limit the scope of the awards, the potential impact of the event is dissipated.
That is why it is best to leave the esoteric categories to the pros here at New Times. Our daily existence revolves around contact with the seamy underbelly of the local music scene, and we are only too happy to share that wealth of privileged info with you, the great unwashed. A random sampling of some of the better categories this year would include:
Worst band to leave the punch bowl unattended around:
Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids
Best band to leave the punch bowl unattended around:
Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids
Best reason to be a musician other than sex, drugs, or money:
The food at the Cactus Cantina.
Most missed folk singer:
The inimitable Frank Black, who opens songs with lines like, "Please don't call my sister a whore...," but who has recently found it necessary to put down his guitar and engage in serious manual labor in order to help feed his family. We think it terribly irresponsible of him. Frankie, we miss ya.
Best Buddha impersonation:
John Yarling, although if he keeps losing weight, we're going to have to retire this award and just talk about what a great drummer he is.
Jekyll and Hyde award:
Doc Wiley, musical director at Washington Square. There is no shortage of musicians convinced that Snow White mixed this Doc up with Grumpy.
Best band to utilize tin whistle, mandolin, and tamborine in the same song:
Only band to utilize tin whistle, mandolin, and tamborine in the same song:
How did you guess?
Best band fronted by a pair of female singer/guitarists steeped in neo-Sixties acid-rock traditionalism, featuring a Cuban-American drummer with a Vegas headliner's on-stage persona, a veteran percussionist who has been to the big time and back and looks like a vampire caught in the noonday sun, and a self-taught, card-counting, ex-semipro-hockey-playing Irish bassist named after a fabled English knight:
Blizzy Nation, with drummer Zaido Cruz, percussionist Guille Garcia, guitarists/vocalists Chris Limardo and Kathi Gibson, and bass player Lancelot O'Blarney.
Best aforementioned Irish bassist who could have handily won the Mongolian drinking contest in Raiders of the Lost Ark and played three sets of Zeppelin covers afterward:
Songwriter least likely to get screwed out of royalties:
Joe Imperato, practicing attorney by day, folk singer by night (the Source).
Best folk singer nobody ever heard of, male:
This is a tough one. Peter Betan, August Campbell, Robert Wuagneux, Dennis Britt, Nick Macina, and Louis Archambeau are all talented acoustic performers, but much to their relief, they don't score high enough on the obscurity meter to merit this award. David Andrews, a powerful vocalist familiar to regulars of the acoustic Monday nights at the Square, has enormous potential, but he needs a few years of scrabbling for low-paying (or no-paying) gigs to add some rough-edge credibility to his act. We hate to weasel out, but we're going to have to split this award between Jim Baumann, prototypical laid-back singer/songwriter with a knack for making anyone he sits in with sound like a million bucks, and Lou Jurika, a man with a voice as clear and crystalline as a Vienna choirboy's locked in a body that came of legal drinking age on the cruise to Plymouth Rock.
Best folk singer nobody ever heard of, female:
Diane Ward. Okay, okay, we know she's not really obscure as the front person for local original rockers the Wait. But as a solo acoustic act she's completely different, less a femme fatale and more a tortured soul with a voice that could bring tears to the eyes of a robot. To hear her sing "For My Baby" or "Bang Bang Superman" is to realize just how powerful the ancient combination of one unadorned guitar and one incredible voice still is. Mary Karlzen, who played bass and sang for Vesper Sparrow in a previous life, is also right up there, and her new solo CD (produced in collaboration with many of the same folks responsible for the Mavericks' independently released disc) may well catapult her into the big time. You heard it here first.
Best non-Latin percussionist:
This one essentially boils down to a two-man race, between Glenn Caruba of Iko-Iko and Steve "Grandpa" Kornicks of just about everywhere else. Caruba's claim to fame is an imposing, gleaming percussion cage, inside of which hangs an impressive array of esoteric noisemakers. Kornicks's arsenal also comes with all the bells and whistles, not to mention shakers, rattles, chimes, or clickety-clack little things that God knows what they're called. Half the fun of seeing these guys live is just checking out the toys. But make no mistake, both are accomplished skin-slappers who do the rest of us rhythmless Anglos proud.
Management team with best shot at a WWF tag-team crown:
Best hair, male:
As any student of rock history knows, hair makes the band. Granted, female performers can still wield cleavage to great advantage, but for most rockers hair rules. We were about to name Jose Tillan, the bass player for Forget the Name, for his dark, curly locks, but we decided to go out on a limb for this award and select someone a little more avant, a trailblazer rather than a trendfollower. Therefore our choice for best hair is a tie between Lou Jurika and Robert Wuagneux, for their forays into utilitarian minimalism,
a style that a large percentage of men in the music business (including yours truly) are copying or will be in the not-too-distant future.
Best hair, female:
Tara Solomon, the karaoke goddess, for sheer verticality. Eat your hearts out, B-52's.
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Best hair, band:
The Goods. Maybe this category should be renamed "Best Necks," because these guys toss their tresses around with such abandon that one of the thrills of catching them in concert is the constant threat that their melons are going to come unglued and go flying out into the audience, killing hundreds of innocent fans.
Most difficult personnel decision to accept at face value:
The Mavericks' firing of Ben Peeler. The company line is that Peeler either couldn't or wouldn't play country enough. He was country enough to get them the MCA deal, though, and if there's a more tasteful, versatile player around we'd have a hard time naming him/her. The Mavericks are great, no question; when you try to think of someone to compare Raul Malo's vocals and songwriting to, it is hard not to mention names like Clint Black or Garth Brooks, high praise indeed. But the timing of the decision to release Peeler, and the obvious reluctance with which Peeler acknowledges the band's official explanation of "artistic differences," reek of a most unpleasant odor.
Best bartender with a sympathetic ear for musicians down on their luck:
Jerry Berlin of the Brickell Tavern stands about eight-feet tall, with a voice so deep your average graphic equalizer cannot accommodate it. Under the word "gruff," Webster's Dictionary has a picture of Jerry. He looks and sounds like a turn-of-the-century bareknuckles prizefighter, but actually prefers abstract painting to fisticuffs. He has also been known to jump on-stage with a band and jam some blues on his harmonica, when the spirit moves him. Very few bands tell him no. Very few prizefighters would tell him no. But for all his bluster, Jerry is a pushover. He has been known to tear up bar tabs for musicians whose thirsts for spirits rivaled those of a dehydrated rugby team and whose wallets were equally dry.
Best Rock Critic:
Greg Baker, New Times. Now can I have my check?