“Someday, the train will return to these parts…”
It all traces back to 30th Street — 406 West 30th, to be precise, to the an unassuming old house directly across the street from Trudy’s Texas Star restaurant, just north of the University of Texas campus in Austin. A big hand-painted sign with the “406” street number was nailed above a porch occupied by a beat-up couch and coffee table, the gateway to twin front doors that led to a labyrinth of rooms inside. The front room was dominated by shelves upon shelves full of records; when the venerable Continental Club closed its doors in late August 1987, the giant black-and-white sign that had hung above the door of the club for years found a new home filling the entire north wall of the front room at 406 West 30th.
For a fair stretch during the mid-1980s this house was ground zero of the Austin music scene. Any number of cogs in the scene’s dysfunctional wheel lived there at one time or another: Michael Corcoran, whose music column was the reason everybody picked up The Austin Chronicle every two weeks (and who now holds down the main music-writing gig at the local daily); Pat Blashill, whose credit adorned the photo in nearly every upstart local band’s press-kit (and who later moved to New York and became an editor at Details); Scott Anderson, who managed a lovable bunch of clods called Doctors’ Mob and ended up marrying Zeitgeist/Reivers singer Kim Longacre; Brent Grulke, who worked just about every music-related job in town before finally settling into his current post as director of the South By Southwest music festival.
But the heart of 406 West 30th was Michael Hall. Now an associate editor at Texas Monthly, Hall spent most of the ’80s fronting the Wild Seeds, the Austin scene’s Little Band That Could. Forever living in the shadow of Zeitgeist and the True Believers, the Wild Seeds surprised everyone by releasing the best album the so-called “New Sincerity” crowd produced, 1988’s Mud, Lies & Shame on now-defunct Passport Records. With the should-have-been-radio-anthem “I Can’t Rock You All Night Long”, the heartstopping ballad “All This Time”, and hidden roots-pop classics such as “Long Gone Train” and “Debi Came Back”, this is the record that best recalls the spirit of those times.
Jack Pendarvis of Mobile, Alabama, liked Mud, Lies & Shame too — enough so that he wrote Hall and the band a nice little fan letter that happened to be sitting on the counter one day when I was hanging out at 406 West 30th in May 1988. Happy to see that some people outside of Austin had become aware of the band, I copied down Pendarvis’ address and stuck it in my wallet, later writing him a brief note telling him thanks for seeking out cool music like the Wild Seeds.
A couple weeks later, as fate would have it, I’m driving to New York City with a VW Rabbit full of belongings, headed for a summer internship at Newsday, and my engine blows up just outside Mobile, Alabama. I don’t know a soul in Mobile…but wait, here’s this piece of paper still in my wallet with an address for this Jack Pendarvis guy…
Jack and his family graciously took in a complete stranger for three days while a friend of his dad tried to fix my car before we finally decided it was a goner. I sold it for salvage, packed up all my stuff in boxes and bought a Greyhound ticket for the remaining 1,200 miles to New York. As disastrous as the whole ordeal was, it would have been a lot worse if it hadn’t been for the kindness of a fellow Wild Seeds fan.
Jack and I hadn’t really kept in touch over the years until one day in 1992, shortly after I’d moved to Seattle. Perusing the thank-you notes of the new Jody Grind album Lefty’s Deceiver , I spotted a name I recognized: Jack Pendarvis. I called the folks at DB Records in Atlanta and asked them if they knew any way to get in touch with this guy. They passed along my query to The Jody Grind’s singer, Kelly Hogan; a few days later, the phone rang at my home in Seattle and it was Jack on the other line. We talked about what we’d been doing the past few years, and vaguely agreed we oughtta try to keep in touch more often then once every four or five years — though perhaps we knew that circumstances were bound to somehow hook us up again someday.
Earlier this year, the boomerang of circumstance finally came full circle again. I’d been hearing about a children’s TV show called “Rudy and Go Go” on the TNT cable network that occasionally featured Bloodshot Records artists Jon Langford and Sally Timms as characters. Seemed like just the kind of offbeat thing that would make for a good “Screen Door” piece in No Depression, I thought. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised when I learned that one of the show’s co-producers was a fellow named Jack Pendarvis. (And that Bloodshot’s latest employee is named Kelly Hogan.)
Sadly, TNT pulled the plug on “Rudy and Go Go” before we were able to write about it — but not before Pendarvis and the show’s creator, Barry Mills, put together a commendable little side project. Rudy’s Rockin’ Kiddie Caravan is a 22-song CD of delightfully offbeat children’s music featuring the likes of the Waco Brothers, Timms, Hogan, Vic Chesnutt, Giant Sand, the Mekons, Moonshine Willy and others. All the proceeds go to the National Center for Family Literacy.
Meantime, Jack and I have been in touch a couple more times over the past few months, though one never knows what surprises the future may hold. Somehow I can’t help thinking we’ll run into each other someday at 406 West 30th Street…