Dead Dog's Eyeball
I think everyone has an alternate history – an imaginary girl or boy they’d be in hindsight – if they’d done things right. If I’d known back in the 80’s what I know now, I’d have gone to the University of Texas instead of UC Berkeley, and maybe I’d have joined a band. After all, before Seattle swept up the scene in its darker grunge-rock vision, it was deep in the heart of Austin that the spirit of punk-rock reigned supreme, having wafted west from Athens, Georgia, where the sky blue bells rang with Rickenbackers and east from Los Angeles, where loud fast punk-rock ruled. I can almost see the teenaged me there, amidst a bunch of guitar slingers, country rockers, sorority girls and freaks.
This is the Texas I know best, not a Texas of gunracks and cheerleaders, but a gentler, smaller state, a land where punk rock bands abound in a bunch of roofless clubs, where black leather and plaid flannel are all but unknown, where every outcast comes together in one drunken musical embrace almost every Saturday night. It is the Texas of Glass Eye, a popular Austin band that transformed the quirky brainwaves of Brian Beattie and the strong cool alto vocals of Kathy McCarty into a wicked cross between The Talking Heads’ Life During Wartime and ZZ Top’s La Grange.
Glass Eye ruled the indie-rock scene for a number of years in the 80s but sadly, the band broke up in 1993. With her new creative independence Kathy decided her next musical venture would be a reinterpretation of the songs of Daniel Johnston, with Brian producing. “Its not instead of writing my own songs, its in addition to” she points out. “I also wanted to do a record of Irish folksongs for sometime.”
Kathy first met Daniel when he came to her at a Glass Eye show and gave her a tape of his songs entitled Hi, How Are You. At the time Daniel had just blown into Austin after having been fired from a circus where he ran the corndog stand. (he was allegedly fired for hogging the port-o-john.) “Daniel’s life”, comments Kathy, “is very colorful, in stark contrast to my own.” A few weeks later, he again approached Kathy at a Glass Eye gig, wanting to hear her reaction to his tape. “He was so eager and innocent” recalls Kathy, “and I felt so guilty that I hadn’t listened to it that I lied, I said it was great and he could open for us. Then I actually did listen to it to see what I had gotten into and I was blown away - I just knew he was a genius.”
Subsequently, Daniel has replaced Roky Erikson in the hearts and minds of Austin’s music scenesters as the resident musical Forrest Gump. His songs – simply rendered in a peculiarly high, flat voice – have gained an international following, especially among musicians. Indie kids of 1987 may recognize “Walking the Cow” a standard encore number for the Austin band The Reivers, and a far more nasal version of “Rocket Ship” appears on The Dead Milkmen’s Bucky Fellini LP.
Daniel’s songs have also been covered by Firehose, Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo, while the late Kurt Cobain was often seen sporting a “Hi, How are You” t-shirt. Daniel himself has an upcoming major label debut on Atlantic Records, which is being produced by The Butthole Surfers’ Paul Leary. But on “Dead Dog’s Gamble”, Kathy has done more than merely guard Daniel’s fragile music from extinction; she has actually reinvented it. Some how she has created a completely new setting for his instinctively pure songs without impinging on their heartbreak naiveté. There are places where this music sounds like outtakes from Brian Wilson’s legendary lost LP Smile. There are places that sound like psychedelic versions of Captain Beefheart done for a cocktail lounge crowd in Vegas and some you’ll have to hear and judge for yourself.
If you’re like me sometimes it seems like eveythings already happened. When I heard Dead Dog’s Eyeball, I was heartened to realize that in Austin the song does not remain the same… It keeps on getting better.
- Gina Arnold, July 1994