Thor Drake and the crew at See See Motor Coffee continue to raise the bar of creativity with the 21 Helmets show coming up this weekend at the Circuit of the Americas Moto GP in Austin, TX on display in the paddock. If you plan to attend, don’t miss it.

“This year we partnered with Bell Helmets to get 21 historic helmets. Drawing inspiration from those old 21 helmets, artists then customized 21 new designs for this year’s show. 

Our original mission with the creation of 21 Helmets was to combine art and motorcycle safety in a way that had some cultural relevance. It’s been tested, tried and true, that motorcycle helmets are the one crucial piece of safety equipment that increase your chance of a healthy 2-wheeled lifestyle. What we saw happening was that people just bought factory designed color schemes on their lids. What we also noticed is that the good ol’ days of customizing the looks of your equipment to match the personalities of the riders had somewhat vanished.

This was the point we decided to host the first custom motorcycle helmet show. We thought 21 seemed like the right number that would be interesting and give a good range of design ideas. We reached out to 21 completely different-minded artists and asked them to design the helmet that would reflect any machine they could imagine.”

Thor Drake, See See Motor Coffee

see see motor coffee 21 helmets austin

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zz top chevy lowrider el dorado

“Our ’65 Chevy low rider convertible, flying the colors of ZZ Top’s El Dorado Bar is solidly a Texas car yet, equally at home on the streets of LA, Fresno, or Bakersfield.” –Billy Gibbons. This pic of ZZ Top has it all, in my opinion. Just checkout that custom-built Texas state Gibson guitar! The band has acquired an enviable car collection over the years, and is out and about in the custom scene. “We attend the Mooneyes Festivals in California and Japan and always make the SoCal Speed Shop summer ‘Open House’ gathering. Always a terrific time. As far as clubs are concerned, we think of ZZ Top as one.  We hang out, we shoot the breeze, we get down, we move on to the next town and, of course, it’s all about the arrival.  Loud, low, while you Rock and Roll…!” –Billy Gibbons


Young ZZ Top Prom

“Dusty Hill, Frank Beard, and Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top) playing the Senior Prom in May, 1970 at Little Cypress-Mauriceville High School in Orange, Texas. Apparently sometime between signing the contract and the actual prom itself, the band broke-out big. They tried to get out of the contract, but the school couldn’t find a replacement on such short notice so ZZ Top still performed…people were climbing through the windows, crashing the prom, just to hear the band play. This was all at a really small school with a graduating class of around 100, maybe less.” via

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I love Texas. There are more Rock, Country, Folk and Blues music greats from the Lone Star State than you can shake a stick at– not to mention the colorful and storied scene they created that lives-on today. The loyal fans who were around back then dutifully keep it alive through a rich oral history.

My buddy Bruce is one of those guys. Ask him if he recalls when the Sex Pistols toured through Texas in ’78 and his eyes light up like a Christmas tree. Before you can catch your breath, out come tales of the filth, fury & raucousness of that time like it was yesterday– “You mean that Sid Vicious kid?  Yeah man, of course I remember it. It was a mess! He was runnin’ his mouth, spittin’, and swingin’ that bass around like a baseball bat on stage– mowin’ people down.  They wanted to kill him!” Ask him about Charlie Sexton, and out come tales of the early days of him and his lil’ brother Will playing in clubs before they were teens…then with the Vaughan brothers (Jimmie & Stevie Ray)…and Charlie’s much-loved band, Arc Angels, with Doyle Bramhall II, son of the legendary Doyle Bramhall…and how Doyle (Senior) and the Vaughan brothers own history together (among many others, Jimmie and Doyle both came out of the legendary band, The Chessman) was foundational in laying the groundwork for the Dallas / Austin music scene in the 1960s & 1970s that is so prolific, relevant, and vital to this day. Whew.

These three families– The Vaughans, the Bramhalls, & the Sextons, are forever entwined with one another in the history of Texas music. Everyone knows about Jimmie & Stevie Ray Vaughan, ’nuff said. Doyle Bramhall (Senior) is a legend who left his mark on this world that sadly lost him back in November. Doyle Bramhall II is known for his early days with Charlie Sexton in Arc Angels. Young Doyle went on to be a singer in his own right, and a much in-demand guitarist who has backed-up some of the greats like Roger Waters and Eric Clapton. Then we have the Sexton brothers…

Charlie Sexton was often railed as a Post-Wave pretty boy, which he definitely was during his mainstream popularity. (I remember a few of the hip girls in High School with Charlie Sexton posters on their walls, and tee-shirts emblazoned with his pouty lips & piled-high coif on their budding chests.) His rising star somehow failed to reach its promised heights back then, but over the years Charlie has silenced his critics by becoming a very well-respected musician (his guitar playing is simply incredible) and producer who has toured and recorded with some of the biggest names in the business– Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, to name just a few. And for you hipsters out there– he even played with Spoon on Austin City Limits back in 2010. Will Sexton is less known, but no less talented– and perhaps even the more sensitive, thoughtful musicians of the two. Definitely more folksy, in a good way. (In all fairness, the video clips I chose of the Sexton brothers are of when they were very young, back in the ’80s, in fact. I think it’s safe to say we all have some fashion / hair moments from those days that we’d all like to forget. Go on YouTube to see their current work, which is very solid.) Charlie and his little brother Will went off on different musical paths, but those paths will bring them together again, as both make their mark in the annals of Texas music history for us to savor, and the next generation to discover.

July 4th, 1982 — A very young Charlie Sexton,13-yrs-old, playing with the Joe Ely Band (which toured as the opener for The Clash back in the day– you heard me right, this kid opened for The Clash.) at Gilley’s, Pasadena, TX. That Rockabilly look would carry through to Charlie’s next band, the Eager Beaver Boys– in fact, the hair would get higher and higher. –image Tracy Hart

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So I recently came across these incredible images of the Fabulous Thunderbirds taken back in the ’80s by photographer Art Meripol that really grabbed me. The shots of Jimmie Vaughan are epic, and Kim Wilson is also looking pretty damn good. The bands’ storied bassist, Keith Ferguson (July 23, 1946 – April 29, 1997), the most colorful character in the bunch (and the original hipster), was even in a few of the pics. Ferguson was an anchor in the Austin music scene whose longtime drug use and increasingly odd behavior eventually led to his separation from Austin’s legendary Antone’s and many of those he once called friends. One thing’s for certain, he will always be an Austin legend (in many ways) and a revered musician. They say that to see Keith Ferguson in his prime was unforgettable. I dug through the archives of The Austin Chronicle and Dallas Observer to get the skinny…

“…When I first saw Ferguson with the Fabulous Thunderbirds at Rome Inn in 1976, about a year after they’d formed, it was one of the most memorable musical experiences of my life. Not quite 30, Ferguson was the oldest member of the band, yet he, like the rest of them, played the blues like a grown man– and they sure as hell didn’t sound like a bunch of “white kids.” Still a decade away from commercial success (there were about 25 disinterested patrons at Rome Inn that night), Ferguson, Kim Wilson, Jimmie Vaughan, and the soon-to-join Mike Buck already showcased the indelible influence they would have on blues bands coast to coast, and around the world. Collectively and individually, the original T-Birds sired cults and mini-cults, changing the way musicians played, dressed, stood, combed their hair.

At the center of all this was Ferguson– a unique, colorful, even charismatic persona, but that was just the icing on the mystique. At its core was one simple truth– he was as good a blues bass player as there was in the history of blues bass players. Even in capable hands, the subtle art of blues bass can be the musical equivalent of the witness protection program, yet Ferguson carved out a singular niche without ever saying ‘look at me’ with his instrument.” 

–Dan Forte for The Austin Chronicle


Austin, Texas, 1980– Blues guitar great Jimmie Vaughan playing with his band, the Fabulous Thunderbirds. “Jimmie Vaughan playing behind his head (with broken foot!)” –image by © Art Meripol. via “It’s whispered that the T-Birds were the only white blues band that intimidated the Rolling Stones, for whom they opened twice at the Dallas Cotton Bowl, and twice at the Houston Astrodome during the 1981 tour.” –Josh Alan Friedman for the Dallas Observer

ca. 1980– The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ lead singer/harpist Kim Wilson with legendary bassist and band mate Keith Ferguson in Austin, TX. –image by © Art Meripol. via “…there were knock-down, drag-out, shit-kicking fist-fights between Ferguson and Wilson — the distinguished, sharply dressed ambassadors of the blues.” via

“Keith Ferguson died with a monkey on his back. I’m not speaking figuratively– the man literally died with a picture of a monkey on his back. It was tattooed there, the head of a fang-toothed baboon permanently inked into his shoulder. That was Keith Ferguson’s statement to the world. So, when a friend called last week to tell me that Ferguson was in the hospital and probably wouldn’t make it out alive, it didn’t come as much of a surprise. Not to me, and probably not to Ferguson, either. The obituary cited liver failure as the cause of death, and that may indeed be what’s on the death certificate– but that’s like jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge and having the resultant death termed a swimming accident. Liver failure was the cause of death in name only, because for 30 of his 50 years, Ferguson shot heroin.” 
–Dan Forte for The Austin Chronicle


In a move that would forever change the Pittsburgh Steelers, and create the cornerstone for their legendary “Steel Curtain,” a little-known defensive big man named Joe Greene from North Texas State was drafted in the first round. The silence was deafening.

Fans’ Reaction: “Who’s Joe Greene?” — headline from The Pittsburgh Press, January 28th, 1969.

The day before, 37 yr old Chuck Noll, was brought in as Head Coach to brutally retool what was considered to be the worst team in all of the NFL– Yep.  The Pittsburgh Steelers.

Feb 10th, 1982, Pittsburgh, PA — Steelers’ defensive tackle Joe Greene displays his number 75 jersey after announcing his retirement. Greene was the foundation (and many argue, the Steelers’ greatest and most valuable player) used by coach Chuck Noll to build four Super Bowl Championship teams. 


“Back in the ’60s, the Steelers were– pretty bad. We just could not consistently win games. We would lose games by the most bizarre circumstances– we’d find a way to lose every time. So, it was quite a frustrating experience — and a remarkable change — when Chuck Noll came.

He called me in on the off-season. I’d made my first Pro Lowl in ’68, prior to him coming, and I thought, “Oh, he’s calling me in to congratulate me.” So I went in to see him. We shook hands, but he wasn’t overly friendly. He looks right at me and says–

‘You know, Russell, I’ve been watching the game films since I’ve taken over the job here– and I don’t like how you play. You’re too aggressive… You’re too out of control… You’re trying to be the hero… You’re trying to make big plays. I’m going to change the way you play. I’ll make you a better player than you are right now– because you’re not disciplined enough.’

I was just stunned!” ” —Defensive Captain, Andy Russell (with the Steelers since ’63) on his first meeting with new Head Coach Chuck Noll

1972 — Pittsburgh Steelers’ coach Chuck Noll beams after Franco Harris scored the winning touchdown against Oakland to win 13 to 7. On the play, Steelers’ Terry Bradshaw passed to Frenchie Faqua. Faqua and Oakland Raider Jack Tatum collided and the ball bounced to Franco Harris. Tatum denied he touched the ball but the official ruled he did.


“When we got to our first training camp, Chuck Noll’s first speech to the team goes–

‘Look, I’ve been watching the game films since I took the job. And I can tell you guys that the reason you’ve been losing is not because of your attitude, or your psyche, or of that ‘STUFF.’ The problem is– you’re just not good enough. You know, you can’t run fast enough, you can’t jump high enough, you’re not quick enough. You’re techniques are just abysmal. I’m probably going to have to get rid of most of you– and we’re going to move on.’

And you know– five of us made it from that room to our first Super Bowl following the ’74 season.”

–The Steelers’ Andy Russell

1975, Miami, FL — Members of the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers pose for pictures as the AFC pros opened training.  (L to R)  Franco Harris, Andy Russell, L.C. Greenwood, Jack Ham, Roy Gerela, and Joe Greene relaxing on the sod. 


Joe Greene had been holding out on the Steelers for 2 to 3 weeks.  The day he signed the contract and joined the team, he was escorted down to the practice field for the Steelers’ “Oklahoma drills.” There he was met by the Steelers’ offensive linemen who were looking to break the greenhorn in.

“Immediately we did a one-on-one blocking drill. Ray Mansfield picked him to go first, because he wanted to show Joe Greene that he was better, and pull a– “we’ll show the young rookie.” Joe destroyed Ray Mansfield, our center for so many years, and we were like, ‘whoa– this guy can play!'” recalled Andy Russell.

It was obvious to his teammates (and soon the entire NFL) that “Mean Joe” Greene was an unstoppable force– the likes of which had never been seen before. His skill, strength, intensity, and determination to win were unrivaled– and gave the Steelers franchise the badly needed backbone it had been lacking for some forty years.  Even with his excessive roughness on the field and multiple ejections, he deservedly won the  NFL honor of Rookie of the Year.

“Mean Joe” Greene’s teammates would feed off of his intensity, and raise their play to new levels– sending a message heard loud and clear, that the Steelers were here to win it, and would not back down to anyone. Greene was always looking for a demonstrative way to make this point.  The bigger the foe, the better. Not even the NFL’s reigning badass, Dick Butkus, was shown any respect.  Greene once spit in his face– in front of what must have felt like the entire world to Butkus. Dick did the only thing he could– tuck his tail and walk away.

Joe Greene would go on to play in 10 Pro Bowls, and lead the Steelers to 4 Super Bowl championships, in a career that defined him as Pittsburgh’s most valuable player of all time.

“Joe Greene would come into the huddle sometimes and say, ‘I’m taking the ball away this play.’ I’ve never in my entire career seen an athlete be able to do that. He was actually unblockable in those early years.” –teammate Andy Russell

Oct. 5th, 1975 — Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive tackle Mean Joe Greene kicks Cleveland Browns’ guard Bob McKay in the groin as the Steelers stomped the Browns, 42-6.  AP photo via


Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Terry Bradshaw is attended to by medical staff after being slammed to the turf by Cleveland Browns’ defensive lineman Joe “Turkey” Jones. — PD historical photo.  “The teams didn’t like each other, and they played hard. There were a lot of vicious hits and dirty plays– on both sides. There was the 1976 game in Cleveland where Joe “Turkey” Jones grabbed Steelers’ quarterback Terry Bradshaw and plunged him helmet-first into the turf. Jones received a personal foul penalty and was fined $3,000. Bradshaw suffered a concussion. Browns fans still talk about that play.”  via

1972 — Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Franco Harris is mobed by fans at Three Rivers Stadium after scoring the winning touchdown, nicknamed the “Immaculate Reception,” during the American Football Conference (AFC) semi-final game against Oakland. Harris made the touchdown, one of the most famous single plays in the history of professional American football, on a tipped pass from quarterback Terry Bradshaw to Frenchy Fuqua to Harris for the score in the fourth quarter in Pittsburgh.

Dec 23rd, 1972, Pittsburgh, PA — With 22 seconds left in the Steeler-Raider playoff game, Steelers’ quarterback Terry Bradshaw threw a 4th down desperation pass intended for John “Frenchy” Fuqua. When the ball was deflected by Raider Jack Tatum it traveled 7 yards into the arms of Franco Harris who ran 42 yards for the winning TD. “I learned early at Penn State to always be around the ball, be around the action,” admitted Harris.  “Maybe there will be a fumble.  Maybe I’ll throw a block.  Because of that attitude the play happened.” 

1972, Palm Springs, CA — Frank Sinatra was made a one star general in Franco Harris’ one-man army as he watched the Pittsburgh Steelers workout for their big game against the San Diego Chargers in San Diego. Franco, the Steelers’ one man army and leading ground gainer, is pleased at having Sinatra in his army.

Terry Bradshaw, top draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers, poses with coach Chuck Noll at a news conference in Pittsburgh, Pa., Feb. 13, 1970.  The Louisiana Tech quarterback is in Pittsburgh to discuss salary terms with the club.  (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)

The following is reprinted from “The Ones Who Hit the Hardest” by Chad Millman and Shawn Coyne–

It wasn’t just that Terry Bradshaw liked going to church while his teammates liked going to bars. It was the game. College football was Bradshaw’s domain; pro football was Chuck Noll’s. It was the difference between checkers and chess. Bradshaw had never studied film before. In high school and college, if his first receiver wasn’t open, he tucked the ball and ran. He didn’t know how to read defensive coverages at the line of scrimmage. He underestimated the speed of the game, the intensity, how hard opponents were going to hit and how high a standard his coaches were going to hold him to. He was, in every way, overmatched. And no one had any sympathy.

Cleveland, Ohio, 1971 —  From the sidelines Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw and coach Chuck Noll watch the defensive unit against Cleveland.

In his very first game, against the Oilers, Bradshaw completed just four of sixteen passes with an interception and was pulled from the game to a chorus of 75,000 boos. This is where a new Chuck Noll emerged. The calm teacher who preached technique, the master manipulator who looked the other way when Joe Greene attacked opponents with scissors, handled Bradshaw like he was an abusive father. He grabbed his quarterback’s facemask, his jersey and unloaded obscenities that would make the bluest of comics cringe. The anger shot from his knuckles through Bradshaw’s pads. “I couldn’t believe how cruel Chuck was,” Bradshaw once said. “You would think someone as smart as Chuck was would be a better psychologist, but he beat me down. I totally lost my confidence. I was the kind of guy who needed a pat on the back–shouting at me only made things worse.”

So did the fact that, on his first play from scrimmage in place of Bradshaw, local hero Terry Hanratty threw a touchdown. After the game, Bradshaw sat in his car in the Three Rivers parking lot and cried.

Aug 1974, Latrobe, PA — Quarterback Terry Bradshaw said if striking Pittsburgh Steeler veterans can’t respect his decision to enter camp, “then maybe I can’t respect them.”  Bradshaw, 25, the Steelers’ regular quarterback this past three years, walked into the club’s St. Vincent College training camp and worked out. 

The Steelers lost their first three games that season, with Noll shuffling his quarterbacks practically every quarter. It got so bad for Bradshaw that his mom came to stay with him. One night he took her to a hockey game and fans in the stands started booing the both of them. Another time, before a game, he was standing outside the doorway of the locker room talking to Art Rooney Sr., within the eyesight of Noll. The owner was telling his young quarterback to keep his confidence, that everything would be all right, with Bradshaw’s blond locks bobbing up and down in agreement. When the conversation ended and Bradshaw walked into the locker room five minutes late, Noll, who had seen the conversation between rookie and owner taking place, fined him.

April 1970, Washington, DC — President Nixon compares hands with All-American quarterback Terry Bradshaw, of Louisiana Tech, when the latter called at the White House with a group from the school. Bradshaw was the number one draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers.


It didn’t help with fans that he was burly for a quarterback. His blonde hair was thinning and unruly and his face lacked the kind of angles Madison Avenue likes in its football idols. He had a funny Louisiana accent that, to those in the North, made him sound simple. He preferred spending time on his farm with his parents to drinking at the Jamestown Inn in Pittsburgh’s South Hills with his teammates. He wore buckskin coats with fringe hanging from the sleeves. “I was an outsider who didn’t mingle well,” Bradshaw once told Sports Illustrated. “No one liked to fish or do the things I liked to do. The other players looked upon me as a bible-toting Li’l Abner.”

1980 — Show business for Steeler quarterback Terry Bradshaw gets a big yawn as he does an interview with Jimmy ‘The Greek’ Snyder prior to the Eagles-Cowboys game. Bradshaw has been linked to a show business deal that may require that he quit the Steelers.


1970 — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw. — Image © Bettmann/Corbis

1970 — Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Mean Joe Greene. 


“Lee came to Coolidge (AZ) while I was still going to high school, and he had just gone to a disc jockey school… a broadcasting school, I guess they called it– Columbia School of Broadcasting in Hollywood. He graduated that, and he got his first job.  And it happened to be as a disc jockey– and it happened to be in Coolidge, Arizona. So, I had a friend who wanted to be a disc jockey at the time, and he said, ‘You gotta come out and meet this new guy– he’s really a hoot. Ya know, really funny and all this, and he’s playing Country music.’  So, I went along with him, and I met Lee Hazlewood the first time.”

“At that time, uh, I used to sing… and play too.  And I sang with this other guy, Jimmy Dell.  We sang together– we did up-tempo Country things… just around town there, you know, mostly.  Lee heard that, and like it, and we went in and tried to make a record of that… the two of us with some songs that Lee wrote– his first attempt at songwriting. His first attempt at producing, we went up to Phoenix to someone’s studio… in the back of their house, and well– it was the only studio we knew of.  It was, like, 1954– late ’54 or ’55. And uh, we made a couple of tracks.”

“Lee was gonna put it out on his own label, but Jimmy went and got ‘saved.’  And uh, came in one day and said, ‘I’m saved!’ and I said, ‘Saved from what?!’ And he says, ‘No, in church!’ And I said, ‘Oh, great! Congratulations.’ And he says, ‘Yeah, well, it’s not so good.’ and I says, ‘what’s the matter?’ Jimmy said, ‘I can’t sing with you no more.’ And I says, ‘Oh. Why not?’  He said, ‘Because I can’t sing worldly music no more.’ And I said, ‘oh, oh, well you get to tell Lee that then– he’s just invested all this money in these records.’ So they ended-up sitting in Lee’s garage– and never did get out…”

“So that’s how I met Lee.  Later that year he moved to Phoenix, and got a job at a Country station up there, KRUX. And it turns out he was the first one to ever play Elvis Presley in Phoenix, on the Sun label.  A guy there, brought these records from  down in Texas, a local Country artist who got on a show with Elvis, and he brought these records back and played them for Lee– and Lee thought they were great. So he scheduled them, and started playing them, and it caused all kinds of ruckus! He almost got fired over it… It was a big change!  You know, Elvis doing ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’ like that, and all…”   –Duane Eddy

From DJ, to producer, to songwriter/lyricist and singer– Lee Hazlewood would produce a striking string of hits over his career– first with the young guitar legend, Duane Eddy, and later with the down-on-her-luck daughter of a true American icon, Frank Sinatra.

Nancy and Lee were an oddly powerful duo. His thinly-veiled lyrics of drugs and decadence were delivered with such wooden stoicism that nary a soil thought twice. But when Nick Cave himself cites you as one of his biggest influences– you must have been doing something wrong, oh so right. Hazlewood created a signature moody sound– filled reverb, space and mood a-plenty.  Phantasmagoric, at times.

And while his sound had psychedlic elements, he was anything but a hippy, or even Rock ‘n’ Roll. It filled a void in radio that no one else could. Brought up in Oklahoma, and ramblin’ ’round Texas, Arkansas and Arizona in his early days– he had little chance of running into anything remotely hip or forward– he truly crafted his own niche unlike what anyone else was doing.  In fact, he was so unhip, that he was truly ahead of the times. He made “uncool” cool. The Beck of his day, but without the looks and moves.

That’s right– Beck.


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Online magazine. Yuck. Please don’t ever refer to TSY as an “online magazine.”

Call it a… hell, I don’t know what you’d call it. And please don’t ever refer to me as a blogger. It makes me cringe, dunno why, but it does.  The only words that make me cringe more– ointment, moist, slacks. Use them all in a sentence in my presence–  prepare yourself for projectile vomit.

Now back to “online magazine.” It’s clearly one of the shittiest terms ever used to describe blipmagazine, in my humble opinion.  It’s the creation of Frederick Barthelme (former Editor of Mississippi Review, and Director of The Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi), who invited several of his staff members to come along to create what would become– blipmagazine.

Well, what is it exactly, you’re still asking?

“It’s a renegade outfit. And we like it that way. Literary rogue nation unto ourselves.
In fact, we’re gunning for one corner of the axis of evil, according to certain American politicos.”
–Courtney Eldridge of blipmagazine

“And what is The Selvedge Yard, you ask? Well, porn, mainly. That’s right, it’s good old-fashioned porn, the way God intended, offering up a little something-something for every body. What, you got cars, bikes, motorcycles, movie stars, centerfolds, style icons, textile design, punk rock—it’s BMX one day; Jean Cocteau the next… At the crossroads of auto-erotica and Americana, The Selvedge Yard is a celebration of that greatest of American tales: the open road.”

–Courtney Eldridge, blipmagazine

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Jack Johnson. The American boxing great still awaiting a pardon, on long ago trumped-up charges, that he’s more than due to receive.  Obama, for some reason, is dragging his heels– causing many to speculate that it’s because his old foe John McCain is the one strongly behind the effort to bring exoneration to the Black champ’s legacy. Democrats or Republicans– it’s always the same circus, just different clowns.

Arthur John “Jack” Johnson was born in Galveston, Texas on March 31, 1878– the first son in a family of six children born to Henry (a former slave) and Tiny Johnson.  Jack Johnson grew up poor– dropping put of school in the fifth grade so he could work on the Galveston docks to help support the family.  As a teen he began boxing in Negro matches organized to entertain proper white folk.  The winner of the match would collect whatever money was thrown in the ring by the appreciative spectators.

Johnson soon rose to the rank of Negro boxing’s heavyweight champion, and was called the “Galveston Giant.” Johnson wanted a shot a Jim Jeffries, the current White heavyweight champ, who refused to fight a black man. In 1910, they finally squared off, with Jeffries coming out of retirement to challenge Johnson– who had become the “unrecognized” heavyweight champion by knocking out Tommy Burns in 1908. Jeffries was hailed as the “Great White Hope” —a rallying cry started by none other than famed author, Jack London. He, and scores of Whites like him, wanted to see the boastful Black boxer beaten in the ring by a White man, in order to erase that “golden smile” from Jack’s face, and restore White America’s pride and position in what was being billed as– “The Fight of the Century.”

Jack Johnson

“If the black man wins, thousands and thousands of his ignorant brothers will misinterpret his victory as justifying claims to much more than mere physical equality with their white neighbours.” –The New York Times

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Icons James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson sharing the silver screen– ‘nuff said? Not quite. While I love the glamour, legend, and lore behind the making of “Giant” (and trust me, we’ll get to that), it rings the social bell– truly ahead of its time, during the largely superficial values of the 1950s.

George Stevens’ 1956 masterpiece “Giant” has been described as– Texas’ own “Gone with the Wind.” Star-studded, sweeping and epic– that bravely chronicles the evolution of the Mexican people from a subservient status to a people worthy of equal rights, respect and dignity through their hard-fought, slow-earned absorption and acceptance in America.  It’s a story about social change and ethnic growing pains that was told on the big screen– before the issue was thrust front-and-center in American living rooms during the civil rights movement.

America has a history of making the path to assimilation and acceptance (in this fine country of ours that I love) a downright bloody one.  Hatred comes from fear–and fear is born of ignorance.  I’ve been down that road myself– most of us have at some point.  Like it or not.  Maybe the melting pot analogy is fitting here– throw it all in, boil out the bones, cook under high heat until palatable, and serve up warm.


“In the beginning of “Giant,” the rancher Bick Benedict is always correcting his Eastern-bred wife for treatingthe Mexican servants as deserving of respect. By the film’s end, however, Benedict, played by a young Rock Hudson, comes to blows with a cafe owner attempting to remove a Spanish-speaking patron from his restaurant. Above all its themes, “Giant” is about social change. Hollywood for the first time addressed anti-Hispanic racism.‘Giant’ broke ground in the way it celebrated the fusion of Anglo and Hispanic culture in Texas– and anticipated the social gains that Mexican-Americans would make over the next generation. The movie is as much about race as it is about Texas.”

Benjamin Johnson (Author and Historian)

The Reata Ranch House (seen above in the background) in “Giant” is based on a actual Texas mansion– the Victorian era “Waggoner Mansion” that still stands today in Decatur, northwest of Fort Worth, Texas. George Stevens rejected the hacienda architecture of the traditional Texas ranch house (which is how the Benedict place is described in the Ferber novel). Stevens worried that a Spanish-looking house would be alien to non-Texan viewers. via The huge façade (of the Reata Ranch house) was built in Hollywood and shipped to Marfa on flatcars. It was erected in a corner of the Worth Evans ranch, one of the more imposing holdings of the region. And it was a strange sight, its towers visible for many miles, in the middle of the plains. As it was about a half enclosure rather well constructed, Stevens left it to serve the hospitable Mr. Evans as a hay barn. via

1955– Elizabeth Taylor & James Dean in George Stevens’ “Giant.” –Image © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

“We were working on’Giant’, and we’re out in the middle of Texas. It was a scene that takes place just before Dean discovers oil on his land, where Elizabeth Taylor comes by and he makes tea for her. It’s the first time Dean has ever acted with her. But even though we’re out in the desert in Marfa, there are a thousand people watching us film behind a rope. It’s a scene where Dean has a rifle on his back. He brings her in and makes her tea, and then, suddenly, he stops. And he walks a couple hundred feet away to where these people are watching us, and in front of all of them, he pisses– facing them, with his back to the set. Then he comes back in and does the scene. So, later, we’re driving back to Marfa, and I said, ‘Jimmy, I’ve seen you do a lot of strange things, man, but you really did it today. What was that all about?’ He said, ‘It was Elizabeth Taylor. I can’t get over my farm-boy upbringing. I was so nervous that I couldn’t speak. I had to pee, and I was trying to use that, but it wasn’t working. So I thought that if I could go pee in front of all those people, I would be able to work with her.'”  –costar Dennis Hopper via

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Yes, I have a thing for vintage linen postcards– with old Curt Teich works being at the top of that list.  I also love the lore of the American Wild West (the maverick, pioneer spirit lines-up well with my own modus operandi)– bowlegged, dusty cowboys with tobacco-stained fingers and hooded eyes, and the soulful sages that we call Native Americans with their incredible art, customs and culture.  I could feast on these beautiful little pieces of art for days.

1917 — American Map Showing Vital Spot to Hit to Kill the American Spirit of Justice. — Image by © Lake County Museum/Corbis

Circa 1925, Pendleton, Oregon — There are many tribes of Indians in the Northwest and they live on reservations. The Bannocks and the Nezperces of Idaho, the Umatillas of Oregon and the Yakimas of Washington are the chief tribes. Fishing and hunting is part of their livelihood. They have great meetings at the rodeos where they parade in war costumes and perform their tribal dances. — Image by © Lake County Museum/Corbis

Circa 1943, Elk City, Oklahoma — Texas Kid, Jr., Riding “Joe Louis.” A past time Range Sport of the Pioneer Southwest, being reproduced by a crack rider during Woodword Elks Rodeo. Stock furnished by Beutler Bros., Elk City, Okla. — Image by © Lake County Museum/Corbis

Circa 1939, San Antonio, Texas — OLD “TEX,” the best known specimen of that hardy race of cattle, the famous TEXAS-LONGHORN, escaped the early day cowboys who herded and drove them to distant railroad shipping points. He roamed the prairies of Southwest Texas to an undetermined age and is now full body mounted as shown and stands as one of outstanding exhibits in the Buckhorn Curio Store Museum, originally the Famous Buckhorn Bar in San Antonio, Texas. — Image by © Lake County Museum/Corbis

Circa 1933 — NAVAJO INDIANS SPINNING YARN FOR RUGS. Navajo Indian Rugs are famed the world over for their beauty and durability. In infancy children receive the ambition to create designs which express their understanding of life, supply, or surroundings. No two rugs are designed identical. The picture shows one rug just completed, and the never idle fingers are spinning yarn from the raw wool and preparing for another rug of some design which inspired thoughts have conceived. — Image by © Lake County Museum/Corbis

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