Sunday, March 4, 2012

Snapshot of Fort Worth 2005: Benson and the Stripes

 In 2005 my Then-Girlfriend-Now-Wife got a job at a museum in Fort Worth. I was still teaching in Krum and working on my master’s at UNT, so long story short, I spent a lot of time burning up the highway between Denton and the apartment she was renting close to the museum. Naturally, with increased time spent in the car, there was a specific soundtrack that I now associate with this commute and the life that surrounded it. What is interesting in retrospect is that, although I knew of no connection between these two artists at the time, their paths would soon artistically cross.

If you saw my previous post, you’d know that I am a Brendan Benson O.G.  I picked up his first album on a whim when it came out in the late 90s, but it had been quite a while since I had heard anything from him when The Alternative to Love came out that spring (by the way, a new one from Benson comes out this year!). As a fan, I was very pleased with its polish, and it seemed that Benson’s already amazing songwriting skills were evolving. It was in rotation for a pretty significant chunk of time, so listening back to this album brings back pleasant episodes of afternoons and early evenings at the museum district in Fort Worth.  As with all of Benson's work, The Alternative to Love is a gem from beginning to end, but this one tugs at me a bit.

Her apartment was very close to the arts district, and subsequently, the downtown Fort Worth area. After work, we would often go out and frequent the restaurants in the area, in particular the Fox and Hound. This faux-pub chain had dartboards and the polished wood aesthetic that we found appealing at the time. Also, they had huge, multi-screen displays cranking out videos. Brendan Benson didn't have the big media backing to warrant that kind of airplay, but I sincerely thought that The Alternative to Love had the potential to break him into a wider audience. 

Around the same time, however, I got into The White Stripes. I had been hearing their name whispered in the shadows for a couple of years, and after doing a little research, Elephant ended up being my entry point. Jack White’s obvious talent and charisma quickly won me over (and allowed me to overlook Meg White’s lurching sense of time). Elephant ended up being a favorite that year, and one that, in retrospect, was unwittingly mainstream. I did not realize just how visible the White Stripes were until I saw this video thrown up on the Fox and Hound video wall one night.

Benson’s neo-romantic pop brings back memories of the days in Fort Worth, but The White Stripes conjure up the nights. After dinner, her apartment, though quite accessible to the downtown area, was also incredibly accessible to crazy beings from the afterlife. It was as haunted as I’ve ever seen, and at night it came alive, so to speak. It had cold spots, creaky hard wood floors, bizarre sounds, and other phenomena that just made you want to jump out the window. I don’t know how she slept there.

Later in 2005, my Aiki Brother walked into the dojo one day and announced that Jack White and Brendan Benson were collaborating on a project. We now call that project the Raconteurs, an album with its own story.

As an epilog, this was also during the time that I was working as a TA for UNT. One morning, the professor was running uncharacteristically late and we were instructed to stall. We were able to keep everyone in their seat thanks to a new, young little thing called YouTube. I threw up the video for The Hardest Button to Button and then followed it up with this little gem.

I still think I deserved a bonus for staying in the lines on that one.  After all, the class was titled "Popular Music and American Culture."

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