Monday, November 10, 2014

A Flatlanders-Inspired Driving Mix by John T. Davis

A car stereo, a great music mix, and a good long drive can put everything into perspective and nobody knows this truth better than West Texas musicians. Why? Well, let music writer John T. Davis explain through this ultimate West Texas driving mix inspired by the subject of his latest book, The Flatlanders: Now It’s Now Again

A West Texas Driving Mix
By John T. Davis

Route 66…That hard-assed Amarillo Highway…the Loop…the Strip…the Lost Highway…the Eight’r From Decatur…

Roads aren’t just strips of asphalt in West Texas—they are lifelines and metaphors and escape routes and the promise that lies somewhere over yonder. In a dusty and isolated landscape where so much seems fixed in place, there’s healing power in movement. Terry Allen, the artist and musician who has spent his creative life in a love/hate relationship with the Texas Panhandle and the South Plains once said, “No one with access to a car and a good radio station should ever need a psychiatrist.”

The Flatlanders, whose personal and musical journey I’ve chronicled in a new book, The Flatlanders: Now It’s Now Again, grew up driving the highways, ranch roads and farm-to-market byways that surrounded their home in Lubbock, Texas. The “road,” both literal and metaphorical, has always informed the music made by the group and by its three central figures—Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore. Even today, says Joe Ely, when he needs musical inspiration, he’ll take off and drive the grid of tiny back roads that thread their way across the empty plains. It’s a big, blank reservoir of silence, begging to be filled with music.

In that spirit, I’ve put together a mix tape for driving across the plains of West Texas—it’s been a long day behind the wheel, the sun is finally beginning to set and the lights of a small town glimmer on a distant, ruler-straight horizon. The road, as Tom Russell likes to sing, it gives, and the road it takes away.

Access the playlist on your Spotify account here.

“Amarillo Highway”—Terry Allen (from Lubbock On Everything): “I’m a high straight in Plainview/Side bet in Idalou/And a fresh deck in New Deal,” sings Allen against a honky-tonk piano and steel guitar. “Some call me high hand/And some call me low hand/But I’m holding what I am—the wheel.” US Hwy. 87, about which Allen was singing, has been supplanted by modern Interstate 27, but the groove is still the same.

“Rave On”—Buddy Holly (from the album The Buddy Holly Collection): Because, duh. Lubbock native Holly set the template for the modern rock band, scored huge hits, inspired the Beatles (and the Flatlanders) and became the first rock ‘n’ roll martyr, all by age 22. Roll down the window, crank it up and let ‘er rip.

“All Just To Get To You”—Joe Ely (from Letter to Laredo): “I have run from St. Paul to Wichita Falls/Called you from sunny Baron Rouge/I hocked everything from my watch to my ring/All just to get to you.” Ely’s sunny rocker about making his way home to his baby is one of the great window-down, stomp-on-the-gas sing-alongs in modern Texas music. And oh yeah, that’s Bruce Springsteen singing along his ownself on the chorus.

“I’m A Long Gone Daddy”—Hank Williams (from The Ultimate Collection): The Flatlanders were inspired by myriad and diverse musical genres. Williams was every bit as influential as Bob Dylan and Elvis when it came to informing their music. And anyway, no driving mix is complete without the Drifting Cowboy singing about the lost highway.

“Moanin’ of the Midnight Train”—Butch Hancock (from Eats Away the Night): Hancock employs his Dylan-esque harmonica and best alliterative wordplay to put a fresh face on night train = lost love: “Sweetheart, your heart is loaded down with useless burdens and bones/I can tell by the tear-stains on your letter you wrote me from the twilight zone/You ask if I miss you, yes of course I miss you, I miss you every night or two/When I hear the moanin’ of the midnight train, it reminds me so much of you…”

“Lonesome, On’ry and Mean”—Waylon Jennings (from Lonesome, On’ry and Mean): Jennings’ music has somewhat fallen into eclipse since his death, and that’s a damn shame. This cover of a Steve Young song sums up what makes the onetime deejay (and Buddy Holly sideman) so great: That unmistakable guitar style and tone, Jennings’ gunslinger baritone and attitude to burn. If you only know him from the Dukes of Hazzard theme song, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this album or his classic Honky Tonk Heroes disc.

“Out In the Parking Lot”—Guy Clark (from Keepers): A marvelous, meticulous honky-tonk still life from a Texan who has taught master classes in songwriting for decades: “I’m sittin’ on the fender of someone else’s truck/Drinkin’ Old Crow whiskey and hot Seven-Up…You can hear the band playin’ right through the walls/Ain’t no cover charge, ain’t no last call/Out in the parking lot.” 

“Levelland”—James McMurtry (from Where’d You Hide the Body): Sooner or later, everyone who lives in West Texas gets a bellyful of it—the wind, the dust, the isolation conspire to grind down even the sunniest soul. Most folks get over it, but McMurtry (son of novelist Larry McMurtry) captures that feeling when you’d like to just burn the whole place down—all the while still yearning for a lost, perfect moment.

“Cool Water”—Joni Mitchell (from Chalk Marks In A Rainstorm): An avant-gardé take on the old Sons of the Pioneers classic. There’s a spacy, ethereal quality to this track that invokes the vastness of the West Texas sky and linear, sometimes intimidating flat and minimalist landscape. Water, in the form of rain, or lack thereof, is the ubiquitous topic of conversation (along with football) in every social strata, so why not sing about it too? Big props to Mitchell for bringing in Willie Nelson for a guest vocal.

“Ramblin’ Man”—Jimmie Dale Gilmore (from One Endless Night): Gilmore’s bouncy honky-tonk cover of a Butch Hancock song may be the best highway song Hank Williams never cut: “I’m your ramblin’ man and I can go where I choose/And if you sing me a song, mama, make it a midnight blues”.

“Marfa”—Don Santiago Jimenez (from His First and Last Recordings): Tejano and Hispanic culture are as much a defining part of West Texas as they are in the rest of the Lone Star State. This peppery little tune, commemorating the Trans-Pecos town of the same name, by one of the founding masters of the conjunto accordion, is a three-minute road trip to the border.

“Oh Pretty Woman”—Roy Orbison (from Oh Pretty Woman): The big beat married to Orbison’s otherworldly, operatic voice makes this 1964 hit a force of nature. Orbison was by no means a teenage idol to look at, but when he growls “Mercy!” you can hear the girls’ hearts race across the room. This rocking classic is the ultimate West Texas riposte to the British Invasion.

“Tumbleweed”—Toni Price (from Hey): This lovely, bittersweet country-folk lament by the Austin-based chanteuse is all about picking up and leaving, something every youngster in West Texas has to confront sooner or later. Stay put in the familiar home country or light out for the territories? As Price sings: “When someone asked me where was I going/I tore the map up, I flipped a coin/And it landed somewhere a long, long way away”.

“(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66”—Nat “King” Cole (from Stepping Out of A Dream): There’s a million versions of this road trip chestnut, but I like Cole’s urbane, jazzy take--with its tinkling piano, walking bass and jazzy guitar, coupled with Cole’s smoky vocals—because it’s such a stark contrast with the dusty expanse of cattle ranches and small towns that mark the one-time Mother Road’s traverse through the Texas Panhandle.

“Take Me Back To Tulsa”—Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys (from Anthology 1935-1973): Turkey, Texas, native Bob Wills didn’t invent Western Swing, that feisty fusion of house party country fiddle music, blues licks, pop flourishes and hot jazz improvisation, but he took it to the world. Wills embodied the freewheeling synthesis of disparate musical styles that has always characterized the best of West Texas music.

“To Live Is To Fly”—Townes Van Zandt (from Rear View Mirror): “Days up and down they come/Like rain on a conga drum/Forget most, remember song/But don’t turn none away/Everything is not enough/Nothing is too much to bear/Where you been is good and gone/All you keep is the getting there.” The hard-living folk/blues Texas poet Townes Van Zandt was an enormous influence not only on the Flatlanders, but also on other Lone Star bards like Lyle Lovett and Guy Clark.

“Heard It On the X”—Los Super Seven (from Heard It On the X): When the Flatlanders were teenagers in Lubbock, they and their friends tuned in each night to the big clear-channel stations out of Mexico like XERF that beamed big city blues and rhythm and blues to captivated young listeners all over West Texas and far beyond. This grainy, greasy cover of the ZZ Top song by Tex-Mex supergroup Los Super Seven conveys some of the allure and mystery of those magic nights.

“Amarillo By Morning”—George Strait (from Strait From the Heart): Country music’s greatest hitmaker (and native Texan, y’all) does what he does best—rendering a deceptively straightforward, fiddle-laced tale of a rodeo cowboy taking a broken heart on the road (“Everything that I’ve got/Is just what I’ve got on”) with effortless craft and conviction. He makes it sounds easy, but when Strait is on point, nobody can do it better.

“The Long Way Around”—Dixie Chicks (from Taking the Long Way): Chicks vocalist and Lubbock native Natalie Maines became a lightning rod for criticism after criticizing Pres. George W. Bush. But this song, written after the firestorm, is an rocking, enduring anthem to friendship, going the distance and staying true to oneself: It can get pretty lonely when you show yourself/Guess I could have made it easier on myself/But I, I could never follow…If you ever want to find me, I can still be found/Takin’ the long way around.”

“One Road More”—The Flatlanders (from The Odessa Tapes): From the Flatlanders’ earliest recording, at Butch Hancock song with Jimmie Dale Gilmore, singing what might as well be the band’s mission statement: “Lord, I ain’t got a lick of sense, I got a crazy mind/’Cause I don’t want to leave and I don’t want to stay behind/But at the end of this one last road they say there’s always an open door/So I guess my bare feet will have to carry me one road more.”

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Election Day Analysis from Ross Ramsey and Wayne Thorburn

Today is Election Day and the news cycle is abuzz with pundits weighing in on projected outcomes both nationally and here in Texas. The first post-Perry gubernatorial race since the beginning of the new millennium is shaking up Texas politics as usual, with political star Wendy Davis up against Greg Abbott. It's a big election, so we invited Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune (happy belated birthday, y'all!) to talk with Wayne Thorburn (author of Red Stateabout how Texas politics got where it is today. This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune on October 10, 2014, here.

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Analysis: In Democrats' Fall, a Lesson for GOP
by Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune
October 10, 2014

One of the people who steered Texas from a one-party Democratic state to a one-party Republican state sees some similarities between the Republican Party of the 1970s and 1980s and the Democrats of today.

Wayne Thorburn does not think Texas Democrats are ready to take back the state — not yet. But he does see some cautionary signs for his party in the Democrats’ fall.

Thorburn was executive director of the Republican Party of Texas from 1977 to 1983 — a period that saw both the 1978 election of the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction and the 1982 election that wiped out almost all of the Republican gains to that date. The 1982 election was the last time that Democrats swept the statewide elections in Texas.

He believes the Republicans were in better political condition when they began making serious inroads than the Democrats are today. Back then, the moderates among the Democrats — they were derided as conservatives — were increasingly out of ideological sync with Democrats on the national ticket. Texas has not sided with the Democratic presidential candidate since 1976. While Republicans then were gradually increasing turnout for their primary elections, Democrats today are seeing declining turnout for their primaries.

He does see some parallels. For instance, when the Democrats controlled the state, their infighting created an opportunity for John Tower, a Republican college professor, to win Lyndon B. Johnson’s former seat in the U.S. Senate in 1961. These days, infighting among Republican factions is common and often bitter; still, Democrats have not been able to crack the statewide blockade.

Thorburn does not believe that poses an immediate threat to the title of his book, Red State: An Insider’s Story of How the GOP Came to Dominate Texas Politics.

“Even though Tower broke the ice in 1961, it was not until 17 years later that Republicans were able to win,” he said. It took the better part of two more decades to reach a Republican sweep of statewide elections in 1996.

“If the Democrats are hoping that Wendy Davis or the Castros — that that, in and of itself, will turn this state blue or purple, that’s just not what happens,” he said, referring to the current Democratic candidate for governor and the prominent San Antonio twins. “Republicans had been building up an infrastructure of candidates and supporters, and there were more of them than the Democrats have now.”

Texas Democrats currently maintain some geographical strongholds along the state’s southern border and in most of the big urban counties. Republicans command rural Texas and — critically — the suburbs. That has been enough to control statewide elections.

In his book, he writes that straight-ticket voting — where voters pull a lever for one party or another instead of picking and choosing candidates race by race — accounted for 61.4 percent of the vote in 2012, and that 55.9 percent of those straight-ticket votes were cast for Republican candidates.

He compiled straight-ticket voting data from 112 of the state’s 254 counties — those where at least 7,500 votes were cast in the 2012 elections. Democrats outnumbered Republicans by 153,148 in the six biggest counties in Texas, but were swamped in suburban, smaller urban and rural counties. By his count, the straight-ticket Republicans outdid the Democrats by 551,975 votes overall in that election.

“The Democrats are always going to have a strong presence,” Thorburn said, “but you put all of that together, and you’re still a half a million votes short.”

Thorburn is not crowing, and he does not appear to be losing any sleep over the rise of Texas Democrats. It is a slow process. Local elections around the state have been going his party’s way — an indication, he thinks, of a strong farm team and of a local political infrastructure.

Democrats have pinned much of their hopes this year on Battleground Texas, a well-financed operation founded by veterans of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns to turn Texas into a place where it is possible for a Democrat to beat a Republican in a statewide election.

Thorburn is decidedly skeptical about their chances, particularly in the 2014 elections. But he knows from his own experience that it is possible with a sustained effort.

“Six to eight years,” he said this week. “That’s probably the range.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at

Friday, October 31, 2014

Frederick Aldama on Meeting Robert Rodriguez

Part of the fun of Halloween is the opportunity to embody favorite characters from film and pop culture. For most of us, that's the closest we'll get to experiencing the fictional worlds that have inspired and entertained us, but for scholar Frederick Luis Aldama, meeting and interviewing filmmaker Robert Rodriguez for his latest book immersed him in the movie magic he'd admired for decades. We asked him what that was like. Enjoy his guest blog post and some bonus Halloween costume ideas inspired by the cinema of Robert Rodriguez:

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Meeting Robert Rodriguez
By Frederick Luis Aldama

Like all the books I’ve written, The Cinema of Robert Rodriguez had its fair share of scary and even physically painful twists and turns. Like those rollercoaster rides of my younger days, there was a lot of joyful exhilaration thrown into the mix.

Ever since watching El Mariachi and then his short “Bedhead” and then writing a review of Rebel Without a Crew way back when still wet behind the ears, I’ve been fascinated with Rodriguez: his just-do-it approach and his comic-book (or more specifically, his Tex-Avery Cartoon) worldview. He would get the film done, often learning new film techniques in the process and he would go to places that straight-up realist films didn’t. Social mores went out the window and, like the wolf in Tex-Avery’s Droopy cartoons, his characters often defied all natural laws. He was hands-down the most exciting and productive Latino filmmaker out there.

As I wove my way through undergrad and grad school then became a college professor, he was churning out films of all sorts and that had us going to places never before imagined. To date, he’s made over 18 feature films, published a comic book, and runs a Latino-content cable network (El Rey).

The long of the short of it, I knew that at some point in my writing career that I’d sit with his work for a spell to understand more deeply what makes his films tick. I knew too that I wanted to share these discoveries in an accessibly written book.

Now there’s nothing like a carrot dangling at the end of a stick to get me to move. I wrote a draft way sooner than I’d imagined. The motivation: after months of pin-balling my way around nearly blind to secure an interview with Rodriguez, the message got through (and this thanks to Charles Ramírez Berg). The response: if I were to get a draft to Rodriguez pronto (and especially before the whirlwind of El Rey Network), I might get that one-on-one—and maybe even a visit to Troublemaker Studios. 

I wrote a draft of the book and sent it. Sometime later and seemingly out of the blue I got the green light. After some planes, trains, and rental cars I was Troublemaker Studios in Austin.

Ohio State University Professor Frederick Aldama, left, and director Robert Rodriguez, right.
The day before, Rodriguez had received word that he’d get his tax breaks to film Sin City: A Dame to Kill in Austin. The place was abuzz with actors, costumers, CGI animator folks, camera techs, you name it. I could see with my own eyes (even almost touch) all the props used that I’d only been able to see on my various screens: from the Humvee in Planet Terror to Juni and Carmen’s Stormtrooper-like colorful outfits (Spy Kids: Game Over) to Cherrie’s motorbike (Planet Terror) and the gun-toting Padre’s confessional booth (Machete), and much more. 
Photo by Brent Humphreys for The Hollywood Reporter.
There was moment of calm in the eye of this storm of activity. Rodriguez took pause in the middle of his gentle yet take-no-prisoner orchestration of an army of creators, actors, and technicians. With the Aliens vs. Predator mask starring at my back and seated on a bar stool across a bar-turned-office-desk, I got my interview. (This is, I believe, the very same bar where Buscemi talks up the legend of el mariachi to Cheech Marin in Desperado.)
I ended up spending the entire day at Troublemaker Studios. I watched as they pulled from crates the new 3D cameras they would use to film the next installment of Sin City. I was shown how techs design weaponry with software then make these real with their 3D copiers. I was shown storyboards, clips from works in progress as well as the inside of the biggest green screen I’d ever seen: the entire interior of an airplane hanger.

The dominant emotion of the day: exhilaration. I had seen first hand what I’d only been able to reconstruct in my mind from an excessive diet of watching and re-watching all of Rodriguez’s films. I’d been given a snapshot of all that is involved in the realization of and giving shape to an idea, a plot, a set of characters—a total storyworld—into a fictional world that was released in cinemas known as Sin City: A Dame to Kill.

After my visit with Rodriguez and fly-on-the-wall day at Troublemaker Studios, I did go back and tweak some parts of my book, bringing insights about the material practice into closer synch with the theory. That said, the main thrust of the book’s argument remained the same. That Rodriguez is a filmmaker who innovates with a lot of joy and with a comic book (more specifically Tex Avery) sensibility—a worldview where anything goes. (Notably, at the recent Latino Comics Expo 2014 in San José, The Cinema of Robert Rodriguez sold as well as my other book, Your Brain on Latino Comics. Comic book lovers tend also to be lovers of Rodriguez films.) In each film, we see him taking on and even modifying the technologies available to give shape to his film stories. In each film, his mastery of new filmmaking technology is at the service of creating stories that push the envelope on the socially credible and the physically possible.

As I mentioned, those 3D cameras I saw come out of crates were used to create Sin City: A Dame To Kill—a film that didn’t do well, nor did another of his 2014 releases, Machete Kills. No matter. What’s important is that Rodriguez continues to push the envelope of filmic storytelling. What matters is that he released two films in the same year—along with the first all Latino content cable network. What matters is that he’s one of the most innovative and productive filmmakers (Latino or otherwise) working in the film industry today. What matters is that he’s a Latino and a filmmaker who constantly makes new our perception, thought, and feeling about who we are as a people and what we can do as creators.

Frederick Luis Aldama

And now, if you're a Rodriguez fan and scrambling for some Halloween costume ideas, here's a few to get you started. Happy Halloween!
Cherry Darling from Planet Terror

Johnny Depp as Sands in Once Upon a Time in Mexico

Mickey Rourke as Marv in Sin City

Danny Trejo as the blade-wielding Machete

And, of course, Lindsey Lohan as April 'The Sister' from Machete

Monday, October 20, 2014

UT Press at the 2014 Texas Book Festival

This weekend, the University of Texas Press and 13 of our authors will enjoy the 19th annual Texas Book Festival on the Capitol grounds in downtown Austin and environs. We're still pinching ourselves that Richard Linklater will be part of a panel for one of our books, Boyhood: Twelve Years on Film. We'll have a booth on Colorado Street with tons of titles for sale at a great discount, so please stop by. There are a lot of great authors in attendance this year, so we’ve distilled our authors' appearances into a single UT Press schedule (browse the full schedule here):
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11:00 AM - 12:00 PM

Surf Texas
Author: Kenny Braun
Location: The Contemporary

Where to find the author online:
@KennyBraunPhoto | Facebook | Website

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11:45 AM - 12:45 PM
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.016

Where to find the author online:
Author Guest Blog | @Winegarten | Website

1:00 - 2:00 PM
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The Devil’s Backbone
Author: Bill Wittliff
Texas Tent

"This lively story, part novel and part yarn, is a fine read!"     ―Larry McMurtry

"Bill Wittliff’s The Devil’s Backbone is a wonderful tale that does honor to the ancient art of storytelling. It is destined to be an American classic."     ―Jim Harrison

"It’s mythic. It’s historic. It’s folk wisdom and wit. Best of all, it’s a master storyteller at the top of his game practicing the ancient art he heard as a kid growing up in Edna in the 1940s."     ―Jane Sumner, Austin American-Statesman
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3:30 - 4:30 PM
Authors: Marcia Hatfield Daudistel and Bill Wright
Location: The Contemporary

"Once a country in its own right and settled by people with vision and strength of spirit, Texas has been a state that intrigues us since its birth. Authentic Texas celebrates this visionary spirit that still persists today in the people and places that make our history colorful and timeless."     —Wyman Meinzer

Author: David Sterling
Location: Central Market Tent

"This is the Yucatán from A to Z."     ―William Grimes, New York Times Sunday Book Review

"Endorsements from Mexican culinary expert Diana Kennedy come few and far between, so Sterling, the founder of Los Dos Cooking School, must know what he’s doing. At 500-plus pages and coffee-table size, the book is sure to be a long-term, definitive reference guide."     Washington Post

UT Press Podcast Interview with David Sterling:

2:00 - 3:00 PM
Author: John T. Davis
Location: Music Tent

UT Press Podcast Interview with John T. Davis:

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2:00 - 3:00 PM
Author: Jack Gilmore
Location: Central Market Tent

Where to find the author online:
@jackallens | Facebook

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2:30 - 3:30 PM
Author: Jesús F. de la Teja
Moderator: Emilio Zamora
Location: Capitol Extension Room E2.016

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3:30 - 4:30 PM
Authors: Terry Thompson-Anderson, Photos by Sandy Wilson
Location: Central Market Tent

Last week's blog post: Tour Texas on the Table

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3:30 - 4:30 PM
Authors: Matt Lankes, Richard Linklater, Ellar Coltrane, Cathleen Sutherland
Location: House Chamber

Where to find the authors online:
@ellarcoltrane | Matt Lankes | Austin Film Society

Author: Steven Hoelscher
Location: The Contemporary

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tour Texas on the Table This Fall

Fall is the season to experience Texas. Don't let it get away from you without visiting some of the farm-to-table culinary hotspots featured in Terry Thompson-Anderson's new book Texas on the Table: People, Places, and Recipes Celebrating the Flavors of the Lone Star 
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State. To help you plan day trips, autumn weekend adventures, and even your next grocery run, we turned to Google maps to take the guesswork out of putting Texas on your table.

Organized by category (Cheese, Wine, Dining, Meat and "Foraging"), this map charts the extraordinary family-owned establishments from which the book pulls quintessential Texas dishes and wine pairings with an emphasis on terroir (loosely translated as "a sense of place").

Access the map here: Tour Texas on the Table

A detail from the Tour Texas on the Table
Google map.

We've incorporated recipes and wine pairings from the book in the map pins, so you'll really know what you're doing when you've got the book in hand and the best local food and wine Texas has to offer.

On social media? If you find yourself supporting one of these small businesses, take a photo (selfie if you want), post your photo tagging where you are and using the hashtag #TexasOnTheTable, and we'll share it!

To help get you started while you plan your Texas terroir treks, impress your family and friends by making pulled pork barbecue from one of the hottest old-school purveyors of 'que in the country. Yes, that's right, you now have access to some of Franklin Barbecue's secrets.

Franklin Barbecue’s Pulled Pork Sandwich

Although beef is foremost in the minds of Texans when you mention barbecue, the pulled pork sandwich served at Austin’s wildly popular Franklin Barbecue is so fabulous it is worth the long wait usually required to get one. Adored by everyone from local bloggers to the New York Times and Bon Appétit, Franklin Barbecue has a line outside its door every single day, and very few complain about waiting three hours or more to get their barbecue. The sandwiches are great to prepare for a crowd, each of whom will love you, especially because they didn’t have to stand in line.

Makes 10 to 15 sandwiches.
  • 1 bone-in pork shoulder butt (Boston butt), about 3 to 4 pounds
  • ¼ cup yellow “ballpark-style” mustard
  • Dry Rub (see recipe below)
  • Sweet Vinegar Sauce (recipe follows)
  • Good-quality white burger buns
  • Melted butter
  • Franklin Barbecue's Pulled Pork Sandwich.
    Photo by Sandy Wilson, from Texas on the Table.
  • Your favorite creamy-style coleslaw
  • 1 cup coarsely ground black pepper
  • ½ cup kosher salt
  • ½ cup turbinado (raw) sugar
  • 2 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 8 ounces ketchup (made without high-fructose corn syrup)
  • ¼ cup light brown sugar
  • 2½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Louisiana-style hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
Make the dry rub by combining all ingredients in a small bowl and tossing with a fork to blend well; set aside until needed.

Make the sweet vinegar sauce by combining all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Whisk to blend well and cook just until the brown sugar has dissolved, about 4 minutes. Reheat when needed.

Build a hardwood fire, preferably oak or hickory, in a pit with an indirect firebox. Let the temperature settle at 275°F to 295°F. Meanwhile, place the pork butt on a cutting board and slather all over with the yellow mustard, then scatter the dry rub generously over the pork. When the temperature in the smoking chamber of the pit is right, place the pork butt on the grilling rack, uncovered, and cook until the bark is a toasty brown color, about 30 minutes, turning often.

Wrap the butt in foil and return it to the smoker for another 6 to 8 hours. Periodically check the meat for tenderness by unwrapping and tugging on the bone. When the bone slides out easily, the meat is done. Remove meat from the pit, still wrapped in the foil, transfer it to a heavy baking sheet, and set aside for 30 minutes.

Unwrap the meat and pull it into shreds, using your fingers. Discard any gristle or tendons. Lightly baste the cut sides of the buns with a little of the melted butter and toast them in a skillet or on a flat grill until light golden brown and slightly crisp. Pile the meat onto the buns and drizzle generously with some of the sweet vinegar sauce. Top with a bit of coleslaw and serve at once.

Here's the ground Texas on the Table covers:
Explore the best locally made cheese in Texas via Google maps.
Brazos Valley Cheese
Eagle Mountain Farm House Cheese

Houston Dairymaids
Mill-King Market & Creamery
Mozzarella Co

Pearl Farmers Market
The Get Go
Veldhuizen Cheese Shop

American-made wine ain't just about Napa and Oregon. Texas-made wine via Google maps.
Alamosa Wine Cellars
Becker Vineyards
Bending Branch Winery
Brennan Vineyards
Certenberg Vineyards

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

From Marianao to Mayberry

The first episode of The Andy Griffith Show aired fifty-four years ago this Friday. We asked noted writer and scholar Gustavo Pérez Firmat (one of Newsweek's 100 Americans to watch for in the 21st century”) to reflect on what the show meant to him as a Cuban exile and immigrant to the United States. His new book, A Cuban in Mayberry: Looking Back at America's Hometown, wrestles with the "irreplaceable intimacy between person and place" and explores how his addiction to reruns of The Andy Griffith Show provided an illusion of belonging to a community in which he never would have felt accepted.

We hope you enjoy this fascinating and touching tribute to a classic American cultural product from a very unique perspective.

From Marianao to Mayberry
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By Gustavo Pérez Firmat

The Andy Griffith Show (TAGS to aficionados) premiered on CBS on Monday October 3, 1960. Exactly three weeks later, on Monday October 24, I left Cuba with my parents, my two brothers and my sister on an overnight ferry to Key West called, of all things, The City of Havana. I was eleven years old. My parents were in their late thirties. That evening, as the City of Havana was crossing the Florida straits, CBS broadcast the fourth episode of TAGS, which has to do with the arrival in Mayberry of Ellie Walker, the first of Andy’s several girlfriends. As Ellie was beginning a new life in Mayberry, the Pérez family was beginning a new life in America. Ours would take me from Marianao, the Havana neighborhood where I was born, to Miami, where I grew up, to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I’ve lived most of my adult life, and from there to Mayberry, the fictional town where The Andy Griffith Show takes place.

A Cuban in Mayberry tells the story of how I became an undocumented Mayberrian, the town’s resident alien, the lone Cuban coot in a flock of Southern geezers. If our work should be the praise of what we love, as John Ruskin believed, this is the story of my late-blooming love affair with an imaginary town and its citizens—call it a Mayberry-December romance.

The last episode of TAGS was broadcast more than 46 years ago, on April Fools Day, 1968, but the show has never lost its appeal. During TAGS’ last season on CBS it had a weekly audience of about fifteen and a half million viewers. In 1998 the Christian Science Monitor estimated that every day about five million people watched TAGS reruns on more than one hundred television stations across the country. Sixteen years later, TAGS is still syndicated in almost one hundred local TV markets. When the show commemorated its 50th anniversary in 2010, the milestone was observed in TAGS nation with a telethon on TVLand, a festival in Mount Airy, North Carolina (Andy Griffith’s hometown, the model for Mayberry), and the maiden race of the “Andy Griffith” stock car at the Banking 500 in Charlotte (“Andy” finished 31st). Websites devoted to the show abound. One of them, “The Andy Griffith Show Rerun Watchers Club” (, originally a fan club founded at Vanderbilt University, has grown to more than twenty-thousand members and over a thousand local chapters with such names as “All Us Fifes Are Sensitive,” “Pipe Down, Otis,” “Aunt Bee’s Pickles,” “Briscoe’s Jug,” and “Ernest T. Bass Window Removers.” Offering thirty-two different "fixins," Mayberry’s Finest, a line of canned foods, made its debut in stores throughout the South in 2007. The Mayberry Ice Cream Restaurants, a chain of soup and sandwich shops, have existed in North Carolina since 1969.

For countless Americans, classic sitcoms like TAGS, Happy Days, or Saved by the Bell make up the soundtrack of their childhoods. The soundtrack of my childhood was Cuban-exile political talk and boleros. In fact I didn’t watch a complete episode of TAGS until four decades later. After teaching at Duke University for many years, I took a job at Columbia University in New York City. Once I became a part-time northerner, an unexpected thing happened. I started to miss North Carolina. I became homesick for a place that I’d never considered home. Unbeknownst to me, all those years in the Old North State had turned me into a Carolina Cuban, a cubanazo redneck, spic and hick in roughly equal parts.

To mitigate my longing for the South and its comforts, I began to watch reruns of TAGS. After a while, the two or three episodes that came on TVLand in the afternoons did not provide enough of a fix, and so I got the series on DVD—all 249 episodes of it. And when that wasn’t enough, I managed to find the 78 episodes of the sequel, Mayberry R.F.D. For as long as each episode lasted, I was no longer a Cuban exile, I became a Mayberrian. I knew as much about the Friendly Town as any of the locals. I could tell apart the Buntley twins. I knew that it was in room 209 of the Mayberry Hotel where Wilbur Hennessey got drunk and fell out the window. I knew that Sarah, the switchboard operator, takes a pinch of snuff now and then and that Barney subscribes to a men’s magazine called Love. And I discovered that Andy’s true love is not Helen Crump, the woman he eventually marries, but Sharon DeSpain, his high school sweetheart.

As I spent part of each day in Mayberry, I realized that my fascination with the show had as much to do with my status as a foreigner, and more concretely, as an exile, as with North Carolina. Unlike other TAGS fans, I wasn’t watching the show to relive the golden years of my childhood. It’s not always true that the allure of reruns depends on the viewer’s memory track, which the rerun jogs. It can be equally true that the allure of a rerun can reside in the fact that it’s not a rerun in any personal sense, that it takes us to a time and a place where we’ve never been.

I envied Mayberrians because, unlike me, they don’t spend their lives among strangers. Indeed, they do everything they can to avoid them. Following the biblical precept, Mayberrians love their neighbors—but to the exclusion of everyone else. One part of me found the townspeople’s xenophobia distasteful; another part of me wished that I was part of the club.

Someone who emigrates leaves behind many things, but none more strictly irreplaceable than the intimacy between person and place. Watching TAGS, I came to understand how it must feel to enjoy such intimacy, to feel rooted in the ground under your feet and to know that you live among people who are similarly rooted. Everyone was born someplace, but not everybody has a hometown, for the term designates an intensity of connection that not all of us have experienced. What I liked about TAGS was Mayberry and what I liked about Mayberrians was that they lived in their hometown, which was the whole of their world. For Andy and his neighbors, the town and its environs, what in Spanish is called la patria chica, the small homeland, is as far as their eyes can see.

My interest in the show as a mitigation of exile dictated the structure of the book. In the first part I look at the Mayberrian world as a whole—its geography, atmosphere, the distinction between outsider and insider, and the townsfolk’s view of history. The last chapter of this section, an extended obituary, traces the decline and fall of Mayberry as it evolves from TAGS to Mayberry R.F.D. and subsequently to the 1986 reunion movie, Return to Mayberry. In the second part of the book I draw partial portraits of the local worthies to explain how they contribute to the character of the place. If in Part 1 the discussion of the Mayberrian sense of place is motivated my own displacement, the portraits in Part 2 are underwritten by an exile’s search for community. Throughout, my aim was been to understand, on the one hand, the conditions that make possible the intimacy of person and place, and on the other, the sequence of events that leads to the erosion of this intimacy.

In “Mountain Wedding,” an episode from the third season, Barney Fife takes his leave from Briscoe Darling, the patriarch of a hillbilly clan, by saying, “Adios, amigo,” the only Spanish words ever uttered in TAGS. When Barney says this, Briscoe turns to Andy with a puzzled expression and asks: “He one of ours?” Of course, Barney is one of theirs, of that place and of those people, even if he is sometimes loathe to admit it.

Were this question addressed to me, I’d have to answer it in the negative. If nothing else, my southern accent—from the truly deep South—would give me away. Groucho Marx once quipped that he wouldn’t belong to any club that would have him as a member. Unlike Groucho, I belong to a club that perhaps wouldn’t have me as a member. Mayberrian soil—red clay—is not receptive to transplants. Imagine someone walking into the Mayberry Diner and ordering arroz con pollo. He would be run out of town.

And yet I treasure what Mayberry has given me, the illusion of belonging, the sense that things could be otherwise. It may not be much, but I’m grateful to have it. The Cuban-American poet Ricardo Pau Llosa once wrote: “The exile knows his place. It is the imagination.” When I was young my imagination transported me to Cuba. Now it takes me to Mayberry. As the grandson of Spanish immigrants who later became Cuban exiles, and as the son of Cuban exiles who refused to become immigrants, I’m happy to inhabit a world whose residents will never be forced to become exiles or immigrants. That such a world does not exist only makes it more necessary.

When Andy Griffith passed away in the summer of 2012, all of North Carolina seemed to go into mourning. In addition to the normal reruns, local stations launched week-long TAGS marathons, and thousands of North Carolinians sent in testimonials about the impact of the program on their lives. Some said that they had learned from Sheriff Andy how to raise their children; others talked about the joy that the program had brought them. A woman from Greenville wrote: “Andy is my hero. He has been for most of my 49 years. Andy represented the very best of what makes North Carolina so special. My family will never forget him.” Countless others echoed this sentiment; Andy—the actor as well as the character—was a “true Tarheel.”

I was tempted to add my own testimonial, but I was reluctant to do so. As someone who was raised by people who wouldn’t know a dumpling from a duck, and, moreover, as a newcomer to Mayberry, I didn’t share the experiences of the authors of the testimonials. I felt like the stranger who shows up at a funeral and no one knows what he is doing there. Instead I wrote A Cuban in Mayberry, the belated testimonial of a true-enough Tarheel.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Your Freedom to Read: 13 Links for Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week (Sept. 21-27) is the book world’s annual celebration of our right to choose and have access to the books that we want to read. Libraries, bookstores, and the online book community will use this week to host events, highlight banned books, and spotlight the conversation about the real and pressing issue of book censorship in communities across the nation. 

This year the Banned Books Week National Committee has chosen to emphasize the censorship, banning, and challenging of comics and graphic novels because “Despite their serious literary merit and popularity as a genre, they are often subject to censorship,” Judith Platt, chair of the Banned Books Week National Committee, said in a statement about this year’s effort.

UT Press wants to be a part of this effort. We hope you’ll think about not only the impact that banned books have had on you, but the consequences for communities that deny access to certain books. We hope you’ll show your support to those who stand up year-round to protect your freedom to choose the books that you want to read. This year we present to you a list of 13 things you can read, watch, check out, or do, to get engaged with Banned Books Week 2014. 

This article details a case this summer in which the College of Charleston in South Carolina was threatened with budget cuts for featuring a graphic novel, Fun Home, on an optional summer reading list


21 stories about comics that have been banned in the US

The CBLDF’s (that’s the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund) 2014 handbook to Banned Books week

Sherman Alexie, one of the most frequently banned authors in the US, talks about the banning of his own book The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Thirteen books you would never believe have been banned books

From Vonnegut to Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed this timeline plots the last thirty years of banned books

Hear what these authors, including Markus Zusak, Khaled Hosseini, and Judy Blume, have to say about their own books being banned

Keep up with Banned Books Week by checking out the official Banned Books Week Twitter or Facebook

Interested in current state of banned books in Texas? Check out the ACLU’s (American Civil Liberties Union) most recent report, which even includes some good news

There’s certainly a book that changed your life on this comprehensive list of the most commonly challenged books in the United States

Attend a Banned Books Week event near you

Celebrate banned books week by reading public domain comics from the Golden age at The Digital Comics Museum

Participate in the 2014 Banned Books Virtual Read-out