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Damien Jurado's Fanciful "A Song For Thax Douglas"

By Jon Graef in Arts & Entertainment on May 13, 2011 6:40PM

Thax Douglas reads a poem from the "MRCH Broadcast Booth." Photo by Jim Kopeny

A towering, bespectacled misfit who reads his poetry in front of bewildered rock audiences is a great subject for a song. (Or a fake death scare, for that matter). So no music fan can blame modern folkie Damien Jurado, performing in the WBEZ studios, for taking some poetic license on Thax Douglas, a local legend famous for reading brief, surreal poetry before live shows.

Along with tracks from last year's Saint Bartlett, Jurado performed a bittersweet ballad, "Song For Thax Douglas," recently written before Jurado performed for Chicago's NPR outlet. It's a brief little ditty, perfect for a Harvest Moon. There's just one problem: Jurado's romantic take on Douglas leaving Chicago for Texas is, well, not true. Here are the facts on Thax: He could be kind of a jerk.

Yes, yes, poetic license, creative appropriation, "it's just a song," "why do you have to ruin our fun?" and so forth. No argument here. But considering Thax gave not one, but two, interviews to The A.V. Club Chicago about how much he hated Chicago and its music scene, it's hard to reconcile the romantic version with the actual truth.

After all, this is a dude who said in 2006, when he moved to New York:

... Chicago isn’t a community. It’s sort of like being in an office. They say to you, 'We appreciate what you do. You’re really important to us.' Yet you don’t get paid as much as everyone else, you get a crappy office, then eventually you leave. That’s how I feel. There’s no incentive for me to stay.

And also:

AV Club Chicago: What bothers you about Chicago?

Thax Douglas: Just in the ’90s especially, and it’s still true to some extent today, there was an atmosphere of fear because of these labels—like [Steve] Albini and company and Thrill Jockey and Drag City and stuff like that. There’s just a feeling of the big brothers that were watching, and you couldn’t be creative because there was an atmosphere of fear. And unfortunately, these labels sort of cultivated a group of acolytes that were, quite frankly, stupid… It’s tied in with what I clumsily call the “indie-stry.” That’s not going to go away. It’s only going to get bigger.

And for the coup de grace, in 2010, after Thax moved to Austin:

I hated the music community in Chicago. One thing about Austin is—well, there's so many great bands, and the bands all know each other. The Chicago scene is very atomized. Atomization is a term they use in a totalitarian society where you can't trust anybody, and yeah—Chicago. It's very difficult for bands to be creative there. There are good bands in Chicago, definitely, but it took me years and years to find them. And here, immediately, there's a dizzying array of great bands. There are very few bands who actually suck here, and they're hungry. In Chicago, there aren't too many hungry bands. A lot of them are hobby bands—people who have good jobs and get together to sing songs about zombies once a month or something like that. ... There's some really bad in-crowd-ism going on in Chicago

Now, certainly, no individual or music scene is above reproach. If Thax didn't like it here, he didn't like it here. That's entirely his prerogative. But here's the thing: If Thax's criticisms are true of Chicago, then they're true of everywhere.

The scenes in Austin and New York have their respective pluses and minuses, sure. But if you're bothered by careerist musicians (leaving out the fact most musicians have some kind of part-time job in order to keep the lights on), is moving to the home of one of the biggest music conferences in the entire country--one that people have complained about corporations co-opting for years--really the best solution? That's like complaining about the food in a burgeoning Italian metropolis, and then moving somewhere larger while extolling the virtues of Olive Garden.

Criticisms aside, Thax has been long gone and nothing's going to bring him back. If Jurado wants to sing about legends and folk tales, then let him sing about legends and folk tales. It's his job, after all. But when it comes to printing the legend, or printing the truth ... well, let's just say I prefer veracity.

Then again, that's probably why I never get invited to all the fun parties. Oh well. Viva la Thax!