Thursday, February 26, 2009

TCU Texas Book Award

Friends and neighbors, please click on the letter and it'll make it big enough so you can actually read what it says.

Woo hoo and Yee haw!

Texas Land Trust Conference

I spoke about Keeping the Wide Open Spaces of Texas Wide Open at the Texas Land Trust Conference last week. (

Isabel Cowles filed a fine report on the event in Huffington Post. Click the headline for the link. Here's what Ms. Cowles wrote:

I am not a native to the lone star state, but I've recently come to understand the old adage, "Don't Mess With Texas." While some non-Texans may associate this phrase with staunch federalist tendencies and a love of guns, the sentiment runs deeper than stereotypes, and is a concept we would all do well to adhere to in our own locales.

Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending the annual Texas Land Trust Council meeting in Austin, which was dedicated to conservation and land trust issues across the state. Before I went to the conference, I understood Texans as citizens who favor individual rights more than anything, which includes the right to own and develop land. Living in Houston, which thrives off its lack of zoning, I've seen the unmitigated privilege of landownership at work: people do what they will with the space they own, and they're proud of that freedom.

The concept of land ownership and rights was at the heart of the American frontier and the cultural sensibility that endures today, especially in the West. Before attending the TLTC, I wondered where contemporary cowboys would stand on the concept of federally protected land. How could a group of hunters, ranch-owners, lawyers, biologists and impassioned environmentalists possibly agree on conservation issues?

Apparently, I had over-thought the matter. Joe Nick Patoski, Texas author and naturalist, articulated the stunning simplicity of the issue in his opening remarks: "Without open space, Texans wouldn't be Texans." It is that simple. Texans are bound to the grasslands, the prairies, the bayous and the open skies of their state. They are proud of the beauty that they come from, they are part of the beauty that they come from, and many of them recognize the immediate need to balance development with preservation.

Most of the speakers at the event identified themselves by how many generations of Texans had preceded them, and there was a shared recognition of the pride that comes with deeply identifying with a place. These Texans see the land as an extension of themselves because it is the space that bore them and many of their predecessors. Not a century ago, much of this land was still rugged and uninhabited. The TLTC attendees were, in many cases, the direct descendants of people who pioneered this state.

Yet the identity of Texans is threatened. The state is currently losing 200,000 acres of open space every year, which is of major importance to the landscape and the ecosystem as well as to state residents. Suburbs and developments contribute to habitat fragmentation, land and water pollution and the disappearance of thousands of acres of trees, grasslands and wetlands that are an essential to biodiversity and, ultimately, to Texas identity.

Land that has been developed cannot be undeveloped: land that bears the scars of bulldozers and buildings cannot soon enough become an integral part of the ecosystem again. If it goes, plants, animals and essential human elements go with it.

Preserving land is one of the most essential measures we can take to ensure a healthy planet, and, as the Texans I met recognize, a healthy society. No hunter, rancher, lawyer, biologists or environmentalist would be anything without the space that sustains him or the land that defines him. People across America need to take a cue from this mentality and apply it to where they live.

I am nothing but a first generation Texan by way of New England. But as I returned to Houston from Austin, I felt proud to be part of the beauty of the sprawling grasslands and spreading sky--in the same way I am proud of forests and lakes I grew up with. We do not need to be natives to a place to identify with its natural beauty or frailty, nor do we have to be natives to make a difference to the space we inhabit.

This modern age encourages us to move from place to place as we pursue our right to opportunity, happiness and success. We must not let this peripatetic lifestyle keep us from 'putting our boots on the ground.' The best way to care about our natural surroundings is to spend in them. The more we enjoy where we live, the more likely we are to recognize how integral the space is to our lives.

It is intimidating to consider that we are nothing without the land that sustains us. But the thought is also inspiring: we can each make a difference in protecting and preserving the earth, in a hands-on and immediate way. Visit your local land trust, public park, urban garden or arboretum to see how you can get involved. Or use one of the following national resources for inspiration. You'll feel proud that you did.

Land Trust Alliance

The Trust for Public Land

The Nature Conservancy

Urban Harvest

Willie's Place at Carl's Corner

Right after Willie's Third of July Picnic at the world's most famous truck stop that is its own incorporated city, Carl's Corner was shut down to be retrofitted as a biodiesel refinery and futuristic truck stop. Too many false starts and delays later, the new Willie's Place at Carl's Corner, right on I35 East, a couple miles from the I 35 split at Hillsboro, reopened with a bang Tuesday night with a special concert by Willie and Asleep at the Wheel promoting their Willie and the Wheel western swing album.

The new Carl's (or Willie's, or whatever you want to call it) is nice and shiny with a bar and restaurant, a huge convenience store and gift shop that is the defacto home of Willie souvenirs, the Sirius XM studio home of Willie's Place where Dallas Wayne sits behind the mic Monday through Friday, and the 800 seat Willie's Place theater.

Carl Cornelius remains the Godfather of the truck stops and locals who grew up with Willie in nearby Abbott are frequent visitors. Carl's right hand man, Jeff Promes, who showed me around the work in progress a couple years ago when I was finishing the Willie book, was on hand for the reopening, putting out fires and admitting to me he didn't think he'd see the day. But here it is.

Trucks were filling up on BioWillie biodiesel and cars were gassing up on conventional fuel reasonably priced ($1.79 a gal for regular).

The chicken fried steak, burgers and salads all got my thumb's up, the photos on the wall are a wonderful tour of Willie's life, but it was the radio station and the concert hall that got me hot n bothered. I sat with Dallas on-air on Willie's Place, and then Dallas yielded his chair to Bill Mack, who will be on Willie's Place 11 to 2 daily, broadcasting from his home studio in Fort Worth with Sweet City. Bill proceeded to interview Kinky Friedman and Steve Fromholz, who provided the punch lines to all of Kinky's comments ("Drunk Driving" was priceless, Steve), before the concert was broadcast live. It will be aired again on Willie's Place radio Saturday at 2pm central.

I saw Jackie and Faye Dell Clements, Willie's childhood friends, and chatted with Wally Selman of the Texas Opry House. Wally told me that people ask him if all the stuff he told me for the book was true and he tells them Yes. Then he paused and said, 'It's a good thing I didn't tell you everything, or we'd both be dead.'
John Burnett, National Public Radio reporter and ace harmonica player, was on hand. He said he met Mickey Raphael for the first time earlier that evening and that they also shared a love of cycling, so I see a friendship in the making and possible coverage for Mickey's upcoming project, the Naked Willie album, which strips away all the Nashville sweetening on Willie's 60s vintage recordings, much like Naked Beatles stripped the Phil Spector bombast from Let It Be. Bob "Daddy-O" Wade, the artist who created the dancing frogs on the roof of Carl's, was on hand as were loads of fans from all over the state. The Kinkster said he drove his truck alone from Medina to make the show.

Ruby Jane proved herself to be a fiddler to watch, the clarinet and trumpet added a rich sheen of New Orleans jazz on top of the western swing base, Willie rose to the occasion with some fine guitar picking (playing songs not normally in his set list took him out of his comfort zone and he responded admirably). But I gotta say, I got off most on watching the interplay between Floyd Domino and Ray Benson. The Wheel's pianist and guitarist go back almost forty years and were the two players on stage most familiar with one another, effortlessly quote Thelonius Monk and other jazz cats into the swing tunes.

Before the show, I had the pleasure of introducing Floyd to Bill Mack, who is not only the world's greatest truckers' disc jockey but a hell of a songwriter. Bill's biggest hit was "Drinking Champagne" and Floyd told him it was an honor to record the song with George Strait in the studio. In other words, Floyd had a hand in playing the song that has earned Bill hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Carl's is going to book music on a regular basis. This weekend it's Darrell McCall, Mona McCall, Justin Trevino, Amber Digby, and the Heart of Texas Music revue from Brady, under the direction of Tracey Pitcox. Johnny Bush and Ray Price are coming soon.

All of a sudden there's plenty of reasons to take a pause for the cause at the I 35 split, other than the Turkey Shop in Abbott.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Listen to Jalapeno Radio Live

desde Sananto en vivo

escuche adelante!!

I didn't know you could listen online til now.


Saving Radio Jalapeno KEDA Burns

The only conjunto radio station in the nation, KEDA AM 1540, San Antonio, aka Radio Jalapeno had a fire and will hold a fundraiser at the station Sunday with chicken, rice and beans, music, and a whole lotta good vibes.

Here's the story from the Feb 19 edition of the San Antonio Express News

RICKY DAVILA:“Güero Polkas” has a fabled show on the station.
Quick hits
Tex Mex Kadillaks, Marky Lee y Hache III and DJ Jake tear the joint apart Friday night at Cool Arrows, 1025 Nogalitos. and are billing the fun as "Fan Fair Party 2009." Call (210) 978-2365 or (210) 227-5130.
— Hector Saldaña
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By Hector Saldaña - Express-News Staff Writer

Since its inception in March 1966, KEDA-AM has been a community radio station. First and foremost, that was Manuel Davila Sr.'s vision of the down-home venture — along with the renegade “Radio Jalapeño” mix of rock 'n' soul, conjunto, Tejano, R&B and oldies.

Sure enough, tune in on any given day or night and one will likely hear radio personality Ricky “Güero Polkas” Davila doing live and pretaped voiceover commercials and public service announcements for everything under the sun while spinning Freddy Fender, Flaco Jimenez, Los Padrinos and Bo Diddley, as well as obscure local heroes.

His is a fabled, soulful show in the Wolfman Jack and Howlin' Rooster tradition (a bit of that excitement was captured in David Byrne's 1986 film “True Stories”).

Now, KEDA, the first Mexican American-owned station, is asking for the community's help.

On Feb. 10, a fire knocked out its transmitter tower. It was the first time the 5,000-watt station had ever gone silent, said program director Albert Davila.

The radio station was running at 25 percent power last week and is back up to 50 percent.

Sunday, KEDA is organizing a fundraiser on its parking lot, where the gang will be selling barbecue chicken and sausage plates with all the trimmings for $5. The party at 501 South Flores St. runs from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

But organizers will surely welcome larger donations. They need to raise in the neighborhood of $15,000 for the cost of the transmitter parts.

“I walked into the station today, and a guy walked up to me and hands me a hundred bucks,” said Albert Davila. “I've gotten a lot of comments like no other station plays the local and regional artists like we do, and if we lose KEDA we're all going to be in trouble.”

Davila said surprises are in store, including a car show, and a jam session is possible.

“Folks probably take it for granted,” said writer and avid listener Joe Nick Patoski, author of “Willie Nelson: An Epic Life” and “Selena: Como la Flor.”

“It's a static-y radio station, but it's no lie that Radio Jalapeño is the only conjunto radio station in the nation and has done more to amplify conjunto music not only in San Antonio and South Texas, but throughout the world.”

Patoski also called KEDA the voice of the community.

“Once upon a time, stations like this were in every city and served their audience. Now it's an anachronism in the age of corporate radio, and you can hear the difference,” he said.

Find news, concert updates and more in the Latin Notes Now blog on, Keyword: Entertainment.

The only reason I knew the story ran was this nice note from Roy Davila of the Davila family:

"Joe, thank You on behalf of the Davila Family. Davila Broadcasting Keda Radio AM ( American-Mexican Radio ). We have always consider You a Friend and Compadre. Gracias Carnal for Your kind words. Roy Davila "

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Ballad of El Molino

It's all true.

Photo By Kris Cummings

The Ballad of El Molino
By Bill Bentley
(Originally Published: 10/11/2002, The Austin Chronicle)

In Texas, it's damn near impossible to start a band so unscrewed that even hardcore fans shake their heads in wonder at the absurdity of it. After all, this is a state that helped invent Western swing (Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys), acid rock (the 13th Floor Elevators), blues rock (ZZ Top), cosmic cowboy (Freda & the Firedogs), and punk polka (Brave Combo). Texans have pretty much heard it all. When it comes to El Molino, however, not even its founder, one Joe "King" Carrasco, can make much sense of it today.

The year was 1976, and Carrasco was a young Anglo rocker who wanted to get in the thick of the East Austin Tex-Mex sound quick. He'd played in a few groups (Shorty y los Corvettes among them), and had even picked up a new last name, one given him in respect by one of his bandleader bosses. Carrasco knew that if he was going to make a splash, he had to have his own conjunto. So he did what any self-respecting Texan would do: He went out and stole someone else's. And it wasn't just anyone else's band. It was the mighty Doug Sahm's aggregation, which was simply one of the all-time greatest groups in the history of the whole damn Lone Star State.

In one brilliant, ballsy move, Carrasco got the kickingest combo around. The only catch was that hardly anyone had ever heard of him, and he couldn't find anywhere to play. Not one to be deterred by reality, the Ft.Worth-via-Dumas native headed straight for the mother lode, San Antonio, to make an album. Surely that would get him some headlines. Once he got the rather nefarious crew calling themselves El Molino situated in Zaz Studios, Carrasco and crew cut what has to be one of the best "lost" albums in Texas rock & roll history.

Consider the players. On tenor saxophone, Eracleo "Rocky" Morales had been a legend in San Antonio since almost before Carrasco was born. He was the kind of musician for whom other players lowered their voices to sing his praises, as if they were speaking of more than a mere mortal, a brujo of the barrio. The tenor king held serious sway off the bandstand as well, with an endless appetite for MD 20-20 wine and the occasional cheeseburger ripened for days in a coat pocket.

Morales' erstwhile blowing buddy, Charlie MacBurney, was the king of the trumpet players in a trumpet-player's town. He could play just about any song ever written, as well as wax rhapsodic about Clifford Brown, Kenny Dorham, or any number of other jazz trumpet titans. On keyboards, Arturo "Sauce" Gonzales had earned his nickname, getting his pick of gigs around San Antonio in the process.

Guitarist Ike Ritter was the captain of Austin stratospheric psychedelic rock, and capable of endless interplanetary hijinks. Dueling drummers Ernie "Murphey" Durawa had first played with Sahm in junior high, while Richard "eh eh" Elizondo had single-handedly invented a new language based on his nonsensical take on the universe. He also established a whole slew of penguin worshippers thanks to his nickname, "El Pinguino." Considering Elizondo stood at less than five feet, had a small hunchback, as well as a missing thumb on one hand (hence his famous hip handshake exhortation, "Gimme four, dude"), it's no surprise his reputation preceded him.

Bassist Speedy Sparks started his musical career as doorman at Austin's legendary Soap Creek Saloon, then let it slip one day he had a Fender P-bass in his closet. Farfisa organist David Mercer was the mystery man of the band, and quickly got dubbed the "tokin' straight." Add on a few other musicians here and there, including Sir Doug's right-hand bro Augie Meyers, and you had a lineup capable of just about anything: polkas, rancheras, double shuffles, cumbias, R&B, rock, misdemeanors, felonies, whatever.

Once the studio smoke cleared, Carrasco minted 5,000 albums and named the label after his girlfriend Lisa. Here's where I come in. The singer was going on an extended vacation in Europe with his mother, and needed someone to sublet his apartment at the end of 22 1/2 Street in the West Campus area. Needing a new place to live, I jumped at the chance to take over Casa Carrasco. Little did I know of the late-night musical visitors I would inherit, not to mention the entire pressing of his LP.

Asked what to do about the stockpile in the living room, Carrasco shrugged it off: "Sell 'em, I guess," he laughed. Easy for him to say. So he split town and I moved in, sharing space with bright red piles of records for the next three months, along with dealing with the nocturnal house calls. My favorite happened to be the one-eyed accordionist Esteban Jordan. It was easy to tell when he was about to knock: His huge black Chevy van could be heard and smelled a block away. When Carrasco finally returned, we laughed about the intricacies of the record business, something Carrasco hasn't spent much time worrying about since.

Gradually, all 5K albums got siphoned off to various record stores and writers, and proceeded to earn an underground reputation money can't buy. Carrasco himself switched to nuevo wavo for his next run at the charts, and christened his new band the Crowns. Most of El Molino went back to working for one of Sahm's many musical endeavors. I kept the apartment. The album all but disappeared after its initial 1978 release, resurfacing only as a cassette reissue on the ROIR label in 1989 until its Tornado Records CD debut this month, a label I've been lucky to be a part of.

In the best of worlds, now would be about the time for an El Molino reunion. Carrasco has lost none of his manic pursuit of rock & roll, but the fates haven't smiled quite as brightly for some of the other members of the band. Both Elizondo and Ritter have passed away, and MacBurney has blown his horn for the last time, retiring several years ago.

Morales is still going strong as leader of the Westside Horns, though, playing tenor solos that can curl your toes. Gonzales can be found in any number of S.A. bands, while Durawa and Sparks became MVPs on the Austin roots rock circuit decades ago. That leaves Mercer as the MIA musician, maybe because he never seemed crazy enough to fit in during the group's brief but bodacious life, anyway.

If there is a lesson to be learned from Joe "King" Carrasco's leap-of-faith beginnings in El Molino, it's that there's no idea too crazy to stop a hardheaded German-Texan from trying. It worked for Doug Sahm in 1964 when he called his group the Sir Douglas Quintet and pawned them off as being English, and it worked for Joe Teutsch when he changed his name to Carrasco.

That probably won't get any of this lot into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but for those lucky enough to have caught their magic on any given night during the Seventies in a bar in Austin or Helotes, San Antonio or San Marcos, it's the perfect payoff for the pursuit of musical happiness. As El Pinguino would say: "muchos conjejos." Or something along those lines.
— Republished: 02/13/2009 (by permission from Rock's Back Pages)

Bill Mack on WIllie's Place

Bill Mack, the Satellite Cowboy and the Truckers' Friend, is migrating from XM Radio's Open Road Channel 171 to Willie's Place, the radio home of honky-tonk (Channel 13 on XM Radio and Channel 64 on Sirius) starting next Monday.

Bill is a broadcasting legend and my favorite country music disc jockey who's been playing music and talking to truckers since the 1960s, famously on WBAP AM from Fort Worth where he was the Midnight Cowboy, broadcasting to truckers across the nation, and for the past few years on XM.

Bill was an invaluable resource for my book Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, especially on Wednesdays, because Willie calls in to talk to truckers. That midday practice will continue on Willie's Place, where Bill will complement the current lineup that includes Dallas Wayne, broadcasting live from Willie's Place at Carl's Corner, Interstate 35 E at the Hillsboro split, 55 miles south of Dallas, in Hill County, Willie Nelson's home county.

Willie and the Wheel will wrap up their western swing tour at Willie's/Carl's on February 24 and 25. I'll be there on the first night, signing books.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

NPR Does Marfa (and so does JNP)

On Saturday, January 31, National Public Radio's Weekend Edition did a piece on Donald Judd and Marfa. It's pretty OK, especially since Boyd Elder, the Wise Man of Marfa Art who's wise enough to live in Valentine, is featured, talking about the Prada Marfa art piece and mojados passing through, and the attachment of both to bags. (Click on the headline to listen to the piece or go here

For a whole other take, I wrote What Would Donald Judd Do? eight years ago for Talk Magazine, an article that was held then disappeared when the mag folded.

Both are pasted in below. (By the way, do listen to It's one of the best NPR affiliates anywhere and features great music every day and night. Special kudos to Rocka Billy, who ends his Thursday night shift playing Joe "King" Carrasco's "Houston El Mover")

Visual Arts
Donald Judd Found Perfect Canvas In Texas Town

by Anne Goodwin Sides

Donald Judd
In the 1970s, artist Donald Judd grew frustrated with New York City's small gallery spaces. He moved to Marfa, Texas, where he created giant works of art that bask beneath vast desert skies. Judd died in 1994. Courtesy Judd Foundation Archives

Glass walls let the sunlight play against the surfaces of 100 boxes in old artillery sheds.Sunlight streams through glass walls and bounces off the surfaces of 100 boxes housed inside a pair of immense artillery sheds on an old army base. Chinati Foundation

An exterior view of the artillery shed housing Judd's 100 untitled works in mill aluminum.

Judd In His Own Words Watch clips from Chris Felver's film Donald Judd's Marfa, Texas. This is the last interview with Judd before his death in 1994:
Staying true to a building's original nature.

Art that is made for the building it occupies.

The Cobb House was renovated by Judd in the early 1990s.
The Cobb House was renovated by Judd in the early 1990s.

John Chamberlain's sculptures of crumpled cars.

Judd created spaces to feature other artists' work as well. Above, John Chamberlain's 24 variously titled works in painted and chromium steel.

“Just in the way that the desert is extremely rich and beautiful and it doesn't have a lot of trees, I think he was interested in creating extremely rich work that didn't have a lot of trees, if you know what I mean.” Rainer Judd, Donald's daughter

Prada, Marfa is a faux boutique displaying Prada bags and shoes in the middle of the sparse Texas landscape. "It's got a great ironic factor to it," says Marfa resident Boyd Elder. "I hate it, but then in another way, it's so outrageous, you've got to love it."

Highway 90 cuts through the sun-blistered West Texas borderlands between El Paso and Big Bend. It stops once: for the blinking light in the tiny town of Marfa. Marooned in a dry blond prairie, Marfa's desolate beauty is the kind of blank slate filmmakers love; you can catch glimpses of the town in Giant, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood.

Marfa was also the perfect canvas for artist Donald Judd's ambitious dream to create a Xanadu of contemporary art — an indoor-outdoor museum where artworks come alive beneath the wide blue skies and sharp Texas light.

Judd was a cantankerous, larger-than-life figure who was born in Missouri; served in the U.S. Army in Korea; and graduated cum laude from Columbia University with a degree in philosophy. Four years after his graduation, he had his first solo show in New York in 1957.

By the time he had turned 40, Judd had already scored a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art. His meticulously proportioned aluminum and colored Plexiglas boxes were as much a signature of the 1960s as the work of Andy Warhol, Richard Serra and Frank Stella.

Yet Judd grew frustrated with New York's small gallery spaces. He wanted his art displayed in what he considered "clean" settings: unmediated by titles or artist's statements or curators' notes. So, in 1971 he moved to Marfa, Texas.

An Ambitious Art Fiefdom

Judd bought 16 decaying buildings, an entire decommissioned Army base, and three ranches spread across 40,000 acres.

"Basically, he behaved like a Texan," says Carl Ryan, a longtime friend and Judd's lawyer. "Don didn't want all the land in Presidio County. He just wanted what he had, and what joined him, and what he could see from there."

In Marfa, Judd could finally realize his art on a grand scale. On the old army base, he transformed a pair of immense artillery sheds into modern art cathedrals. Glass walls let the sunlight play against the surfaces of 100 of Judd's boxes, making some shimmer. Some glow from within like furnaces.

For his residence, Judd turned two former airplane hangars into a starkly modern compound called the Block. Craig Rember, the Judd Foundation's collections manager, calls it a fusion of art and architecture.

"Here at the Block, not only do you see his furniture, his art, his living spaces, [but] how he modified his living spaces for art and working," Rember says.

Rember swings open the square, metal-and-glass front door that gracefully pivots in the center and steps into a bedroom the size of a basketball court. Inside are three variations of the artist's "stacks," which Rember says are among Judd's most acclaimed work. In each piece, 10 boxes of stainless steel and yellow and blue Plexiglas climb the walls in mathematically calibrated progressions. Larger boxes are placed in the center of the room, like sleek, futuristic sarcophagi.

Not A Personal Shrine

Judd dedicated equally lavish spaces to the artists he admired most. A cavernous warehouse along the railroad tracks houses John Chamberlain's baroque sculptures of crumpled car parts. Six U-shaped barracks are the stage for Dan Flavin's hypnotic light installations. New York painter David Novros was commissioned by Judd to create work specifically for Judd's exhibition spaces.

"There are a lot of artists who've had similar visions about having art in place, but they only think about it for themselves," Novros says. "They only think about how they'll get their own projects built, you know? Don's way beyond that. He was thinking about places where art could be seen by everybody for free, made by a lot of different people who all shared this one idea about making a thing in place. And that's really unique."

While many of the spaces Judd created in Marfa have remained virtually unchanged since his death from cancer in 1994, some things have changed.

If you come into Marfa at night, you'll hit the brakes at a bright candy box of a store, emitting an extraterrestrial glow. It's an art installation, called Prada, Marfa — a faux boutique displaying beautifully lit Prada bags and shoes. It's hard to tell whether this store-as-sculpture is meant to be whimsical or wry. Is it art disguised as commerce? Or a big wet advertisement for Prada pretending to be art?

Boyd Elder is a videographer and artist whose painted cow skulls graced album covers for the Eagles. He knew Judd for 20 years. Elder works out of a studio in an old water tank within sight of Prada, Marfa.

"The really ironic thing about it is," Elder muses, "you think about all the morales, all the immigrants who've walked across the desert in huaraches and tennis shoes and cactus stalks woven into sandals ... and carrying a bag. Then you walk by the Prada store and you see these shoes and these Prada bags on the immigrant, drug-dealing path into the North. So it's got a great ironic factor to it, you know what I mean? I hate it, but then in another way, it's so outrageous, you've got to love it."

Judd's two children grew up in this vast raw desert where sculptures outnumber people. Rainer, his 38-year-old daughter, oversees her father's estate as president of the Judd Foundation's board. She says living in Marfa took some adjustment.

"As a kid, I was really into trees. And I would say, 'Where are the trees? There aren't any trees here,' " Judd remembers. "The reason I mention trees is he would say, 'If you look out here, you can actually see the shape of the land, where if it's covered with trees you can't see it.' And I think about the way he would talk about his work in defense, when people would call it minimalist and he didn't like that description. Just in the way that the desert is extremely rich and beautiful and it doesn't have a lot of trees, I think he was interested in creating extremely rich work that didn't have a lot of trees, if you know what I mean."

The environment Donald Judd created in Marfa has drawn countless other artists who've put their own stamp on the town. Marfa's become a trendy art Mecca that's attracting celebrities. Weather-beaten ranchers still eat homemade donuts at Formica tables in Carmen's Cafe. But they may be sitting next to Lance Armstrong or Julia Roberts.

To capture her father's relationship with the town, Rainer Judd began filming a documentary two years ago, called Marfa Voices. One of them belongs to Jack Brunson, who helped Donald Judd build his art. It took Brunson a while to fully appreciate Judd's 15 concrete cubes, arrayed across a field of tall prairie grass.

"You have to stop and look at those and wonder what in the heck they are," Brunson says in the documentary. "But you sit up there on the hill and look back down there and watch that in the afternoon, and you watch the shadows move about, you can see you're looking at something that you never saw before. You don't realize it driving up the highway — you see these blocks out there and there's nothing. But if you get to the proper place and look, and watch — take your time and watch — you see art!"

And that's exactly what Donald Judd wanted.


"It is my hope that my works of art will be preserved where they are installed." - Donald Judd

Images: "It's his version of cathedrals." Judd's permanent installations at the Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas. And: Donald Judd, 1994.

"It's not a healthy thing, to inherit someone's life," Laments Rainer Judd, the 30-year-old daughter of artist Donald Judd, after settling into a folding chair in the conference room of her father's Print Building, formerly the old Crews Hotel in Marfa, Texas. A long rifle in a hand-tooled leather rifle holder with the initials DJ is propped in the corner, within arm's reach.

A small town in the high Chihuahua Desert, Marfa is smack-dab in the middle of the proverbial nowhere, 200 miles from the nearest airport with scheduled service. It's so isolated and lightly settled (population 2,121) that the vistas go on forever-mountains 80 miles distant are clearly visible on most days-and the nighttime skies are among the darkest in North America.

It's an unlikely setting for a bitter, soap opera-like dispute over a renowned artist's multimillion-dollar empire, a dispute that began as a tug-of-war between Judd's two grown children and Marianne Stockebrand, the striking German woman with whom Judd, who died in 1994, spent the last seven years of his life, and that has escalated into an epic battle engaging the whole community. Should Marfa be frozen in time as a monument to what Judd accomplished there, or should it evolve into a creative mecca with galleries and shops? Indeed, what should art be: a thing in itself-pure and inviolable, static and unchanging, as Judd posited in his writings - or a cultural catalyst, as the town's most recent newcomers would have it?

It's not necessarily a healthy thing for a town to try to sort out Donald Judd's legacy, either. But that's what Maria has been doing, especially since last October, when art pilgrims began finding their way to this remote place in growing numbers to behold the Dan Flavin "Marfa Project," an untitled permanent installation of 360 fluorescent tubes in the barracks of an army camp that Judd turned into the Chinati Foundation (named for the mountain range between the site and the Rio Grande, with Mexico beyond).

After the pilgrims see the Flavin, and after they see Judd's 100 aluminum cubes housed in two airplane hangar-size artillery sheds, Judd's giant concrete cubes scattered across half a mile of grassland, the Claes Oldenburg horseshoe that perfectly frames Cathedral Mountain, Ilya Kabakov's too-close-for-comfort recreation of a Russian schoolhouse abandoned upon the fall of the Soviet Union, and the works of Roni Horn, Carl Andre, and John Wesley, they eventually find their way into town, where no matter where they go they're confronted with a cryptic question, posited on the rear bumpers of SUVs and crew cabs, across the fronts of T-shirts, and in the windows of stores: WWDJD? (What Would Donald Judd Do?, a takeoff of the teen Christian slogan What Would Jesus Do?).

The question goes a long way toward explaining the unusual connection between a cow town and a prominent artist who hated galleries and museums so much that he created his own art universe in far west Texas. It also speaks of the shadow Judd continues to cast, seven years after his death at the age of 65, and the endless rounds of second-guessing over what he had in mind when he stipulated in his will that a trust be created to protect his private holdings and collections, and then in a deathbed codicil named Marianne Stockebrand (whom he tapped before his death to succeed him as director of the Chinati Foundation) as an additional executor of his estate-along with his daughter Rainer, his now 33-year-old son Flavin, and his longtime attorney John J. Jerome and declared that Stockebrand "shall be in charge of the operation of any museum facility conducted by the trust."

These latter instructions, which led to Stockebrand's appointment as director of the trust, called the Judd Foundation, in addition to her duties at the Chinati, are what ignited the debate over his legacy.

Jerome declined his executorship, and Stockebrand gave hers up in 1996 in exchange for certain Judd artworks and payment of legal fees she incurred. But Rainer and Flavin Judd are now feuding with Stockebrand over what portions of Judd's estate qualify as museums and thus fall under Stockebrand's jurisdiction, even as the estate is in the process of transferring Judd's assets to the Judd Foundation.

Unlike Rainer, Marianne Stockebrand has no problem inheriting someone's life, since it's Donald Judd's. She feels it's her professional responsibility. Indeed, she seems to have been practically predestined for the job. Stockebrand came from an upper-class family in Cologne and earned a Ph.D. in art history from Ludwig-Maximillians University in Munich. She had a successful career as a curator at the Krefelder Kunstmuseen and as director of the Westf'Šlischer Kunstverein in MŸnster and the Kšlnischer Kunstverein in Cologne, where she met Judd, who was a high-profile celebrity in Germany.

In the years before he died Stockebrand was his Boswell-helping him write catalogs and prepare exhibitions-as well as his lover. Since his passing there's been no other man in the 55-year-old Stockebrand's life. The Chinati is her convent.

Rainer and Elavin Judd are the supplicants in this passion play, ostracized by much of Marfa for adhering strictly to the tenets laid down by their father, at least as they understood them. After leaving each child $300,000, Donald Judd requested that they oversee disposition of his estate, worth somewhere between $30 million and $60 million but saddled with more than $5.5 million in debt when lymphoma finally took him down. The still unresolved settlement has run up legal and accounting bills exceeding $2 million and has been so time-consuming that both of Judd's offspring had to put their budding film careers on hold. Aspiring actress /screenwriter Rainer lives in Los Angeles, while aspiring director Flavin still lives in Marfa, having used his inheritance to buy the Porter House, one of Judd's residences.

Rainer and Flavin contend that Judd's extensive holdings should be preserved as they are-a testament to the vision of one of the art giants of the 20th century-and they have Judd's own words to back them up: "Too often, I believe, the meaning of a work of art is lost as a result of a thoughtless or unsuitable placement of the work for display," his will reads. "The installation of my own work, for example, as well as that of others, is contemporary with its creation, and the space surrounding the work is crucial to it. Frequently as much thought has gone into the placement of a piece as into the piece itself. It is my hope that such of my works of art which I own at the time of my death will be preserved where they are installed."

Rainer echoes her father's sentiments: "The art and architecture are related just as much as frescoes in cathedrals are. It's his version of cathedrals. It's about creating something more sacred than museums." The Chinati Foundation has advanced Judd's concept of the permanent installation to a point where other institutions are using it as a blueprint. But the foundation differs with the Judd kids when it comes to determining what to keep and what to sell. Stockebrand is willing to consider disposing of some of Judd's property-in particular the Print Building in Marfa and, in the heart of New York's Soho neighborhood, 10 1 Spring Street (the five-story building Judd purchased in 1968 where the seeds of this new art movement first bore fruit)to advance his better-known public works. The kids say this is tantamount to blasphemy.

Newcomers to Marfa-painters, printmakers, potters, gallery people also have a stake in the dispute, since it speaks so directly to what Marfa will become. They're championing the community as a rising colony of creativity, not to mention a pleasant weekend getaway-if you have a private jet. Many even say it's the next Santa Fe-not too far-fetched a comparison, since Marfa has the same dry climate, the same sharp light, and the same blend of desert and mountains. But a large percentage of Marfa residents think Santa Fe is horrible and that the kinds of people it attracts would reduce Marfa to a pop imitation of its former self Which moves the old guard, which remembers it as a ranching town landlocked by cattle kingdoms the size of small states, to wonder what the hell is going on.

"I'm the optimist in the family," maintains Rainer Judd, who offers her early recollections of Marfa-which were formed by a contentious custody fight-as evidence that she has a different perspective from most of the art crowd. Donald Judd and Rainer's mother, Julie Finch, a dancer, were still married when he rented a summer house here in 197 1. They divorced in 1976, shortly after Judd took up permanent residence. Then, in May 1977, he practically kidnapped his children, picking them up at school in New York City as if they were going on a weekend outing and flying them to Marfa. Rainer was six; Flavin was nine. The legal battle ultimately wound up at the Presidio County Court House, where the kids told the judge and jury that they wanted to live with their father. Judd was awarded custody. "I knew he'd won," Rainer says, "by the way he was driving his pickup so fast up the road.

"We had a house on a hill with a windmill, and we all had horses," she remembers fondly. "It was very western. I dressed like a cowboy until a sweet little lady showed me cowgirl clothes." Rainer and Flavin attended Marfa schools through the end of junior high, but their lives were hardly typical of small-town kids. Judd pulled them out of school a month early so they could spend summers traveling in Europe. "We were one-fourth European, really" Rainer says. Weekends during the rest of the year were reserved for the Ayala de Chinati ranch, the property Judd valued most of all his holdings. "I'd always want to take a friend, because there was no electricity, no hot water," says Rainer. "We read by candlelight." And Judd treated her and her friends like adults. "We'd sit by the fire and talk. It developed in me a wondering type of thinking, free to ask questions. Some parents take their kids hunting or to Disneyland. Driving to the land, making fires, and talking was his gift.

That seems so long ago," Rainer says,sighing, as she returns to reality What this 5 all about now is numbers. It's not the kids wanting to have a good time."


Donald Judd first laid eyes on these bare mountains in 1946, an Army soldier on the way to Korea via Fort McClellan, Alabama, and Los Angeles. The scenery inspired him to send a telegram to his mother back home in Missouri.

Twenty-five years later-after helping to usher in the cool school of minimalism in the early 1960s, scoring a retrospective at the Whitney when he was still under 40, and creating an art presence in Soho before it became Soho-Judd ran out of patience with what he described as "the harsh and glib situation within art in New York" and decided to move west.

He honed in on Marfa, an Anglo-Mexican community that had lost about half its population over the previous 30 years, where property was cheap and abundant. Judd began buying land (three ranches totaling more than 40,000 acres) and restoring vacant houses and buildings, including a bank, a supermarket, and a locker plant, which he turned into, among other things, a writing house, a library, an architect's office, and a studio. He employed as many as 60 people more workers than any other single company in Marfa-to create what would amount to Juddville. He even bought the Kingston Hot Springs near the Rio Grande, which had been used by locals for more than 200 years, and closed it to the public.

In the mid-'70s the Dia Foundation, underwritten by Houston oil heiress Philippa de Menil Friedrich and her husband Heiner Friedrich, a former art dealer from Germany, began funding artists working outside conventional gallery settings (Walter De Maria's Lightning Field near Pie Town, New Mexico, is one of their better-known projects) and purchased the 340-acre Fort D.A. Russell, which is south of town, to permanently exhibit works by Judd and his friends. But in the mid-'80s Dia cut off funding due to slumping oil prices. Judd threatened to sue for breach of contract, eventually settling out of court. He got the fort and the artwork, and reorganized them as the Chinati Foundation, which officially opened in 1986.

Marianne Stockebrand too was struck by the landscapes and all the space when she first laid eyes on Marfa, in 1989; she was in the company of Donald Judd. "Coming from Europe, I was surprised by how far you could drive without seeing another car. The distances were startling." She was putting together a show of Judd's furniture and architecture projects for the Kšlnischer Kunstverein and was editing previously published essays for a book on his architecture when their relationship became more than professional. Judd was as drawn to the brown-eyed woman with the prominent, finely sculpted cheekbones as she was to him.

"He had a place in Cologne and opened a studio there," recalls Stockebrand. "And he asked me to come here and work at Chinati. When he was diagnosed, that didn't happen. "The two did, however, talk of marriage as Judd lay dying in a New York hospital.

When Stockebrand became its director, the Chinati Foundation had less than $500 in the bank. Since then, she has built a $2 million endowment, with a long-term target of $14 million to finish what Judd intended: preparing his concrete buildings to exhibit a large amount of his artwork currently in storage, creating a permanent installation for John Wesley's paintings, and documenting the site's military history.

But Stockebrand didn't just have to learn how to run a struggling foundation; she had to learn Marfa. "When she first came here, English was clearly her second language," one acquaintance recalls. "She was frosty in a Germanic way-very, very rigid. You'd never see her out in the community But the years have softened her. She shows up at parties. She attends events. She's much more integrated. Don Judd was a daunting figure. She can be that too. I wouldn't want to cross her."

Stockebrand lives in the heart of Juddville, between the old bank and old Safeway buildings Judd bought, and across the street from the Marfa Wool and Mohair building, where John Chamberlain's car wreck metal sculptures are exhibited. "She's the only person I've encountered who can live that minimalist lifestyle," a friend says, describing the small, Spartan residence, a block from the main drag, that Stockebrand shares with her two cats. No art or sentimental photographs adorn the walls, and furnishings are sparse, dominated by a Donald Judd desk.

She's a regular at the bookstore, she lunches at the coffee shop, and sometimes she shows up at art functions, but otherwise Stockebrand sticks to Chinati affairs, in Marfa and around the world. She clearly enjoys living in a place where she can be left alone. And yet she's also palpably happy about the way the Chinati has revitalized the community: "I wouldn't want to see this as an artists' colony in a kitschy sort of way-one souvenir shop next to another-but I think it's very nice to be able to buy olive oil here and have it on a salad with lettuce that wasn't wilted last week, as it used to be."

But while she has acclimated herself to Marfa, and the financial situation at the Chinati has improved, Stockebrand remains embroiled in the wrapping up of the estate, which has pitted her against the Judd kids. She believes the Chinati Foundation and the Judd Foundation should be managed as a single entity. "From the artistic point of view, they should be done together," she contends. "It's all Judd's work. It's this tiny town in Texas. Cohesion in planning and fund-raising makes sense." Such a merger, of course, would also bolster the Chinati's financial footing by eliminating competition for funding and allowing the combined foundation to sell off portions of the Judd estate when and if the public works project is threatened.

"Everything doesn't have to merge together like some great corporation," counters Rainer Judd. "Marianne doesn't want this [print] building here to exist. She believes it's not a permanent installation, and therefore isn't valid. It's a permanent exhibit. What's wrong with that? That's what he wanted. They've tried to get us to sell Spring Street before it's transferred to the Judd Foundation. But we can't bend [on that]. We're Judd's kids. We're the spine."

Richard Schlagman, owner of the art book publishing company Phaidon Press and president of the Judd Foundation, backs the kids up. "We absolutely don't want to sell Spring Street," Schlagman says. "Not at all. Ever. In my view it wasn't an actual desire to sell it on Marianne's part but a lack of seeing that it could be saved. I'm sure we can have both Maria and Spring Street."

Flavin Judd lays his cards on the table over breakfast burritos and green chile huevos rancheros at Carmen's Cafe (TIE YOUR HORSE AND COME ON IN, reads the sign out front), while his wife Michele nurses and fusses with their one-year-old son, Pascal. Flavin makes it clear that neither he nor his sister asked for the job of executor, and they sure as hell didn't know they'd have all the debt to clear up. "It's a lousy situation: all these vultures hovering, all these people pretending to care about the art and about Don."

Flavin has put the Porter House up for sale again. He's tired of Maria and Marfa art and Maria art politics, of the pressure to either settle the estate or resign as executor. "They've used figures of authority to scare us," he says. "They want us out. But we're not going anywhere. They don't understand. We didn't grow up with authority figures. We were always told that figures of authority don't know a fucking thing about art. Turns out it was true."

While the foundations duke it out and the Texas attorney general's office attempts to stop the continued bleeding of the estate and make sure Judd's assets are properly dispersed in accordance with the state's charitable trust laws, the town-art synergy has shifted to Lynn and Tim Crowley, the post-Judd "Judds" in Maria. Lynn ran Lynn Goode Gallery in Houston, one of that city's finer contemporary spaces; Tim is an attorney and sits on the Chinati board. Five years ago, after Lynn was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, they bought a place in Marfa as a retreat. Now it's almost a full-time residence. Their Marfa Book Co. has become the social center for the art crowd and much of the rest of the community. And they've gone on a buying spree-snatching up property in town and surrounding ranchland-that has inspired comparisons to Judd. With one major difference: Judd closed his houses and buildings to the public; the Crowleys want to open the spaces up, fill them with artists and art, and make them accessible.

Already Marfa is hopping in a way it hasn't since the movie production of Edna Ferber's Giant came to town, in 1955. El Paisano Hotel, the Spanish Baroque inn where Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Dennis Hopper, and the rest of the cast hung out, is coming back to life as a luxury lodge. Tourists can buy art to take home at Hecho en Marfa, a shop of locally made arts and handicrafts run by the nonprofit Marfa Studio of Arts. And one of the Crowleys' former bookstore employees has opened up a health food store.

But Tim Crowley says it's too early to call Marfa the next Santa Fe. 'Most of our friends from Houston are bewildered," he says, laughing. "They say, 'We heard about art, but all we saw were these huge blocks of concrete.' There's not much going on. The logistics are daunting. Marfa lacks health care, goods, and services. We don't have a drug store. We just got an ATM-I don't think anyone's used it yet. It's a tough-love, challenging type place. You have to want to be here. We just got a restaurant to stay open on Sunday. Before then, all you had was microwave chicken nuggets at the convenience store."

So what would Donald Judd have made of the new Marfa?

Rainer and Flavin Judd think he wouldn't have embraced it. "He didn't come here for Marfa," Flavin says. "He came for the mountains south of here, where the ranches were. If not for my sister and me going to school, he wouldn't have had much to do with Marfa. He was fed up with the town in 1993. He wanted to move his library down to the ranch."

By then Judd had achieved a degree of notoriety from some very public run-ins over noise from the local feed mill and ice plant. And odds are he wouldn't have liked the WWDJD? bumper sticker any more than his daughter does.

"That sticker was created by people who probably never met him," Rainer notes shortly before leaving town again. "People who think he must have been a megalomaniac to create all this."

Not a megalomaniac, perhaps, but a serious collector with very specific ideas about the way things should be. Both Stockebrand and the Judd kids are guided by what they think Donald Judd wanted, but getting an honest assessment from anyone else about who is or isn't on the right track is almost impossible, since so much is riding on what will be done with Judd's properties and extensive collections. The Crowleys, for example, have offered to buy the Print Building in Marfa; Tim Crowley says that the old Crews Hotel could be a nice hotel once again and that soon-to-be Marfa resident Liz Lambert, who owns the Hotel San Jose in Austin, a vintage motor court made over into a hip boutique lodging, could be the hotelier to do it. And John Vinson, an assistant attorney general involved in the case, has a residence in Marfa, too.

Ayala De Chinati, where Judd is buried, is on a south-facing promontory between the Chinati and Sierra Vieja mountain ranges, overlooking the valley of the Rio Grande a majestic landscape of canyons, peaks, and cliffs wholly devoid of humanity. To see it requires numerous formal requests, several telephone calls to landowners to secure permission to drive across their property without being shot at, signatures on forms on which one promises not to stray from the path, an all-terrain vehicle, and a pair of bolt cutters, since some "asshole landowner," as an estate employee puts it, has been putting new locks on gates, cutting off access to the place.

It's 60 miles of bad road from the rim of the Chinatis into Pinto Canyon and down onto the vast slope draining into the Rio Grande-three hours minimum. But when a thunderstorm parks over the Chinatis as darkness falls, dropping buckets of rain (the first rain in almost a year), and the road disappears altogether into a swift-moving stream, it's flat impossible. So I back up and turn around. Near Marfa there are car lights. (I haven't seen a car or person since I left town seven hours ago.) It's the US. Border Patrol. Motion sensors planted in the pavement must have tipped them off. They tail me all the way back into town.

WWDJD? I think he'd say it was worth every bit of the effort.