I lived in front of Adrian Hulet’s piano for two years. It’s been that long since the band broke up, but I can’t listen to the allegedly defunct Oso Closo without crying and seeking psychological adjustment.
Why the dramatics? One may reasonably wonder. Human nature dictates the occasional emotional tug when a particular song sparks a memory of love lost or unrequited. I loved a band. They compelled me to new heights of musical appreciation and gifted upon me pivotal friendships I held dear to my heart. When Oso Closo ceased to play, my back was broken. Their songs held me together through days overworked. I would take nights off from reviewing concerts to go to their shows, just so I could remember why I was killing myself to be a “music journalist.”
One recent laundry day I was set adrift on a nostalgic whim to revisit Oso’s album Today Is Beauty’s Birthday. I should have anticipated the crippling emotional response, considering my staunch avoidance since the breakdown. My loved one’s discovered early on the swift pendulum regulated by the sound of Adrian Hulet’s voice. An evening would run rapidly afoul if so much as a note of Beauty’s Birthday fell within earshot of my precarious nerves. Flashbacks of a festival rendered silent at the news of my favorite group’s fallout — an unsettling reaction that cost me a decent job (apparently, journalists are not supposed to “pledge allegiance to a band”); and it all went down under the harsh rhetoric of small town media gossip.
It started innocent enough. I met the band two weeks after calling off my wedding, approximately two months after my father was arrested for “making a mistake” with my stepsister. It was a crucial time to start fresh. Armed with a bleeding tattoo of a compass sans needle, I took curious aim in the direction of my college hometown: Denton, Texas; a genuinely haunted land populated by Pabst-drinking music aficionados, hipsters, and assorted townie lunatics.
We were fast friends, though my precarious emotional state perpetually twisted my affections in the direction of orbiting musicians. Unassuming as it seemed, they rooted deep in my heart over the years. To this day, I cannot help but drop to the floor at the sound of Adrian’s voice. It is disruptive to my very core.
But when Oso Closo passed away, that voice remained in my head.
I connected deeply with Adrian’s writing, which manifested genius when paired with virtuoso Chris McQueen’s composition. “Biscuit McQ” always seemed slightly afraid of me. As did guitarist Danny Garcia. I certainly don’t blame them, considering my thinly veiled threats following the phoenix-like rise of their new band, Foe Destroyer, which briefly featured four of the five Oso’s. Turns out I hate Oso minus the bear.
“Well, your new band is just super.” I told McQueen through post-show gritted teeth. “I’ve got to run, because I just can’t shake this urge to pound you in the face a little bit.”
“Thanks!” he said. “Wait, what? You want to beat me up?”
“A little bit. But now’s not a great time.”
“Right, wouldn’t want to distract from the band.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t do it here in front of everyone. I’d push you into that alley, away from the show. Anyway, I’m gonna take off. Send my love to Erin.”
We hugged ever so briefly and I left. These violent urges have long since passed; but I still kind of hate that band.
Adrian, on the other hand, held a kindred raucous nature and burly tenderness capable of keeping up with my bawdy antics. After my first Oso show, we carried on through the otherwise quiet streets of Denton, wandering in and out of various house parties. Occasionally we would know someone in the house, but mostly we were making any new friends with kegs.
Life with Oso Closo was a rock opera. The first Fall after we met, the band was chosen by the Dallas Theater Centre’s Kevin Moriarty for The Who’s ‘Tommy.’ The show rocked itself into legend. Incidentally, I missed the entire run on account of sudden onset vertigo that had me bedridden for six weeks. I forever regret missing that show. Alas, loud noises trigger vertiginous episodes capable of striking me deaf.
“You need to stay away from rock shows,” Dr Cruel Irony implored. My mind immediately leapt to the fresh memories of seeing Roger Waters’ Dark Side of the Moon — a night which transcended all previous notions of rock — to the last Oso show, which rocked to a comparable degree. The only difference was my girlfriends didn’t have to scrape me off a dingy bathroom floor after “Wish You Were Here.”
In the interest of remaining a music journalist capable of hearing things, I took the bench. That, and I couldn’t so much as sit upright.
Sometime during my concert hiatus, Adrian and McQueen stole away to Caddo Lake, at the border of Texas and Louisiana, and wrote Today is Beauty’s Birthday over the span of a weekend. When we met again, they were busy raising money to follow through on their rather epic visions of the sophomoric release. The boys kicked off their campaign in true Denton fashion, with a keg and a festivals worth of musical friends. Held at the hilltop house where a good chunk of the band lived, properly dubbed the Oso Compound.
I had been blogging regularly for a local site, My Denton Music, run by fellow music advocate, Tony Spiro. I knew I had been writing, but before that party, I was unaware that I actually had readers. Being recognized was startling and delightful, and frightening enough at one point I hid behind Adrian. Despite a few overly-zealous fans, the respectful attention was rather welcoming. When I woke up the next morning, I moved back to Denton.
With this renewed focus hellbent on hearing Oso’s new album, and the unshakable sensation that I had turned my waking life into a lucid dream, I launched into what I do best: yammering affectionate. I teamed up with Spiro and the brilliant Graham Richards to hatch a plot. One jam session and a case of fine IPA later, The Crisman Show was born.
I promptly asked Oso Closo to be my first guests.
Denton was the perfect place to launch The Crisman Show. Ironically enough, I had to be talked into naming the show after myself. I’m plenty glad for it now that my ego has swelled to fit my name. At the time it seemed a bit narcissistic, like the jokes I wrote four years before I started doing stand-up; before I recognized my own voice.
“Who would say that?! That lady’s an ass!”
But I digress.
It was decided my show would center around local musicians noshing at favorite Denton haunts. I had worked at the Greenhouse, booking jazz nights, where I first met McQueen. My old boss was happy to sponsor the maiden voyage of my show. He even threw in a round of appetizers to feed the guests and crew. Tony hired the clever filmmaker/music wonk, Patrick Flaherty to film and edit the show; while Graham holed up in the studio to compose the earworm of a theme song we use to this day. The 12-second ditty, complete with tap dancing sounds and Graham’s vocals altered to resemble a small, hyperactive girl-child. The idea was that each musical guest would cover the theme to open the show. It was a brilliant scheme to make people sing about me, and when the song gets stuck in their head they can wish as much ill upon me as they please. I don’t care. I’ve got my own theme song.
Once McQueen and Adrian got their hands on the song, (approximately ten minutes before the show) they took it to the immediate next level. Perched in front of a fish tank in the backroom of the Greenhouse, McQueen played acoustic guitar while Adrian crooned:
“…Take off your pants, eat a sloppy joe.
It’s time for the Sarah Crisman Show.”
It should be noted that I studied Creative Writing in college, not Journalism. I never intended on becoming a journalist. Somehow my drinking with musicians, then promptly writing about the musicians, was giving the media the idea that I was one of them. Their often gracious, occasionally catty coverage of my coverage kept me in an odd field of Not-Quite-a-Reporter. It was as though people couldn’t sort out which compartment I belonged in. Truth is, I don’t fit well in any one box for too long. I learned that plenty well getting shoved into gym lockers after dance class.
That first episode garnered the attention of two genuine journalists — from NBC and the Denton Record Chronicle — eager for snapshots of me sipping Jameson between takes. I even held the rocks glass behind my back when the cameras were out, to no avail. Earlier that week, the same reporters had invited me for Sangria and shop talk. I didn’t realize until halfway through the thermos of fermented warm fruit that they were both working on stories about me.
I began to suspect my role as fodder (over respected colleague) when the interview turned suddenly to my personal life. The two writers were lovely and supportive of my project, which softened the blow of the ambush interview. We met on campus in the corner of the University of North Texas, just outside the English building where I learned to be a proper essayist. Bonding over motherhood, the writing life, and our small town’s music scene, I was thrown by the conversation’s startling turn to my personal life.
“Why did you choose Denton for your show? What do you think is the scene’s greatest challenge? Which member of Oso Closo are you dating?”
Had I yet reached the bottom of said Thermos, I might have led the story elsewhere. Alas, this direct line of questioning only served to stun me into a suspicious silence. My awkward laughter did not satisfy the inquiry or change the subject as I hoped it might. I considered explaining to them that no one really “dates” rock musicians.
“None of them,” I said with as much dignity as half-drunk answers allow. “They are my friends. I am but a fan.”
They weren’t buying it.
“How do you plan on maintaining relationships with musicians while being on the music beat?”
Here we see the biggest difference between Journalism and what I do — Ethics. Ethics were only brought up in the study of Creative Writing when one considered how high one can be during second-round edits. I couldn’t tell if they regarded me as a peer or a solid source of dirt. I am no Gossip Girl, I thought to myself. Cutting my eyes at the realization that these girls might be. I took a long draw of the remaining Sangria and answered the question:
“The same I always have, I just won’t tell you about it.”
As the sun set, I fully grasped the fact that two stories about me were percolating in each of my companions minds. Hoping to shake the angle away from my pants, the gals and I padded across Fry Street to meet up with Graham and Tony at Riprock’s. It was silly to think this 150-foot transition would turn the evening to a social excursion. Within a half hour my friends were dodging casual interrogation over Tall Boys of PBR (I’m telling you, these girls are good).
A few days later, we were shooting the first episode. The real journalists on hand to round out their respective stories about my little show. There was no mention of my imaginary love life.