In the nearly 22 years since I first moved to Tucson, I've seen a whole lot of changes and a whole lot of ups and downs. But I can't think of a time when I felt more divergent feelings about the city than I did last week.
At the start of my week, I was feeling really down on Tucson. I am infuriated by the fact that the Rialto Theatre—run by people who honestly care about bringing a variety of great live music to the citizens of Tucson, and who do it for the love of it—is being threatened by a pair of developers who seem to care more about their egos and making money than the greater good of downtown Tucson. Why should people who appear to care so little about what's best for downtown Tucson have so much control over it? (The answer, of course, is because they have the property and the money, if not the vision, to wield such power. The vision belonged to the Portland, Ore., planners who were fired by the developers.) It's been frustrating, at the least, to watch unfold. (If you'd like a summary of what I'm talking about here, let me refer you to last week's Skinny, in which Jim Nintzel succinctly summarizes the situation.)
Then came word, as reported by the Arizona Daily Star, that 10 buildings in the Warehouse District had been inspected by the Tucson Fire Department, and 63 code violations were found. Violations at six of the buildings, including Steven Eye's Solar Culture Gallery—a combination arts venue/studio/gallery—were deemed so severe that they received a "dangerous buildings" designation. If the necessary repairs aren't made within two months, the buildings will have to be evacuated and, likely, eventually demolished.
The problem is this: The Arizona Department of Transportation, not the tenants, owns the buildings. But the lease agreements put the burden of the repairs on the tenants, which leads to this question: Why would renters dump a bunch of money into buildings they don't even own? In the long run, there's nothing to be gained by spending the money when they have no real stake in the property, no ownership. (For the record, Eye says that the report is exaggerated and that he'll be able to bring his building up to code within the designated time frame.)
I couldn't help but feel that greed and red tape and unfavorable lease agreements were destroying the very things I hold so dear in my beloved Tucson. Or, as Tucson Weekly contributor Kristine Peashock put it, "Why is Tucson making it so hard for me to love it?"
Then the weekend rolled around, and my mood improved considerably.
Last weekend, the Weekly hosted the annual convention of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, which brought to town more than 200 luminaries of our trade. The Weekly folks who organized it were justly worried: How do we make Tucson seem cool at the end of June, and with a downtown that is rather difficult to show off at the moment? Long story short, the Weekly organizers succeeded (and props to them for doing so). They did it by emphasizing the natural beauty of the desert—the conventioneers stayed at the JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort and Spa, the surroundings of which are gorgeous. (One attendee was downright giddy while describing the roadrunner he'd just seen. "They're so much smaller than I thought they'd be!" he enthused.)
They did it by utilizing the abundance of talent in our town. Desert-rock royalty the Sand Rubies killed at one party, and the Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta show at the Rialto pretty much blew away everyone who saw it, including the AAN folks who attended. (If Sergio and company hire a good manager and are able to coordinate the schedules of the dozen or so ultra-talented members of the band, the sky's the limit. Quick: Name another mambo band in the United States. I can't think of one, and it's hard to imagine anyone doing it better than them, anyway.)
On Friday night, I skipped out of the AAN proceedings for a couple of hours to attend "Atomic #10," a party thrown by the Parasol Project, which describes itself as "a community-based arts and performance organization," at the old Flamingo Hotel, on North Stone Avenue. The party was inspired by the notion of kitsch in its many forms—starting with the building itself, which seemed to be projected from a completely different time. There were people enjoying a DJ on the hotel's balcony, low-fi musicians playing outside, and jazz and blues performers in the hotel's lounge. A small ballroom with a wooden dance floor played host to everything from burlesque shows to a Michael Jackson tribute; there were even tricked-out themed hotel rooms and a pool for those so inclined. If you were there, you'd likely agree: It was one of the best parties I've attended in recent memory, and it was damn inspiring. The undertaking was extremely ambitious and was pulled off without a hitch. Kudos to the Parasol Project for putting on such a successful (tickets sold out) and fantastic event. I'll attend just about any event they organize from now on, based on the experience.
It's probably worth noting that Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta, who impressively drew about 700 people to the Rialto, have only existed for about seven months, and that the Parasol Project has been around for even less time. These people—and many other local talents—are contributing immensely to the arts and music scene in town, and doing it in a completely grassroots fashion. They've taken matters into their own hands to make Tucson a better, more interesting and enjoyable place to live. The version of Tucson they're working hard to advance is the Tucson I love, and the one that I hope trumps all the bullshit.
It would seem, then, that the things that are making it so hard for me to love Tucson are really mostly bureaucratic forces and people who don't seem to have its best interests in mind; it's not Tucson itself.
It's the true heart and soul of Tucson, and the people who provide it, that make me love it so much. And make me care about its future.
The prolific and economical singer-songwriter Bill Callahan, who has also recorded under the names Smog and (Smog), has throughout the course of his career progressed from being a creator of experimental, low-fi, pastiche-style song fragments to being one of America's finest songwriters. A tour in support of his latest Drag City release, Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle (2009), will bring him to Plush, 340 E. Sixth St., on Friday, July 3. The show starts at 9:45 p.m., with an opening set by Austin's Follow That Bird! $12; 798-1298.
The Reverend Horton Heat and Nekromantix at Club Congress on Friday, July 3; the Child Help Benefit featuring the Howling Coyote Tour at Nimbus Brewing Company on Sunday, July 5; Junior Reid at Twelve Tribes on Saturday, July 4; KIIM 99.5 FM's Freedom Festival featuring Tracy Lawrence, Pat Green, Gloriana, the Gary Bonnett Band and Cindy Standage at Rillito Park on Saturday, July 4; Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald at the Diamond Center at Desert Diamond Casino on Wednesday, July 8; the Indie-Pendence Day Extravaganza at Hotel Congress on Saturday, July 4 (see this week's City Week section for more info); the Egadz Is Dead Tour/DJ Grapla Shelf Life Mixtape Release at Vaudeville on Wednesday, July 8; the Triple Double Band tour kickoff at Club Congress on Wednesday, July 8; Gabriel Sullivan tour kickoff on the patio at Hotel Congress on Tuesday, July 7; Nick Colionne at Loews Ventana Canyon Resort on Saturday, July 4; the Impossible Ones, Bricktop and Desolate Graves at Vaudeville on Saturday, July 4; the Cocker Spaniels at The HangArt next Thursday, July 9; Mary Jane Girls at Monsoon Night Club at Desert Diamond Casino Hotel on Friday, July 3; Greyhound Soul at The Hut on Saturday, July 4.
R.I.P., Michael Jackson and Sky Saxon.
Have a safe and happy Fourth of July, everyone.