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Knockin' on Heaven's Door

The recent passing of Six Feet Under, HBO's morbidly profound funeral-home drama, brings an opportunity for reflection on our music scene's vitality. For residents of the Mississippi Delta, religious pilgrims in Iraq, and felonious record moguls in Miami, it's been a rough couple of weeks. But for right now, we're still here, thanks to blessed providence or plain dumb luck. So as September signals 2005 slouching three-quarters into oblivion, Beatcomber takes a look back at the deaths suffered by the local music community during this unduly painful year.

Concert venues, record stores, cafés, club nights, bands, and DJs live and die with shifting trends, fickle economics, and inane city council decisions. In South Florida, they seem to perish with greater frequency than they're born, and few folks stick around long enough to mourn the loss. But like the Fisher family, it's Beatcomber's job to dress up and lay to rest the dearly departed.

This year has already seen the demise of several long-standing venues, three in particular that were crucial gathering points for the financially disenfranchised and emotionally crippled, i.e. teenagers. First to go was Spanky's, the nasty-smelling, mosh-pitting, gang-shooting cop magnet that bookended the eastern side of West Palm Beach's withering Clematis Street corridor. Its Broward counterpart, the Music Factory, formerly the Factory, nee the Metal Factory, was doomed from its first name change and finally succumbed in early August. (When I say "succumbed," I mean became a dance club named Tabu. ) Most recently, the Pompano Indoor Skate Park, proving ground for grommets, perpetuator of ramp rash, and host to some of the area's most eager, least jaded young punk bands, bit the dust. Now that these spots are dead and buried, expect bored teenagers to start book clubs at neighborhood libraries and join community service projects at the YMCA.

Like the Music Factory and Mötley Crüe, a pair of local radio stations bought the farm and were reborn in new, less desirable incarnations. Zeta 94.9's February switchover to Mega's reggaeton-heavy "urban Latino" format had some of South Florida's more delusional rockists crying reverse racism. But even they must be repulsed by the zombiefied corpse that former Party 93.1 has propped up under the banner of "Pure Rock." Rebirth used to signal the emergence of something fresh and idealistic -- you know, phoenix-from-the-flames-type shit. In South Florida, the phoenix rises from the bottom line to hunt for extra dollars and rebirth is nothing more than some corporate suit's demographic shell game.

And speaking of con jobs, after soliciting former Sonar owner Sean Lankry with promises of municipal support, the City of Hollywood recently pulled a classic bait and switch and murdered Hollywood nightlife dead. Lankry had successfully operated Sonar for about two years, attracting some serious international talent to his modest-yet-refined Hollywood Boulevard dance club. Thanks to a culture-killing ordinance passed by the city in July, Sonar went on to sing with the Choir Invisible before its second birthday. Club XIT, another Hollywood hot spot celebrates its departure from this mortal coil for the same bass-ackward, civic-minded reasons with a massive blowout on October 1. And Jacques Chirock, a potentially up-and-coming funk-pop dance party at Club M featuring several well-known Miami DJs, Chirocked out for the first and last time on July 16. Yuppies of Hollywood, 3. The rest of us, 0.

A handful of popular South Florida bands has taken the highway to the great divide this year. Hotrod rockers AC Cobra took its last checkered flags just last month, and the echoes of the late, great, drunker-than-hell Southern Flaw have finally faded away, though band leader Bobby Johnston is still making noise in other local outfits. The specter of the Heatseekers still haunts the scene as well, as former members are resurrected in other bands, under other guises. Trapped by Mormons broke free to the grand hereafter, and the Shakers bought the farm. And here's the epitaph for the indescribable -- and always enjoyable -- Lost, My Love?: "They won the battle but lost the war." The spastic art-punk outfit triumphed in one of Sofa Kings' recent local band competitions, only to asphyxiate under the pressure of its own victory. Too many more have died than I can list here; R.I.P. Like Modest Mouse says, "The good times are killing me."

There have been a few births in the past nine months, but those we'll save for another column. Maybe right after the new year, when optimism still smiles sincerely. For now, we'll remember those who have departed before their time, for better or for worse, by spilling a little ink on the page and some PBR on the sidewalk. Despite (or maybe because of) the doom and gloom, we need to support the local creative community in all its forms, keep it healthy as it keeps us human. It's our music scene, people -- take it with a shot of reality, a snort of gratitude, and plenty of cowbell. And more than anything, don't fear the reaper.

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Jonathan Zwickel

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