Early spring semester, 1988.
West Mall of UT, very close to Guadalupe.
A few musicians are playing some rather unusual but upbeat music. A young man standing between the musicians and the crowd is singing loudly. He has dark, unkempt hair, a heavy afternoon shadow, and one of those Palestinian scarves that were so popular back then. He keeps his eyes closed and his feet together, and he lets his arms just hang down at his sides as he sings with great gusto. I admire his lack of self-consciousness. His natural talent is only middling, but his enthusiasm is endearing.
The song over, he squeaks away in his black army boots and disappears through the smallish crowd.
A young woman appears and sets down a violin case, from which she very quickly produces a violin. She snaps the case closed and takes her place among the remaining musicians. Another song is already in the offing. Seamless and seemingly spontaneous, too. The crowd grows by a few individuals, and everyone seems to enjoy the music and to be aware that this is something different.
The song over, I turn to the girl next to me in the crowd and ask who the band is.
"It's not a band, really," she explains, "It's just a group of friends who kind of come and go. They're called 'Poi Dog Ponder'[sic]."
Fast forward seven or eight months. I have graduated. I have spent most of a summer in Europe. I have returned to work briefly with the Job Corps before my move to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The hot months of summer have come and gone. It is a cool October day, and I am at the corner of Columbia St. and Franklin listening to my car radio when a really cool song comes on. I speed on to the apartment on Jones Ferry Road, look up the phone number of the local radio station, and ask about the song. "Oh," the friendly college radio DJ replies, "It's called 'Pulling Touch' and it's by an Austin, Texas band called Poi Dog Pondering."
Wow! From the West Mall to college radio in a matter of months! Pretty cool! Plus it was a connection to Texas and to Austin that I was happy to make.
At some point I remember Big A telling me he had seen them on the steps of the West Mall playing the Velvets' "Pale Blue Eyes". Here is a video of them doing 'Living With the Dreaming Body' on Guadalupe.
Not sure what ever happened to the tussle-haired chappie who sang like a soulful borracho. I never saw him with the band again.
Here is singer Frank Orrall playing 'Pulling Touch' at a recent dinner party(?)... if you watch, give it a minute to rev up, then imagine that it has the energy and and vitality that twenty years have mellowed.