“I’m not gonna miss the deadlines, I can tell you that,” said Jim Beal Jr., 63, discussing his impending retirement from the Express-News. For more than 25 years, Beal covered the local music scene for the paper as a columnist and reporter.
While he still bristles at the suggestion that he may be out of touch with the ever-changing music landscape (“I think somebody would have to point out specifics,” he said, flatly), Beal did admit, “I don’t give a shit about Justin Bieber … or Miley Cyrus.” Whereas once he aspired to best legendary Cleveland Plain-Dealer music journalist Jane Scott’s record as “The World’s Oldest Rock Critic,” Beal said he realized recently that “I’m beginning to care less and less about more and more.”
The thing about Beal is that, like Scott, he remained influential even as he hit his golden years. Though his replacement, Lorne Chan (previously of the high school sports beat, and several decades younger than Beal), will likely have an easier time relaying the importance of Pizza Underground, Macaulay Culkin’s pizza-themed Velvet Underground tribute band, Beal was no slouch. “Shit, I’ve seen Sun Ra Arkestra,” said Beal in KSYM’s DJ booth before going on air as “Señor Crusty” for his weekly Third Coast Music timeslot. “Are you gonna be weirder than that?”
Back in December, he complimented area act Saakred, whose electro-influenced avant-garde music is miles away from the rootsy Americana Beal personally favors. He’s also ably covered heavy metal in response to SA’s undying love of the genre. Beal recently published an engaging interview with former Pantera frontman Phil Anselmo (whose latest tour stopped at Backstage Live), describing him as having “cast-iron pipes and leather lungs.”
His former co-worker at the Express-News and a longtime fixture on the San Antonio music scene, Sanford Allen (Boxcar Satan, Hogbitch), said of Beal, “I always appreciated the fact that he was able to compartmentalize and not play favorites.” For instance, Allen, who used to promote several free-jazz and improvised music concerts when he and Beal worked together, recalled Beal saying of the experimental genres something to the effect of, “I can’t get my head around that kind of stuff, it just infuriates me.” Allen continued, “Nonetheless … he was willing to give press to metal and avant-garde bands.”
Beal also derived a certain amount of cred from his substantial side-gig as bassist for Miss Neesie and the Ear Food Orchestra. “I know for myself I’m probably easier on a band than a critic,” said Beal, clarifying that he prefers the term “music journalist” for himself. “I played Taco Land … I can talk to musicians about things … I know what it takes.”
Beal maintains that his departure from Express-News is amicable. But, reflecting on his career, which started in the 1970s when Beal was arts editor for San Antonio College’s Ranger, he said, “When I first started, it was, I think, more fun. It was a little bit more wild and wooly.” He’s particularly annoyed with the rise of Facebook (but not Twitter) and the negative impact that’s had on band, promoter and venue publicity skills. (Note: Sending a Facebook event invitation to a journalist has roughly the same odds of resulting in event coverage as would a telepathic message.)
Despite the epically shifting sands of both the journalism and music industries, Beal seems to be retiring without much of his characteristic crustiness, saying “the Express-News paid me to write about music for 25 years. It’s been a damn fine ride, but it’s time for it to end.” He anticipates his last column will run on February 28.