The 30-Second Songs of War

A local musician composes the nation’s television soundtrack for the war in Iraq.

LIFE IS USUALLY QUIET IN STEPHEN Arnold’s neighborhood, a secluded area in McKinney, where he lives just a stone’s throw from his state-of-the-art recording studio. He rides to work in a golf cart, passing horses on the way. But in March, just days after President George W. Bush announced we’d be going to war, Arnold’s phone would not stop ringing. His country needed him. Specifically, several Dallas television stations and national networks needed Arnold to compose "war music" for their broadcasts. And they needed it quickly. There’s a reason they all wanted Arnold: he’s the right man for the job. Arnold claims he’s the most prolific composer in the world, and it’s hard to argue with him. CNN, HBO, National Geographic, and the Golf Channel have all used his music. He’s composed news themes, as they’re called in the business, for 35 percent of the nation’s media markets. He’s accustomed to the steady schedule of composing, recording, and editing music, but when news directors and creative services called as war approached, Arnold had an unusual challenge. Every station wanted what every other station wanted: something unique.

"They’ll describe it as something that sounds like a battlefield or something patriotic," Arnold says. "And, of course, they all need something somber."

So, as U.S. troops massed on the border, Arnold disappeared into his studio, writing themes before calling in his own support troops. On a Tuesday, several trumpet players filed in, followed by the trombones on a Wednesday, adding layers of sound to the simple rhythm track Arnold had laid down. By Thursday, half a dozen local violin and cello musicians had played in the open studio, making cut after cut, until they’d mastered the music for "America at War," one of two commissioned pieces for WFAA Channel 8 and KDFW Channel 4. Arnold describes it as "a traditional theme that says America’s there to fight and win."

For Channel 4, Arnold pulled back the brass in favor of more crunch guitars with swishes and bangs, to make the animation come alive. "I have to work with the people commissioning the music," Arnold says. "I ask them who they’d want to be playing this theme if they could have any artist in the world. If they say Mick Jagger, then we have a starting point."

It’s strange but satisfying work for the 51-year-old Arnold, who wears long, gray hair and favors his quiet country studio to the fast-paced city life he used to live. He once collaborated with the Steve Miller Band and still calls David Crosby his role model. While chasing his dream of becoming a rock-and-roll star in LA in the ’70s, Arnold worked for free at the United Western studios and learned the ins and outs of music production. "I was setting up mics and stuff like that, but I was getting to watch people like Neil Diamond and the Beach Boys record," he says. "But eventually I had to start paying the bills." When his parents needed a jingle for their arts and crafts shop in Dallas, the St. Mark’s grad came home to help out. That lead to little ditties for local car dealerships, Valley View Mall, and, eventually, the war.

Arnold says writing war themes just meant putting off bigger projects. "You do what you need to do," he says. "We’re not trying to make money off the war, but we have an obligation to make our clients the best music out there."

For the time being, the phone has stopped ringing so much. But Arnold knows that’s only temporary. "Right now, we’re just enjoying the calm after the storm," he says. "We’ll just have to see how long this war goes on." —James Zwilling

Photo by Jason Schlichenmaier

Hot, Web-Designing Blondes Capitalize on Hotness, Blondness, and Web

HOW MANY BLONDES DOES IT TAKE TO start a company that sells novelty products making fun of being blond? Two—not counting a guy who adopts school buses.

It happened like this: Betsy Brewer met Dienna Sanders in an undisclosed Dallas bar about a year and a half ago. They started an ad agency together called Big D Media. Clovis Steib III, who is an EPA Adopt-A-School Bus coordinator, became one of their clients. Then, one day, Steib and Sanders, who is blond, were getting into Sander’s father’s car, which had a handicap tag hanging from the rearview mirror.

"She had just done something really dumb," says Brewer, who is also blond. "Clovis said, ’Oh my God. You are so blondicapped!’" They called Brewer and immediately filed five trademarks. The trio started Blon D Media and began designing Blondicapped apparel, key chains, bumper stickers, and the like.

The women now run www.blondicapped.com themselves, but the e-commerce site was having some difficulties at press time. A security issue from their hosting company had disallowed the HN-link coding on their NT server, which runs the cold-fusion software.

The blondes promised they’d have it figured out soon. Adam McGill

THE NEW GOSSIP

This publication has begun a new undertaking called FrontBurner, which has been described as "a conversation about Dallas among the editors of D Magazine"; "journalism in the truest sense because it involves journaling"; and "a blog." Go to www.dmagazine.com to see it for yourself. Meanwhile, some stories that FrontBurner broke first:

MTV Dogs HP

MTV was all set to film a reality game show at Highland Park High. The show was to follow one girl as she serially dated 11 boys, narrowing the field to one lucky prom date. According to HP school officials, however, shortly after FrontBurner reported this, and just days before the production crew was to arrive on campus, MTV decided to use a different school—in Austin.

Harvey Embeds Himself

Fans of Goff’s Hamburgers are familiar with the bronze statue of Lenin that stands in front of the Lovers Lane restaurant. It was put there in 1992 by curmudgeonly owner Harvey Gough, as a trophy to signal our victory in the Cold War. FrontBurner reported that it received a brief e-mail from Gough on March 31. It read only: "I’m on the border of Turkey and Iraq looking for statue. Home Wednesday." Press time for this publication, alas, was the preceding Monday.

Ginsburg Is Not Dead Yet

After the Morning News ran a story about a crash on the Tollway in which a car "split in two," rumors circulated that the wreck involved Scott Ginsburg, the high-profile millionaire owner of Bamboo Bamboo. When FrontBurner reached Ginsburg, he confirmed that he was in a serious accident on the Tollway. It happened the same night as the incident reported in the paper, but the crashes were not related. Ginsburg went on to say that he proposed March 23 to his girlfriend Melissa Stevens, who had been in the car with him and was also injured. He did it with an aluminum foil ring of his own design, which, he said, has "since been replaced by one of the most beautiful rings she’s ever seen and that I’ve ever given."

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

With the recently opened Knox Park Village, Dallas now seems to have more villages than you can swing a dead villager at.

 

Knox Park Village

Highland Park Village

Village People

Overall Edge

Size

88,000 sq. ft.

200,000 sq. ft.

6 members

Highland Park Village

Biggest Hit

Pei Wei Asian Diner

Jimmy Choo

“Y.M.C.A.”

Village People

Created

2003

1931

1977

Highland Park Village

Biggest Boast

Almost fully leased

America’s first shopping center

Two members are married with kids

Highland Park Village

AND THE WINNER IS: HIGHLAND PARK VILLAGE!
Elimated in earlier rounds: Village Apartments, West Village, Village Senior Healthcare
 
THE LIST

Cathy Bryce
Jane Wolfe
Vikki Martin
Martin Weber
Bill Graf
Susan Albritton
Fred Bronstein
Billy Payton
Mike Lorenz
Laurie Harrison
Barbara Bigham
Carol Heller
Fallon Taylor
Irvin Levy
Waldo Stewart
Austin Rinne
Bill Woodruff
Retta Miller
Kelly Green
Angela Paulos
Allie Beth Allman
Jennifer Hale
Drew Stasio
Erin Hannigan
Helen Chandler
 
QUESTION & ANSWER

Plano native LEISA HART is the gal behind the Buns of Steel videos. Including her latest project, FitMama, she has sold more than 5 million tapes. On Mother’s Day eve, May 10, she’ll speak at a "Women’s Tea." See www.leisahart.com for more info.

D Magazine: Your new video is called FitMama Prenatal Workout. Did you ever consider the title Uterus of Steel?

Leisa Hart: [belly laughing] It’s a shame we already printed the video sleeves. That would have been so marketable. If I owned the trademark, we would have called this video "something of steel," but Time Warner owns it.

Woman on Top

KRISTIN HOLT loves her boyfriend and burritos. The Plano native is the special correspondent for Fox’s American Idol. She keeps viewers up to speed on contestants’ standings in the competition with her wide-eyed "bless your heart" commentary. But the 21-year-old former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader left her heart in Fort Worth, where her boyfriend lives. "We do a devotional Bible study every night on the phone before we go to bed," she says. Holt also makes it to church every Sunday and Tuesday. She met her other love here, too. "I am a Chipotle burrito addict," Holt says. "We finally got one in LA. I love a burrito. I mean, I can eat." Holt plans to come back to Cowtown this month to finish her Spanish/political science degree at TCU, where, one presumes, she’ll get her fill of burritos and her boyfriend. —Kristie Ramirez

Photo Courtesy of Fox

Investing in Sin

The Vice Fund sounds like a good idea, but its returns have been bad.

AS IT TURNS OUT, BOOZE, BUTTS, AND bombs may not be the best investments. At least they haven’t been for investors in the Dallas-based Vice Fund.

The $4 million mutual fund invests in companies that operate casinos, make alcoholic beverages, make cigars or cigarettes, or supply weapons to the U.S. military. It was launched in September 2002 as a response to about 100 "socially responsible" mutual funds that generally eschew those sectors. The Vice Fund’s managers, in broker-speak, say such industries are "non-cyclical," meaning they provide consistently good returns. And their investing approach has garnered press in everything from Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times to Larry Flynt’s Hustler (just about everywhere, in fact, except the Morning News).

But so far the fund hasn’t done well. While the market has certainly been down since its issue date, the Vice Fund has cascaded from its $10-a-share debut. It was off 11.5 percent, to $8.66, at press time. The S&P 500 was off just 3 percent in the same period. That’s enough to make Vice Fund investors need a stiff drink.

"If we had opened this fund three or five years ago, it would be huge," says Dan Ahrens, the Vice Fund’s co-manager. "I don’t see any reason why it won’t increase in value over time."

There’s some reason to think he’s right. Gambling and tobacco companies posted nearly 20 percent returns from 1997 to 2002. Booze makers and defense companies did even better, with a nearly 25 percent return on investment. That’s better than the S&P 500, which was up less than 12 percent in those years.

Still, you wouldn’t think the fund would be sinking faster than the S&P now, especially with the war in Iraq. At the very least, you’d think the Vice Fund would be outperforming those namby-pamby mutuals it was created to oppose. In many cases it isn’t. The Ave Maria Catholic Fund—yes, seriously—was off only 5.17 percent at press time, half of the Vice Fund’s decline. And the Noah fund, another socially responsible mutual, is up 1.5 percent this year.

So does the Vice Fund’s lackluster year mean bad stuff is really a bad investment after all? For a question like that, you go to the experts. Father Richard McGowan is an economist at Boston College and has spent three decades studying how companies profit from your weaknesses. McGowan thinks the Vice Fund sounds like a good marketing gimmick, but he also wouldn’t bet against it in the long term.

"From an economic point of view, the sin industries are really not cyclical," McGowan says. "But there’s an interesting angle here. The bigger the pariah a company is made out to be—like the cigarette companies—the bigger a payoff you may get as an investor. And the cigarette companies have been solid investments. Economically it makes sense. You should be rewarded for taking the bigger risk."

Ah, but doesn’t the soul pay a price for that profit, Father?

"It’s the ethics of sacrifice versus the ethics of tolerance," McGowan says. "You’ve got to make your own choices there." —John Ross

The Dirt on Modano

The Dallas Central Appraisal District’s web site is new and improved, now offering pictures of each of the 600,000 properties in its jurisdiction. The DCAD hired a firm with GPS-equipped vans to photograph houses automatically and correlate the images with their appraisal information. The process wrapped up last month and cost more than $1 million. See how your house looks at www.dallascad.org. And here’s to hoping it didn’t have a pile of dirt in front of it, like Mike Modano’s did.

The Story Behind the Picture

Inspired by the Baring Witness phenomenon—wherein (mostly) women create messages of peace with their naked bodies, then post photographs of those messages at www.baringwitness.com— Kari Luna and 42 of her girl (space) friends trotted out to a private area of Lake Lavon, just outside of Dallas, and posed for this photo in March. Said Luna: "We used pink sheets because we were lying in buffalo grass. It was pretty scratchy. We were lying there for a while because we lost contact with our helicopter. That stuff itches. And it had rained. So it was kind of gross. But it was nothing. I would have laid there for 10 hours. I think it went great. We did some meditation, and we felt really strongly about why we were there and why we were doing it."

Photo by Jackie Dossett Hines and helicopter pilot Robin Hawke