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What's funny to one person may be offensive to someone else. That's a truism that's reiterated to me with every issue of Westword--and one with which Dave Haupt, publisher of the Boulder edition of a journal called the Onion, is also familiar. But just in case he ever forgets it, Janet Jackson stands ready to remind him.

To explain: Last November, the Onion, a satirical publication that Haupt describes succinctly as "a newspaper gone mad," printed a faux-article featuring the headline, "Dying 13-Year-Old Gets His Wish, Will Pork Janet Jackson." The report, which ran on the Onion's front page alongside a color photograph of the "curvaceous pop songstress," alleged that doomed patient "Tommy Garalski" had asked the "Grant-a-Wish Foundation" to help him enjoy Jackson's carnal delights before heading into the grave, and that the institution had promised to come through, if you catch the drift. In some ways, the item was a bit of a chestnut; it had appeared in the parent branch of the Onion, based in Madison, Wisconsin, approximately two years earlier. But its reappearance did not please Jackson, whose Los Angeles-based lawyers wrote Boulder's Onion last month threatening a lawsuit. Haupt wasn't especially concerned about this warning. "We're protected by the laws of satire," he remarks. "She's a public figure, so there really wasn't anything they could do." But when Jackson's attorneys offered to drop the entire matter if the Onion sent them all the remaining copies of the issue, Haupt and company decided to comply; they bundled up about 75 newspapers stacked in their office and sent them to L.A.

The Jackson contretemps was not the first time the Onion has run afoul of the famous. According to Haupt, the late Ginger Rogers once objected to a story, as did representatives of Denzel Washington. "We ran a fake ad for a Denzel Washington movie called Affirmative Action," he recalls. "He played a character named Johnny Affirmative. The copy was, 'The feds gave him a job he didn't want or deserve, so now he's fighting back.'" Still, Haupt insists that the Onion's days of needling celebrities are far from over. "It's scary when you first get the phone call," he admits. "But if they had tried to sue us, I'm sure we would have told them, 'Blow it out of ya.'"

Those of you who feel that there's nothing new happening on the Denver club scene haven't stopped by Seven South on a Wednesday evening lately. For the past several months the venue has provided a home for a music series that's anything but predictable.

The shows, which have featured everything from slightly skewed jazz to the outer reaches of avant-garde improvisation, were the brainstorm of Lee Hanson, a local graphic artist who is also employed as a bartender at Seven South. "I've been working there for three years," he says, "and last year I figured, heck, we've got a stage--why not use it for something a little different?" And so, with the help of performers such as Tom Sublett, best known for his contributions to the vibrant act called Windowpane, Hanson began assembling gigs designed to stretch beyond the usual musical boundaries. "The first Wednesday we did it was last July," Hanson says. "It was pretty sporadic for a while, but lately we've been doing it every week, and it's starting to build up a little following. There have been a lot of Wednesdays when we've been pretty full."

In Sublett's view, the most exciting part of the series thus far has been its variety. "One night we did my arrangements of Coltrane stuff," he remembers. "But then the next week there was electronic stuff that was completely experimental. And on another night, Bret Sexton came in and played a version of 'Voodoo Chile' on saxophone through a mike and some effects, and when the people from the bar came over to check it out, they couldn't believe he wasn't playing a guitar. That was really great."

"The crowds have been younger than I expected," Hanson adds. "I expected people from their thirties on up, but there's been people of all ages who are just sick of hearing the same old things. And over the last few months we've gotten a real mix of musicians, too--a core of maybe twenty guys who play in various groups. It's been fun to see them networking and putting together new things. I was hoping we might come up with something a little like the Knitting Factory in New York, and when things like that happen, it tells me we're on the right track."

Upcoming dates look just as interesting: Sexton and his group return to Seven South on Wednesday, February 19, with Sublett and Space Is the Place, a free-floating improvisational conglomeration, stepping out on February 26. And while Sublett is pleased with the response the series has received, he thinks an even wider audience would find the goings-on intriguing. "This is a chance for people to hear something that's not like anything else they've heard," he attests. "Usually when you hear people talking about music, they're either complaining about something because it's way too familiar or because it's too weird for them. Well, I think this falls right in the middle. People will like it if they give it a chance."

In my January 23 column, I wrote about several radio programs that were putting the spotlight on local music. Since then, several of you have suggested that I erred in neglecting to laud "Locals Only," a presentation that airs Thursdays at midnight on KTCL-FM/93.3--as well as Mike Makkay, the show's host. So let me correct this oversight by stating that Makkay--who took over the project following the departure of John Quill--is clearly a local-music enthusiast who should be commended for his efforts. Too bad KTCL has buried "Locals Only" in such a terrible time slot. When Quill was running things, the program was heard on Sunday evenings, when a decent number of listeners could check it out. If the powers that be at KTCL want to add credibility to their claim of supporting Colorado musicians, they should broadcast "Locals Only" at a time when more locals will hear it. By the way, Makkay is part of an entertainment-industry panel set for Wednesday, February 19, at Majordomo's Net Cafe; also on board are Rob Gordon, president of W.A.R.? Records, Sherri Jackson manager Ted Guggenheim, nobody in particular presents' own Dolly Zander, and a performance by the Action Sound Super Band. Call 281-9599 for information.

Worthy cause time. Charles Sawtelle, among the area's most talented musicians, has been battling leukemia--but an upcoming bone-marrow transplant is providing hope to his family, friends and fans. Those who'd like to contribute to a benefit fund for Sawtelle should send checks to: The Charles Sawtelle Trust, attn. Pat O'Kelly, Johnson, Cahill & O'Kelly, 2300 Broadway, Boulder 80304. On a similar note, the Sleeping Brotherhood House Band, which includes ex-40th Day member Jim Nasi, is playing a benefit for David Pocket, a friend of the group who suffers from Hodgkin's disease, on Saturday, February 15, at Seven South. Also on the bill is Judge Roughneck.

Hand down your verdict on these. On Thursday, February 13, S-Fro-7 ventures to the 15th Street Tavern. On Friday, February 14, blueswoman supreme Lavelle White returns to Brendan's; Morsel can be sampled at Franklin's; Acoustic Junction showcases material from its upcoming Capricorn Records bow at the Fox Theatre, with Guster; the Hate Fuck Trio, Lovebuzz and Sizewell sing for sweethearts at the 15th Street Tavern; and Fatwater performs at the premiere of Dysfunctional Superheroes, an extreme-sports movie playing at the Bluebird Theater. On Saturday, February 15, Chapman Stick expert Steve Hahn goes to the Chautauqua Community House in Boulder, and Westword contributor John Jesitus puts on a "post-Valentine's Day letdown party" at Common Grounds. On Monday, February 17, the Electric Hellfire Club heats up the Mercury Cafe. And on Wednesday, February 19, Joshua Redman jazzes up the Boulder Theater, and the notoriously unreliable Gregory Isaacs promises to show up at the Fox. Count on it.

--Michael Roberts

Backbeat's e-mail address is Michael_Roberts@westword.com. While you're online, visit Michael Roberts's Jukebox at www.westword.com


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