The only thing more disheartening than being a one-hit wonder is having your one hit's lyrical intentions misconstrued from here to eternity. Bruce Springsteen didn't write "Born in the USA" as patriotic anthem, but Ronald Reagan sure thought he did. Pat MacDonald, formerly of Austin's Timbuk 3, knows this reality all too well. His group's song "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades" was not as happy and optimistic as it sounded. It was actually an ironic look into the future of a young scientist who had a rich, successful career ahead of him making weapons of mass destruction for the government.
MacDonald started Timbuk 3 in 1984 with his wife Barbara while they lived in Madison, Wisconsin. The duo moved down south to Austin later that year. Off their debut record Greetings from Timbuk 3, "Shades" became a huge MTV hit, and the song had a hooky, bluesy harmonica line and its laconic vocals fit in well in the post-New Wave climate of the mid-'80s. Their video featured sly nuclear imagery to try to bring the true meaning across to oblivious listeners. Nonetheless, the song was a Top 20 hit here and the UK. It became a period-movie soundtrack staple, and routinely makes it onto endless '80s music lists and countdowns.
Timbuk 3 released a few less successful - but no less lyrically biting - albums and broke up in 1995 after the MacDonalds divorced. Barbara, now known as Barbara K, currently remains musically active with Austin label Sparrow's Wheel. Pat has since relocated back to the Madison area and has gone solo, now touring with Melanie Jane as a foot-stomping duo steeped in reverb-heavy blues with Waits-like passages throughout. His harmonica is still there, but it's now a somber tool while Jane sings back-up and handles percussion. We are not sure if he still trots out "Shades" - don't bet on it - but if he does, it's probably nearly unrecognizable.
10 p.m. tonight at the Continental Club, 3700 Main, 713-529-9899 or www.continentalclub.com/houston.