We see 'em every day, and the old Jimmy Cox tune says it best: "Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out." Whether it draws sympathy or just simple social discomfort, we all read their ragged cardboard billboards, and some are surprisingly funny.
“Will take verbal abuse, $1” and “Need cash for alcohol research” all makes us smile, but the anonymous drifter at the intersection of I-35 and 51st Street whose sign read, “Ninjas killed my family; need money for kung fu lessons” garnered outbursts of laughter and open wallets alike.
Summing up a life is never easy, but when the life was as rich in event and character as that of Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson – the woman the world knew as Lady Bird – the challenges are all the greater. Austin American-Statesman writer Janet Wilson had the unenviable task of distilling the 94 years of the former First Lady, environmentalist, mother, and grandmother into a handful of column inches on a newsprint page, but she accomplished it with a level of class and grace reminiscent of her subject. Her series of articles after Lady Bird's passing captured not just what Lady Bird did but why she deserved our affection and respect, not just the facts of her life but who she was in all her intelligence, compassion, spirit, Southern charm, and graciousness.
Janet Wilson, Austin American-Statesman, 305 S. Congress, 512/445-3500, www.statesman.com
It's rare for a cold type venture to survive these days of hot ether. And this winner did it in a most unconventional way. Shout, a glossy-paper monthly (how positively old-school!), is locally published and broadly distributed across Texas, mostly in gay-friendly retail outlets and restaurants and, of course, gay bars in Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, and San Antonio. Editor Rob Faubion and crew look forward to expanding across the state. But don't confuse Shout with your typical bar rag. Shout eschewed the industry-standard beefcakey 900-number and massage ads in favor of entertainment and the arts … and somehow still managed to celebrate a third anniversary this past month.
The heyday of public access TV is over. Or is it? To hear Linda Litowsky and Garry Wilkison talk, you could almost forget the long and checkered history of Austin's access TV before they earned the contract from the city, moved in, rolled up their sleeves, and went to work - lots of it - to set that cantankerous vehicle known as public access TV back on track. It’s been a rough road with plenty of ruts along the way but Litowsky and Wilkison have stayed the course. Things are changing slowly, yet this duo leads a team that may very well help Austin once again be proud of their new, old media in a way that will make even the most skeptical of critics hold their tongues, tune in, and turn others on to what’s on at Public Access Community Television.
A locally based program broadcasting in Austin, streaming and podcasting worldwide online, Anti-War Radio offers high-caliber commentary and guest interviews on the ongoing Mideast misadventure. Host Scott Horton, armed to the teeth with little-reported news and info, jettisons the pleasantries and PC radio lingo and tells listeners how it really is. As an added bonus, Horton often verbally lays waste to those seeking to prolong the billion-dollar bloodbath. Anti-War Radio can be heard on local frequency KAOS 95.9 and 92.7 – twice recognized on these very pages for fine iconoclastic broadcasting: Arrrrrrr.
Filmmaker René Pinnell (nephew of legendary filmmaker Eagle Pennell) has been teamed up with Mitch Baker and David Bewley since 2005, when he directed their sketch-comedy pilot for MTV, The Edmond Bulldogs. After the network passed on the pilot (perhaps in favor of Date My Mom), the sketch troupe was picked up by ONNetworks.com, a new online network based out of Austin, one of the first platforms for excellent Web content. Take three to six minutes out of your day to check out the troupe's new hilarious series of sketches under the banner of Backpack Picnic. Somewhere between dry satire and slapstick comedy is where Backpack Picnic's humor lands, verging on the merely surreal but still enough to make you laugh out loud. Skits like "Spin," "Gay Adoption," and the animated "Suppression Sequel" will lighten a mood on even the darkest work day. A full 24 skits will be out by December. Tune in every week for new ones.
What started out as a collection of neighborhood publications (La Voz de Dove Springs, La Voz de Montopolis, La Voz de East Austin) soon merged into a single, bilingual publication devoted to the community it serves with an eye on the past and great expectations for the future. Next to an ad for spiritual card reader Juanita Flores may be an article about the Defend the Honor campaign (which has criticized the absence of Latinos in the new Ken Burns documentary, The War). On another page, an essay by a ninth-grade student who attended the Social Justice Summer School, another project of the newspaper's diligent publisher, Alfredo Santos. To round things out, there's a "Word Power" column, an English/Spanish list of useful vocabulary words to learn and know. "No one can argue in the name of education, that it is better to know less than it is to know more," the Word Power opening reads, which tidily sums up the mission of La Voz de Austin. While its focus is distinctly grassroots, it hits its niche with accuracy and considerably more heart than its larger rivals.
Any woman who gets up at 4am every weekday in order to wrangle the guys on KLBJ-FM's Dudley & Bob Morning Show (that is, managing the ever-effusive personalities of Dale Dudley, Bob Fonseca, and Charlie Hodge) definitely deserves recognition. Before Davis joined the show in 2001, things were getting a tad slow on the popular morning show – there weren't as many guests, for example, and certainly not such a diverse roster of them. But when Davis, who did a stint in comedy TV writing in Los Angeles before returning to her native Texas, came back to town, the show got a much-needed shot in the arm: She's booked authors, musicians, comedians, actors, and others (including, of course, several Chronicle staffers, including Editor Louis Black), all of whom provide plenty of material for the three stars to riff on.
From midnight through 5am, Miss Kitty's Mix 94.7 radio show entertains the night owls with her own brand of sass, humor, gossip, info … and music, of course. Her infectiously effervescent voice regales listeners with her tales from a backstage vantage point, front-row fashion reports, and her off-air escapades at the multitude of parties and charity events at which she is in much demand. Purring through the night, Miss Kitty's on-air reign in Austin continues to light up the night.
In the sea of pill-poppin', faggot-spewin', spin-belching conservoschmucks, Dr. Rachel Maddow rises to the crest, bobbing like a life-preserving buoy. Boy, oh boi. Good-lookin' out dyke Maddow has become a hit, a commentator's darling, if you will, on the TV talking-head-talk-show circuit. Her regular stints on Countdown With Keith Olbermann and guest slots with Tucker Carlson have set her course: Hers is a star to watch. Her staple radio program, however, The Rachel Maddow Show is broadcast from New York on the good ship Air America and now can be heard on our very own KOKE-AM, 5-7pm every weekday afternoon. Maddow's genius (aside from that Rhodes Scholar thing) is her sense of humor, her sense of right and wrong (not just right and left), and her sense of decency (while she can muster a good drubbing, it's not her style to keelhaul the blaggards, you know?). Forecasts call for choppy waters, captain. At least we've got the good doc to keep us afloat.
When it was published in August of 2006, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 became an instant classic of airtight but accessible investigative reporting – a rare moment of perspective in the aftermath of the 2001 World Trade Center attack – and it was by a guy living the dream: writing for The New Yorker while residing in Austin. One year later, Wright's masterpiece has been released in paperback with a nifty little gold sticker affixed: "Winner of the Pulitzer Prize."
Although we cheerfully pound on the daily when deserving, few of us face the morning without consulting the Sargent-at-Pen: Ben Sargent's irreplaceable editorial cartoon. Sargent's rapier wit and his liquid, elegant line take on eclectic targets: Chinese toys, City Hall, of course Congress and the Lege. Fearless? Even the UT football program gets gored occasionally, with "bail bonds" available alongside snacks at Royal Memorial. In recent months, unsurprisingly, he's saved his most acidic ink for the Bush Administration Follies – self-destruction at the Department of Justice, the Family Values Hypocrisy Caucus, and, of course, Bush's crowning folly, the madness in Iraq. Our current favorite (Sunday, Aug. 26) is a one-legged veteran's response to Dubya's declaration, "I could've WON in Vietnam!! Says the vet bitterly, "You would've had to SHOW UP first." Sargent Ben shows up, arms at the ready, every single day.
Ben Sargent, Austin American-Statesman, 305 S. Congress, 512/445-3500, www.statesman.com
Blending underwater and fashion photography, Kirlin creates portraits that are so romantically over-the-top, they're almost like fairy-tale illustrations. The portraits of women and children have a Botticelli-like grace that Kirlin captures with an expert eye. Her website is loaded with private commissions that she's done – a virtual portfolio of magical and magnificent compositions that have deep personal meaning as well as broad appeal.
Where the haters at? Back from hiatus with ironic-mustached vengeance, 3-year-old Misprint Magazine's latest volume (The Deca-dence Issue) offers more of the sarcasm and hipsterazzi-takedowns we love and secretly want to be a part of. Never afraid to take shots at Austin's beloved bands and clubs (well, under pseudonyms), the staff brought us the term "douchebaggotry" for their annual South by Southwest issue, elevating hating and grammar to new heights (or lows, depending). A few current goals? To "get banned for life from the Parish" and "make Austin the Live Background Music Capital of the World." Godspeed, dudebros. Keep on hating in the free world.
Just when we'd managed to scrub the bad taste of The Real World: Austin out of our mouths, the producers of Fox's unrealistic reality show Cops began thinking of taking their lens caps off in Austin. The city thought about it and said no. Not because it would have shone a light on policing in the city but because the sensationalist show would have made oversight even harder.