There were a group of us then -- writers, filmmakers, musicians... students, mostly -- who hung out together. Many of this group were writers, and most of them wrote for The Daily Texan, the student newspaper at UT; in some cases they had been writing at the Texan for years. The idea behind a student newspaper, of course, is not to develop a staff who refuses to leave, even when they had left school, graduating or dropping out. We needed a new place to write, and there was plenty to write about. There was an exciting cultural community, bands, performers, artists, writers, and filmmakers who were attracting national press but not really being covered in Austin. There was a political mission, not just a dedication to ongoing political coverage but an idea that taking the culture seriously was a political act. But the real driving force behind starting the Chronicle was that it would be a new place to write, a place where we -- the writers -- would be in charge.
The story of how this came about is almost mundane: Joe Dishner was a special education teacher in San Antonio who decided he really wanted to make films. He came to Austin to go to film school at UT. After a semester, he decided that school was not the way to get into making movies, so he dropped out.
Having nothing better to do, Dishner decided he should start a bi-weekly newspaper. He recruited Nick Barbaro because 1) he thought Nick had access to lots of money, 2) having dropped out of graduate school, Nick was working at a convenience store and had nothing better to do, and 3) Nick is a brilliant writer and a brilliant person, seemingly capable of almost anything. At least the latter two points turned out to be true. Together, they went to the library and checked out books published in the Fifties on running a community paper. The books really didn't have any useful information but, to prove how serious they were, they carried the books with them everywhere they went for months (I should mention here that trusting my memory on any detail, large or small, is an act of faith on all our parts). Then they recruited me. I thought it would be a good way to meet new women. It wasn't.
There were three overlapping communities at this point, the various circles in which our friends traveled: CinemaTexas -- a graduate student-run film society at UT, The Daily Texan, and Raul's, the punk/new wave club on the Drag where the Texas Showdown is located now. The two of them recruited people from all these groups (although most belonged to more than one) including Ed Lowry, the intellectual and spiritual leader of the CinemaTexas group, Sarah Whistler, and Jeff Whittington, as the original editorial board. In the summer of 1981 we put out the prototype. The cover featured the Chronicle's leader -- the charming, brilliant, infuriating, talented, irresistible, and obstinate Nick Barbaro, looking impossibly young, afloat on a tube. The prototype seemed a giant step in the right direction and ad sales manager Rhett Beard threw a great party with terrific barbecue chicken to celebrate. We all thought it was going to be so easy.
September 4, 1981, we published our first issue. Inside this week's issue, we include a reduced copy of it. (Elsewhere, Barbaro will give instructions on how to bend and fold the issue correctly.)
The cover was a disaster. It was conceived as the face of Richard O'Brien, half from his character from The Rocky Horror Picture Show and half from his new release Shock Treatment. Micael Priest, our cover artist, decided to put a touch of purple in each eyeball to emphasize O'Brien's madness. The printer misread the instructions and drenched the whole cover in purple, leaving white spots in each of the eyes. Shock Treatment never opened.
The cover was symbolic of what was to come. None of us had any real idea how to publish a bi-weekly newspaper. We were writers, and we could edit and write, but we were not prepared for the jobs a weekly involved: personnel, management, distribution, ad sales, diplomacy, classified, finances and so on. We especially weren't prepared for the consistency of the work; every two weeks we had to come out with another issue.
We plunged into several years of hellish education as we learned how to put a paper out. The original editorial board didn't make it through the first year and neither did Joe Dishner. Somewhere in there, Nick and I evolved our strange publisher/editor responsibility split. Seven years later, we went weekly.
I could -- and I may still -- tell stories from the first few years of the Chronicle endlessly. It was an amazing time, it was a brutal time, it was a costly time, it was a wonderful time.
But instead of more words, we offer instead the first issue. The Chronicle cannot be about the past alone, it must be about the present and the future. This paper has always been about something. It started with an idea of what the Austin community was and how to cover it, and, 15 years later, though it has grown and changed, the focus of the paper has remained the same. The attitude has changed, the people who produce the paper have changed. Their commitment hasn't, but perhaps they are no longer so deranged about it (though if we hadn't been that passionate as to be almost nuts I doubt this paper would have survived). We used to live in crappy apartments by UT and spend most of our waking hours either hanging out at the Chronicle office or going out to gather information and experiences to return to the Chronicle offices and relate. For a long time, we did everything together, but back then there were 10 or 12 of us, not 40 or 50. Now we do it to earn a living and not just as a way of life. Some of us have husbands, wives, children, cars and homes. We have, in other words, lives. The paper has undoubtedly reflected that evolution.
Times certainly have changed -- Austin has changed -- but look at this first issue. Margaret Moser is still here, though she's a senior editor now, not a music gossip columnist, and Chris Walters still writes for us. Beloved friends have died, Bejou Merry was killed in a bizarre train accident, and Ed Lowry and George Coleman both died of AIDS. Joe Dishner is off making movies; the last time I spoke to him he was hanging out with Robert Redford, getting ready to work on The Horse Whisperer. Scott Bowles is in Japan, and it looks like our long tradition of multiple mentions of John Sayles began with our first issue (as Moser points out, there are no references to Richard Linklater in that issue; of course, we hadn't met him yet), and Nick and I hardly write anymore. Hondo's Saloon, Angles, and Xalapeno Charlie's are closed, but the Continental Club, Liberty Lunch, and Hut's are still going strong. Rusty Wier still plays every week (I'm not going to cover every writer nor every advertiser, so I apologize to those I am leaving out).
To celebrate our 15th year we offer this first issue -- ads and all. This is to show where we've come from, to try and get at who we are, because despite all the changes, we've always been the same. Otherwise, no special features or reminisces. After our 200th issue we offered quotes from the preceding 200 issues (we were late getting it together and published a special 201st issue rather than a 200th issue). For our 10th anniversary, we included letters and covers from the previous ten years (this also proved to be a monstrous task, so we didn't celebrate our 10th anniversary until Vol. XI, No. 2 instead of No. 1). But as the paper keeps growing, getting the focus and the concentration to celebrate our own past becomes harder and harder.
What drove the last 15 years is that there is always another Chronicle to do and there is always more of Austin's story to tell. As much as we are focused on this issue, everyone is already thinking about the next one. And the next one. And the next one, and the next one -- on and on. Look at this not as a new volume or an anniversary but a work in progress about all our lives and the community we live in and the one we are not embarrassed to say we love. Happy anniversary, enjoy the first issue, enjoy this latest issue. Next week, there will be yet another one.
Special thanks and appre- ciation to the literally hundreds of people who have worked on the Chronicle over the years and to our advertisers that make this all possible.n