Page Two

Memoir of a former Daily Texan.

Page Two
This weekend The Daily Texan will celebrate its 100th anniversary. The alumni list is impressive, staggering actually, from Walter Cronkite, Liz Smith, Liz Carpenter, and Bill Moyers to Lisa Beyer, John Schwartz, Bill Booth, and Mark McKinnon to Robert Rodriguez, Chris Ware, and Berke Breathed to Nick Barbaro and me (I'm not trying to establish any qualitative comparisons, but instead commenting on the generational randomness of it). The Texan is an incredible experience because it is genuinely staff-run. As writers, editors, and people, it educated and inspired us. It was also a hell of a great time. I was living in a big old house on the corner of Duval and 381/2 when I got a call from some guy at The Texan (I think Ray Helmers) asking if I wanted to review Star Wars. At the time, my social circle was centered on Austin's science-fiction community, so I suggested reviews by Howard Waldrop, Steve Utley, Bruce Sterling, and me. Ironically, the Texan printed reviews by everyone except Sterling, currently the most famous of that group by far.

Over the next year, my life turned upside down. Things fell apart, things came together; I stopped being an English graduate student, transferred into the film department, and -- I don't remember how -- started writing regularly for The Daily Texan. In time, I would write scads for the paper, at one point having two columns as well as writing innumerable reviews and features. One of the columns was on film ("Two Reels and a Crank"), and the other, on music, went through some name changes and a few co-writers, including the Rev. Neil X. Ruttenberg and KGSR-FM's Jody Denberg.

It was a wild time. In the evening, we'd start with movies, then head out to the clubs and, after 2am, we would congregate back at the Texan to write, to compare notes, to hang out. The Entertainment department was responsible not only for the arts and entertainment section in the daily editions of the Texan but also "Images," a 24-36 page arts and entertainment supplement to the Texan published on Mondays. We were officed, along with the rest of the Texan staff, with our back against one wall. The ceilings were 15 feet high and slanting. It was a weird cavern, and it was ours.

Accompanying the Texan's birthday celebration, Eakin Press is publishing The Daily Texan: The First 100 Years, by Tara Copp and Robert L. Rogers. In it, former editor Lisa Beyer says that this entertainment office "was referred to by [editorial manager] Bob Hilburn as 'the opium den.' It was all darkness and funky posters and lots of smoke." Over the years, I've had more than one old friend describe what it was like when, in their late teens or early 20s, they first entered that office to a tidal wave of attitude, energy, drugs, and opinions. I, of course, have the one sex-and-drugs quote in the whole book "'We were all so [___-] crazed,' said entertainment writer Louis Black. 'There was lots of drugs, lots of sleeping around, lots of writing ... everything else was secondary.'" [Ed. note: their edit]

What it was really about was the writing. The thrilling exhilaration of writing in your own voice and then discovering what you can do with the voice. Writing through emotional upheaval and personal chaos driven by the excitement of the word. Hours of sitting in front of computer screens, lost in the writing -- the rest just dressing for this main course.

I'm not going to go into the stories here. There is not enough space for the rich oral tradition of Texan mythology-telling tales: Scott Bowles taping Chris Walters' dirty laundry to the ceiling; meeting Margaret Moser, for the first time, in the wee hours of the morning, sitting in front of a terminal, giggling, on Jeff Whittington's lap; receiving death threats from the Dicks because I didn't like their album; staying up all night writing only to have the computer crash and eat everything as the dawn broke; a nearly perfect kiss in a room that shouldn't have been dark; tales of too many fine parties, of falling in love, of drugs, of people. I'm skipping that because it was really about the writing, and this is a birthday, not a wake.

When I reread our writings from that time, which I rarely do, I wonder why we thought we were so good. But we did. Out of that atmosphere came a lot of writers, and out of it came the Chronicle. What you hold in your hands wouldn't be if it weren't for The Daily Texan. But this is about the Texan, not the Chronicle, so that means there are even more stories to stay away from.

No, this is about the Texan. For its past, we show respect, but what is really exciting is what that paper is going to produce over the next hundred years. Happy birthday to The Daily Texan! end story

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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