Page Two

The real tragedy of downtown construction, the life of Steven Fromholz, and the death of Joey Ramone

Page Two
The real tragedy of downtown Austin is not the ridiculous gridlock resulting from all the current street closings. It is that the buildings undergoing all this construction may well remain empty for years after they are finished. The problem with growth is that everybody wants to get in on it. Once again, Austin has been overbuilt. The question is: How severely? That's something that will be answered not just over the next months but over the next few years.

Certainly, this is an invitation to finger-point, but that is inappropriate. Many businesses in many areas, intoxicated by the boom, overexpanded. The bust -- if it is a bust -- will be used to argue against Smart Growth. I don't buy that. I think directing abundant development toward downtown is a good idea, one that will bear fruit over the next half-century as the core of Austin remains a vital place. The issue is, more clearly than ever, the same as it has long been -- how that downtown growth was and is managed. Even more, how overall growth is managed, accommodated, and directed.

Construction was more disruptive than it had to be during the boom; now, how will the downsizing of downtown construction projects be handled?

Growth over the last half-decade has been overwhelming -- not just downtown but also in the surrounding Hill Country. I think the incredible amounts of money and growth have muddied the political waters over the last five years, making it hard to define issues. And I think the lack of money will even more profoundly color the next few years. The cover story by Amy Smith ("Deconstructing Downtown," p.26) is not a destination or even an editorial. It is the documentation of a moment. If the gloomy economic predictions are true (and I think they're overly optimistic), the next couple of years could see streets closed to finish buildings that almost no one will occupy. Sound like a Simon and Garfunkel song? It is our reality.

When I came to Austin in the mid-Seventies, one of the centers of the music scene was Inner Sanctum Records, a record store in one room of a converted old house off Guadalupe where Starbucks now stands. During the progressive country days, this was the hippest record store in Austin, continuing its defining role well into punk and New Wave. At the time, the joint was presided over by James "Cowboy" Cooper, holding forth from behind the counter on all subjects musical. The rest of the staff was just as knowledgeable, opinionated, and outspoken (Cooper now presides at Music Mania).

In my first days in Austin, knowing almost no one, I used to go hang out in the store, checking the records, voraciously reading all the material on the cover while eavesdropping on the ongoing conversation. One day I listened to Cooper enthusiastically recommend an album to a regular customer as just his "kind of music" and "a rare shipment from the warehouse." Later, I bought a copy of Here to There by Frummox and took it home.

The first listen really knocks you out, especially if you have no expectations. It's the first song on the second side that takes you down: "Six o'clock silence of a new day beginning/Is heard in the small Texas town/Like a signal from nowhere the people who live there/Are up and moving around."

"The Texas Trilogy" I've heard hundreds of times since. But I'll always remember that first time. Steven Fromholz wrote that song. Frummox had broken up by the time I got to Austin, but I saw Fromholz live many times over the next years. A great performer, Fromholz always struck me as one of the most talented -- if not ambitious -- of the progressive country bunch. A brilliant songwriter ("I'd Have to Be Crazy," "Dear Darcy," "Bears"), Fromholz has led a life that is rich and worthy of study. A songwriter, performer, storyteller, actor, white-water raft guide, Fromholz has spent a lifetime doing it his way. In "Old Man River," on p.64, Andy Langer checks in with Fromholz in light of the recent release of his new CD, A Guest in Your Heart.

Joey Ramone is dead. There is no obit in this issue (but Ken Lieck reports on events related to his death on p.62). Why burden the subject with unnecessary words about his importance? His was a great and influential life. It is no overstatement to say that the publication you hold in your hands is informed in many ways by his life. The music brought us together socially and inspired us intellectually and emotionally. The Ramones' aesthetic still defines what we do, though we've gotten rather opulent over the years. What is there to say when so many will be saying so much? There is Joey Ramone's life and the extraordinary meaning he created by just wanting to have some fun.

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joey ramone, steven fromholz, downtown construction

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