Editor Louis Black comments on our brief reunion with cover subject (and onetime Chronicle illustrator) Keith Graves, reconsiders Joan Micklin Silver's Chilly Scenes of Winter, and says "get well" to KVET talk-show mainstay Sammy Allred and "farewell" to former staffer Sarah Hepola.
By Louis Black, Fri., June 8, 2001
If you asked me to name the one thing that I regard as an anchor of the older, more righteous (sorry about that) Austin, it would be hearing Sammy Allred's voice on the radio in the morning. It's been on and off, mostly on, since I arrived. I remember Sammy being liberal and Sammy being late (there was a stint on one radio show where he seemed less than happy). Sammy being ornery and brilliant, offering tutorials or screeds, but always that voice. It is from the time of fine boot- and hat-makers in town, of the Split Rail and the Stallion, of drive-ins and barbecue and when it was really true that in Austin, Texas, Bob Wills was still the king. I don't always agree with Sammy -- hell, I didn't even always agree with Allred back in the days when I used to agree with him. For the last decade or so, Allred and Bob Cole have been a brilliant team on morning radio, as often as not advocating positions I couldn't disagree more with. Which I think is the idea behind a free media. Sammy had a triple bypass recently and has been off the air except for regular phone calls. I suspect he will be back soon. We miss him.
Through the ridiculous growth of the last half decade, I've always nursed a personal fantasy. I imagine that first morning in Austin when the hot-shot California high-techer in the rented Jaguar is racing to work, searching the radio dial for something to listen to. The search hits on KVET 98.1. Suddenly out of the speakers there is this voice. This is no homogenized radio voice available in a slightly different tone anywhere in the country. Sure, Austin is now a big city like all big cities, and you expect what you always get. Hey folks, meet the future. Here is the past as proud of itself as it has every right to be. It's a beautiful voice, a country story sitting around the stove spitting, sipping, and storytelling voice. A down-home twang, Allred's voice is a back-porch celebration of the beauties of nasal pitch that is set to make a high-techer's head ring. "What the hell is this!" he/she thinks, and "Where the hell am I?" The answer is so simple. Austin, Texas, home of Sammy Allred, and no damned place else.
The voice of the loyal oppositions sends our deepest love and best wishes to Sammy, and we can't wait to hear him back on the air.
When I was a kid, fiction, in print and film, always seemed to be dealing with some other world. Even contemporary works were set in a world as far from my own as Robin Hood or Forbidden Planet. Fiction was about this different world; it wasn't about me or mine. I remember breakthrough works, moments where that shimmering line of delineation disappeared and the works seemed more realistic. Dragging through Larry McMurtry's Moving On, I suddenly realized that this book was of my world, it was set in the places we lived, its actions were ours, it stunk of our smells. In a much more exhilarating way, watching Joan Micklin Silver's Chilly Scenes of Winter, skillfully adapted from Ann Beattie's novel, I had the same ping. The film was released in 1979, before the revolution of films about us, spearheaded over a decade by talents from John Sayles (Return of the Secaucus 7, 1980) to Rick Linklater (Slacker, 1991). Chilly Scenes was a vibrant, alive film. It didn't hurt that I had just finished living in Vermont and was forlornly in love with a married woman, principal points of the movie. No, this was of the world I lived in, the houses looked like the houses of friends, they talked like you and me. The film was so romantic because it was so real. Chilly Scenes of Winter will be shown Tuesday, June 12, at the Alamo Drafthouse as part of the Austin Film Society free cinema series, "Dance, Girl, Dance: Women Directors of the 70s and 80s."
Sarah Hepola has left the Chronicle. She is heading off to foreign parts to teach. Those who are about to meet her have no idea what a treasure they are about to inherit. Sarah was Film and Interactive features editor, my editor, and general all-around pinch hitter. A skilled writer, she was growing into a superlative editor. She literally kept the office constantly entertained and was, without exaggeration, a karaoke superstar. The paper you hold in your hands is something less than it was a week ago.