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Once again, Austin has demonstrated its deep indifference to front-line troops who nourish the music scene it purports to be so proud of

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This Week: Stew

Intersections, memories, contemplation, meanings, reruns, and random thoughts, because there is too much going on, and sorting it all out wouldn't leave any of it making sense. It's a convergence of 1) Grace Slick being in town for an art show, 2) the passing of the smoking ban, and 3) the fact that, over and over and over, I'm listening to Frank Zappa's "Trouble Every Day" on the Mothers' maiden album, Freak Out (I had already been thinking about Kim Fowley way too much).

1) Beginning with the most important item: Grace Slick is visiting Austin for an art show. Unless you are of a certain generation, it's probably nearly impossible to appreciate Slick as an unyielding personal force, a very determined individual, and an artist. First and foremost, she was a terrific vocalist in a brilliant band. She brought the Jefferson Airplane its two biggest hits from her previous band. She was very sexy, but she was also like a den mother. She really got it that we were all in this together, and certainly that could be fun. I couldn't care less what she has done or said since leaving the Airplane – she never stood for ideological conformity, but rather personal freedom as (somewhat) defined by personal responsibility.

The voice, of course, is the beginning, the end, and the beginning again. Obviously, because of my age and who I was – as well as the astonishing overall times during the turn of the decade from the mid-Sixties to the mid-Seventies – so much of its resonance is emotional and psychological. There are very few other voices that mean as much to me, evoke feelings buried so deep, and remind me of so much. Last time I wrote about my love of the Airplane, I received several letters sharing memories and great stories. Slick was a singer, an artist, but she also was a way of living.

Still, I probably won't go see her (almost certainly not after writing this). Meeting people who are silhouetted by the time and ways you've thought about them is usually barely social. John Irving always said that if writers are really committed, when you met them you should be disappointed in who they are as people: The best part of them should be in their writing. But it's not that; it's something more. I'm just not sure how to express it exactly.

2) The smoking prohibition passed. There was already in place a ban that affected more than 95% of related businesses. This vote was to order the last 200 venues – businesses that had paid the city's permit fee to allow smoking – to ban smoking.

I'm a bit more depressed than usual because this campaign to limit our rights was driven by liberals and progressives who claimed that it was strictly a public health issue. I'm sorry, I don't buy that argument. Where is the line between community good and the community practicing puritanical, parental overreaching? Banning smoke from public places where we all may chance to breathe it speaks directly to community health. Banning smoking from more than 95% of Austin businesses addresses public health concerns. But banning it in those last 200 or so businesses narrows the focus considerably. Yes, the ban impacts working conditions for employees and performers, as well as nonsmoking customers who choose to be there. If, however, similar health concerns affecting only 200 businesses were raised by mostly outsiders – people who neither work nor regularly attend events at those places – would Austin progressives really have banded together so willingly?

I think much of the vote for the smoking ban was punitive: against smokers and the large tobacco companies. Some of it was simply driven by the self-righteous superiority of those nonsmokers who assumed that they would have to do what is best for their fellow citizens who can't help themselves. Regardless, remember that when you argue health concerns as scientific fact – and thus a worthy reason to limit rights – my concern is, where does it stop? This was a vote to forbid smokers to enjoy themselves at only 200 or so locations – in a very real way, they are now second-class citizens.

A) Okay, it's put-up or shut-up time: Where is the army of nonsmokers who are ready to go out and hear music? Not just Joe Ely at Antone's, but the day-in and day-out bills at places like the Red River clubs (among many others), which nurture the next generations of Austin music? Lyle Lovett at the Paramount is not what we are talking about.

B) Once again, the community of Austin, which constantly brags on its great live music, in order to show their overwhelming appreciation of those front-line troops who nourish that scene, has reached deep into its heart to find it empty and, actually, unconcerned. Is a noise ordinance, followed by an almost complete smoking ban, immediately followed by a complete smoking ban, with absolutely nothing done on the positive side, really the best way to say "thank you"?

C) I'm sorry, addiction is a lifestyle choice. Very few who get addicted didn't first do something they knew wasn't the smartest thing for themselves. Anyone who has been around a lot of recovering addicts and addicts knows that the most important determinant in quitting an addiction is the determination of the addicts, within themselves, to stop. Clearly, a decision has to be made. Addicting substances are self-defining as to consequence and power, but giving in to addiction is a choice, no matter how it's powered. To argue otherwise is to claim some very healthy chunk of the population is irresponsible in at least one area (tobacco, alcohol, heroin, prescription drugs, gambling, spending money, etc.). This invites fascistic paternalism, which all sides seem to advocate even as they pretend to loathe it.

Okay, ban smoking, prohibit liquor, further criminalize drugs, and so on. Limit choices and restrict lifestyles, but at least grant most addicts their individuality and integrity. Choices are involved.

There are so many letters, so next week we'll get to 3) the same songs over and over. And, maybe even 4) why I think the Republican legislative majorities, in the most clinical sense, might really be crazy. end story

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin smoking, Austin smoking ban, Austin music, Austin music scene, Austin clubs, Austin economy, Grace Slick, Joe Ely, Antone's, Austin Red River, Lyle Lovett, Austin, Paramount, addiction, smoking, Frank Zappa, Trouble Coming Everyday, Mothers of Invention, Freak Out, Kim Fowley

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