Page Two: Living Just Enough for the City

City sound limits and national anti-immigration movements share absolutism and intransigence

Page Two
When Austin decided to adopt the motto "live music capital of the world," I was opposed to it, since it seemed a title a city should earn and not one that it should assume for itself. Since then I've only changed my mind a bit, for two basic reasons. Many publications, including the hippest of the hipperati, have used the term with admiration rather than with irony, as I initially expected. Outside of Austin, that this is the city's official designation has created the widespread illusion that city government understands and supports the Austin music scene. This has reinforced the image of Austin as a unique place – which it is – even if not for those specific reasons. Many of the last several mayors and members of the City Council (including the current ones) have gotten, and supported, the music. Still, it wasn't until Toby Futrell became city manager that the city establishment came around actually to understanding and supporting the music scene.

In actuality, there isn't much a city can do to support any art scene. Art is inherently qualitatively driven, and the best, most entertaining, and most accessible gains attention. This is not to say that all art that achieves prominence is therefore good but that even in the cases of widely well-regarded art that you or I might still consider bad, mediocre, or painfully imitative, there is still significant public discretion involved.

City funding and support are inherently quantitative: offered equally across a wide spectrum where quality and brilliance are only a few of the many factors considered, as well as easily the most difficult to objectively assess. In terms of civic expenditures and other kinds of support, arts funding has always been one of the most controversial areas. To this day, among the most vicious, violent, and destructive intra-city battles I've witnessed in my time in Austin remain the arts-funding wars of the mid-Eighties.

On the other hand, there is much a city can do to mess with the live-music scene. This city, in particular, seems to feel that since it has adopted that slogan, it is unusually free to torture and challenge the live-music club scene without needing to do much to help it. First, there was the Noise Ordinance, which lowered acceptable levels of live music to heavy-traffic levels. The no-smoking ordinance followed. Keep in mind that this ordinance was passed when only 200 or so Austin businesses could legally allow smoking, and smoking was already banned in hundreds, if not thousands, of businesses. The last 20 years have seen the sublimation of traditional fascistic political inclinations to the blinding white righteous rightness of the ridiculous triumph of the morality police, ranging the full political spectrum from left to right – from animal rights and vegan pressure to media censorship and anti-choice campaigns. None of us, of course, wants to impose our morality on others nor have others impose theirs upon us. The exceptions that prove this rule – apparently far more of the former than the latter – are not based on personal morality but on absolute moral truths, derived from science, religion, tradition, superstition, ideological certainty, and the like. Thus many were quite comfortable and completely righteous as they banned the smoking/no-smoking choice from the final 200 establishments.

Live music be damned, we were assured that this was at the service of scientific fact, with music audiences sure to increase exponentially upon enactment of the ban.

Now, in the "live music capital of the world," we are moving from the unreasonable to the ridiculous, with yet another assault on permissible sound levels for live music. I realize that those who support such sound reductions will find my disgust outrageous and lacking all compassion, as they are forced to suffer what they consider unacceptable levels of noise. Austin has become a city where the considerable political pressure of both citizens and organizations, the liberal use of referendums, and the nonstop rhetoric of a thousand points of special interest (each claiming to represent the common good) all seem to be aimed at trying to legislate this community into a million or so individually shaped utopias.

Give the live-music scene a break! And it's not even much of one, when one considers how low the acceptable decibel levels are already. There is a minority of voices claiming that they love and support live music but that the level of noise is just intolerable. It is time that the greater city acknowledge that any "but" to supporting live music is neither loving nor supporting live music. It is time, after talking the talk for so very long, that the city government walk the walk. If the decibel levels are once again lowered, one suspects that the claims of too much noise will not also lower exponentially. People bothered by the intrusion of loud noises don't really have a cut-off level at which the noise becomes comfortable rather than disconcerting and annoying. It will, however, more than exponentially lower the amount of outdoor live-music events and the enjoyment of tens of thousands of other people.

I sympathize with those complaining – but not much. There are a lot of annoying aspects of city life, many of which directly contribute to the many advantages of it. I would just love to see a period of years during which the city of Austin, having no idea what to do really to support live music, at least does not legally assault it.

The perfect storm of the anti-"illegal immigration" activists continues unabated. Reactionaries and conservatives are far more satisfied when their agenda is rejected, so they can wallow in their own self-righteous purity while decrying the liberals' and progressives' destruction of all that is decent and worth preserving. I used to live in a house with an overactive black standard poodle named Poocho, who would race along the screen and window of the back room, barking ferociously at any intruder into the back yard, especially cats. His run would invariably end at the locked back door, where, expressing unbelievable indignation at not being allowed out back to right wrongs and achieve territorial justice, Poocho would linger, howling. One day, in the midst of a particularly overexcited display of outrage, when finally stopping in front of the back door, much to his amazement, it flew open. At first startled, Poocho soon decided that he should not indulge in what he saw but persevere in what he believed – and stay right where he was. I think it was Richard Pryor who challenged a woman accusing him of infidelity: "Are you going to believe me or your lying eyes!" Having occasionally tackled and lost to some of the toughest cats in the neighborhood, Poocho chose to believe his ideological conviction that he was being unfairly deprived of just retribution rather than having to act on his own "lying eyes."

The disaster of the current Bush administration, where all too much of the conservative agenda has been implemented to near-invariable disaster, with the country being in so much worse shape diplomatically, economically, legislatively, militarily, socially, and cooperatively than it was at the end of Clinton's presidency, has caused the conservatives and reactionaries to wise up. Rhetoric is far more satisfying when it establishes one's superiority without any chance of having its many weaknesses exposed by implementation.

The whole activist assault on illegal immigration is designed to be self-satisfying with goals that are not just contradictory but actually unachievable. The illegal-immigration problem must be solved. Yet there can be no amnesty nor any kind of legal absolution. In any and all terms, forcing more than 10 million people to leave the country is impossible. Thus the activists have the outrageous problem – their pure white light of self-righteous indignation and not the slightest chance of resolution. (After all, look what happened to all that mighty American military-power rhetoric when it was stupidly actually exercised in Iraq – that certainly hasn't worked out!)

Now New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer wants illegal immigrants to be able to get driver's licenses. This is not awarding them a privilege but foolishly done in order to make them more responsible and accountable for their actions. Any steps toward actually addressing or trying to solve the problems related to illegal immigration are not just pandering but condoning criminality and therefore treasonable. In light of the fanatic overreaction to this proposal, the obvious intention is that no politician will dare to try to address this problem in any way that is reasonable, or compassionate, ever again!

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