Page Two: Making Their Marks

Austin loses two legends in one week

Page Two
"Hark, now hear the sailors cry

Smell the sea and feel the sky

Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic

"And when that fog horn blows I will be coming home

And when the fog horn blows I want to hear it

I don't have to fear it"

– Van Morrison, "Into the Mystic"

"In my hour of darkness

In my time of need

Oh, Lord grant me vision

Oh, Lord grant me speed"

– Gram Parsons, "In My Hour of Darkness"

It may be a perfect day for bananafish, but for most of us it is beyond terrible. Even walking through the pouring rain, I don't get wet. I sigh so deeply that it is as if I have no breath left. Our dear, dear friend Luke Zimmermann died this week. Tuesday night, Austin legend, promoter, brigand, highwayman, and constant swashbuckling lead in his own movie Jim Ramsey was taken off of life support and passed away. I am hollow. It is as though my ears are full of water, so I cannot really hear; the whole world is distant.

In any creative scene, there are those who are stars. In Austin, it's musicians, filmmakers, writers, artists, actors, and their ilk. But alongside those outlined in glaring neon are the armies of those who support them: the ones who run the clubs, book the bands, program the movies, show the art, publish the books, help make the movies, run the restaurants – the ones who show up at shows, galleries, movies, and theatres, the ones who are there in the bad times as well as the good. They are those who respond when called upon – and often do so long before.

Luke was an artist, provocateur, an often overly loud enthusiast, entrepreneur, and creative force. Luke leaves behind Pat Mares, his partner, best friend, co-worker, co-cook, and co-conspirator, and artist. The two are most well known for starting and running Ruby's BBQ, which is famous both for its exceptional natural beef and its commitment to and interaction with the greater community. In ways, however, they are just as well-known for their larger-than-life passions, humor, generosity, and creative involvement.

Luke was born in Oklahoma and raised in Minneapolis. He moved to Berkeley, Calif., for the crazy years of 1968-1974, then back to Minneapolis. After that, he moved to San Francisco for a year. Then, in 1983, along with his great friend singer/songwriter Gregory Schilling, he moved to Austin.

Pat wrote me that Luke "requested a quick cremation and no public services. His philosophy was 'when you're dead, you're gone, and it's time to move on.'" She added, "The best way for friends to have closure and honor LP would be to stimulate their minds and senses by attending a music show or going to a gallery or museum to challenge their way of thinking. They could do this in remembrance of Luke."

Luke did not want any tributes. He didn't ask for or expect this column. But that was just like Luke: He always was worried more about others than himself, always more concerned with doing good than getting famous. It comes as no surprise that the suggested way to honor him is to go out to hear music or look at art. My first memories of Luke are from when we were in the audience at the same shows.

And some will say, "Why give him the honor he didn't want?" They'll ask why he should be mourned in print when that is exactly what he asked to not have happen. The answer is that there is mourning in this town. There are those who knew Luke and those who loved him. He is missed. I feel like I must discuss Luke with love and affection to fulfill the Chronicle's obligation. We'll all remember his glasses, his machine-gun-speed talking when excited, his gesticulation, and his warm presence.

We were not that close, but we were a lot more than just friendly. On any number of occasions, we worked together, with Luke catering. There were many staff meetings over the years at Ruby's, and there were out-of-town friends who always insisted on making it, if not the very first stop, then one of the earliest ones when they got to town. That I'm never going to see him again, exploding with words or hard at work serving people or just lit up burning with enthusiasm, hurts. It's a hurt that won't stop any time soon.

"It's gettin' dark, too dark to see

I feel I'm knockin' on heaven's door.

"Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door

Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door

Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door

Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door"

– Bob Dylan, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"

There is no way to remember the year, but as always I was racing from one place to another, going so quickly that I really was almost never at any place at all. It was downstairs at Club Foot, during the day when any smack-'em-to-the-wall-and-then-let-go music venue would be so dank and empty that it would be exactly like the dark side of the moon if the moon smelled of cigarette smoke. Racing across the room, frenzied beyond reason, Jim Ramsey called me over to the back. He was with a band, a trio. He introduced me. Already pushing off with rudeness bred of no sense of civility, I was brusquely shaking hands with the last band member as Jim was saying, "and this is Sting."

It's been a couple of years since I ran into Jim Ramsey, but the man I knew would not be so modest as to decline funeral and eulogy. Ramsey was a promoter, gangster, pioneer, trickster, an up-and-down con man, an artist, a hustler, and a showman! If there wasn't a bit of an odd angle to what he was doing, then it just wasn't as much fun.

If Jim were here, he'd supervise a bonfire large enough to be seen from dozens of miles away to say goodbye to himself. The reason is that it would not be those of us who knew Jim, worked with him, were mad at him, and loved him saying goodbye to Jim. It would be Jim Ramsey saying goodbye to Austin and to us. And Jim being Jim, with a crazy grin and eyes wide, would have to give us all the finger from the center of the fire to let us know that it was Jim Ramsey we were saying goodbye to, goddamnit!

Over the years, Ramsey booked, among many other acts: Pantera, Suicidal Tendencies, the Ramones, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, the Go-Go's, Soundgarden, Blur, Tool, John Cale, Rage Against the Machine, Dangerous Toys, Pariah, Jane's Addiction, Mother Love Bone, the Fleshtones, the Police, Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, and Dash Rip Rock ....

Margaret Moser e-mailed me about Ramsey last night: "6:30pm is the turnoff.

"I was there to see him today around 3pm, having just lectured at a media class at ACC. A student asked me to talk about people who made a difference to my career. 'Let me tell you about Jim Ramsey ...,' I said."

In a Chronicle piece on the closing of the Back Room, Ramsey's former employee and partner Ray Seggern wrote, "The conversation here invariably shifts to Jim Ramsey, the notorious promoter who booked the club between 1986 and 1993. The refrain is always similar: 'Whatever you thought of Ramsey, he made his mark there.'"

Ray went on: "He opened Club Foot and put a bevy of talent, including U2, on its stage. He almost single-handedly willed South Park Meadows into existence alongside landowner Abel Theriot; the Police's landmark 1983 stop was but one of his shows. He was part of the legendary 'Ivory Tower' consortium that ruled the scene from the One Texas Center high-rise at South First and Barton Springs, built on the very foundation of the Armadillo. This loose-knit group included promoter legends Tim O'Connor and French Smith, omnipresent band manager Marc Proct, ticket man Brad Meyer (Star Tickets), and Steve Hauser, the Pace Concerts prodigy who went on to become a vice-president at William Morris Nashville. Save Liberty Lunch and niche venues likes Antone's and the Cactus Cafe, they pretty much ran the town."

Ramsey, larger than life, didn't really seem to care what other people thought of him in even the slightest way. He seemed inordinately proud to have won "The Worst Thing to Happen to Austin Music" in the Chronicle Music Poll a number of times. Ramsey booked any number of legendary shows, frequently bringing the next year's hot bands to town when they were still touring by station wagon. Talking about booking Suzanne Vega into the Back Room, he told the Austin American-Statesman that she said, "'Jim, why am I playing a heavy-metal club?' I said, 'Suzanne, tonight it's not a heavy-metal club.'"

If Jim said it wasn't, then it wasn't. It was Jim's rules in Jim's world, which for the most part we all went along with, because that was just the way.

We have lost truly great friends and brothers. The world is a sadder place today.

"Tonight's the night, yes it is,

tonight's the night

Tonight's the night,

tonight's the night

Tonight's the night,

tonight's the night

Tonight's the night,

tonight's the night."

– Neil Young, "Tonight's the Night"

"There'll be one child born and a world to carry on, to carry on. "

– Laura Nyro, "And When I Die"

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Luke Zimmermann, Jim Ramsey, Pat Mares, Ray Seggern, Ruby's BBQ, Back Room, Club Foot, Austin music, Austin promoters, Austin Chronicle Music Poll, Tim O'Connor, French Smith, Marc Proct, Brad Meyer

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