Page Two: Don't Move Here
We're Number Three!
And the Beat Goes On ...
Any regular reader of British music magazines will see the names of Austin-based acts pop up regularly. I think this is very cool and serves as a tribute to the bands mentioned as well as to the music scene as a whole. More new acts are breaking internationally while older acts keep earning more respect for the evolving quality of their music.
The first part of this column is a brief, incomplete index of editorial content devoted to Austin bands in four of these magazines in the first half of this year. In some weird but consistent way, enterprises such as this one are always jinxed; it was seeing Explosions in the Sky getting coverage everywhere that got me to thinking about doing a list like this. But, having finally decided it was time, when I began cataloging references, I found only a couple of items featuring the band.
What follows is the most haphazard of indexes. It includes only four magazines and is limited to 2011 issues that I have on hand, which is about half of those that were published. Beyond arbitrary and not even close to comprehensive, this just seems like interesting information. Annotations about bands included on complimentary CDs and long lists of bands in editorial were not included.
After I thought about it, for various reasons, it seemed too strange to include Bill Callahan and Iron and Wine. As I understand it, Hot Club of Cowtown and Spoon have moved out of town. Deciding to look at only contemporary performers means artists like the 13th Floor Elevators and Doug Sahm were out. Any articles on or references to South by Southwest were ignored for obvious reasons.
The magazines I looked at were MOJO (four of seven issues), Q (three of seven), UNCUT (five of seven), and WORD (three of seven).
... And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (review, MOJO, March 2011; review, UNCUT,
The Band of Heathens (roundup column mention, UNCUT, June 2011)
Explosions in the Sky (review, UNCUT, May 2011; review, MOJO, May 2011)
Colin Gilmore (review, UNCUT, February 2011)
Sarah Jarosz (mention in Kate Mossman's column in WORD, May 2011; review, UNCUT, July 2011;
review, MOJO, July 2011)
Gurf Morlix (review, MOJO, June 2011)
Okkervil River (50 Best Albums of 2010, No. 35, Roky Erickson & Okkervil River, UNCUT, January 2011; feature review, Q, June 2011; feature review, UNCUT, June 2011; review, MOJO, July 2011)
Kimmie Rhodes (roundup column mention, UNCUT, February 2011; roundup column mention, UNCUT, May 2011)
Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodgriguez (review, UNCUT, January 2011)
Patricia Vonne (review, Q, March 2011)
White Denim (album preview, UNCUT, February 2011; top hit list, Q, June 2011; major feature article, UNCUT,
June 2011; feature review, UNCUT, July 2011; feature review, MOJO, July 2011)
... And On and On
The above list came about as I was looking through magazines. The following excerpts are from an article that I found while cruising online. In a long piece in the Houston Press (June 8), writer John Nova Lomax performs a full-body takedown on Austin. Lomax does not feign innocence; knowing what he is after, he doesn't pretend that he is without a target. In a strange way, my list and his article work as companion pieces.
Lomax is cagey enough to understand that he is dealing with a layered situation, with a real city and the myth of that city. In looking at both, he provides the ample proof that he knows is there: that these emperors wear no clothes and that, rather signifying a hip, creative community, the idea of "Austin" is simply a lie. The main point of his argument is that the only really unique things about Austin have to do with a population where most are addicted to pretension and blissfully lacking self-awareness, boasting instead a willfully nurtured self-deception.
He reports that Austin used to be cooler (though never that cool), but, at an event I missed, "Austin officially decided to barter its imagination for a bid at Houston- and Dallas-sized stacks of cash."
Lomax bulletproofs this takedown by garnering agreement from two longtime Austin icons – Eddie Wilson and Joe Nick Patoski – who both viciously attack present-day Austin, having almost nothing kind to say about the city. As do many of the folks reading this, I love both Wilson and Patoski. But how do I say this exactly? Well, imagine that something major happens – like, say, Jesus Christ makes his return on the UT campus. If the media decided it needed some truly curmudgeonly reactions, the first two phone calls made would be to Patoski and Wilson.
Without too much more comment – I'll leave that up to the readers – here are a few other highlights.
There are problems with Austin. Lomax quotes a 28-year-old accountant who says that Austin is not only a city "with tons of problems – segregation, gentrification, problems with affordable housing," but, worse is that "most people ... tend to ignore them."
He quotes a Houston blogger's argument that "much of what Austin touts as being weird is actually ordinary. Bats under bridges? Houston has those. A large population of panhandlers, or 'dragworms,' as they are called in Austin? Both Houston and Dallas have them."
Lomax, of the famed Lomax clan (his father, John Lomax III, posts a comment to make this relationship clear) practices the family tradition of inclusive scholarship by first reminding us that "oddly enough, Austin has the shortest musical history of any big city in Texas. As late as 1963, Austin's pop music scene consisted of touring old-school country bands and cover bands working the frat-house circuit."
Lomax doesn't even pause: "[T]here's no Austin music that 'sounds like Austin' the way the cosmic cowboys, retro-blues folks, and even the Austin punks and new-wavers did. The bands that have created national buzz out of Austin in the last five or ten years – Ghostland Observatory, Spoon, Okkervil River, the Octopus Project – could just as easily be from Portland, Brooklyn, Toronto, or San Francisco.
"Likewise, today's Austin City Limits could as easily be called Indie City Limits."
He brings it all home by quoting an ex-Austinite: "And there's nothing unique going on in Austin. 'Tell me what the cool venue is in Austin right now. ... There's not one.'"
In the comments following the piece, there are many from Houston-dwellers that sing the piece's praises. The irony here is that if just such a piece attacking Austin ran in a local paper, probably just as many, if not more would be quick to agree with it.
Lomax didn't mention that another advantage of Houston is that there you could find a 6,000-to-7,000-word piece attacking Austin. You would never find a piece at that length attacking another Texas city in the Austin press. There's just too much other stuff to do here.