Page Two: Picking Up the Conversation
The Chronicle at 34
Hitchhiking cross country to a wedding many years ago, Michael Ventura passed through Lubbock and visited a house where Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Butch Hancock, and Joe Ely, among others, lived. Ended up there for a long time. Then he drifted off to other adventures and different travels. A year and a half after he left he was back in Lubbock. Unannounced he walked into the living room where folks were talking. Without missing a beat, in mid-sentence Gilmore, seeing him, continued, "Michael, as I was saying ...," and went on to make his point.
As I implied when we last spoke – and as we have been noting in one way or another since we began publishing 34 years ago, on Sept. 4, 1981 – the Chronicle is our paper. Not ours in that it belongs to the people who produced/produce it. But ours as in all of us. All of us who live in this community, reader and staffer, activist and observer, creators and audience members. Ours.
We live in a city that we dreamed and dream but now the plaint is that the dream is lost. The city we love seems to be horribly morphing into a weird futuristic nightmare community of high-rise buildings, constant construction, flocked building cranes, and too much traffic. Beloved businesses and institutions are gone; seemingly mass produced, generically faceless stores have taken their place. Many now say Austin is dead, its best days past. Declaring this is so ever-present and fashionable that it has become trite. The morning prayer now is to decry the loss. To say you should have been here when. That it was so much better 40 years ago and 20 years ago and yesterday. That tomorrow it will have been better today.
Glory, Glory Hallelujah! There is nothing to argue.
But I don't agree.
This city lives in our minds and hearts, it was created and cultivated by our imagination and nurtured by our energy. The many blights of growth and excess are often ugly blemishes on its skin. But its heart still beats ferociously beneath that surface. People its unstopped and unstoppable pounding blood. The Chronicle tells the stories of, by, about, and for these people.
Saturday I was on a train heading to Woodstock, New York, tracks running alongside the Hudson River, passing the Tappan Zee Bridge. It was raining. My companion was sleeping. Driving across that same bridge years earlier with the director Jonathan Demme, I asked him if he thought he was an "optimistic" filmmaker.
He thought about his answer before he carefully responded with something along the lines of "You can have a deep affection for your characters, you can feel that they have a future. Tomorrow has the possibility of being as good or even better than today. In their lives there is always the possibility as well as the reality of things getting better. There are, however, many other options for what might happen and how it might be perceived." This, then, is not "optimistic," which has to do with naively underestimating the terrible situations and dire circumstances that people confront every day.
There is a chance that tomorrow might be better than today. What more can you ask for?
We are you. And you are us. We are this city, and it us, and we need to move forward together.
This column flourished for years and died with a whimper, not a bang. Now, yes Jimmie, I'm back, I'm sitting down on the couch, I'm going to again join in the talk that has been going on since long before I first arrived, that will continue long after I'm finally gone.
But as you were saying ...