The Austin Chronicle

Page Two: Love Loves to Love Love

On celebrating the "Best of Austin," and learning to live with the worst

By Louis Black, September 11, 2015, Columns

It's the best of times (that paraphrased legendary sentence cut off at the midway point but will follow through with the remaining clause next week). This issue is our annual "Best of Austin"! An ongoing celebration of the many wonderful places, people, and institutions in this city. An issue where Chronicle writers join with the community to accent many of the things we like best about our town.

Once, the dominant writing style of most of the cold-call column submissions we received was Hunter S. Thompson indulgent. Wide-ranging speed rants that he made look so easy and damn near everyone else did so poorly. Later, oddly, the style changed to Rush Limbaugh – the bombastic celebration of one's self and one's intellect coupled with the most contemptuous, dehumanizing dismissal of those that didn't agree with you. In no way am I suggesting this attitude was ideologically specific. Pundits from the conspiracy theory right like Alex Jones to liberal, progressive, and radical left commentators equally embraced it.

Proposed columns echoing that mocking self-satisfied superior voice were submitted (but not published) while a bevy of similar-sounding letters were received over the years (most of which were published).

Lately that seems to have again changed, toning down just a bit into the more economical Facebook position statement. Without the bombast and assuming superiority rather than bragging on it, the sentiment still boils down to little more than "I am right." Thus, of course, those who share these views are wise and should be cited. Those of differing viewpoints are mostly idiots who should be mocked. Those not idiots are deliberately evil and destructive. Certainly, seriously entertaining ideas with which one doesn't agree doesn't seem much of an exercise for anyone these days.

There is right (what I believe) and wrong (what I don't believe).

The "Best of Austin" issue is an optimistic zeppelin drifting in the meta space between real Austin and Austin imagined. Well-lit, it floats about dodging the darkness and despair.

It is more fun to moan than discuss, to decry rather than celebrate. It is safer to be negative (one's life is guaranteed to eventually take a dip) than be hopeful (because even when hope is rewarded nine times out of 10 – that last failed time is so devastating).

Instead, once a year we line up readers and critics to celebrate Austin, without much criticism to go on about what they like. There is a lot going on, a surprising amount of it special.

Sunday night we went to Mike Flanigin's The Drifter show at the Paramount. Flanigin is a longtime utility infielder player who just released his first album. (You can find our recent profile, "The Drifter," Aug. 14, online.) The show and the album are both all-star affairs. We were completely blown away by the show.

Outside of the Relatives, a great gospel group from Dallas, and Billy Gibbons, the lineup was all local talent. The band was led by Charlie Sexton. Yes, when playing he is all smiles, but having done some shows where he was band leader, no one takes it more seriously or works at it harder than Charlie. What was stunning was the enormity and range of the talent onstage to honor Flanigin, a longtime organist in demand. It wasn't just that the show was good, the players are among the best – it's that it was so rehearsed, so tight that it could also be so loose.

But the truth is those kinds of shows go on all the time in Austin (though perhaps not that outstanding). As does the film scene and food, fashion, theatre, academics, art, gaming, programming, and all kinds of entrepreneurial endeavors.

Yes the traffic sucks, really more than sucks, and we still don't have an effective, geographically spread-out alternative transportation system. There are more people than ever and I don't know most of them. Almost never run into anyone I know at the airport, though I'm not sure I ever did.

Quoting Wallace Stevens out of context: "The world is ugly/ And the people are sad." Yes ... and I would say yes to say yes that is true.

So get over it.

Move on. Don't look backwards bemoaning a yesterday that almost certainly wasn't as good as you remember it (though it may have been quite good).

This issue is a quick photo of Austin now. Austin alive and breathing. Sure tomorrow will be worse, the traffic more backed up, a few more lots with buildings torn down and new ones being built. But isn't that the case almost everywhere? What marks this city is its people and who they are and what they do. What happens today and into tomorrow is the heart of the action and the soul of the city. It isn't what it was but what it is and is becoming. Some of that may be a bitch but overall it's just not that bad.

Welcome to a cataloging of some of the best things about it.

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