Page Two: The Past Is a Foreign Country
The Chronicle's first office was above Half Price Books and a Jack Brown Cleaners on 16th and Lavaca ...
The Chronicle's first office was above Half Price Books and a Jack Brown Cleaners on 16th and Lavaca. It was a cavernous warehouse space occupied by Sheauxnough Studios, a true lost boys ragtag artists' collective, veterans of the extraordinary Armadillo World Headquarters poster mafia.
We rented space there surrounded by squared-off spaces where various artists resided. Guy Juke, Danny Garrett, and Dale Wilkins worked there. Micael Priest lived there. Bill Narum passed through and Henry Gonzales came by. I'm sure there were others. All kinds of wild tribal children in gypsy rags and would-be buccaneer getups wandered through.
In the middle of this bizarre black comedy stage set, we started a paper. Published it every other week. We ran out of money quickly. Then human flesh, blood, bone, and brain was slapdash used as putty to hold it together. It was a home to those driven mad, we hoped by a purer vision but maybe just as often through bad drugs and weird circumstances.
It was amazingly hot many months. Deadly during the heat of the summer. The story was that they had put air conditioners in some of the windows but the landlord's wife thought that unattractive. So they were gone and everyone sweated. Who knew if this happened. There were so many stories. A few of them were true.
We built an air-conditioned house in the middle of the space. A Hansel and Gretel weird cottage in the middle of the warehouse so the typesetting machine could be cool so that it would work. Layout was also done there. Layout and typesetting machines now long gone as the production of papers has become all computerized. As readership of print media fell and falls.
We put everything we had into issue after issue. Gradually we found readers. Slowly we became a part of the community. But who noticed at the time?
I'm going to stop here. I wrote this column for I think about 25 years, then sputtered to a stop, a few last ones spit out as though from the exhaust of a car slowly coming to a halt. There's more I will weigh in on here than memories of the past or how the past infuses the present. But I'm heading there, slowly rolling in that direction, carefully building up a head of steam.
Somewhere I have the first anthology of stories from The Village Voice. There is a piece about the funeral of Joe Gould, who famously was or infamously wasn't writing an epic history of the whole world. One of the old bohemian running buddies of Joe got up to talk about him. First of course he had to tell his stories because that's how slackers, beats, and bohos make sense of the world. But the audience didn't have the patience to hear him through.
But I know no other way. More than telling new readers or reminding old readers of who I am, it's me I'm trying to find. I have to write myself there. I'm trying to remind myself but also bring the readers along as to how the paper you hold in your hands or read online got here.
You stick around long enough and structures you help build are viewed by later generations as geological formations that have always been there – The Austin Chronicle, SXSW, the Texas Film Hall of Fame.
And building them was a bitch.
All the time I get asked about Austin then and Austin now. Which although different is somewhat like asking which fantasy novel you want to live in. Thomas Wolfe observed you can't go home again but what is even sillier is to try to go back in time. Was Austin better five years ago and five years before that and 10 years before that? Why back then how many angels were two-stepping on the head of a pin? And after that pogoing?
Yesterday is all fantastic and fantasy. Tomorrow we control. Today we live. The past is always better – smoother, things were easier, people were better, decency was more common. Today is a problem. It is traffic and congestion, it is the high cost of everything.
And tomorrow just makes us shake our heads.
We're not shaking ours. The Chronicle is engaged. It remembers the past, even cherishes it, but won't allow it to be the quicksand sucking us down. Here is to today. This is for tomorrow. Throw at us whatever you have. We are ready, as we have always been ready.
Because, really, no trick of memory will ever reconfigure that old un-air-conditioned warehouse space that got almost too hot for breathing, a graveyard for too many souls, to be anything even slightly better than it really was. The past is memory. And memory is not to be trusted. The future is possibility. Which is worth betting all and everything on, almost always.