Page Two: A Happy Time Inside My Mind

On being and forgetfulness

Page Two

"A happy time inside my mind/ When melody does find a rhyme" – Tim Buckley

Now, in the middle of telling a story often told, I'm suddenly forgetting details. You roll into a story, especially one routinely visited, counting on all the beats of the story lining up, in an almost animated, chronological line that explodes clear and linear, three-dimensional in your head. Instead now, I'm given to forgetting details. Often important ones. People's names. The point of the story.

We are a storytelling people. About everything we encounter and interact with, we have a story. A full, dynamic, in-our-head story, which is why people can take such extreme stands over what seem like ordinary points. Because in the elaborate story in their heads, the interaction seems very different to them.

Beginning a company involves the telling of stories. The structuring of the business, its mission, becomes its story and its collection of stories. The early days, the ridiculous amount of time the staff spent together usually actively working on the paper but also, after, often, just exhausted hanging around because what other life did many of us have to go back to then?

I've not just forgotten those stories; I've forgotten how to tell them. We were there – oh dear God, we were there – from before the creation of the Chronicle through the birth of SXSW and on, every day. Day by day, and day to day.

The evening of January 8, 1978, began at the old Soap Creek Saloon in the hills with legendary Inner Sanctum manager James "Cowboy" Cooper getting married with a ham dinner and music by Alvin Crow and the Pleasant Valley Boys. Then a good chunk of that crowd bundled into cars together and headed to Randy's Rodeo in San Antonio to see the Sex Pistols, a life-changing experience in any number of ways (certainly culture-changing – locally, nationally, and internationally). But that's not the story here. There's even a great sidebar about the Clash in town making their "Rock the Casbah" music video – but that's not the story here, either.

Those are stories, but this is about stories. Standing in the packed crowd, I stood up on tiptoes as someone pointed out to me who Jeff Whittington was. Having long followed his music writing in The Daily Texan, he was a star to me. Not bound by restrictive taste, he loved music, all music, punk and pop. He wrote so well. I wanted to see who the person who wrote what he did looked like. I saw him at Randy's Rodeo, with the Sex Pistols about to change our future.

Whittington continued to write brilliantly for the Texan. In 1981, he joined us as a co-founder of the Chronicle. Which was a rocky road for all. Then he moved to D.C. and then NYC, where he died.

Lately I'm haunted by the dead. But that is putting it wrong. For better or worse, with my relationship with Jeff Whittington, Ed Lowry, George Morris, it is not just saying thanks to them but I guess stating that despite often thorny personalities (including at times my own), over the years we've stayed true to the greater vision created by so many. A decent and encompassing moral sense of the world as an exciting place, loaded with a past to be discovered, a present to be celebrated, and a future to be anticipated.

Writers are not their writing, and editors should be invisible.

At the time, it never seems as though it is working out. Instead it looks like the levees are being breached, the waters flooding down on all sides. Whittington and the Chronicle had a great run. He wrote a lot of important work. We told stories to strap us down and other stories to loosen us so we floated in space.

Now I don't tell stories. The rest of the staff might. But I don't.

Maybe that emptiness is of value, but I think maybe it is something missed. The telling of those stories. So now I'm thinking I should. (The staff may view this if not exactly in terror then maybe at least with a certain concern that I will keyhole them in the hallways on their way to a critical appointment to tell them what it was like back when. Tell them the story of the terrible first issue or Daryl Slusher's journey from controversial reporter to City Council member. Of surviving the first very tough 10 years. And just barely surviving the last five. Names not long spoken in the corridors of the Chronicle – never suppressed, just ignored, lost in the ever more rapid currents of the upcoming – will be spoken again.)

Maybe what we have always done, we dig in to doing again now.

Read Part Two in next week's "Page Two."

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Jeff Whittington, Sex Pistols, Austin Chronicle, storytelling, Tim Buckley

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