Page Two: In Dreams Begin Responsibilities

Too much noise, too little quiet

Page Two

One lazy afternoon, too long ago, in a rowboat on Uncle Arthur's place on a pond outside of Plymouth, Mass., off Route 3 heading toward the ocean, it was quiet. It remained just as quiet as I drifted the long slow afternoon hours until the sky darkened with early evening.

I'd taken the bus from Boston, after flying in from Texas, all speed feverish, stinking sweat. Burdened, by too many burdens shared, I was almost dead in a number of ways, dying in a few others. I was fleeing the early days of the Chronicle. Behind me was blood and fire, the chorus of souls in pain, the silence of the always-noisy, the melting of friendships into jagged-edged juggernauts dangerous to whatever they touched.

There I was on the lake. Alone. My friends up the hill in the house making dinner. A vivid green salad with bursting red tomatoes. And I found a peace. One that comes from quiet but also from being too far away.

It was the pounding of the drums and the thump of the bass, the drive of music that fueled everything we were doing, that marked the time of our time, there in the air and on the stereo and in the street. In our heads late at night racing the jazz-free, winter snow-covered Vermont roads as the lights, the snow, the white – endlessly mesmerizing, drifting down – carried one deep into an animation that just took you further and further along.

This was before the true advent of music everywhere – literally everywhere. Access was privileged, on the stereo at home, or in someone else's living room, in the car and listening to a radio. The music was always there. In our heads. But finding it could be impossible. In the early cross-country sweeps we made in old cars with only AM radios, half the time was spent trying to find a station with a signal that would last. The rest of the time, looking for one playing listenable music. There was one magic night pulling out of McCall, S.C., on my way to Sarasota, Fla., most of the day away. Driving past dense energy plants all ablaze with light in the middle of the night, Lester "Roadhog" Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys came on for a 10-minute run that found me in my beat-up VW Bug escaping the boundaries of mere earth as we cruised into some special highway space occupied by all-night drives set to just the right music on the radio and two boxes of albums in the backseat. Didn't know it was a Statler Brothers riff until much later, but knew it was special.

Music was at the core of everything we did. Not as a swirling throbbing embryonic hum but in clearly articulated songs, each loaded with meaning, creating the giant mosaic by which we help make sense of our lives. They came distinctly as songs, on the radio, on records and tapes, no iPods, no anonymous delivery systems of anonymously or digitally distantly personally curated music. You got it where you could find it. No big revelation here. One way is not better than others. Listening to music is listening to music. This was just our way. Visiting friends to hear new records, going through their record collection was expected. There might be music there that you so long wanted to hear. And records were almost the only way.

There is an insane rhythm to life in the newsprint trenches, week after week getting an issue out. The biggest idea is staying alive. Same as it's always been. After that, it is that Austin is someplace special and that we have a deep obligation as writers to do the best by it that we possibly can do. Since the beginning, I think we always have thought ourselves as much writers as journalists, editors, reporters. We work so hard at it, for the audience, for one another, being better and better writers.

It has never really gone away. There is a new generation, and then a newer one, driven to communicate with both eloquence and passion.

We wanted to live rock & roll. Somehow writing – supporting and covering our culture – was a part of it. In the beginning, no one cared what we wrote. Then people cared. Then sometimes, it seemed too many people cared. It was this uneven whirlwind forward. But it was about the paper week to week. About us and about the community. About the writing.

Sure again, in there we tumbled down the rabbit hole, went from being a noisy punk on the street corner to being a player in a fancier electoral crowd. Which has made a difference, and all things make a difference, but not as much of one as you would think. Since almost the beginning we've been accused of selling out, always doing whatever we've done for the worst possible reasons. More often than not we haven't even been granted stupidity but indicted for conscious malevolence. We were out to do bad. Rather than disagree. In our world, an accusation is not just a conviction but a sentence served. We move forward.

Last column I may have wandered in some unintended directions trying to get at how often this community has stayed true to itself. Which, despite the naysaying, has evidenced more growth for this town than most of us find comfortable. This community has persevered. Through failure, electoral loss, misplaced purpose, too many victories, too many defeats. Even through vicious ridicule. Both within and without.

I guess at some basic level I know that we are all in this together, that this town rises and falls with all of us. There are no winners, no losers, just us. Sadly I think on all sides, the basic good intentions of those involved in trying to guide/influence the city are too often the first thing dismissed. Especially those with whom one disagrees.

There on the water that day, the saving grace was quiet. But it really was about trying to think through, to somehow get a handle on the train we had inadvertently boarded. Certainly we had no idea at the time what was to come. It was barely steam-powered. But it seemed to be going awfully fast then, and we published only every other week. The wild ride yet to come was unpredictable. The ebb and flow, the tides and turns now are still surprising. But last night, just swimming, I remembered in some deep way just why we started this voyage. It hasn't turned out anywhere near as I might have guessed and I'm not sure where it's heading. But just as I did on that day on that rowboat, I kind of get what a privilege this whole run has been. And now again, more than three decades bled, it still so very much is. In that I find some peace.

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