Black Rat Swing
By Margaret Moser,
2:52PM, Mon. Sep. 22, 2008
The twentysomething, punky girl hesitated at the corner of 27th and Guadalupe, waiting for the light to change. Her modified mohawk lay like a white fur pelt on her cropped hair. She appeared blissfully unaware that her once-rebellious hairstyle made its Austin debut more than a quarter-century ago in a building that stood about 50 feet away.
2610 Guadalupe stood open last week, being gutted for renovation in its umpteenth incarnation as a bar. For the last 20-odd years, it was the well-loved Texas Showdown but I’d darkened its unprepossessing doorway when it was also Gemini’s and the Buffalo Gap. And Raul’s, of course, which is what brought me back there last weekend.
The swell guys that pass for developers – and I say that with 100% heartfelt sincerity because they have been sweethearts – let the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture, marshaled by Museum mistress Leea Mechling, inside to view the mural. Since the Texas Showdown opened, it hid behind wooden planks, living in legend and memory. Sarita Crocker painted it with a combination of housepaint and acrylic in 1979, assisted by Claire LaVaye, and all these years later it looked pretty damn good, if dusty and dirty.
Mechling, along with Henry Gonzalez, Veronica Allbright, Scott Conn, and Jim and DeeDee (Davidson) Berry cleaned and patched it before it goes behind walls once more. LaVaye poked her head in to get a look, while a few others brought their children by to be photographed against it. Kearie Lee Berry IV, who calls herself “the rat princess,” lay on the floor in imitation of one. In a dizzying trompe l’oeil effect, the section painted to look as if it were broken plaster was truly peeling apart.
(By the way, if you think that the South Austin Museum of Popular Culture get one iota of respect from those moneyed types who usually move in museum circles, you couldn’t be more wrong. SAMPC is the genius artsy cousin who makes fart sounds for the kids at the snooty family reunion.)
In watching The Last Pogo, I had a Bob Lefsetz moment, the blinding epiphany. OK, it wasn’t so blinding but it did unearth a small glimmer of memory that early punk was not the mohawked, tattooed look of today. That hardcore style came in the early 1980s, mainly out of California. The Last Pogo is set in the Toronto punk scene and recounts a seminal 1978 concert called “The Last Pogo,” in which – stop me if you’ve heard this before, Huns fans! – the show was busted by the cops and a near-riot ensued. (Where’s the doc on the Huns bust, Tom Huckabee? Anyone? Anyone?)
By splicing the crude concert footage with a pastiche of interviews, director Colin Brunton neatly captured the sneer and swagger of 30-year-old punk without snickering or jabbing you in the ribs. The beauty of The Last Pogo is that it is Everypunk’s story. Skinny ties, nerdy lead singers, angry young men, short songs with sharp chords. The brief interviews reveal bursts of enthusiasm, passionate, ideological beliefs, plus the usual in-fighting between bands.
And look hard at the clothing and hair styles: this is real punk, the original first-generation bands concurrent with the Sex Pistols and Ramones. Lotsa long hair mixed with short, choppy styles but NO MOHAWKS OR TATTOOS. A lot of the look appears to be shredded glam-rock outfits. More facial hair than I remember but the Horsehoe Tavern in Toronto on this night could be Raul’s in Austin or the Beat Exchange in New Orleans or CBGB’s in NYC.
In the midst of all this ruminating the credits for The Last Pogo rolled. The camera panned to a band wearing silly sunglasses, another authentic sign of early punk. One of the band members spoke at the camera. “There’s a really thin line between punk rock, rock & roll, new wave. It’s not even worth the time to define it. Listen to it. If ya like it, ya like it.”
P.S. As I drove out of the UT area on Sunday, KUT played “Black Rat Swing.”