Don't You Start Me Talking

Michael Corcoran sounds off on his recent retirement

Austin Music Chronthologists, SXSW 2011: (l-r) Raoul Hernandez, OTR, Margaret Moser, Michael Corcoran, and Doug Freeman
Austin Music Chronthologists, SXSW 2011: (l-r) Raoul Hernandez, OTR, Margaret Moser, Michael Corcoran, and Doug Freeman (by Gary Miller)

Twitter changed Michael Corcoran. The sharp immediacy of the micro-blogging platform seemed to spark a renewed vigor in his writing, resulting in blunt and often hilarious posts reminiscent of his earliest Chronicle work (see OTR). That's why it came as a surprise that the longtime local critic had accepted a retirement package from the Statesman.

If the end of an era of sorts for local music criticism, especially at the Statesman, leaving a void that no freelancer could possibly fill. OTR sent over a few questions to learn more about Corky's departure and his plans for the future. Here's what came back.

"I took the buyout mainly because I need a break. A long break. Since I was hired by the Dallas Morning News in late 1991, my first full-time writing job, I've been working my ass off, pretty much nonstop. I can write for only about four hours a day before I'm spent, so I work seven days a week. I have a hard time turning the job off, so I feel lucky that the Statesman provided a good enough offer for me to walk away.

"My son Jack has one more year in high school, so I want to really help him get ready for college, meeting with counselors, helping him fill out applications, etc. I didn't have a college experience, so I guess this is my chance to do it vicariously - at least the admission process.

"I'm not really sure what I'm going to do, though I've made a list of projects that I suddenly have the time to work on. One example is that I've found a never-published interview of the film director King Vidor, whose father C.S. Vidor is the namesake of Texas' most notorious town. Vidor is "the home of the Ku Klux Klan" in Texas. Ironically, King Vidor's 1929 film Hallejujah is one of the most honest and spirited depictions of African American life ever on the screen. I don't know exactly what I would do with all that info, but I've got a lot of time to figure it out.

"One project I'm possibly going to pursue is a book on the history of Austin music, from the German singing societies of the 1800s, through the Lomax cowboy songs and then, of course, Kenneth Threadgill, Eastside blues, the Armadillo, Raul's to the present. I've already done a lot of research on such Austin pioneers as Arizona Dranes, Camilo Cantu, Robert Shaw, Tony Von, Gil Askey and on and on, so I've got a big head start. There have been some good books written about certain segments of Austin music, like Jan Reid's Improbable Rise of Redneck Rock and Joe Nick Patoski's SRV biography [Caught in the Crossfire], but nothing about the whole history of Austin music.

"When I wrote for the Chronicle back in the 1980s, I was very influenced by the punk rock attitude. The difference between Margaret Moser's column ["In One Ear"] and mine was that hers said 'fuck me' and mine said 'fuck you.' I've always thought a music critic was a silly job, like who am I to rank good and bad music? So I wasn't afraid to be totally off-base early on. In fact, I thought it was kinda noble to show that you were not to be taken seriously. I'd rather be wrong then boring. But when I started working for the Statesman, the role changed. I felt a lot more responsibility and learned how to be a good reporter.

"I got really turned on by doing primary research, correcting things that history had gotten wrong. After the rigors of SXSW, which is really two months of 60-hour work weeks for me, not four days of chaos, I told my editor Sharon Chapman that I didn't want to take a few days off. Instead I wanted to spend a week at the Center For American History at UT, going through every box in the John Lomax collection. I would go there at 10 o'clock in the morning and when they announced they were closing every day at 4 p.m. I would feel like I'd been there 45 minutes. The hours flew by. That's what I love to do more than anything, so if anyone wants to find me the next few months, you know where to start."

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