Pat Blashill’s Elegant, Extreme Images of Lone Star Punk

Butthole Surfers and Big Boys’ heyday captured in Texas Is the Reason

Early on, photographer Pat Blashill envisioned his book as a stark, aestheticized art piece, inspired by ocular icons like Robert Frank and Man Ray. Texas Is the Reason: The Mavericks of Lone Star Punk instead patches together Austin’s charismatic early DIY scene accompanied by writings from local heroes including Richard Linklater and David Yow.

Brett Bradford, David Yow, and Rey Washam of Scratch Acid, Voltaire's, July 1984 (Photo by Pat Blashill)

Blashill’s eye gleams in elegantly composed snaps of decaying punk squats and sweaty, eager mosh pits.

After shooting bands locally, including a few for the Chronicle, the Austin native moved to New York in 1987 and wrote for music mags. He now lives in Austria with his family, and teaches English. Read book excerpt, and find the book here.

Austin Chronicle: How did you start shooting concerts?

Pat Blashill: I’ve always been a goody-good student and liked school. In high school, I learned how to take 35-millimeter pictures, got on the yearbook, and suddenly I was very popular. People wanted to get in the yearbook, so they would give me a smile.

When I went to UT and started learning documentary photography, I got some good advice from a professor that said you should photograph your own life. I did that, but I suspect in a way, I was making a place for myself in the music scene as the guy with the camera. I wasn’t playing music, and I wasn’t satisfied just being in the mosh pit.

AC: How did you decide who should contribute to the book?

PB: I wanted it to be a portrait of the scene, not just me. My wife and I were sitting at a bar one night, and she’s like, “Which women are going to contribute?” I was like, “There weren’t any women in the bands.” She almost hit me.

Lynda Stuart and Rene Miller at home in Austin, 1984. (Photo by Pat Blashill)

Because first of all, it wasn’t true, and second of all, that doesn’t matter. Then you go to the women in the audience. It’s sexism, basically. You have to think about everyone who was involved and contributing. That’s how I ended up thinking, there was [Butthole Surfers drummer] Teresa [Taylor], my friend Donna Rich, and there’s Adriane [“Ash” Shown].

AC: Where does the title come from?

PB: There’s a Misfits song called “Bullet” about the assassination of JFK in Dallas. It includes the line, “Texas is the reason that the president's dead.” I read a review of that single that made a really great point about how America, and maybe especially Texas, has a death wish.

Texas is this crazy extreme place, and I think that extreme stuff is what made this music happen in Austin. The bands were reacting against racism, sexism, and conformity, and all of the things we grew up with. They messed around with this idea of being stupid, conservative redneck people.

“When I went to UT and started learning documentary photography, I got some good advice from a professor that said you should photograph your own life.”

One of the interviews I did was with [Butthole Surfers drummer] King Coffey, who reminded me that when they started the band, they were well-versed art students, and you could say that about a lot of people in the scene. The Buttholes really tried to portray themselves as these weird perverts from the backwoods. None of us really were that, but some people could play with it and turn it on its head.

AC: The book includes photos from the 1984 Republican National Convention. How did you end up there?

PB: The UT professors made an arrangement with the Associated Press, who were in Dallas covering the event. I was running film from the convention floor back and forth to the labs. Of course, I had my own agenda.

At night, I went to this memorable punk rock show that was part of the protest for the convention, with Dead Kennedys and Big Boys. Inside the convention, the Beach Boys played.

AC: Did you have any concept that the bands you were photographing might later be viewed as a definitive punk scene?

PB: I started working on the book around seven years ago, and wanted to include a second act in New York City, where I photographed people that are way more famous. To my discredit, for a long time I thought people were going to want to see my pictures of My Bloody Valentine, but they won’t even know who [Austin hardcore group] the Offenders are.

I should have done right by my scene, and that’s what I’ve finally figured out. I hope the book will mean something to people outside of Austin, who maybe don’t know the bands, but will look at the photographs and be like, “That looks like fun. We could do that.”

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Pat Blashill, Texas is the Reason, Butthole Surfers, King Coffey, Teresa Taylor, Scratch Acid, David Yow, Misfits, Dead Kennedys, Big Boys, Beach Boys, The Offenders, Richard Linklater

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