Chapter 2: Biweekly and Proud
September 1982-August 1988
1982-83 Chronicle History: By August of 1982, Sarah Whistler had moved out of Austin, Joe Dishner had left to go into film production, and Ed Lowry had just headed off to teach at the University of Southern Illinois at Carbondale. Louis Black was still ostensibly a graduate student, Nick Barbaro was more or less living at the paper, and Jeff Whittington had a job at a television station as a cameraman. There was no money, the paper shrank, and contributor pay was cut. Black and Barbaro decided it was time to get the hell out, so they spent part of the year trying to give the paper away. During this time, Sidney Brammer became managing editor; Bob Simmons, a friend of Brammer and Ed Ward, became associate publisher and tried to raise money or sell the paper.
Somehow, though, the paper kept coming out every two weeks. The next half decade would see two physical moves and the paper grow in recognition and respect.
Chronicle Content: Still trying to figure out what it was editorially, the Chronicle navigated forward slowly, adapting a variety of roles. It was a period of transition and growth. The paper was getting better known, but many phone calls still had to include the Chronicle description shoved into as few words as possible: "We're - an - arts - and - entertainment - biweekly - (that's - every - other - week) - with - a - print - run - of - 20,000 - distributed - at -hundreds - of - places - around - Austin."
Sidney BrammerOne day, Managing Editor Ed Lowry (Buddha rest his soul) took me aside in the layout room and said, "Sid, I notice that you painted our floor." I waited for him to start some rant about destroying the suffer-for-our-art funk of the place with my type-A obsessive behavior. Instead he asked, "How would you like to be our new managing editor? I have to move to Illinois."
Marjorie BaumgartenSidney Brammer took over as managing editor in August 1982 when Ed got his doctorate and moved away to teach (yes, further evidence of the remarkableness of Ed Lowry is that during all the storied mayhem that was the first year of the Chronicle, he also managed to teach, write a Ph.D. dissertation, and hang out with friends till four in the morning). One of the first things Sidney did was call and offer me a position as the Chronicle receptionist/office manager and take over this duty from the recently rotated-out Margaret Moser.
Now, I was ready for a gig away from academia (even if the financial prospects promised to be much worse than anything offered in the notoriously impecunious academic realm -- still, I think it was the only job then at the Chronicle that paid anything), but truth be told, I was afraid of tempting the wrath of Margaret Moser. I didn't know her at the time, but I certainly knew of her. She cast a formidable presence in the local club scene whether you knew her or not, and I remember things like watching Joe Dishner grow grayer by the moment as he worried about what he didn't know about Margaret's coterie of Texas Blondes. Margaret's and my paths had crossed only once directly: the time she came by the CinemaTexas office to watch a Velvet Underground film that we had shown as part of a Warhol package. In retrospect, I should have recognized that as a sign of our like-mindedness.
Worried that Margaret would be angry about her forcible retirement and consequently use me as some kind of voodoo doll or worse, I sought her blessing. I remember approaching her trepidatiously in the aisle of the Texas Union Theatre when I ran across her at some screening or other. I was completely bowled over by her graciousness and total lack of hostility. She was the first to admit the incompatibility of her rock & roll lifestyle and her office responsibilities. Not only did I have her blessing, but also her wholehearted support. She regarded anything as a plus if it was done for the good of the Chronicle.
For me, this moment was the real beginning of the Pledge -- even though Margaret and Louis consciously date the oath to a lost weekend years later in New Orleans. The Pledge goes something like this: Anything for Nick Barbaro ... as long as he's having fun. And by extension, anything for the Chronicle (and Louis Black). We both were committed to the terms (long before anyone believed the enterprise would last the year, no less 20). Margaret and I have gotten on famously ever since.
Casey MonahanBack when I drank beer, I did so mostly at Beer Park, an Eastside, open-air gem of a beer garden just west of where East 26th and Manor converge. One day in '81, a fellow dropped off a bundle of tabloids with a purple photo of a scary man on the cover. The Austin Chronicle was born, and I began a now 20-year habit of spending around 15 minutes every Thursday catching up with what its writers think is important in Austin.
A bit later, I read an "Interns Needed" notice in Margaret Moser's "In One Ear" music news and gossip column. I applied, was accepted, then did what most all who aim for a music business career do first: worked free for those who earned only a tad more. One of my first tasks was alphabetizing her photo collection. Margaret had to find a misplaced photo of Tina Weymouth, bass player for the Talking Heads. She kept raving, "No previous musical experience!" about how Weymouth personified what was important to music then (and now).
Punk taught teens, and 20s on up, that anybody could play in a rock & roll band -- no experience necessary. Punk also meant that anybody could publish a newspaper. Obviously. I remember Louis asking me, "Why are you here?" I remember thinking, "I bet he's the editor." He didn't wait around for my answer.
Margaret MoserEarly on, the Chronicle didn't have an identity. We were represented by physical issues, but the paper was more the various people who worked here than we were the paper's collective voice. The Chronicle struggled to define itself, and the moment it did, all the smoke and embers and raging desire to stay alive caught fire and began to rage. That happened because of the Bob Simmons fiasco.
The Chron was in financial straits. Bob Simmons was an affable, intelligent radio mover and shaker from San Francisco, a friend of then-Managing Editor Sidney Brammer, who stepped in as the new co-publisher. I'd seen the Sun deteriorate through a similar move and was very suspicious. Bob had some very good ideas (he conceived the original Music Awards show at Club Foot) but not a clue about Nick Barbaro and Louis Black.
The big blowout happened when Bob posted a short list titled "How to Kill the Chronicle." It outlined a number of valid and occasionally humorous failings of the staff with undisguised venom. It found its way to the wall, where I was reading it when Louis Black came along. He ripped it from the wall, grabbed a black Sharpie, scrawled across it "FUCK YOU! L.B.," and put it back up. Simmons was gone shortly thereafter, and the future again looked bleak. Except that all of a sudden Nick and Louis had this determination in them that wasn't there before. We might not have known who we were, but now we sure knew who we weren't.
Marjorie BaumgartenI really had little idea of what to expect when I came on as the office manager in August 1982. But I guess, I supposed, that a desk might at least be involved. I suppose everyone else thought so, too, because before I arrived that first morning Sidney Brammer concocted a desk from a couple of milk crates and a long 2x4 just wide enough to place a telephone on. With a metal folding chair parked behind it, this shabby sight was the first thing a visitor would see after braving his or her way down the long, dark, filthy corridor that led to our 16th Street office space -- of course, that was after the visitor had screwed up the courage to enter the unmarked warehouse building and risk possible injury getting up to the second floor by means of either a narrow, rickety staircase or a wooden service elevator that looked like it had been installed around the time of the Lincoln inaugural.
I think the main thing everyone wanted was for someone to come in and make the four-line phone system stop ringing all the damn time. Great, I could do that. Soon I learned that a lot of what I would be doing was fielding calls from curiosity seekers, out-of-towners looking for the Austin daily, people who would want me to read them the entire evening's club listings (something that still occurs to this day), classified advertisers who would want to know if words like "the" and "and" counted toward their free word limit, readers and advertisers pissed off about something or other, cold-calling office-supply salespersons, and so on. I was also on intimate terms with several persistent bill collectors who tracked their scofflaw individuals to their reputed place of employment.
Soon it became apparent that there was so much more that needed to be done. There were the subscription mailouts, putting a system in place for maintaining back issues (in the 12th Street office, they were stored in boxes in the nonfunctioning bathtub in the one bathroom), keeping a constant lookout for hand-me-down office furniture and supplies, and becoming the de facto Information Central. Waste baskets needed emptying, the lavatory needed cleaning (on 16th Street we shared office space with the Sheauxnough artists -- many a morning I'd come in to work as Micael Priest was rolling out of his hammock, heading toward the bathroom, towel and toothbrush in hand). Moreover, stuff we hadn't even imagined yet all needed to be done.
Sometimes I would notice the few incoming checks we received scattered about Nick's desk. Once the fun of opening the mail was over, Nick lost interest in the checks. Not being able to stand it, and with our bank right across the street, I started preparing a daily deposit. Another thing I began doing was proofreading, but that all started because of the ungodly heat. It was really my ruse to get inside the air-conditioned production igloo that was built around the typesetting machine on 16th Street in order to keep it cool. However, something about it stuck (I was anal enough for the task, and I loved being the first in town to read the paper). Editorial "quality control" issues are still among my specialties at the Chronicle today.
It was during those years that I began thinking of my job description as "doing whatever is necessary." This could be taking over a distribution route in a pinch, manning the phones during promotional giveaways and contests, slapping mail labels on the subscription list while answering phones, transacting the walk-in classified sales business when no one else was around -- literally, whatever. It was also during this time that I joked about the title of my future memoirs: I Was a Love Slave for The Austin Chronicle. (I moonlighted with a good-paying second job -- at the diametrically opposite IRS Service Center -- for about five years in order to support my unbreakable habit of working at the Chronicle.) But the rewards of keeping watch over the portals of the Chronicle were unsurpassable. There was no better way to learn everything there was to know about the paper. And the constant parade of Austinites I came into contact with and got to know was a cherished education and privilege.
Chronicle History: At some point, Barbaro and Black realized that they knew this paper and what it was supposed to be better than anybody else, and took responsibility. In March/April, the Chronicle was thrown out of the 16th Street space (the better to build the parking garage that stands there today), so they moved to an old house on West 12th Street, across the street from the Austin Community College Rio Grande campus.
Roland SwensonI was running a foundering music production company/record label with my partner, producer Patrick Keel. We ended up sharing a few rooms in the back of the second Chronicle office at 12th and Rio Grande with Joe Nick Patoski, who was managing Joe "King" Carrasco and the True Believers. I lived nearby on West Avenue, and Nick Barbaro and I were often among the first people there in the morning, which is when I got to know him. We had been to the same places and parties and knew a lot of the same people for many years, but we hadn't spent any time together.
Soon after I moved in, I was invited to my first Chronicle party, where loads of food were ordered from all the restaurants on barter and fed to the lowly paid staff and contributors. After the party, there were a bunch of ribs left over that had been provided by a legendary, now-deceased, Lubbock BBQ entrepreneur. The ribs were a funny color, and few would eat them. After the party, Nick saved them and kept them wrapped in foil in the freezer of the refrigerator that we all shared. Every morning, for months, Nick would gnaw on a "BBQ-sicle" for breakfast. The bone would be shiny when he was finished, and the marrow would be gone.
Sylvia Bravo MartindaleOne person said I was the Chronicle's earth mother, although I never thought of myself as that. I feel like I kind of weaseled my way into the Chronicle. I think I told Nick I'd work for free and, come to think of it, I ended up doing that for just a little while. I didn't know where it was all going to go. I didn't have a desk, but I had all these folders for doing the billing. So I would move around from desk to desk while others were out of the office, whichever ones were not being used at the time. Everyone was really nice about it -- I usually used the ad reps' desks.
Robert Draper had written a story about his grandfather, Leon Jaworski, and it ran with lots of typos. From that point onward, we began to be a lot more careful. Each flat would be proofed and initialed by the proofreader. I helped make things more consistent, and we had a style manual of sorts. I always seemed to find typos, and sometimes I'd find errors that would make Nick and the others groan.
One of my jobs was to make sure Nick and others got out and played softball on Sundays. We needed that playtime because we were working 24/7, and it was important for us to get some fresh air. We played at Fulmore Junior High and at the field behind the fire station on 30th Street. The usuals included Robert Draper, Mike Hall, Louis Jay Meyers, Brent Grulke, and sometimes Louis Black, and we even played some of the folks at a halfway house in the neighborhood. John Sayles played once while he was in town to host a screening of Brother From Another Planet at the Varsity Theatre.
At one Lakeway party, Steve Davis, Brent Grulke, and Tom Maurstad entertained us by putting on a little show singing and dancing and doing the hokey-pokey or something. They were really good, and Margaret Moser dubbed them "The Three Guys." We encouraged them to debut at the Continental Club.
After meeting my husband Jim, I left. It was tough juggling married life and the crazy hours at the Chronicle.
Robert DraperI'm the wrong guy to ask, but that never stopped me from answering.
The Chronicle, back in its Bronze Age, was a cabal of college film critics, record store clerks, and New-Wave barflies -- which is to say, it was high school with black-on-black team colors. My fellow geek outcasts from the Class of '83 included the painfully effusive ad salesman who would later become Austin's neon mogul; the self-consciously Afrophilic R&B critic who, unlike me, actually succeeded in sleeping with the musicians he wrote about; the embittered middle-aged co-publisher who not-so-secretly schemed to fire half the staff; and the managing editor with a distinguished literary pedigree and an unfortunate weakness for local theatre who became my girlfriend. We would all be chased out well before the glory years, hazed away like the gym class cretin observed nursing an erection in the showers.
To get paid at the Chronicle, even as a staffer, entailed an Oz-like pilgrimage to the publisher's office, where a hairy sphinx named Nick literally measured my biweekly worth by means of a column-inches ruler I had every reason to believe was rigged. I would stand there with my tin cup, fidgeting before the mystic while he hummingly calculated my way into financial insolvency. What recourse did I have but to take it out on the city's musicians? Davy Rodriguez, are you still out there? I apologize, though indeed you were quite awful, if not as awful as I. Would-be writers, forewarned is foreskinned: Your sins of youth will dog you unto death. These words were written by the same guy who pronounced Max & the Makeups, Vital Signs, and Skank great bands. Rather than a living wage, the Chron paid out a long rope to anyone who was willing to risk strangulation. And if you yearned to interview the deaf about their favorite rock bands or to unspool the narrative of your grandfather's funeral, no one, God help you, stood between your musings and the printing press.
Look elsewhere for nostalgia. The Chronicle is far better today than it was back in my scruffy era. Our charge was not to be good, or even terribly relevant -- but instead, to hammer out intelligible copy for a few farthings so that the paper would be delivered on schedule and the bills faithfully paid. If success first means showing up, we were the original loiterers. Some are better than others at this. For me, the Chronicle represented a point of departure, much as I had been to the managing editor. Shortly after she took up with a far worthier mate (a local actor, her future ex-husband), I found myself sulking at Club Foot one night. Taking pity on me, Margaret Moser proffered one of the many blondes she kept handy -- this one named Melinda, who in turn slid a cocktail napkin my way. Written on it in lipstick were the words, "I am yours tonight."
That was all we were, an orphanage of cheap-trick artists looking to be possessed. Eighteen years later, our tonights are spoken for. I would never have imagined anything so lovely.
Sylvia Bravo MartindaleJohn Ross had just retired from Texas Student Publications (the publisher of The Daily Texan). The Chronicle's circulation really needed some direction. After decades of working with TSP, John knew so much about those types of issues.
Hugh ForrestI think I first became part of the Chronicle during the summer of 1983, when I came back from my junior year of college in Ohio to spend the summer in Austin. I loved the paper and desperately wanted to work for it. I remember stopping by the headquarters in an old house on 12th Street. But all my enthusiasm was drained when my offers of help fell on deaf ears amidst the total office anarchy. My response to this put-off was perhaps a bit dramatic. In 1985, I started a newspaper called The Austin Challenger, which aspired to be an alternative to the Chronicle. (It also aspired to publish monthly, but was more successful at the former goal than the latter.) I suppose the two papers were rivals, although our page count and print run were significantly smaller, as was our staff and, ultimately, our stamina. Finally, in May of 1987, I gave up -- or, more appropriately, gave in. The Challenger was put to rest, and I began writing for the Chronicle. Just like I had always wanted to do.
Austin: The Boom was on. Money floods the streets. Politics was defined by the environmental debate. Austin decides to build a City Hall. We'll even have nuclear power! But no convention center.
Chronicle History: The town was awash in money, but the Chronicle staff was immune. The staff worked harder. They figured things out. The March 1984 Music Awards Show marked a coming of age for the paper. The show was produced in-house by the current team of Margaret Moser, Nick Barbaro, and Louis Black. The paper began to really establish its identity.
Margaret MoserI used to poke through the papers on Louis' desk because I was nosy. I didn't go through his desk drawers, though. That was wrong. During the early summer of 1984, I found a submission from a writer newly arrived in Austin. It was more parody than journalism, but I was raised on MAD Magazine and loved it. "This guy is funny!" I waved the letter in Louis' face. Louis looked at it again. "Oh yeah, Corcoran. We printed something this week of his." "Print more," I said. "This is great stuff."
Corky was one of the biggest geeks I had met in a profession that seemed to breed them. We met one day at the office, and I praised his writing. He just looked at me with those small blue eyes and said, "You'd make a good girlfriend for my roommate Rollo." I snorted. "Like I would go out with a guy named 'Rollo,'" thinking of my coterie of rock-star conquests.
I finally met Rollo at the art show the Chron sponsored at Liberty Lunch. He started following me around when I was playing with Dino Lee & the White Trash Revue, and I was very flattered, so I decided to go out with him. On our first date, we ended up at the Driskill for the weekend. Four days later, Rollo told me he loved me and four days after that asked me to marry him. We got married two months later, and it lasted for 14 years, even through his tenure as Cover Svengali.
Roland SwensonLouis had recently become the Chronicle editor, and he introduced me to a new writer he'd discovered: Michael Corcoran. Corcoran was writing a story about how bands choose their names, and he interviewed me for ideas. The story turned out to be about a fictional character who, in the first-person story, was a consultant that bands hired to help them choose new names. This was my first exposure to Corcoran's blend of humor, fact, and fiction.
Lois RichwineJesse Sublett [then-boyfriend, now-husband] was typing a story on the Chronicle's typewriter -- the first Martin Fender story, which later became his first novel -- when Carolyn Phillips asked him if he knew anyone who would want to sell ads. He volunteered me, even though I'd never done anything quite like that before. At the time, I had a booking agency and was managing bands.
I met with Louis, Nick, Sylvia, and Margaret. Margaret and Sylvia did most of the talking. Louis and Nick were very friendly and real cute (and they still are). Louis laughed a lot, and Nick nodded now and then. They hired me on the spot, and on my first day in the office I sold a full-page ad. I was very successful at selling to clubs and other businesses on the music scene that I'd been dealing with already, but had not advertised in the Chronicle before -- places like Waterloo Records and Steamboat. Selling ads was not the career I had originally chosen, but I'm glad I did. The seven-year gap in my tenure at the Chronicle was spent in Los Angeles, where I worked in the film industry and at L.A. Weekly, and promoting Jesse's books.
Deborah ValenciaWhen I saw The Austin Chronicle, I wondered who these people were. When I heard they were looking for someone, I called and went right in. The first person I saw was Nick. I thought, "Gee, pretty tall, eccentric, highly intelligent, and a nice guy." Sylvia was great and supportive. Louis talked a mile a minute and we found out we had a lot in common. I let them know I wanted to work there, saw the light at the end of the tunnel, and knew it could be really successful.
On my first day, I was all dressed up and hardly anyone was in. I asked Nick where to start and he said anywhere I wanted. So I went out and came back five or six hours later with a 1/3 page vertical ad for Chinatown Restaurant and a check in hand. Sometimes it was a slow process. Some people still thought we were some kind of rag, so I had to be persistent. If they said no, I'd leave them alone and would go back at a later date. Some accounts I got right away, some took years. In the old days, when our distribution system wasn't as organized, I used to drop off bundles of papers to our advertisers. To this day, I still make the rounds. I love to visit with clients new and old -- some accounts like By George and Emeralds I've had for the whole time I've been here.
To this day, I still hear the old line "check's in the mail," or they say, "Come over, it'll be here," and then when I show up, they're gone.
S. Emerson MoffatIt's the fall of '81 and I'm in a third-floor Boston walk-up, opening a letter from Louis Black. I've known Louis since college, exactly one decade. Of that, we've spent three years living together, six weeks not speaking, the balance as friends. Pre-e-mail, we write and phone sporadically. He won't hang up if I call him for a movie title at 3am, and I still have his mother's pepper-steak recipe.
It's a big envelope with a photocopy inside, a smudged shot of Lou, Scott Bowles, and Nick Barbaro. The three are dressed in drag -- gowns, purses, wigs, full make-up -- prancing on the steps of Louis' Speedway duplex.
We're starting a paper, writes Louis, with no explanation of the drag shot. A biweekly arts rag -- we're calling it The Austin Chronicle. Kind of a generic name, I think. I give it six months.
Three years later, I'm back in Austin. Surprisingly, the Chron hasn't folded yet, even seems to have a following. I throw down a couple thousand words on Laurie Anderson and they run it -- look ma, I'm a writer. Worried about fallout at my day job, I use my middle name for the byline: S. Emerson Moffat.
Roland SwensonI started doing some work for the Chronicle. Louis and I promoted a "Chronicle Heavy Metal Battle of the Bands" with Wayne Nagel at Steamboat. I did some copy proofing. When a slot came open, I took one of the highest paid positions at the Chronicle: delivering the paper. For a dollar a drop, I delivered 5,000 or so issues to 30 different spots in Southeast Austin.
Ed WardOver one Christmas, I was at the home of one of the Austin American-Statesman's younger and more sympathetic reporters (no longer there) with his girlfriend, also a reporter (also no longer there), a calculating type who figured the road to advancement was on the back-stabbed corpses of her colleagues. There were adult beverages and other adult substances, and after a while, she asked me "So ... you're Petaluma Pete, aren't you?" I chuckled and denied it. "No, I know you are. Come on: He's a lot like you. He eats at the same restaurants ..." Trouble is, I think the boyfriend knew I was doing it.
A few days later, I saw the girlfriend in a whispering match with my editor. Oops! He called me into his office. "You're writing for the Chronicle," he declared. Again, I denied it. "We're going to investigate this. I want you here for a meeting tomorrow at two." And that was that. That evening, I called a friend. "You're gonna be Petaluma Pete," I told him, and we worked out a meticulous backstory. "Be ready for a phone call about two tomorrow," I warned.
The meeting was the girlfriend, the editor, and a higher-up editor. I walked in with a come-on-I-have-work-to-do attitude, and right away, my editor accused me: "Hey, I know those people, but the paper doesn't pay shit, and anyway, why would I imperil my job here? I have lots of freelance work." Well, there's been talk ... "I know this guy Pete. We often go out to the restaurants he reviews. Do you want to talk to him? I have his phone number right here." The editor, not a very decisive guy at his best, was getting uneasy. The higher-up was giving him an are-you-wasting-my-time-again stare. "No, no, I don't think that will be necessary. Just remember, writing for the competition is a firing offense." When I got home, I called Louis and told him the Statesman considered the Chronicle "the competition." After we finished laughing, we agreed that that was actually sort of cool.
Chronicle History: Going into Year Four of the paper, the Barbaro-Black Publisher-Editor combo looked to be the management arrangement that clicked. It had survived for more than a year, and the Chronicle was continuing to grow, albeit slowly. (It was averaging a whopping 32 pages every issue.)
Chronicle Content: Editorial was still in flux, however, with Robert Draper and Mike Hall having already left and Margaret Moser marrying Rollo Banks and retiring from her gossip column. But several new writers had signed on and begun making their mark. Jim Shahin pioneers the Chronicle's consistent political coverage, beginning to position the paper as a force in the community. Michael Corcoran becomes the Chronicle's most notorious writer, his "Don't You Start Me Talking" column a must-read for much of the community.
Gerald McLeodI started working for the Chronicle the week after Thanksgiving, 1984, in the office on 12th Street. It looked like every alternative weekly that I had ever seen. Musty newspapers were stacked everywhere, and there was an odd assortment of cast-off office furniture that was being given another life. [Then Art Director] Kathy Claps and I were pasting up the entire newspaper every other week. She had a goat farm east of town, and I had a day job at a state agency. She was responsible for the editorial section, and I did all of the ads. The thing I remember most about working at the 12th Street house was how much fun we had and that we laughed a lot -- even though we pulled some late-nighters putting the paper to bed.
Early in my career at the Chronicle, I wrote some story -- I don't remember what -- and sent a clipping of it to my mother. On the back was an ad for an escort service or something equally offensive. The next time I talked with her, my mother asked me, "Why don't you get a job with a real newspaper, like The National Enquirer?" I only sent home Xerox copies of my writings after that.
Roland SwensonOne morning I went to the office, and there were eviction notices stapled to all the doors. Nick and Louis were assured by the landlord, who was subleasing to everyone else, that everything was okay; it was a mistake. 30 days later, a crew of construction workers showed up in the morning and started ripping the place apart. It was time to move. The real-estate boom was peaking, and we had been priced out of downtown. The owner relented on the eviction and let us stay another month while new space was sought. The workers continued remodeling the place around us. Soon a thick layer of dust covered everything.
Nick finally found space in an office on West 28th that had been home to a lot of lefty organizations and political campaigns. Joe Nick and I were invited to move along with the Chronicle. Held down by the weight of human bodies, cracked desks, scratched-up file cabinets, and broken chairs were piled high on a few borrowed pickups. Numerous trips were slowly driven the 16 blocks north. It was a scene like photos of Dust Bowl refugees.
Austin: The boom is peaking. Hundred-dollar bottles of wine and ounces of cocaine are common. The battle lines between pro-environment and pro-development forces are drawn with the election of the first "green council" under Mayor Frank Cooksey. Citizens organize to move the airport. Capital Metro is born.
Chronicle History: The Chronicle is forced to move again. The mid-Eighties takes its toll. The paper begins by taking over a few offices on the second floor of the building at 28th Street and San Antonio, then the Smoot Carl-Mitchell for City Council headquarters and a few other offices downstairs. Over the course of a half-decade, the Chronicle will, worm-like, absorb most of the building with other offices occupied by SXSW and friends, including Jeff Nightbyrd and Louis Jay Meyers. For a period, The Texas Observer occupies offices at the other end of the building, but for some reason, the two publications never socialize.
Chronicle Content: Finally getting it, the staff devotes time to many special issues, ranging from South Austin to Mystery Fiction. Given the biweekly schedule, many things are possible.
Roland SwensonShortly after moving into the new offices, I had to face the fact that my record label was finished. My girlfriend had left me, and I was deep in debt. No longer burdened by other options, I was now qualified to be a full-time Chronicle staffer. Having a very short attention span at the time, I was lucky that my job was somewhat nebulous. I was sent out to sell ads, I was put in charge of the classified section, and I continued to deliver the paper. I also was a proofreader and did some low-level writing and copyediting.
At first, I shared an office with five other people, and we had one phone. I noticed that there were no typewriters. In fact, there were only two keyboards in the entire building. One was the computer used for billing advertisers and the other was the massive blue typesetting machine which represented Nick's single biggest investment in the paper. A succession of people would sit at it and type for hours at a time around the clock. I discovered that there were two Chronicles. There was the daytime Chronicle, and then there was what happened at night, which to my way of thinking was the much more interesting version of the Chronicle.
The key to discovering this other Chronicle was to stay at work late enough for Nick to finally get hungry. Louis would issue instructions for food to be ordered from one of the restaurants on barter. Freewheeling conversations about what was really going on at the office would commence, and decisions would get made about what was really going to happen with the issue. If you had any money for food or entertainment -- or any kind of life to go home to -- then it was unlikely you'd be party to the activities of this inner circle. Not having been there at the beginning of the paper, I knew my place in this group was tenuous at best. I had yet to prove myself.
Then one time, after the paper had been delivered from the printer in Marble Falls, we spent the days inserting a reader's questionnaire into every seventh issue (they were bound in bundles of 50) for our first commissioned readership survey. In the evening, after finishing, a group of us had gone across the street to Dirty's for burgers. We were walking back in the dark and as we rounded the corner of the building, I was the first to see a group of frat boys loading bundles of Chronicles into the back of a pickup truck. Without hesitation, I began running toward them as they hopped on the truck and sped away. I threw a drink I was carrying at the driver, slowing him down for a second. Louis and I chased the truck until we could read its license plate under a streetlight. Four or five thousand issues of the Chronicle were missing, so we called the police. The cops traced the license plate to a fraternity down the street. We went with the police and found most of the papers in the frat's dumpster. They'd been stolen for a paper recycling drive. The next day, the president of the fraternity delivered a reimbursement for the "ruined" Chronicles. The copies rescued from the dumpster were already distributed, so the cash became the "bad boys fund" and was used for parties. I had made my bones, and was on my to becoming a made member of the Chronicle mafia.
I adapted quickly to the cycle of the biweekly paper. The first week was spent in production, building in intensity through the course of a weekend and culminating in very late nights on Monday and Tuesday. Because of delays and last-minute changes, production would often go into the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Finally, the paper would be finished, and someone would take the finished flats and make the sometimes treacherous drive in the fog to the printer in Marble Falls. Late on Wednesday, the paper would be delivered, and then distributed on Thursday. Planning for the next issue would be firmed up for a Friday deadline, and after a much more relaxed weekend of work and play, the cycle would begin again.
Sylvia Bravo MartindaleSome frat guys were holding a contest to see who could recycle the most newspaper, and one of them made off with a stack of inserts left outside the building. I think it was Louis, Roland, and Brent Grulke who eventually tracked this guy down and confronted him. They found the inserts and a bunch of newspapers in his closet.
Roland SwensonThe Chronicle was changing. In the early years, it was perceived by many as just another hippie paper, the successor to the Sun and the Rag. But new writers recruited by Louis, like Jim Shahin and Michael Corcoran (to name a few), were changing the voice of the Chronicle. In many ways, the changes were personified by Corcoran, who created his "Corky" character for the music gossip column "Don't You Start Me Talking." A collage of music news, insult jokes, and self-deprecating humor made his column one of the first things readers looked for when they picked up the paper, and it also inspired numerous scathing letters. The Chronicle's political clout was developing. Jim Shahin's reporting on the City Council stood in stark contrast to the land developer boosterism printed in the local daily. A Chronicle endorsement became sought after by politicos when Chronicle-backed candidates began winning close races.
Jim ShahinThe 1985 City Council election. It's the Chronicle's first election, its first endorsements (after much internal debate), and its first flush of political influence. Palmer Auditorium, the city's election-return headquarters, practically combust with celebratory energy when ballots show that a massively underfinanced assortment of neighborhood/anti-nuke/environmental Chronicle-endorsed activists has somehow defeated a supposedly invincible incumbent pro-growth, Statesman-backed mayor and his allies.
The council, beset by a suddenly decrepit post-boom economy, ceaseless attacks by friend and foe alike, and its own bickering and ineptitude, ended in disappointment. Still, it passed the Comprehensive Watershed Ordinance, bitterly fought by pro-growthers. And while it, like the Save Our Springs ordinance, suffered from exemptions and grandfather clauses, it remains a landmark piece of legislation.
In a city where it seems every election is a "fight for the soul of this town," that astonishing victory by a bunch of tremendously out-manned geeks (and that's what they were), for better and worse, was a watershed that finally culminated years later in the famous SOS all-nighter. It put the grassroots-attuned Chronicle, which had a constituency as much as a readership, on the political map; the paper took its newfound responsibility seriously. Although it infuriated neighborhood activists, for example, the Chronicle opposed moving the Mueller Airport to Manor, a brave position at the time. And when the developer-environmental war was at its peak, the Chronicle sponsored a symposium of civic leaders representing all viewpoints to help find common ground.
Roland SwensonIn the summer of 1985 the local music scene was in full flower again. A host of new, young bands who had been playing at the Beach, a small beer bar near the Chronicle offices, came into their own and started to draw crowds. Corcoran's relationships with and coverage of the new bands put the Chronicle at the center of this latest musical uprising. Corcoran lived in the back of the China Sea Tattoo parlor a block away from the Chronicle office on Guadalupe. His mentor and employer was famous tattoo artist Rollo Banks, who had begun drawing covers for the Chronicle and had married Margaret Moser. Throughout the day, there was steady traffic across the street and down the alley between the Chronicle and China Sea, as staffers and visitors made the pilgrimage to listen to Rollo and Corky holding court at China Sea, telling stories, making jokes, and dispensing insults.
Margaret MoserWe were no slouches at having fun, but when Rollo Banks and Michael Corcoran moved to town, the ante really got upped. Rollo's introduction to the bulk of the Chron crew was at the Lakeway party featuring the Golf Cart Incident (see The Golf Cart Story), but some of the best times were when we'd all drive down to Laredo for the weekend.
After a few drinks at the Hole in the Wall one Friday, Marge, Louis, Roland Swenson, and I all drove down to the border to meet Corky and a buddy of his. I sat in the back seat with Roland, who has a really wicked sense of humor. Louis was driving us through San Antonio while in a bad mood, and Roland was provoking it by making me laugh. "How do you think Louis runs?" he asked. "Like this?" He made fists and pumped his arms. "Or this?" Roland flopped his wrists and waved them around.
I roared with laughter. Louis screamed at Roland, and the car swerved dangerously. We were instantly silent in the back seat.
A few minutes passed. Roland leaned over and whispered, "I vote this ..." and flopped his wrists and waved his arms around again. I went into hysterics and thought Louis was going to kill us all. That was the trip where we went to Boystown and later broke into the hotel pool next door with Roland in his underwear and drank Kahlua till we got sick.
Ken LieckThe first time I walked into the world of the Chronicle, via the then-new office on 28th Street, was an experience in and of itself. As a staffer for the school newspaper at Southwestern University in Georgetown, I had driven into town to inquire as to using the Chron's resources as an aid in compiling our own club listings. Entering the office, I found myself immediately face to face with a woman who would turn out to be Margaret Moser, engrossed in setting fire to what appeared to be an acorn underneath an inverted glass goblet. I apparently looked like Chronicle material immediately, because she promptly offered a hit of the hashish to me, a strange college kid who had literally just walked in off the street. (I declined, having frankly no idea what I was supposed to do with the stuff.)
S. Emerson MoffatI've been a semiregular contributor for the last year or so, and now Nick and Louis are bugging me to write about food. Too fluffy, I argue. No, no, they say, it can be whatever you want -- roll in politics, art, whatever. But I don't really have the credentials for this, I protest. What do you mean? says Lou. You make great caponata.
They wage a campaign, first over lunch, then dinners. After a month, I cave. I am now a restaurant critic.
As it happens, the mid-Eighties are a turning point for Austin food. Until now, the Texas Trinity has reigned supreme: BBQ, Mexican, and Southern fried. A handful of "special occasion" restaurants dot the landscape, but No. 2 combo plates are still the norm. Arugula? Geshundheit! To many diners, fresh ingredients equal yuppie incursions.
Still, the stuff tastes good. Soon a spate of start-ups are adding new cuisines and stretching old ones. In rapid succession, we get Louie B's, Taj Palace, Chinatown, Thai Kitchen, Mezzaluna, and a host of others. Ruby's updates BBQ for the organic age, while Manuel's brings a nouvelle twist to Mexican food. Sushi is no longer a punch line.
But the progressive palate is not without its downside. By the early Nineties, many of the old haunts are failing. The beloved Stallion on North Lamar, home of the 99-cent chicken fried steak, closes its doors for good. Taco Flats and Xalapeno Charlie's are long gone, and Jake's will soon follow suit. Lengthy table waits spark new interest in reservations. Cutoffs are no longer universal dinner attire.
Martha GrenonThe story of my life as a photographer begins at approximately the same time as the birth of The Austin Chronicle. Although I had taken photographs since the age of 10, it was not until 1981 that I started taking photographs seriously. Having fallen for a wild musician, I began to document the music scene. This led to my photos appearing in the Chronicle and positions as photo editor, then art director.
During my tenure (1985-1991), I was married the night of the Chronicle's fifth anniversary party and divorced just after the paper went weekly. I was one of the turistas on the infamous Chron-sponsored "Hell Train" to central Mexico for Dia de los Muertos. I wrote about my tubal ligation in "Live Shots" and fell in love with a local science fiction writer I photographed for an article. On one strange, shimmering green afternoon, I thought seriously about committing suicide.
The Chronicle was my home away from home, my co-workers an extended family, albeit a somewhat dysfunctional family. My son grew up at the Chronicle and was a door nazi at the Music Awards.
I'm proud to say I gave Todd Wolfson his first Chron assignment, as well as Lori Eanes (now freelancing in San Francisco), Jane Levine (new mom and digital specialist in the D.C. area), John Carrico, Liz Potter, and Michelle Dapra, all talented photographers. Illustrators Lisa Kirkpatrick, Penny Van Horn, and Doug Potter also came on board during this time, and their creative artwork appears in the Chron to this day. Not only did these photographers and artists produce memorable images, they were able to do so with a few hours' notice and very little pay. I myself contributed a lot of the photos and designed many of the covers under those same conditions.
My time there preceded the digital revolution and big profits. Had I stayed at the Chron, I most likely would have killed Louis Black and then myself. I would never have traveled to the Balkans and embarked on a 10-year documentary project about the Albanians; there wouldn't have been enough time or money.
When I finally left for a job with Texas Parks and Wildlife, I was honored by being part of the "slug line," that tiny bit of type that appears on each cover: "From wild life to Wildlife."
Here's how much the Chron remains a part of my life: When I speak of that period, I say "we," as if I'm still on staff. And I continue to have Chron-related dreams, some bad, some good, just like the time I spent there.
Favorite Issue: "Mixed Doubles," Sept. 1987
Favorite Cover That I Designed: AIDS Quilt "patch" for Ed Lowry, 1989
Favorite Feature That Was My Idea: Sk8 or Die (skateboarders), Sept. 1988
Favorite Cover by Anyone Else: Almost anything by Guy Juke (De White)
Tim GrishamWhen I started at the Chronicle, we were using a Compugraphic Editwriter typesetter. The type used to come out on these long galley strips of photographic paper. I think the type produced by the Compugraphic was a lot higher quality than what comes out of today's computers, especially if you look with a magnifying glass. When it came to copying photographs, we used a stat camera to create halftones. It produced an optically superior and rounder halftone dot compared to the computer-created halftones of today, a true 85 dots per inch. Computer dots are too precise, especially when you consider that you're printing on newsprint, which absorbs a lot of ink.
Austin: The boom ends, the bust begins, so much turns to dust. Austin decides not to build a City Hall after all, but it does decide (theoretically) to move the airport to out-past-Manor. Flower-pusher Max Nofziger joins the Establishment as the lone progressive on an increasingly Chamber-friendly City Council.
Chronicle History: Heading into its sixth year, the Chronicle -- or "your self-important biweekly gossip/cheerleading tabloid," as it says on the fifth anniversary issue cover slug -- is showing dangerous signs of stability. Not only are Barbaro and Black still heading the operation as publisher and editor, respectively, but most of the contributing editors and advertising account executives now have at least two years with the paper, and, perhaps most significantly, it's been two years since the Chronicle has been evicted by a landlord.
Chronicle Content: Wild, silly, improbable ideas dreamed up by the staff have become traditions: the Music Awards, the Halloween Mask cover, the cover slug, the guide issues -- even the personals ads in the classifieds sections, which have mushroomed from a half-dozen random messages (including "Favorite Acid Stories") to two full pages of singles seeking singles in a year's time. A new one is hovering on the horizon: South by Southwest.
Jim ShahinA Typical Day. In the hurricane-messy offices near Dirty's Kum-Bak Burgers, Nick sits behind his desk toying with a trinket, Louis slumps in a chair. Nick is smoking a joint. "You're on the guest list for Jonathan Richman," he says, passing me the joint. "Thanks," I say, inhaling. Roland Swenson drops by. "Hey." "Hey." Enter a shambling Corcoran, with a 12-pack tucked under his arm. "Going to Jonathan Richman?" he mutters. "Yeah," I answer. "He sucks," he says. Louis cackles. "He does," Corcoran insists. He takes a swig of beer. "Naw," he says. "He's good."
S. Emerson MoffatWeekly editorial meeting, circa 1986, 5:30pm, downstairs at 28th & Rio Grande. Nick's hunched over a banged-up metal desk staring autistically into the pencil drawer. Louis paces, frothing, spewing stories two, three months ahead. Jeff Whittington, half-lidded, tips his chair back, smoke-swaddled king of the slow interjection.
Marge is a constant presence, as are Kathleen, and Roland. The rest of the circle eddies and flows: Margaret, R.U., Corky, Chris, Gerald, and Marie. Some weeks there are new faces, but no one ever says who they are (another tenet of faith: Chron writers bond by osmosis, not introductions). Every single meeting ends at the Hole in the Wall or the Texas Chili Parlor.
Never enough chairs, we huddle on the stained orange carpet, a coven of black T-shirts and denim. I come straight from my day job, still lipsticked and heeled, a blonde anomaly. "I know you," whispers Steve. "You're the normal cousin on The Munsters."
Roland SwensonThe Chronicle paid writers a dollar per column inch. Because of this, writers turned in much longer pieces than they were assigned. It also accounted for the popularity of top 10 lists. The carriage returns before each number made the stories longer on the page, and thus worth more money. Corcoran's column always contained at least one list.
Since the paper was always broke, getting paid for a story was another matter.
5:37 Ask Louis for check
5:37 Louis leaves room abruptly
5:45 Louis returns, takes phone call
5:55 Louis leaves office, heads for typesetting
5:56 Doors slam, voices heard shouting
6:01 Louis returns to office, face red, eyes burning.
6:04 Louis explains that Nick is writing checks today but says don't bother him now
6:05 Louis leaves office, says he'll be right back
6:06 Louis leaving in car visible from office window
6:07 Ask Nick for check
6:11 Nick appears to notice you for first time
6:13 Nick clears throat
6:16 Nick leaves room
6:31 Nick returns, holding metal pica ruler
6:33 Nick sighs, opens issue to story
6:35 Nick studies page closely
6:38 Nick measures story length carefully, counting inches on his fingers
6:41 Nick reaches for and opens checkbook
6:41 Nick holds chin in left hand, strokes mustache
6:42 Nick leaves room abruptly
7:02 Nick found sitting at typesetting machine
7:02 Remind Nick about check
7:05 Nick says "Right."
7:11 Nick begins writing check in tiny handwriting
7:12 Nick leaves building abruptly without signing check
7:13 Sylvia Bravo offers use of Hole in the Wall restaurant voucher
Most activities at the Chronicle revolved around eating. Since hardly anyone there was making anything resembling a living wage, bringing in food on barter was the major way staffers saved enough to pay their rent each month. Large groups would visit restaurants on vouchers to eat and drink together for hours each week. Nick started a regular Sunday softball game that concluded with a weekly barbecue and potluck dinner at the Chronicle offices. The appreciation for the trinity of beer, barbecue, and softball were embraced by Nick with something akin to religious devotion. Soon, discussions regarding this Sunday ritual were one of the only topics guaranteed to receive Nick's undivided attention.
Marion WinikI had never written anything but poetry and short stories and for several years I had written nothing at all when in 1986, a piece called "How to Get Pregnant in the Modern World" just kind of poured out of me. It seemed like something that might be published in The Austin Chronicle, so I sent it to Louis Black.
They took it! But when it appeared in early '87 (I thought I would die by the time they finally ran it), I was shocked to see they had changed a few punctuation marks. Having never published anywhere except literary journals, I had no idea such an outrage was possible. I wrote a three-page single-spaced letter to Louis explaining just how much time I had spent making those mistakes and how deeply I cared about them. He did not reply. As it turned out, the baby I was pregnant with died, and I didn't write for the Chronicle again for almost two years.
Jeff NightbyrdIn November 1986, I was writing for the Chronicle from time to time. One day I heard on the radio that the government had a new idea to keep America safe and efficient: collecting workers' urine specimens in little cups and analyzing them to see whether drugs were present.
The first thought that shot through my head was "Wait! That's unconstitutional. In America you are innocent till proven guilty. You are not assumed guilty and have to prove your innocence." Then, as corny as it may sound, I thought of John Wayne. I don't even like John Wayne, but an image of those classic Westerns flooded through my twisted brain. JOHN WAYNE WOULDN'T LINE UP AND PEE IN A CUP FOR THE TOWN CLERK!
I wandered into the rat warren that passed as the Chronicle editorial empire at the time. "Give me a quarter page. I want to write a satirical ad about this new drug testing campaign of the governments." Nick and Louis, something of Libertarians, agreed.
So a few days later, a serious-looking ad appeared in the Chronicle headlined "Pure Texas Urine/Guaranteed Drug Free. $49.95." About 3am, my home phone began ringing. First in was NBC. Then CNN. "Is this serious?" they asked.
"Absolutely. Even the Ayatollah Khomeini in repressive Iran doesn't collect your bodily fluids." This was Abbie Hoffman's Yippie idea of stretching establishment politics into their intersection with absurdity. "We believe a employee should pee for pleasure, not for employment."
Three days and several news conferences later, I began to receive mail. With checks. Lots of checks! For $49.95. And calls from Libertarian chemists who volunteered to help. Where could I actually get Drug-Free Urine, I wondered.
The next day, I borrowed a lab coat and visited a Baptist senior citizens center. I explained that I needed urine samples for "research purposes" and would pay $5 per. The director reacted enthusiastically: "Great. Now we'll have more money for our bus trips."
Next comes the horrible and disgusting part. Try not to think about shipping fresh urine samples in Urostemy bags DHL. Try not to imagine the DHL supervisor calling long distance to say there's leakage from our packages and did they contain a biohazard? Don't consider the dedication it takes to test a vat of urine for drug positives. Yuk.
We soon found that many of the Old Baptists' samples were testing positive. We learned that there were many legal medications that cross-reacted on urine tests. And the law of unintended consequences had set in: A satire had turned into an anti-drug testing campaign. The problem was that collecting urine ranked as one of the most loathsome ideas of the decade.
So at the next press conference I announced Drug Free Powdered Urine. "We are to urine what Tang is to orange juice." After several weeks, an instant product was actually invented. And then the story grew more bizarre. But that's for another time.
We soon held the Urine Ball, which was dutifully reported in the society column of The Dallas Morning News as the U-Rine Ball by a very confused reporter of the country-club scene. At the Ball, some Austin political operative had given me a private number for Reagan at the White House. When we reached a lieutenant on the telephone, the crowd roared, "We won't drop our zipper for the Gipper." Then everyone continued dancing to the music of the Urin-anium Savages.
Of course, being labeled the "Urine King" by the National Star supermarket tabloid didn't increase my opportunity for dates. I wonder why. But the high-profile campaign went on for another month or so. Nick and Louis, who were trying to put out a serious paper, were more than indulgent in this effort.
Maybe they believed as I, in the motto that emerged from the movement: "Test Your Government, Not Your Urine."
Roland SwensonIn 1986 or '87, the Texas economy crumbled. The building boom of the early Eighties that had left its mark on Austin's skyline with a half-dozen empty skyscrapers finished at almost the exact moment of the collapse. TransAmerica announced plans to board up the street-level windows and turn off the lights at its new, empty building at First and Congress. The city quickly made a deal to provide security and electricity to the building to maintain at least the appearance that it was in use. For the Chronicle, it was the beginning of a new era. The paper already knew how to operate without capital. The staff was skilled at being broke. Local businesses who hadn't taken the paper seriously took another look at the Chronicle's low ad prices and high readership and bought ads.
Austin: The effects of the bust are everywhere. The main issue is money; the main problem is money. Or the lack of.
Chronicle Content; With the success of SXSW and the ever-increasing influence of the Politics section, the Chronicle has moved from fringe eccentric to player. The Weird Have Turned Pro. This is never more clear than in July 1987, when the Chronicle convenes a roundtable discussion of community leaders to discuss directions for the city. From it is drawn "Austin: Toward the Future," the first Politics cover story under Shahin's tenure as Politics editor and the first of many for the Chronicle. In October, the paper revives the tradition of the Halloween mask cover, but this time with a political slant, depicting then City Manager Jorge Carrasco as a vampire. Before the next Chronicle is published, Carrasco is fired by the City Council. Local political writer Daryl Janes joins the fun that fall, inaugurating the "Council Watch" column and writing features, and in the summer of '88 Hugh Forrest begins the "Media Clips" column. In June of 1987, Black begins addressing readers every issue in "Page Two." In November, he uses the space to announce his marriage to Anne S. Lewis.
Jerald CorderWhen I was in school at UT, I sold ads for the Texan. About a year after graduation, I heard they were looking for someone at the Chronicle. I always liked the paper -- had been reading it since it came out -- so I went in for an interview. It wasn't your standard job interview. I met with Roland and Louis, and they sort of rattled off a lot of information. Then, at the end, they asked if I could sell real estate classified ads. I said I could and that I also wanted to sell display ads. They said okay. About a week later, I called back, and I got the job. It was about a month before the first South by Southwest, and everything was crazy. Roland was too busy to help guide me, and I was sort of on my own.
Ken LieckMy first writing assignment for the Chron came about after I brought a tape of my first band, Buster and the Crabs, in for review. When I got a call a few days later from Editor Louis Black, of course I was overjoyed, as is any band member thinking they're about to get their first bit of publicity. However, Louis wasn't calling about the band -- he was calling about the liner notes. "Did you write those?" he asked. I did. "You wanna write for the Chronicle?" he asked. I did. The tape, of course, never got reviewed.
I tried to sneak into the cushy position of weekly columnist almost immediately, first by discrediting the current columnist by writing a fake column which got published one week while Michael Corcoran was absent ("NOT Don't You Start Me Talking" by "Michael Dorcoran"). This caused a fuss among the nearsighted and shortsighted, who couldn't figure out that it was a parody, and was thus intentionally filled with falsehoods. After a semisuccessful attempt to team up with Corcoran on a rip-off of the Bum Steer Awards, I still failed to net the job when he left, while a string of attempts by the paper to replace him failed. Ed Ward attempted to write an Austin music column from California, which every week started off with something akin to "I ran into John Cale again last night ..." and then some nameless schlub had a brief run with a column so boring that he didn't even bold the names of the bands (!) -- he failed miserably. I pointed out in no uncertain terms to Louis Black how pathetic the music column in the Chronicle had become, and after first uttering the immortal words, "You know, bad-mouthing someone to their boss is the worst thing you can do if you're trying to get their job," he gave me the position.
This was still in the days when anyone who wanted a regular writing gig at the Chron had to prove that he possessed some useful physical skill as well. My alter ego then was as a distributor of the paper to shops around town (many of today's finest Austin musicians, such as Kevin Fowler and members of Quatropaw, currently perform this function). Unlike the current staff, I also took the paper out to our then-printer in Marble Falls, near the location where Ministry's Al Jourgensen would later build his notorious "compound." Since we were never adequately able to come up with a proper name for this part of the job, I had a different name on each issue's masthead for several years. Among the more intriguing honorifics were "Taught Neal Spelce Everything He Knows," "Raised on an Ant Farm," and "Able To Leap Tallboys in a Single Bound."
Roseana AutenLouis called me up to write for the Chronicle while I was still a college student, working at the Texan. A colleague and I were just talking about the Chronicle when the phone rang. He answered it, and handing it to me, said, "It's Louis Black." Talk about synchronicity.
Louis called because Jeff Nightbyrd was very high on me in those days. Louis and Nightbyrd used to hang out. Nightbyrd had assumed from my name and my Texan stuff that I was very exotic. He was only a little disappointed to find that I was as bourgeois and Northern European-looking as they come. I was about to graduate from UT, and had no immediate prospects for employment beyond the waitressing I was already engaged in. And I was flat broke. Nightbyrd bought me lunch or dinner several times a month that year (1987). I wanted to write, no matter what else happened. So Jeff hooked me up.
After I graduated, I went to see Louis about doing some work. I really wanted to continue with the film writing I had been doing in college ... but Louis was not encouraging that. It's still one of my biggest regrets, that I didn't press for that, over time. It is one of the greatest disservices I ever did to myself. So I said, okay, what about books? And he wrote Ed Ward's phone number down on the back of a Chronicle business card. The front read, "Suzy Champeny, Corky's Girlfriend." I still have it.
Louis said he would call Ed before I called him because, "He's a blustery fellow." What Louis did not prepare me for is The Ed Experience. I hate dogs, and Pete was undeniable. I'm sensitive to smells, and, well, Ed's house had a stench that would put me off my feed for the rest of the day. Messes make me flip out, and I don't have to tell you about how Ed kept house.
Over the years, people have been respectful toward me about working for the Chronicle and compliment the Chronicle. The one and only time someone wasn't nice was last year, when a woman I'd just met said, "Well, it's good you're away from there. The Chronicle is not my favorite publication. But I guess you hear that all the time."
"No. No, I really don't. The opposite," I said sweetly. "Excuse me, won't you?"