One Two Three Faw!

A brief history of Texas garage rock

Un-'Happy Days': the Eighties

The Eighties started out with such promise.

The second British Invasion brought music full circle to its first British Invasion roots, and any punk band worth its salt had a classic garage rock tune in its repertoire. The Big Boys, Butthole Surfers, Dicks, and Scratch Acid kept the punk spirit alive and slamming in Austin, but the old line local punk bands like Terminal Mind and Standing Waves were breaking up or evolving out of form. This decade saw almost every rock genre reinvent garage rock after it had been isolated, examined, defined, and ear-tagged by Lenny Kaye.

What went wrong with the promise? I blame Reagan, video, and by extension, television. We should have heeded the Seventies when Animal House ruined great garage rock songs by turning them into frat rock staples. The black leather jackets that defined the economically depressed English punks meant only one thing to American youth: Fonzie on Happy Days. The hottest thing on the radio from Austin in the spring of 1980 was Christopher Cross, but it's worth noting that most of the band had garage rock roots. MTV looked like a godsend.

Video, and specifically videos on television, created the market for New Wave, the perky step-sibling of punk. It was prettier, sparklier, and more danceable. It had cute hairdos and cuter fashions, and was just as easy to play. Moreover, ever-increasing affordability of musical equipment made synthesizers epidemic. With a synthesizer, you didn't need a band; here's guitars, drums, keyboards all in one. It was DIY in your own garage. Maybe this was the ultimate in garage rock. Meet Timbuk 3.

Remember Austin's New Sincerity movement? They were the post-punk and post-New Wave bands. You know, the True Believers, Reivers, and Dharma Bums. They had a Sixties, Byrds-in-your-back-yard sound with soaring harmonies and jangly guitars. And no one did it better than the Wild Seeds.

The Eighties also saw a new crossbreed of hard rock that melded metal with mousse. The Back Room scene that spawned Dangerous Toys was home to Pariah, who landed on Geffen. But Pariah was sucker punched when a delay in their album's release was undermined by something no one expected: a sea change in musical tastes.

It began slowly, a wave lapping ashore with increasing intensity. Its home was Seattle, the isolated Northwest of the United States, with few claims to musical fame other than Heart and Jimi Hendrix. It had a look, an attitude, a sound, and a name. Almost without warning, the Eighties were over and the Nineties were here. And so was grunge.

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