Playback Punches Out

After six years and 388,000 words, "Playback" hands off the music column

Driver 8: Rachel Rascoe takes the wheel after Kevin Curtin (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Back when I had a food stamp card instead of a Platinum Badge, I used to sneak into South by Southwest showcases by pretending to be a barback. I'd wear all black with a white towel hanging out of my pocket and tell the volunteer door staff I was on shift. Sometimes I'd carry a bag of ice over my shoulder to complete the look.

It worked every time, except when Metallica's personal security, who looked like a platoon of Blackwater mercenaries, tossed me out the side gate of Stubb's in 2009.

My life, and my relationship with music, has changed immensely since I began writing this column on April 20, 2012. This gig – telling the stories of Austin music in 1,200 words weekly – has been the most transformative force to touch my existence, not only in terms of status, skill, and self-worth, but also in responsibility. For the last six and a half years, I've stayed up late, woken up early, gone to shows six nights a week, and worn out the letters on my laptop.

None of that's likely to change, but my role will. Come 2019, I'll be retiring from writing the Chronicle's Music news column.

It's Curtins for You!

I never imagined this is how it would end. I always thought I'd resign amid scandal, die in office, or stick around long enough to see the last print periodical go out of business. Instead, the conclusion's been uncharacteristically slow, smooth, and self-imposed. I notified my editors over a year ago that I'd be publishing my final column at the end of December 2018. They've been generous – or insane – enough to keep me on as a full-time staff writer.

I'm not leaving the beat. I'll still cover music constantly, but it'll be through additional dynamic avenues. Hopefully you'll see my byline on some long-form cover stories and original video content. I'll also contribute to other departments (but probably not the Food section, unless the Chronicle wants to start reviewing cheap Chinese buffets).

With all due respect to McDonald's, Walmart, Planet K, and the Residence Inn where I got my face rearranged by a brutal eight-minute pistol whipping, writing "Playback" has been far and away the best job I've ever had. I've witnessed a lifetime of incredible performances, held court with my heroes, and lived a life where every week brought a new adventure. The most valuable perks have been the friends I've made. When I think about some of the favorite people in my life, I wouldn't know a lot of them if a story I was working on for "Playback" hadn't brought us together.

Over these 388,000 words, I've found covering Austin music to be perpetually fulfilling, a testament to the wellspring of talent replenishing our stages. It's been rewarding to shine light on new music, interview fascinating characters, and break news that readers deserved to know. Regarding the latter, I was often shocked by the impact of the reporting in "Playback": That an alt-weekly music scene column could impact public health policy and thwart multimillion-dollar real estate deals was something I never imagined.

Who's Next?

In the Chronicle's 37-year existence, there's been just six authors of the paper's Music news column:

Margaret Moser, "In One Ear," 1981-1984

Michael Corcoran, "Don't You Start Me Talking," 1985-1988

Ken Lieck, "Dancing About Architecture," 1989-2003

Chris Gray, "TCB," 2003-2007

Austin Powell, "Off the Record," 2007-2011

Margaret Moser, "One, Two, Tres, Cuatro," 2011-2012

Kevin Curtin, "Playback," 2012-2018

Ready for the next name on that list? It's Rachel Rascoe.

My introduction to Rachel occurred in the summer of 2017, when I began having this recurring experience: I'd read a record review in the Chronicle that blew me away with fresh perspective, strong vocabulary, solid reference points, and deep thinking. Then I'd look at the byline and mutter to myself, "Damn! Who's this Rachel Rascoe?"

A former intern, she's become one of the Chronicle's most prolific freelancers, writing about everything from bedroom pop to R&B, punk, rap, rock, and doom metal while penning great features on acts like Hovvdy and Molly Burch. One of my favorite stories she wrote was about a young local named Abby Solomon, who has a one-in-a-billion disorder that requires her to eat constantly to keep from starving and who found embrace in Austin's indie music scene. I never would have thought to write that story.

Rachel's equally impressive as a human being. She's fun, smart, curious, and personable. She doesn't exhibit the rampant self-importance that other Chronicle music columnists have, but I'm sure that can be learned. She's five years younger than I was when I started this column, twice the writer, and 10 times as mature. I'm excited to see what she does with this page.

Austin: Where Dreams Come True

I've always considered the term "dream job" to be oxymoronic, but from the time I was a twentysomething hitchhiking enthusiast with a decent criminal record, I told people I wanted to be a newspaper columnist who wrote about music. Everyone with any sense of reality told me that was a nearly impossible goal given the changing nature of media and my propensity for underachievement.

Somehow, my dreams came true in Austin. I believe that's proof that this is a city where your mojo means more than your résumé.

Because of that, I have a lot of thanks to dish out – primarily to Raoul Hernandez and Margaret Moser, who were so into "developing talent" that they gave a shot to a kid with zero professional experience. I also want to extend gratitude to John Anderson, David Brendan Hall, and Todd V. Wolfson, whose photography brought "Playback" to life; Editor-in-Chief Kimberley Jones and the Chronicle staff for unwavering support; the ridiculously engaged readers who keep my inbox full with praise, critiques, and tips; and most of all to my partner Molly Ryan for believing in me and tolerating my all-nighters.

Last, I want to thank the people who make music in Austin. Because of you, I've never been bored.

Half Notes

Cherubs have signed to primo metal label Relapse Records. The cult Austin trio, whose weird, warped, wailing sound tangles noise rock with acid punk, originally terrorized ears 1991-1994 on Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey's local imprint, Trance Syndicate. After re-forming in 2014, they released stellar comeback 2 Ynfynyty. Their forthcoming full-length, slated for 2019, will be tracked here with Erik Wofford producing and already boasts prospective song titles including "Coke Adds Life" and "Crying Real Wolves."

The Black Angels' "Young Men Dead" soundtracks a new, nationally airing TV commercial for the video game ARK: Survival Evolved's new DLC expansion pack, Extinction. It's astonishing how well the track from the Austinites' 2006 debut full-length Passover gels with an armor-wearing T. rex and robot battling a giant lizard alien.

Ginny White-Peacock, longtime GM of the Broken Spoke and daughter of the dance hall's owners James and Annetta White, has been in intensive care for a month battling a life-threatening infection called streptococcal toxic-shock syndrome, which may result in having fingers or toes amputated. The 'Spoke raised money for her medical expenses on Tuesday with a pie auction, and the fundraising continues on GoFundMe.

Skeleton Shop is the only place in Austin where you can buy hardcore cassettes and leather armbands with four-inch spikes. The newly opened extreme music/apparel emporium – operated by enterprising DIY punk and metal enthusiast Victor Ziolkowski of Plax, Skeleton, and the I Hate I Skate label – also sells records, shirts, zines, and bones. It's open Wed.-Sun., 1-7pm at 611 W. 32nd.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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Kevin Curtin, Rachel Rascoe, Margaret Moser, Metallica, Abby Solomon, Cherubs, Relapse Records, Black Angels, ARK: Extinction, Ginny White-Peacock, James and Annetta White, Skeleton Shop, Victor Ziolkowski, Plax, I Hate I Skate

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