Friday, December 2, 2016

The Long Term Relationship

Back when Sixth Street in Austin, Texas wasn’t the hip, over-crowded amusement scene of today, I remember going to my favorite bar at the time, Maggie Mae’s.  Only 15 feet wide (I still think it was just an alley someone put a roof over) this British-style pub had great beers and the typical Austin laid-back attitude.  It also had two guitarists who played there regularly and who were as great at telling a tale as singing a verse.
One night I went in and only one of the guys sat playing at the usual spot at the back.  When he took a break, I asked him what happened to his friend.

“Dude got pissed at me, packed up his stuff and headed to LA.”

I think at that moment I fell in love and began my long-term relationship with Austin music.  A simple tale of two musicians having a falling out, one staying to continue to strum his tunes, one seeking brighter horizons.  In other words, great environment, tasty beer, a compelling story, an ever-changing scene and enjoyable music.
Austin calls itself “The Live Music Capital of the World.”  We Austinites will defend that reputation by pointing out that on any given night you can find hundreds of bands playing at just as many bars, night clubs, grocery stores, record shops, street corners, well, anyplace where there’s a chance someone will listen.  
The Austin music scene isn’t the main reason I have stayed here so long (some friends still say it was soccer), but it’s one of many reasons I’ve remained in this vibrant, creative and easy-going city.  It’s a relationship that has far outlasted any other relationship I’ve had here (the longest with a female: six months).

Many of my short-term relationships with women have begun by hitting some nightclub to listen to music (and maybe meet someone).  The two of us cruising for tunes at the various venues often extended those relationships.
Like the two musicians at Maggie Mae’s, the hundreds, maybe thousands, of venues in Austin come and go, change into something else or expand to unbelievable proportions.  For example, Maggie Mae’s still has that 15-foot wide bar, but it also now has a large, adjoining room as well as an additional space upstairs.
One of the first places I went to for my music addiction was The Split Rail.  A dive that drew large crowds, loud musicians, and great times. Sadly, there’s a Wendy’s on the site now.  A fond memory I like to tell folks is that one time while driving to my apartment in the Riverside area, I passed Mother Earth, another dark dive that people flocked to every night.  On the marquee was the word “Police.”  I thought, “Hmm, I wonder if they are a bunch of APD guys who do gigs in their off hours.”  You probably guessed that it was actually Sting and Co. in their early days of playing small venues to make ends meet.
The names of some of the other hundreds of venues include The Armadillo, Steamboat, The Back Room, Soap Creek Saloon, Antone’s, Club Foot, The Continental Club, Austin Opera House, Hole in the Wall, Liberty Lunch, Raul’s, Black Cat, Cactus Cafe, Zonkers, La Zona Rosa, Emo’s, Flamingo Cantina,
                    (U2 at Club Foot circa 1981; photo Ace Muroga-a former college roommate!)
Electric Lounge, Elephant Room, Saxon Pub, The Ritz Theater, Austin Music Hall, Broken Spoke…Well, the list goes on and on and on.  Many have disappeared and are just pleasant memories, others have survived (it’s a tough, competitive place here in Austin) and/or moved.
You can’t mention Austin music and not talk about the fests and outdoor concerts.  The first one I discovered came early in my life here in Austin.  It was called the Austin Aqua Fest.  It happened in the best location, down on Auditorium Shores on Town Lake (now called Lady Bird Lake).  It lasted a number of days and each night was labeled with a special theme, such as Czech Night.  They had all sorts of booths with food, crafts and knickknacks for sale, but also featured music.  Often it related to the night.  For example on German Night there might be a few oompah and polka bands, but also local groups had a chance to feature their songs. 

Auditorium Shores used to be my favorite place to go for music.  You could spend all day outdoors listening to loud rock music while staring at the serene Colorado River (yeah when it rolled through town we called it Town Lake) and the Austin skyline, including the capitol building.  I say used to because although the river/lake and shoreline is still there, the Austin skyline is now littered with gigantic skyscrapers.  Oh, it's still fun to go there, but not quite the same as when the city was not such a megopolis.

One of the best music fests I went to down there was the T-Bird Riverfest.  At one point (in the rain), Stevie Ray Vaughn wrapped his arms around his brother Jimmie and played a fantastic song on a double guitar.  I should point out there now is a statue of Stevie Ray down on the shores.  If you come to Austin and don't visit him, you have missed the soul of our city.

A few of the other fests that have enhanced my long term relationship include SxSW (I might have to do a single blog on it); Fun, Fun, Fun; Austin Summer Fest; Austin Celtic Festival, Rites of Spring; Reggae Fest; Festival De La Luna; well, there’s been a lot.
Of course, I have to mention the thousands of bands I’ve seen at these fests and clubs.  Some of the locals I’ve been infatuated with include WC Clark, Skank, The Skunks, Standing Waves, Zeitgeist (later The Reivers), Lou Ann Barton, Joe Ely, Glass Eye, Junior Brown, Will Sexton, Bad Livers, True Believers, the Vaughn Brothers (Stevie & Jimmie), Kim Wilson, Tish Hinojosa, Omar & The Howlers, Dangerous Toys, The Ken, Doctor’s Mob, The Explosives, Eric Johnson, Poi Dog Pondering, Alvin Crow, Soul Hat, Storyville, The Coffee Sergeants, Uranium Savages, Little Sister, T-Birds, Van Wilks, Austin Lounge Lizards, Black Pearl, well, you know the list goes on forever and the party never ends. Ahem.

Of course there were the national touring groups too that kept me madly in love with the Austin scene.  Some you heard of such as U2, Foreigner, The Rolling Stones, The Boss (you know who), The Chieftains, The Alarm, Alice Cooper, Frank Zappa, Squeeze, Willie, Waylon and the Boys (sometimes considered Austinites), Peter Gabriel, AC/DC, Midnight Oil, Crowded House, etc.  Some you may not have such as Dash Rip Rock, Tragically Hip, Hoo Doo Gurus, Freedy Johnson, Robert Earl Keen, Killdaires, Little Steven, Icehouse, L7, Guy Clark, Great Big Sea, Jayhawks, Altan, Cowboy Mouth, and on and on.  Yes, if they wander the US and play music, they probably stop in at Austin.

As you can probably guess, this has been the most expensive relationship.  Typically, in the old days anyway, when I went to a club/bar I'd try to talk the person at the door into letting me in for free.  With lines like "it's the last band, I've missed most of the show" and a few more clever ones, I often succeeded. However, the majority of the time I paid the cover. To this day I still believe if I hadn't been in the relationship and just saved the money I'd be pretty rich.  I think a great experience is more important than money, so I don't really have any regrets about this relationship at all.
Of course, with any relationship it waxes and wanes.  I’m still madly in love but have to admit, the fire is gone these days.  It’s me, not you, um, I mean, the Austin Music Scene.  As an older guy it sometimes seems strange to hit a nightclub and see all these young kids wandering around me (and I swear they're always moving—and I don't mean dancing).  This also bothers me because I don’t think those “kids” show the proper respect to Austin music as they seem to be constantly talking during the music—or nowadays, looking at their cell phones.  So I’m still in love, I just don’t get up to get down as much as I used to in the old days. 

Don’t’ fret about this relationship though.  Even if I were to move, or find a long-term female relationship, or lose my hearing, or pass on, I will always be faithful.
James Thurber would have loved Austin
The Thurber Brigade apologizes for the length of this blog, but when you talk about long term relationships you don't minimize your expression of that love.

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