an exploration of urban identity in the middle of Texas
Only the mediocre are always at their best, someone said, which could be why Austin is so damn proud of itself.
Welcome to Mediocre, Texas, the home of the Texas Longhorns, Harry Knowles, the bats, Bright Light Social Hour, KGSR, the weekly 10K fun run and street closer, “country legend” Ray Benson, the pot luck architecture of E. 11th St. and bands playing at the restaurant when you just want to fucking eat in peace.
But what about the world class music scene? Brooklyn Vegan loves us, but In nearly 50 years as a hotbed, Austin has not produced a single Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee. Timbuk 3 ain’t gonna make it, folks. Rock stars aren’t launched here, they go to Austin to retire, work the steps, and wait for their Margaret Moser profile.
This used to be a town that worshipped guitar players, but forget learning at the feet of blues masters. If you want big ups in the ATX these days you want to get with Bobby Flay, not Buddy Guy. Tyson Cole and Paul Qui are the new Vaughan brothers, and folks on the Eastside are lining up for Aaron Franklin’s smoked brisket the way they once did Aaron “T-Bone” Walker’s smokin’ riffs.
It’s true the food scene has improved immensely from the years when the four culinary options were Tex-Mex, BBQ, Thundercloud, Other. But it’s a little lame to live in a city where there are more groupies lurking around kitchens than backstage. Mouth-watering is the new jaw-dropping.
Austin is touted as a movie town, but unless we want to count UT grad Wes Anderson, we haven’t really been churning out the great flicks. “Tree of Life,” what was that? Director Terrence Malick doesn’t like to have his picture taken, but he’ll let us watch him masturbate for three hours.
There are two cities in the U.S. that truly matter: New York and L.A. Everywhere else is bullshit. Austin is cool and fun and artistic and-most importantly, easy-but that doesn’t make it a great city. The things that make a town a city- rapid transit, Chinatown, pro sports- Austin is without. We’ve got L.A.’s traffic, but no one who can greenlight a project bigger than a “Don’t Mess With Texas” commercial.
The only Austinites who have the right to feel smug are those who made their money in L.A. or New York and came here to raise kids. Everyone else should shut their Mighty Cone-holes. Don’t blow your own horn after you’ve been blowing your nose all morning due to cedar fever.
To paraphrase the blue-eyed singer of “New York, New York,” if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere and if you can’t there’s always Austin. We got chicken shit bingo, too!
This is a burg populated by those unsatisfied by their hometowns- and Seattle didn’t work out either. All that rain. Some came from Houston and Dallas to attend the University of Texas, or from Lubbock to tend to the women, and never left. Or they came during SXSW and realized, dude, this is much cooler than Norfolk. Dreams and reality share an apartment off Ben White.
We’re not here to knock mediocrity, but embrace it. It’s something to strive for, Capital Metro. This college and legislative town was built on being just good enough to advance. Mediocrity means that you know exactly how your day is going to go, so the only messy surprise might be that migas don’t travel. It’s so unchallenging here that living dangerously is going to the HEB on E. 7th instead of Hancock Center. A movie about the Austin mindset was called “Slacker” because “Lazy and Full of Shit” was too hard to market.
The most notable book about this town was called “The Gay Place” (1961). Billy Lee Brammer had no idea how right he’d be in 2012. Meanwhile, the limits of Austin as a city are right there in the name of its famous TV show. Nothing that happens here seems to have much impact elsewhere.
Let’s lose that “Live Music Capital of the World” slogan like an itchy scarf. Most live music is unlistenable and yet we still have all these entitled musicians who want affordable housing and other benefits. Stop feeding the pigeons and, you know what, San Marcos has a pigeon problem. Not against musicians — the talented ones truly enhance the quality of life. But you never hear them complaining.
Obviously, if you’ve read this far, I’m not exactly Joan Didion. You want to know who ‘nated in my cornflakes? My own mediocrity did.
But it’s cool. Pressure’s off. I’m just going to live an Austin life like I should’ve been doing all those years I tried to set the world on fire. I think I’ve got a new slogan we can all say proudly, and without refute, “Austin: Not bad, not bad at all.”
Heard in Mediocre, Texas
“It’s boring as shit, but the kids love it. And it’s free.”
“Is it true this used to be a black neighborhood?”
“Good news. We’ve got Andy Langer to emcee!”
“Why move to Brooklyn when Brooklyn’s coming to the Eastside?”
“The place is small, without any charm, but at $950 a month the price is right. And we can walk to Torchy’s.”
“I’ll go with you to Merle Haggard, but only if Dale Watson is opening.”
“We don’t need to know the lineup to pay $200 for three-day passes. It’s gonna be awesome.”
“I used to work with the guy who came up with ‘live music capital of the world.’ He tried to get the city to fix his parking tickets, but they wouldn’t.
“It’s going to be a one-of-a-kind club. Michael Hsu is the architect and Joel Mozersky is doing the interior. Hit up Giant Noise for more deets.”
“That’s weird. I just rented a movie from Vulcan and no one who worked there was eating.”
“Sorry, but I had to listen to screaming babies when I was single. Now it’s my turn to make everyone in the restaurant miserable.”
“Lambert’s used to be called Liberty Lunch.”
“Hook ‘em, Horns”
Mediocre, TX goes to the ole ball g-a-m-e
Haven’t been to a Round Rock Express game for years, but I can imagine that, by now, Austin’s team has got a ball park that is better than the rest. Yes, they have hot dogs, but these are artisan franks made from antelope and bison sausage with grilled horseradish slaw. More than 20 food booths serve everything from poblano chicken in a cornbread cube to ahi tuna frittatas.
Before every game, the Blues on the Mound stage is set up, facing the crowd, and such top local bands as Carolyn Wonderland, Quiet Company and Ray Wylie Hubbard delight the earlybirds. Or fans can get a tattoo from one of three shops on the premises. For those who want memories without the pain, there’s a photo booth, where, for $10 a photo, fans can stick their head in a cut-out of Nolan Ryan wailing away on them with his fists. (Part of the proceeds go to the Robin Ventura Foundation.)
The ballpark features spring-fed Leslie Cochran Cove in left center. And the cool thing about the press-box: all unpaid bloggers. They eat up the Seventh Inning Sketch, where a rotating cast of local celebrities such as Bobby Bones, Turk Pipkin and Spike Gillespie yell out scenarios for an improv comedy troupe.
After you’ve been to a Round Rock Express game, you wouldn’t want to go to any other ballpark in America. It’s the coolest place in all of sports.
But it’s still just minor league baseball.
Michael Corcoran left his native Hawaii for the musical paradise of Austin in 1984. After leaving in 1988 and writing for Spin, Rolling Stone, National Lampoon and other publications, he returned to Austin in ’95 to take a job as music critic for the Austin American Statesman. He wrote the Grammy-nominated book/CD He Is My Story: The Sanctified Soul of Arizona Dranes in 2012. This piece was originally posted at michaelcorcoran.net and appears here with the author’s permission.
All this sarcasm from a music critic? Say it ain’t so. Leaving Austin, TX: the best choice I ever made. Have fun frying this summer, er, I mean spring.