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6 November 2007
Turn That Crap Down!

Austin’s latest move to shut up its musicians

Mayor Wynn’s daughters need to go night-night at 8:30. So all those damned musicians need to turn down.

That’s the rationale for the city’s latest move to harass its music community out of existence.

The phony moralists came pretty close to strangling a thriving music scene a few years ago. Zoning restrictions concentrated most of the rock music clubs downtown. There used to be Pearl’s in North Austin, the Outhouse near Hyde Park, and Antone’s near UT. But the first two are gone, and Antone’s has duly moved downtown to a nasty little concrete box on Fifth. Selective tax enforcement by the state comptroller helped with the harassment. A smoking ban that extends to the street outside clubs did its part to depress business. Sixth Street went from a place where adults congregated to applaud their favorite blues bands to a strip of undistinguished restaurants and seedy bars where frat boys can knock back shots in a style appropriate to the capital’s Southern heritage without the evil distraction of music. They may be tempted to drive back to campus drunk, but at least nobody is smoking pot downtown anymore.

Though tens of thousands of musicians left town (including myself), the plague of Stratocasters and SGs came back to infect the butt end of downtown, in crummy rooms on Seventh and along Red River. So now the mayor is leading the charge to reduce the allowable dB level from 85 to 75 or even 70. (Decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale, so reducing the dB level by 10 amounts to cutting the sound level by 50%.)

This probably means electric guitars are out. No more blues or alternative rock. Goodbye, Emo’s. The other members of Spoon can just move to Portland along with their front man.

With the city’s murder rate on the rise, you’d think there would be better things for the police to do than stalk music clubs with dB meters. You might think the Shepherds of the (Confederate) Nation would get exercised about the rampant prostitution or the many strip joints. But the Baptists don’t want the city to shut down the fleshpots of South Congress because, after all, Baptists are some of the biggest customers. They drink and whore all week long, then sit in the pews hung over on Sunday where they feel absolved because the preacher condemns their world-class sinnin’. Besides, strip joints reinforce the Old Testament patriarchy on which fundamentalism rests (the OT endorsed concubinage, after all), while rock music might just subvert gender roles. And Texas legislators need to be able to pick up girls on the street since the prostitution ring that operated out of the Capitol has been shut down for more than a decade. (Our legislators are much too cheap to pay for call girls.) So do rich white guys visiting town on business. So hookers roam freely along South Congress, East Seventh, East 11th, Manor Road, and Rundberg with only token harassment while rock musicians, hated equally by fundamentalist hippie-bashers, pro-bidness philistines, and the sacred police (who lump hippies into the same “Let’s git ’em” category as blacks, Latinos, and homosexuals) have virtually no constituency at all.

In fact, the city is building new traffic islands for pedestrian protection all along South Congress, perhaps to make it even safer to pick up whores. Meanwhile, in a typical example of Texas hypocrisy, the city just completed a charity drive based around gigantic, decorated Les Paul guitars positioned prominently around town. The best kind of electric guitars: plastic ones that you can’t actually play. No sooner have they been auctioned off than the mayor steps in with a proposal that will silence the Les Paul for good. Kind of goes with the Stevie Ray statue that commemorates a musician who would never be allowed to rent an apartment in Austin nowadays, because he’d never pass the credit check.

The town fathers are even talking about building a “second downtown” in extreme North Austin, amid the hellish sprawl of freeways and big box retail and suitably close to ultra-right-wing Williamson County. The erection of this new “downtown” (a typically Orwellian term, since the area is actually on the extreme fringe of the city) will complete the transformation of Austin into South Round Rock and will facilitate the final submission of supposedly liberal Austin to the GOP-Baptist overlordship of lily-white Williamson County.

Meanwhile, the actual downtown is allowed to keep deteriorating. The claim that an influx of new residents into the music district requires stricter noise standards rings false. Sure, there are ugly new condos west of Congress (many themed to look like what we Yankees call tenements). But I can’t imagine a sane person moving into the music district itself—a filthy, dilapidated urban slum almost deserted in daytime hours except for homeless beggars and zoned-out drug addicts.

While the city races to control intersections with robot cameras, perhaps it can also install wireless dB meters outside the door of every music venue to enable robotic ticketing of miscreant musicians. But I doubt that will happen. The philistine populace gets its jollies from the spectacle of nonconformist artists being threatened by big macho guys in blue with guns, just as no grand jury will ever indict a cop who guns down a black or Hispanic, no matter how brutally. Deep down, Texans worship machismo and they love seeing their white-supremacist enforcers of conformity beat down anybody who doesn’t march in step to the strains of Dixie.

Such Newspeak as “second downtown” and “Live Music Capital of the World” is Austin’s lingua franca. While the latter phrase had almost disappeared from the lips of Austinites, I’ve been hearing it more and more as the city gets ready to make everyone go acoustic singer-songwriter. Texans generally, and Austinites especially, have convinced themselves that attaining greatness isn’t necessary if everyone agrees to call mediocrity greatness. We see it in the President’s willingness to portray defeat as victory and to shred the Constitution in the name of freedom. Unfortunately for Austinites, their pretense of inhabiting a liberal, green bastion of the arts doesn’t fool anyone who can see the city for what it is: a butt-ugly environmental disaster overrun with intolerant, conformist philistines.

So, repeat after me: This is the Live Music Capital. This is the Live Music Capital. This is the Live Music Capital … But do so in a library whisper.

Related articles:
Live Music Gulag

Denver should want to be less like Austin.

6th St. Industrial Park

Now leasing.

Turn over another new leaf:
14 August 2007
Paté de Foie Gitmo

A modest proposal.

8 March 2007
Giuliani Time

Maybe hardcore Republicans like him because they think he’s anti-black like them.

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