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  • Robert Farago

Is Austin Still Weird?

The Times They Are a Changin'

The slogan “Keep Austin Weird” hit the streets at the turn of the century, when the owners of BookPeople and Waterloo Records solicited support for banning Borders bookstore from downtown.

The owners printed up 5k “Keep Austin Weird” bumper stickers and the rest if history. The weird thing about that…

By the time the slogan became a thing, Austin’s weird history was behind it.

Back in the 60’s and 70’s, the Texas capitol was home to a strange brew of cowboys and hippies. Ropers and dopers. The two groups mixed together via drugs, music, food, alcohol and sex. A large Mexican community provided a vibrant cultural backdrop. Pandering politicians swooped in every other year to jockey for power, hookers and blow.

Austin weird had a touch of Roswell to it. Thanks to the two states’ ancient history of hallucinogenic drugs, both towns welcomed strange visitors from another planet.

Austin’s weirdness was weirder, fostering random connections between wildly disparate groups. Groups that cared about things other money.

In the early days of "Keep Austin Weird," Pavelka and Wassenich used to print out bumper stickers to give to their dog groomer for free. The groomer would sell the stickers, and the proceeds were donated to dog rescue programs.

Wikipedia says “the origins of Austin's unique culture have been claimed to be the product of unusually cheap housing prices following the end of a housing boom in the 1980s.” By which they mean the complete cratering of the local economy and housing market. Again, that’s a bit late, weird history-wise. But there’s something to the idea that wealth eats weirdness for lunch.

Today’s Austin is a rich tech town. It’s filled with 20 and 30-something blue state immigrants who are pretty much the exact opposite of weird. In the main, they’re “fuck boys.” Corporate drones committed to nothing more than their paycheck and genitals.

The female side of the equation is full of women getting fucked by fuck boys, when they’re not busy doing the nerd/corporate thing. Is that weird? I suspect not – at least in the sense of being unusual.

If you define ‘weird” as bizarre, offbeat, quirky, outlandish, eccentric, unconventional, unorthodox, etc., weird Austin is best – only? – glimpsed at music festivals (that may be the drugs talking). Aside from the trashy venues lining “dirty Sixth,” Austin’s more like a really good mall with a few out-of-place oddballs than a surprise and delight town. So why bother?

Money and music.

“Bat city” is a boom town. The rock, blues, country and jazz on tap throughout the city – from the Four Season lounge to the aforementioned Sixth Street shit holes – is stunningly good.

It’s not weird, but it is excellent. The weird thing: how the audience doesn’t ming (the South African expression for communing as a group). Everyone’s having a good time, but they do so on a tribal basis.

Which is how people relate these days, generally. Longing for something else, something more, makes me weird. That’s my wandering Jew DNA, and it ain’t gonna change.

So here I am, doing my small part to keep Austin weird by being friendly as fuck. How’s that working out? Don’t ask.

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