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End of Austin

A city writes its history in the dirt. As occupants we are all fortunate scribes with daily-ways like dusty-lines. Would the valleys were your streets, and the green paths your alleys. Traverse the urban waterways to find that sense of place in the jungle metropolis. capital of texas…bee caves road…kids eat free…odds and ends…my 9 month pregnant wife visited this location several weeks ago… And everything is dying. Everything is ending. But the dead keep us alive, kick us awake, tickle our feet as we walk over their graves. The city is breathing both ways: in and out daily, along and back the major and minor rush-hour arteries; then from the core to the fringe over generations. Birth and death lie along the extension or retraction of each respiration. reverb(eration) is decay: the speed and distance at which austin (and all its tangled threads of sound and light and sewer and industry and and lore and government jurisdiction) fades to silence, to imperceptibility—the pregnant point at which the echo (the re- in reverb) begins. Seething city, you break down and build up within spitting distance—hip to your own demise, you bear witness to the futile beauty in our attempts to reclaim, rebuild, remain. Will we hear the end? An end of spirit? Of music? Of the green? Of the weird?

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We’ve upgraded and moved our latest issue of The End of Austin to endofaustin.com. Go take a look!

What do boundaries sound like? Identifying Austin’s geo-political boundaries depends heavily on the ocular (although sight is insufficient in Austin’s case without the help of a math). There is no sonic marker when you cross the city boundary. Your cell phone does not beep. Your car radio does not alert you to the crossing. So here is what one point on the city limit sounds like.

Austin has long been known as a live music haven, boasting old school dance halls (The Broken Spoke, Donn’s Depot, you know), casual dive bars (everywhere on Dirty 6th), swollen festivals (SXSW, ACL, etc.). But what are the boundaries of that reputation? As many twangy acoustic guitar players and experimental pseudo-punk bands that clog the dark corners of Red 7, La Zona Rosa, even our own Cactus Cafe, where can we locate Austin music that doesn’t as readily cater to bars and fields? 

Considering where the hidden nodes of Austin music might lie isn’t easy, for obvious reasons: they are hidden. You can’t readily stumble upon a classical music performance strolling down Red River on a Saturday night.

But we might still try; we might listen. The sounds of Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears, the Butthole Surfers (adopted Austinites, I think, even if they emerged from San Antonio initially), and Spoon may dominate what we understand as the Austin music scene, but we can find a scene of a different sort - however quiet and voiceless it might seem amid the cacophony of punk and rock. 

What does - will - the end of Austin sound like? A bang, a whimper, the Apeshits?

The end of Austin is a place.  But it is not a place.  When does it exist and for how long?  Following is an iphone visual exposition on one clear thing we know about the “end” of Austin: if it is a place, it is not that place.

Intel Austin Building Implosion from ben moore on Vimeo.

02.24.2007 - 5th & Nueces - Intel Austin implosion.

                             -KNEE-DEEP IN THE RUINS-

11.13.2011 - 5th & Nueces - Construction of Federal Courthouse continues.

the drought becomes acutely dangerous to life and land: fires threaten Austin in early September 2011.

For those who’ve met their end in Austin…

A bright day in Evergreen/Highland Cemetery. Although the cemetery began in 1891, the southwest corner is primarily populated by the more recently deceased. The restrooms seem to be out of order … Robert Piper, died 1969. Only a few square inches of his headstone retain the the colorful, glassy stone mixture that was glued onto it. The rest has been worked into the surrounding soil … A very recent burial, the soil is still dark with moisture and packed loose. Tire tracks suggest that a truck was used to help tramp the dirt down … The grave farthest back in Bethany Cemetery. In a secluded alcove of trees, this grave seems visited more often than the rest, possibly because of the privacy. Scattered around are candles, a prescription bottle, dried flowers, feathers, a condom wrapper, a bra, a smashed plate, and an old office chair …  A short obelisk has cracked in half, the base rests on its side. “Not forgotten” … Going up the street that divides Oakwood Cemetery from the Oakwood Annex, the tall lights of Disch-Falk Field loom large and threaten to light well the crumbling and toppled headstones. Why not await some silent recognition under 200,000 candle-power? … And as I sat in the car, pulled over, wondering what I should be looking at, a man sidled across the street and through the cemetery gates. He walked from grave to grave, reading the headstones intently, glancing over his shoulder as I watched from a distance. I realized, watching him,  I was very scared to be seen stalking through the graveyard … If “Disneyland exists because America does not,” what does Mickey’s cheeky death mask mean for passersby? Does he do anything to divert or reroute the suction of intensities from the terminal whirlpool he guards? … “Invest in taxes, there [sic] sure to go up,” among others … Many of the older graves in Oakwood have stalky bushes, maybe roses, planted in front of the headstones, but they were all cut off at the base. If the roots reached too deep, would the flowers be too haunting? … The Kreisle crypt. The most eye-catching part is the Master lock securing the gates; no in or out … The northeast corner of Oakwood is at the busy intersection of Comal and Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. If you catch yourself speeding by, take a breath and “don’t be in such a hurry.”

historical cemetery info: save austin cemeteries

Black Churches

"Over the past 25 years, middle-class African American households have left east Austin for the suburbs and other parts of Austin… Many community leaders talk today of how many of these families are still returning to churches in east Austin on Sunday morning.  However, many of these same community leaders fear that the newly-suburban African American population will eventual build suburban churches closer to home, leaving the original houses of worship somewhat stranded.  The potential impact of the loss of these churches and their community outreach and community care programs on the African American households left in east Austin could be devastating."

-Ryan Robinson, City Demographer, City of Austin

In 1842, there was much controversy about the capital of Texas. Austin had been voted the capitol four years earlier. Early in the year, however, the Mexican army cast the Austin’s permanent status as capitol in doubt by staging two raids on nearby San Antonio.

In response to the threat that the Mexican army posed to the Republic of Texas archives, Republic of Texas President Sam Houston—who disdained Austin anyway, for its squalor—declared Washington-on-the-Brazos the interim capital. In December of 1842, Houston sent a small militia to remove the Republic’s archives from Austin.

Austin residents were not pleased. The statue below, located on 6th and Congress, depicts Angelina Eberly, an Austin resident who, putatively, fired a canon into the General Land Office, where the militia was loading the archives into wagons. The malitia beat a hasty retreat, and Austin residents soon banded together to track down the stolen archives. That same night, they chased the militia 18 miles into Travis county, and, the next morning, brandishing a recently arrived two-ton canon, they convinced the militiamen to return the archives.

Though Austin won the “archive war,” the ensuing years were not kind to the once-and-future capitol. Its population dipped below 200, its buildings crumbled, and its economy reverted to barter. One visitor called the city “the abode of bats, lizards, and stray cattle.” Another deplored, somewhat histrionically, “On entering the city of Austin, Lo! Dreariness and desolation presented themselves.”

Austin then seemed on the brink of oblivion. Only when Sam Houston stepped down from the Republic’s presidency did the Texas government return to Austin. In July of 1845 it was determined that Austin would again be the state capital until 1850. It has not since relinquished that title.

Below is a chart roughly detailing the growth of Austin from 1850 to the 21st century.

Data Source: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/demographics/tabular.htm

All historical narrative drawn from Austin: An Illustrated History by David Humphrey and William Crawford. 

A city writes its history in the dirt. Not just the dirt that floats around the city, the grime we can see, but the stuff beneath the asphalt, the layers of stone that hold aquifers—the soil that stretches out beyond the last house. Yet we don’t think about the dirt too much. The chimerical glow of the shopping center is too bright to discern an unfettered horizon, the places out there where the soil comes to the surface.

It is all too easy to neglect dirt. The stuff seems like it’s everywhere, accumulating on shoes, the floor mats of cars, even the sides of windblown houses. Urban humans are inclined to expel dirt from their abodes, identifying it with uncleanliness.

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Before arriving in Austin in Fall 2009, I envisioned the city as a place to sweat profusely, eat smoked meat and dream of large and recondite tattoos to garland my neck.  Such fantasy was decisively curbed at the unforgettable hour of eight pm on August 17th of that year, marked by “an informal meet-and-greet” at an “authentic Austin” tarpaper bar-cum-chicken-shack lacking air conditioning or windows, illuminated only by low-hanging string lights that caught and lifted my glasses off of my face as soon as I stepped inside.  None of this gnarled geography mattered much, though.  The Austin that truly welcomed me registered as immaterial, an inland empire, a portable confessional chamber tailored for the perpetual review and atonement of intellectual sins.  One’s discipline would follow you down the grocery aisles of dried beans and canned jalapeno in search of ninety-eight cent tortilla strips. It would rustle in the bed sheets by your feet.  It would cheerfully accompany you into the shower.  This was not a city, but an echoing solitary space capsule, and the air supply was limited.

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FREEwayDOM

And how shall you rise beyond your days and nights unless you break the chains which you at the dawn of your understanding have fastened around your noon hour?  In truth that which you call freedom is the strongest of these chains, though its links glitter in the sun and dazzle your eyes.

Verily all things move within your being in constant half embrace, the desired and the dreaded, the repugnant and the cherished, the pursued and that which you would escape.
These things move within you as lights and shadows in pairs that cling.  And when the shadow fades and is no more, the light that lingers becomes a shadow to another light.
And thus your freedom when it loses its fetters becomes itself the fetter of a greater freedom.


Passage from “On Freedom” in The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Archival photographs found at:  www.texasfreeway.com/Austin/historic/photos/austin_historic_photos.shtml

Composite and Contemporary photographs by Therese T. Tran


"WELCOME TO MUELLER, THE NEW MIXED-USE URBAN VILLAGE IN THE HEART OF AUSTIN, TEXAS"