This is one of my favorite stories to perform—the narrative is pretty strong and the rising level of ridiculosity always seems to keep the audience hanging in there. “Guts :( ” [and my blogging platform can’t handle the strikethrough on GUTS or the little frowny-face that follows] is another story about a city in a time of change and dislocation. Wes Leonard is the humor columnist for the Austin newspaper, and he is assigned to go cover a chitlins cookoff. But he's tired of writing about colorful and folksy community events, and he doesn’t want to go—he’d rather spend the afternoon in a bar getting drunk.
...colorful and folksy was getting harder and harder to find: the city had changed, was changing. There were big-assed skyscrapers downtown now, and tech millionaires cruising around in Maserattis, and waves of immigrants from California and Mexico—and everywhere else on the planet, seemingly—had changed the texture of the town. Colorful and folksy, real colorful and folksy, was getting hard to find. Wes tried a few times to write about the new city he was seeing all around him—he wrote about the gentrification of the east side, about inappropriately huge mansions in old neighborhoods, about traffic and traffic and traffic, about air and water pollution, about the loss of friendly old bars and restaurants, and the snootiness of new bars and restaurants—he wrote columns about the new city, and nobody liked them. They were downers. They sounded like the carpings of a cranky old man. Nobody wanted to read that. People wanted colorful and folksy—at least from him, they wanted colorful and folksy. He went back to recycling old topics. In the end all it got him was a gig as the celebrity judge at the Greater Southwest Chitlins Cookoff and Jamboree.
An obvious choice for music here is “My City Was Gone,” by the Pretenders. Though perhaps it’s too obvious. And over the years the song has been co-opted and appropriated for evil purposes. Also it’s about Ohio. How about:
My first visit to Austin was in August, 1978. I was coming down from Minnesota on I-35, and after I crossed the Red River, I veered off and hit US 281 at Jacksboro and headed on south. When I got past Johnson City I struck east on US 90, and came into Austin in the late afternoon, and just past the Y in Oak Hill I fumbled around looking for a radio station and found KLBJ-FM—ha! I KLBJ! That was pretty funny, I thought, and I had much to learn about Austin and Lyndon Johnson—and then Genya Ravan and Lou Reed came surging out of the speakers, brassy and sexy and exciting. It's not the kind of song that that most people might think of when they're considering Austin, but for me it capured a moment. A new place! New possibilities!
What was I doing in Texas? Exploring. Seeing what was there. There was a lot to see—something new every day. A lot to explore. Four years later, The Clash came to Austin for a pair of concerts and filmed a video for “Rock the Casbah.”
The RF4Cs at 2:34 figure in a story we’ll come to later, “The Speed of Sound.” At 3:08 you can see—me—off to the side of the screen. I was trying to stay out of the camera range, and of course now I wish I’d been up front jumping around. At 2:04, you can see the characters running west on Sixth Street toward the Alamo Hotel, a place that figures in my novel, That Demon Life, and whose bar, the Alamo Lounge, was no doubt a favorite hangout of Wes Leonard. But that’s all in the past. “GUTS :( ” is a story that takes place in the present, and it's Wes’s doom is to live unhappily in that present while writing about traces of the golden past.