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AANA:14,,a Pho to by Alan Pog ue Transformation of Austin skyline, 1985 Shrake’s view came out in Kid Blue, a low-budget, uneven and thoroughly political film \(Dennis Hopper, Peter Texas town turned from an inocuous little nothing in the middle of nowhere to a vicious and fascist little nothing in the middle of nowhere thanks to the progress of industrial capitalism. If the allegory was too obscure, Shrake clari fied his assessment of paradise in a 1974 Observer essay, “The Screwing Up of Austin.” Shrake’s concern was over the physical ruination of Austin through Houstonlike development, but what was also being savaged was the basis of the cultural renaissance. Murphey, Willie, Levy and others might have been attracted to the rolling hills and easy life of Austin, but so were land barons and their banks and their politicians. Two Mattress Talk Overheard in an Austin bakery. Three university students sitting at a table eating croissants. “You don’t rent an apartment, do you?” asked the young woman, her pony tail bobbing. “Yes, I do,” said the young man, somewhat slowly and apologetically. “But I am going to buy new beds.” “Beds?” asked she. “Yes,” said he. “Two beds came with the apartment, but two girls lived there before.” “You mean they slept in them?” asked she, incredulous. “Yes,” said he, “that’s why I need new beds.” phenomena were thus generated. Austin flowered creatively at the same time it became enmeshed in the speculation that was already superheating Houston and Dallas. But if the big metropolises could offer financial and industrial infrastructures to entice investors and migrating corporations, Austin had an even better lure: Lifestyle. Yuppies and CEOs longed for oases as much as artists did. Austin called to Lite Industry, and Lite Industry called back. Everything that happened and failed to happen in Austin can be traced to that fateful, parasitic merger, which eventually united hip culture with venture capital to create not an oasis, but an illusion. Good vibes and great investments, a place where you could wear pressed jeans to the bank to get a million dollar loan for a subdivision in the hill country and still have a Shiner with the boys before heading down to hear Jerry Jeff. New York style, L.A. cool, Texas prices. The pretense fueled a decade of expansion, post-1975, that saw Austin’s population more or less triple, its skyline sprout bank towers, roadways strain, and city budget rise from $112 million in 1974 to over $1 billion today. It was impossible during that period to separate the promotion of Austin culture from the promotion of Austin real estate, Hyping the city was good for both land prices and careers. It all got terribly chummy, as developers “funded” the arts and donated space for museums and theaters, never mind the political favors to come. Some of those sponsors later censored exhibits they had sponsored, such as photographer Alan Pogue’s portraits of a nude father and son. The city’s vibrant culture scarcely murmured. Why? How could an artistic community, especially a “hip” one which had always thumbed its nose at the local establishment, fall to such servility? The contradictions inherent in the creative and commercial booms had been evident as far back as 1975, the year Murphey split for Colorado, and 1980, when Armadillo World Headquarters was razed for a bank, but as long as there was plenty of money to go around, the culture producers never had to ask themselves if they were doing anything that would survive what was really pumping them up, the economic glow of the Sunbelt. The contradictions became unbearable, and the predicament grew as dispiriting as the oasis itself. “Austin was a great city. It really was,” Shrake said recently. “Surprised everyone who came to Texas looking for a scene out of Giant. It was the garden spot of Texas. It was irreplaceable. Now I tell everybody it’s a horseshit place to live.” AS AUSTIN’S FACADE grew into the mold of a corporate dormitory with rings of hastily built, and now vacant, apartments, subdivisions and shopping malls \(surrounding an even more overbuilt new, Lite, non-union branch plants, its creative soul underwent a mirrored transformation. Culture, like everything else in society, is an economic byproduct. So long as Austin’s economic base lay in the petit bourgeois class funded by the university and state government, its culture could accommodate the kind of irreverent, unstructured, idiosyncratic, politically alienated artistry characteristic of the ’65-’75 era. But when the composition of that class changed, through expansion drawing in tens of thousands of mainstream technocrats, so did the direction of the creative movement. The culture became as saturated with boosters and hucksters and scammers as the bank and real estate offices by last year the city was treated to the spectacle of the chamber of commerce, the most reactionary quasi-public agency in town, seeking an alliance with the music “industry,” as it is now known, to improve marketing and promotions. In 1968, Larry McMurtry panned Austin in In a Narrow Grave. “I am told that my view of Austin is too limited,” he wrote, “that higher on the slopes, in secluded dells, the significant political and intellectual work of Austin ,goes on, serious, responsible, mature. Maybe, and again, maybe not.” It is tempting to agree with the Godfather’s somewhat facile put-down and to say that Austin hasn’t really changed in over 20 years. But the point 24 MAY 29, 1987