November 11, 2008
If you’re new to Austin, consider this: You can’t really call yourself an Austinite until you’ve spent some quality time in a South Austin back yard – ideally one decorated with Christmas lights, old beer signs, and a liberal scattering of dogs, mosquitoes, and dirt-smeared children. There should also be an makeshift stage – perhaps a piece of plywood laid on the grass or maybe the corner of a back porch or a rusty old flatbed U-Haul trailer that somehow never made its way back to Grand Blanc, Mich. On the stage should be a man of indeterminate middle age – somewhere between 40 and 70 – whose skin appears to have been slow-cured for decades by a combination of relentless sun and unfiltered cigarettes. He should be wearing an old snap shirt – not vintage, but some faded, half-polyester turquoise and brown job that was purchased at a Montgomery Ward back in 1979. It will have wear holes and a few buttons missing. He may or may not be wearing a sweat-stained, straw cowboy hat too, but if he is, he’ll be wearing sandals instead of boots, or maybe some old Payless running shoes. If he is actually wearing boots, they are older than you – maybe even older than your parents and your parents’ parents. Still, in spite of the fact that he looks like he has raided the Crypt Keeper’s wardrobe, he will be playing a really expensive guitar – probably a Taylor or a Guild or maybe an ancient Martin that was signed by Willie or Waylon or Townes – well, maybe Townes. It’s hard to say, because the signature trails off at the end. In the midst of all the conversational murmur, children’s squeals, dog barks, and airplane/traffic noises, he will unobtrusively be playing a song. If you actually pay attention to it, you might find that it is the most beautiful and true song you’ve ever heard. You might be absolutely shocked you’ve never heard it before. Incredulous, you might turn to the person next to you and ask who wrote it, and they will respond, “He did.” You won’t recognize his name. He’s nobody special, but when you finally hear that song, you’ll be able to call yourself an Austinite. More importantly, you can carry that beautiful memory with you when some pretentious fuckstick doorman jacks you up about not wearing proper attire. This is Austin motherfucker. We are playing a much bigger game here. Like Billy Jeff Clinton used to say, “We are expanding the definition of us and shrinking the definition of them.” That’s what makes this town special. So maybe you haven’t gotten the South Austin Backyard Dirt-Patch Party e-vite. Don’t sweat it. Your time will come. You just have to start mixing it up with the right people. Try Ruta Maya HQ this Friday. Somehow a wormhole opened up somewhere in the space-time continuum and is dropping country songwriting legend Billy Joe Shaver smack dab in the middle of one of Austin’s biggest hippie havens. That’s OK. He could use a little more peace and a little less war these days. If you haven’t seen Billy Joe, you need to put him on your bucket list before he finishes up his. Shaver is one of the finest living American songwriters. See him now at Ruta Maya, so you won’t have to watch the PBS documentary about his life and wish you had.