Next week, here in Austin, I’ll be showing off the largest urban bat colony in the world, eating great Tex-Mex food south of the River, and listening to some live music somewhere in the city each night with my old friend and boss, Bill Presley. We worked together many moons ago at Charley’s Seafood Grill in Addison, Texas. Bill had a way of organizing our world back in the day by creating mix tapes and throwing a series of parties for each season. If I recall, Summer Party # 3 was the best. But who can say? There was a pool, a ton of beer, several excursions to the 7-11 for cigs, and for some unknown reason, copious amounts of high-fiving complete with hand injuries. The next day at work, Bill awarded me the mix-tape from the party, saying I deserved it, because I had had the most fun. I count this as my highest honor. I had performed the choreography to “Manhunt” from Flashdance, then made out on the front porch for a really long time with my good friend, David, home from college for a visit. I guess I had to go on a manhunt to find the boy next door who actually came to the party with me and turned out to be not just my date, but my date-date. I was in my early twenties.
While Bill organizes by celebration, I organize by place. When I think of each house, apartment, and spare room I’ve ever lived in, I can tell you where I worked, who my roommates were, who my boyfriend was (or the guy I wished was my boyfriend if I was single), the major things that happened in my life and in the world, and even what I wondered and hoped. Since I had to move every six months to two years, depending on the roommate-money-landlord situation, when I recall the place, all the other details follow like ducklings.
During the Bill Presley days I lived in a three-bedroom brick house near the edge of Plano and Richardson with roomies, Melanie and Martin who both worked with Bill and me at Charley’s. We had THE party house. Melanie and I were waitresses; Martin was a bartender; Bill was our manager, friend, and experience instigator. He organized outings to Ranger games and water parks and movies and concerts. Bill got tickets from the owner of our restaurant to the ZZ Top Eliminator Tour Concert. We couldn’t make the show, because we both had to work that night, but those tickets got us in to the after-party. We hung out at the bar all night talking about our lives and loves and trying to convince the bartender to trade his ZZ Top shirt for entres at Charley’s.
A few years ago in an OCD-like energy burst, I decided to write down not only all the places I’ve lived, but all the times I’ve moved. Some of those times I moved back in to places I’d lived before, like Mom’s house, my sis, Kim’s, dining room, Dad’s living room a couple of times. My dear friend and talented performing songwriter, Dana Cooper, a road warrior musician if there ever was one, once told me I was the person most crossed off and rewritten in his address book, (in the olden days before cell phones). Out of all those fans, all those years. As I was trying to remember every time I moved, I lost count at fifty. But the images of the houses, apartments, and rooms-for-rent float into my mind’s eye, and I still see the roommates, bosses, and customers. I hear the concerts, smell the fajitas and margaritas, taste the cold beer and all-you-can-eat breakfast bars after a long night out, feel the sun and sand from Hamilton Pool, its waterfall crashing down cold and powerful on the top of my head on a hot Texas Hill Country day.
Now that I’ve lived in the same house for over seven years, I find it difficult to differentiate events, goals, and relationships, when they happened, how long they lasted. Entire years blob by. I started organizing a memoir around the places I’ve lived, not because they’re all over the world and fabulous. In fact, all the places I’ve lived are in or near Dallas or Austin. I just needed to get it straight in my head, try like hell to get a handle on memory and therefore, perhaps, life. It works. Writing memoir is an exercise in memory, which leads to discovering or creating meaning. One of the nicest places I ever lived was actually my childhood home, the little brick house with the magnolia tree in the front yard, near the Richardson High School baseball field. The discovered meaning: I’m actually living the collective dream of my home town backwards. We were supposed to grow up, get an awesome lucrative career that made us rich, and buy a house three times bigger than the one we started out in.
I’ve never owned a house, but I’ve lived in some wonderful places. My homes come with persons attached to them: landlords. For instance, I now have the greatest landlord in the world (thank you, Sandra!), who not only lets me rent this cute little house with a huge backyard for my four dogs in a great neighborhood, she once proclaimed, “You can live here forever as far as I’m concerned!” (The Greatest Gift ever given to this renter). I also had the second best landlord in the world, Sonny “I Think We Can Work That Out” Rhodes. Not Sonny Rhodes, the “Disciple of Blues” from Smithville, but the music-loving Austinite, who is, however, friends with performing songwriter, Chip Taylor, who wrote “Wild Thing” and “Angel of the Morning”. If you live in Austin, you’re either in the band or you know it personally.
I lived in the top right unit of Sonny’s tiny four-plex in the North University neighborhood in Austin for the long stretch of four and a half years. Not having to turn around and move again after six months is always a plus. I’m creating a TV drama set in Austin and was looking for location ideas in the book, Keep Austin Weird: a Guide to the Odd Side of Town by Red Wassenich. I turned a page, encountered a photo of Sonny’s four-plex and realized I do not need to do research to find interesting locations that say something about the characters and their situations; I’ve lived it. There it was, the tiny beige brick box, the stairs, railings, and shutters painted Longhorn orange, the facade accented by chairs, mirrors, macrame, and other possesions all painted bright Caribbean blue and spilling out of the downstairs apartment into the yard and parking spaces. In the photo it really did look weird (in a good way; that’s how we mean it here). When I lived there, it was burnt orange but didn’t have the ocean-blue embellishments outside. A small space in a wonderful neighborhood, it served as my crash pad after doing massage therapy, nannying for two families, hanging out at Kerrville Folk Festivals, going to house concerts, and hosting, along with family and friends, a House Concert Series of our own in whatever space we could find: one backyard, one Methodist Church sanctuary, and one home on Shoal Creek Drive with great-sounding hardwood floors. We heard some fantastic performing songwriters at our concert series: Ruthie Foster, johnsmith, John McVey, Dana Cooper, Pierce Pettis, Chris Rosser.
We were just about to book our favorite Austin musicians for the next series when we had to take a break for a while. That break ran long, and I’m still on it, having had nose to grindstone ever since.
With Bill coming to town and Summer party # 3 about to start (he’s informed me Summer Party #’s 1 and 2 have already come and gone) where should we go next week in Austin, “Live Music Capital of the World?” What’s your favorite bar, coffeehouse, or living room in Austin to listen to music? What are the places you remember?