Live Shots From The Austin Chronicle
by Allen Varney
Is there one in your city? I mean a weekly or biweekly tabloid paper of culture, politics, and the arts. It's free, subsisting on advertising revenues; you find it in record stores and health-food markets and whatever passes nowadays for head shops. Very countercultural, maybe politically active, it tries to "make a difference" in its city. But people read it for the movie reviews and the personal ads.
Such is The Austin Chronicle, a weekly institution in the capital of Texas. The Chron runs ads for music festivals, and vegetarian restaurants, and stores that sell hammocks and beads, and a place that sells powdered urine so you can pass drug tests. ("Byrd Labs: Purveyors of Fine Urine Products.") Once the paper ran a picture of Jean-Luc Godard on the cover. You get the idea.
Sandwiched between the four pages of small-print movie reviews and the personal ads ("WF, 28, post-industrial refugee from post-nuclear, post-punkism seeks unattached slender beardless male 25-35 who enjoys antiquarian books, obscure films, improvisational pagan rituals, southern diners, and coffee. I seek the T'ai Chi, perfect cornbread, and Les Blank film festivals. Tattoos and espresso machine helpful. No skate punks, satanists, Subgenius Apostles, or weightlifters") is a column called Live Shots.
"Live Shots" are short reviews of live performances in Austin. But during the mid-1980s and early '90s I wrote them about anything: haircuts, Rice Krispies Squares, how I met a game-show winner, an episode of heavy rain, or (a persistent interest) recent fashions in candy. Trivial? Sure. But as Garrison Keillor said, it's better to write "three sharp and funny pages about geese than 300 fat and flabby ones about the human condition."
Feuilletons, casuals, pasquinades -- whatever you call these six-paragraph micro-essays, treat them like mental jellybeans. Don't gulp them all at once, or you'll hate me. Nibble lightly here and there, and they'll make you smile.