Austin- Zeitgeist

by Michael Corcoran, on at


Complain all you want about the traffic, the rising cost of living, the rash of condos, the second weekend of ACL Fest and how this once-sleepy college town has gone to hell in a pedicab. But the luckiest residents of Austin are the ones who just moved here.

Huh? “You must also love those assholes who try to squeeze into a full elevator.”

Not love, envy. Those folks who arrived recently with those rolled-up copies of Forbes in their back pockets take a lot of organic crapola. With all those touts of Jobs! Culture! Liveability! Austin’s waist size has expanded from 32 to 42 and all these new people make for some tight-ass jeans. All those “Don’t Move Here” t-shirts are about as effective a deterrent as yellow lights on South Lamar and capital punishment.

But imagine how cool it is to live in an Austin where everything’s new. You know how you hear somebody talking about how they just started watching “The Wire” and you get a little jealous because that’s something you’ll never get to do again for the first time? It’s like that.

I moved to Austin 30 years ago this March and it’s hard for me to get excited about, say, going to the honky tonk preservation scene at the Broken Spoke on a Thursday night when Jesse Dayton’s playing all those old country classics. But I went there recently for a story and I could tell who had never been to that 50-year-old club before. They were glowing. Ain’t got nothing like this in Silicon Valley, yeehaw!

Yes, it used to be so much better here, but those days are gone. Living in Austin is like sex in that what happened in the past has only sentimental value, which when it comes to sex is no value. Who would you rather be, the old guy hunched over his cereal who used to do Victoria Principal or the insufferable hipster in the trucker hat who goes home to that hot barista, the one without the tattoos?

One advantage that newcomers have is that they don’t know what Austin used to look like or how the people used to act. They can go to Torchy’s storefront on South First and not once think about Virginia’s, the beloved home cooking joint that used to be in that location. There’s no haunt to the jaunt.

The only Austin any of us know is the one we got. And I think right now we have to get something straight. If you were born and raised in Austin and still live here, you’re rare, but not special. So please stop bragging in Facebook comments. You’re annoying the 99% of us who moved here because where we lived before wasn’t so hot. Or, even worse, it was Lubbock.

Some moved here for jobs. They’re called Round Rock residents. But most of us moved here because we loved the party, you know, the vibe. It started as a room full of conversations on Goodwill couches and someone pulled out a guitar and everyone sang “Blister In the Sun.” But the bash now rages with a D.J. and drink tickets. Who invited all these bubblebutts?

But they have every right to be at this party gone out of bounds as you do. Legally, at least. You just got there early. And you’re free to leave.

I’ve been thinking long and hard about doing just that myself. Leaving Austin, my Austin. But then one evening I took a spin around town and forced myself to see this town through the eyes of a newcomer. The drive started near my first apartment on South First near Ben White and my mind went back to that time in ’84 when Austin was all new.

I crossed the river at Brazos, then turned right at E. 7th. , one of my favorite streets in Austin because it’s the fastest way to get to the East Side. Outside the window on this 20-minute drive, I saw people on the streets, talking and laughing, hanging out at food trailers, popping out of nifty shops, sitting there drinking coffee. There was the statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan I saw driving over the bridge and the one of Willie Nelson just on the other side. East Austin was all over the place, from taquerias to Qui and a rock and roll dive called Hotel Vegas, the same name as when it was a flop house.

What a cool fucking town.

Austin is such a safe city that “living on the edge” means going to the HEB on E. 7th instead of the one at Hancock Center, so infused with that lived-in-Bushwick-three-years swagger, I ended the away leg of my drive at the grocery store where people have been stabbed over 11 items in the express checkout. HEB has everything, bruh.

I drove back on E. Sixth to Congress and took a left back to South Austin. These are streets I’ve driven down thousands of times and so they had become merely routes. But on the night I looked at the surroundings as someone who’d been driving a U-Haul through Texarkana the day before, I realized that we need to make a major distinction when we’re talking about East Sixth Street.

There are two wildly different ones. There’s the one-way East Sixth of street hustlers and tourists and loud, stupid bars and heavy metal pizza. This is the Sixth Street out-of-town sports announcers are always referencing when they call games in town. “(Winning team) fans are going to be partying on Sixth Street tonight!” Then there’s the hip, two-way Sixth Street on the east side of I-35 that makes recent arrivals from Williamsburg miss home a little less.

Randy Quaid and Dennis Quaid share a last name because they have the same father. East Sixth and East Sixth are not similarly bound by law or tradition. Maybe we just need to call the hipper side “East East Sixth.” Or officially change the name of the Bourbon Street section to “Dirty Sixth.” Tag it to the street signs. And for crissakes put a surveillance camera on every corner. Selling clips to “World’s Craziest Streetfights” and other such TV shows will bring as much revenue to the city as the F1 racetrack.

One thing strange about the east side of the freeway is seeing folks charge for parking. I recently had to pay $10 to park in a lot where I once bought a home theatre sound system for $10. But things change because paradise can never keep its trap shut.

About 150 people a day are moving to Austin, according to reports. That’s 150 people who’ve never slid into a booth at Curra’s for breakfast tacos and that cinnamon roasted Oaxacan coffee, who’ve never heard next year’s big band on the outdoor stage of the Mohawk, who’ve never been on one of the trails that hold sanity together like twine.

They’re the lucky ones, just starting season one.


I Knew the Realtor When She Used To Rock and Roll

Nanette Labastida at 17

Nanette Labastida at 17

She grew up in London during that city’s glam-metal heyday and dated a member of the Cult when she was 16. In her twenties she married a bagel-flipper who became a minor rock star in Fastball. She breastfed their first child in the limo on the way to the MTV Video Music Awards.

Nanette Labastida, whose Mexican national father worked for the United Nations and mother Nancy Davis was a tennis pro from Dallas, was the epitome of a rock and roll chick for most of her life. Lead singers would make eye contact and sing to her in a crowd of thousands. Her dressing style had evolved over the years from trash with flash to Dianne Von Milfenberg, but Labastida’s always been the one who could traverse the backstage catacombs like the girlfriend of Indiana Jones.

Then, at age 35, came her relatively amicable divorce from Tony Scalzo, whose band was finding out that where there’s a will, “The Way” doesn’t necessarily repeat itself. The mailbox money dried up and Labastida found herself on the job market without developed skills. She had a degree in Latin American studies from the University of Texas, but her main occupation after school was looking good, hanging out, and relating to strangers.

But she also was the former girlfriend of touring musicians.  That’s a fulltime personal assistant job that required a lot of real life savvy and patience. “She has the toughest job of all… mother.” Nanette would see that intro on TV and laugh. Let’s see that mother try to explain finances to a guy who’s never had a checking account.

Nanette at 45.

Nanette at 45.

Backstage Lessons

“Adapt or die.” That the real motto of rock and roll and should be in small print on every band t-shirt. Nanette could talk to lawyers for an hour then throw down pints with the roadies. Two decades with a stiletto heel in that cutthroat world taught her to read people and to know who to trust and who to avoid. Nanette was also up on all the hoppin’ clubs and best restaurants. And as a parent of two children, four years apart, Labastida knew the best schools, the cool parks.

Turns out there was a perfect job for her: real estate agent. Dirt chick. Rock and roll withers like the Stones discography, but making a buck without having to lift, serve or clean anything never gets old.  Schooling took just weeks and after passing the Texas Real Estate Exam, she went from studying liner notes to credit reports. Great thing about realty- it’s not quite reality- and so the transition was satin.

“It’s kinda like being the popular girl again,” she says of her job at the very rock and roll Gill Agency, whose honcho Eileen used to live with the singer of the Butthole Surfers. “People want to hang out with you.” Only now they’re checking out houses, not into hotel rooms with a stocked mini-bar.

The Austin real estate field is full of ex-rockers who used to wear skirts that clung to their bodies like 3-wood covers, and partied ‘til the sun came up and the boyfriend came down. A balloon payment used to be something the junkie soundman made in the alley at 3 a.m. Now it’s just a term for one of the many nuances that agents need to be up on.

One of the major similarities between rock chicks and Realtors is that they spend a lot of time in houses they couldn’t possibly afford.

“We Got the Deed”

But the Austin real estate scene also has a bona fide rock star in its ranks. Kathy Valentine of the Go-Go’s, an Austin native who moved back from L.A. eight years ago, is an agent with Virginia Ivey’s firm. Since so many of her friends from California were asking her to recommend a Realtor, Valentine figured “why not me?” An agent’s commission on a home sale is usually 3%, which can be a nice chunk when you realize that $555 million worth of single-family homes sold in 2013, a 24% jump over 2012.

Folks are moving to “The Live Music Capital of the World” from all over, so when drummer Don Harvey (Charlie Sexton, Ian McLagan) went into real estate a little over a decade ago, he called his firm Austin Music Realty and advertised on rock radio stations.

patricia-vonneAlso with AMR, a division of Stanberry & Associates, is Latin-tinged rock singer Patricia Vonne. The sister of filmmaker Robert Rodriguez got into real estate at the behest of their father, a drummer who put his musician dreams on hold to raise 10 kids. “For 39 years he sold cookware door-to-door,” Vonne says, “but later in life he got his real estate license. He told me to have a backup plan because the music business is tough and that since I have a knack for sales I should go into real estate.” Because Vonne performs on nights and weekends, the flexible Realtor gig gives her the freedom to take on only what she could handle.

And clients show up at her sets, if only to tell the person next to them that the exotic performer with the castanets “sold me my house.” There are worse pick-ups lines.

Like Harvey, Labastida markets herself as a rocker and throws her @rocknrealty handle all over social media. You get to know her- a cancer survivor, a vegan, a Dylan fanatic- and so she attract clients who see pieces of themselves in her. Once wild, they are now ready to settle down. (But still wild- Conan growl- deep down.)

One day, Hollywood hair band L.A. Guns, whose singer Labastida used to date, came on TV and she told her 15-year-old daughter Claudia a crazy story about that time. “Were you a groupie, mom?” the teenager asked and it was probably a little like when Meadow Soprano popped the M question to her father Tony.

“Oh, no, not really,” Labastida replied. It wasn’t about the sex, but the access. Heaven is probably just backstage at hell. “I just wanted to be where the action was,” she told her daughter. And in Austin these days, where the median home price recently topped $200,000 for the first time, that means real estate, not rock clubs. Lifestyle gives way to life, or maybe it’s the other way around.

At any rate, to a growing number of former party people, reefer is now slang for a refinance. The condoms have been replaced by condominium brochures. One day she’s showing her boyfriend how to adjust his package and the next she’s advising a client on adjustable rate mortgages. That’s how fast it can work.

“They’re not making any more of it,” Will Rogers said recently about good rock and roll. But the real estate market, which was so bad in Austin in the late ‘80s that landlords were voluntarily lowering rents, has a way of always coming back.