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Dissonant Identities

The Rock'n'Roll Scene in Austin, Texas

Barry Shank

Publication Year: 1994

Music of the bars and clubs of Austin, Texas has long been recognized as defining one of a dozen or more musical "scenes" across the country. In Dissonant Identities, Barry Shank, himself a musician who played and lived in the Texas capital, studies the history of its popular music, its cultural and economic context, and also the broader ramifications of that music as a signifying practice capable of transforming identities.

While his focus is primarily on progressive country and rock, Shank also writes about traditional country, blues, rock, disco, ethnic, and folk musics. Using empirical detail and an expansive theoretical framework, he shows how Austin became the site for "a productive contestation between two forces: the fierce desire to remake oneself through musical practice, and the equally powerful struggle to affirm the value of that practice in the complexly structured late-capitalist marketplace."

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Series: Music Culture


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xv

When I moved to Texas I was dead set on doing what it was I wanted to do. I had never really fit in anywhere, and when I moved to Austin, I decided, I'm really gonna apply myself to drama and music and have a really good time. Nobody knows me; I'll only have to be here a year. I can make a complete ass out of myself if that's what it takes, but I'm going to do something. So I decided to just start all over again. Just start from scratch. And I went a little bit haywire. ...

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1. The Imaginary Tourist: An Introduction to Austin's Rock'n'Roll Scene

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pp. 1-19

There are nights in Austin when the air grows hotter once the sun goes down. When you no longer sec the heat rising in waves from the pavement but you feel it, you walk through it, you breathe it. The heat holds your clothes against your skin. And the sweat that drips from you has nowhere to go. It is one of those nights during the summer of 1991. ...

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2. Constructing the Musicalized Performance of Texan Identity

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pp. 20-37

Music-making in Austin grows out of a long history, a history that struggles to center the meaning of being Texan in the voices and the sung narratives of specific historical individuals representing certain groups. The effects of this history are still felt in the popular memory of those who continue the musicalized performance of identity in Austin's nightclubs and the recording studios. As individual musicians ...

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3. Desperados Waiting for a Train: The Development of Progressive Country Music

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pp. 38-65

Throughout the summer and the fall of 1933, the Texas state legislature busied itself debating the proper method of licensing drinking establishments. The twenty-first amendment had returned to each state the authority to regulate the sale of alcoholic beverages. But the liquor issue was not a simple matter in Texas. The large state, torn between its vast ...

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4. The Collapse of the Progressive Country Alliance

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pp. 66-90

Although the recording industry had difficulty packaging progressive country for a national audience in 1974, local performers, radio disc jockeys, and nightclub owners were offering almost no other music for popular consumption. For the next two years, music-making in Austin became wholly identified with this contradictory genre. The year 1975 has been called the "peak year of the progressive country period," with ...

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5. Punk Rock at Raul's: The Performance of Contradiction

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pp. 91-117

Offered the choice between two self-reflective spectacles of alienation— the disco and the local live music scene—many college students in Austin turned their musical attentions elsewhere. In New York, London, and Los Angeles, young musicians, art students, and clothing designers were elaborating a new musical aesthetic and a new theory of performance that would radically change the tastes of Austin's rock'n'roll ...

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6. The Performance of Signifying Practice

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pp. 118-161

Music scenes develop in Austin out of a confluence of factors. For decades, the university served as the sole tolerated center of negotiated difference. The expansion of the student population during the late sixties increased the numbers of alienated yet motivated young people in Austin. The university still guarantees a large population of young people, a potential pool of musicians and fans eager to investigate ...

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7. The Inscription of Identity in the Music Business

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pp. 162-190

Very few musicians in Austin can support themselves through their musical work. Most have other employment, a day job, that makes additional demands on their time and energy, diverting some of both from their musical work. A particularly strong tension results from these demands, adding to the pressures to "make it" in the music business. The monotony and low pay of most day jobs signify the lack of intrinsic ...

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8. The Commodification of Identity

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pp. 191-237

The Austin music scene emerged into self-consciousness during the progressive country boom, when entrepreneurs like Eddie Wilson and Mike Tolleson combined with journalists like Chet Flippo and Jan Reid to create the myth of the Armadillo. Although it constituted the dominant meaning of music-making in Austin for almost a decade, that myth by itself failed to organize, promote, and control the material conditions for ...

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9. The Continuing Importance of Musicalized Experience

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pp. 238-251

One Friday morning in September 1990, at about 10:00 A.M., I got on the North Lamar bus, heading into downtown. There were a few seats scattered throughout the bus, but, following habit, I headed for the back. Not until after I sat down did I notice a white man about my age with long hair sitting a couple of rows up. A pad of staff paper lay on ...


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pp. 253-279

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 281-287


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pp. 289-294

E-ISBN-13: 9780819572677
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819552723

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 1994

Series Title: Music Culture