In light of the 30th anniversary of Ratt’s 80s hair metal classic Out of the Cellar, I’d like to revisit a post in which my wife muses on her memories of the video for hit single ‘Round and Round’…
The first MTV video I remember seeing in my life is the video for RATT’s 1984 hit, “Round and Round”. Somehow I missed MJ’s debut of Thriller — the parents must not have had cable yet. I was eight years old, and this video was probably my first horror movie, brief as it was. To appreciate that it scared me, you must allow yourself to imagine a time without violent video games to keep kids occupied from the age of five. You must allow yourself to imagine a time without a news media that curls your toes daily with horrifically sensationalized reports. You must allow yourself to imagine a time when an eight-year-old girl can be frightened of a bunch of creepy long-hairs playing rock-and-roll in the attic while a bunch of creepy stuffed-shirts react — and rats . . . and RATTs.
I just watched it again.
The girl on the stairs: I recollect this as the scariest scene in the video — besides the rats at the dining room table (and the RATT on the dining room table). My memory ran a reel of her being trapped on the stairs in a sticky membrane. She was frightened and struggling. That memo-reel has made me nervous about dark, attic stairs for 25 years. What appears to have happened in the actual video is that the girl’s dress disappears down the stairs, her face becomes strategically smudged (eighties-style sexy), and she metaphorically (visually aided by shedding her rubbery suiting) moves from her yuppy chrysalis stage to her eighties-style dancer stage. She enjoys the whole experience, and the only thing frightening about that scene now is the eighties-style dancing. Somehow it makes me sad that I’ll never be afraid of that video again.
Of course, Milton Berle handling his fake breasts does send a small chill up my spine.
In the wake of this year’s SXSW Festival, as there is in the wake of each year’s festival, there has been much discussion of Austin and critical mass and old Austin vs. new Austin. This year’s discussion is, of course, lent a greater weight due to the tragedy that occurred on Red River and the lives lost and forever altered. It has also often been couched in criticisms of the commercialism that is now part and parcel of the fest. Having been around Austin for a bit and possessed of a thought or two on the matter, I figure I’ll toss ’em out there.
I don’t imagine I have anything of substance to add to the discussion of the tragedy except to say that it seems to be one of those horrible and random bursts of darkness that come as part of life. The fact that it occurred during SXSW only meant there were more lives to be affected, but it could have happened on any given night. And I don’t suppose I have much to say about the criticisms of commercialism levied against the festival except to note that such things are really always a part of such endeavors. A sad truth is that, if a thing doesn’t grow, it is considered impotent. Staying the same doesn’t work, and a thing must always get bigger with each passing year in order to sustain itself. The inevitable downside, then, is that as a thing grows exponentially (and apparently in accordance with the town that supports it), it will soon eat itself in its hunger. And so it seems to be doing so.
Now that I think of it, I don’t imagine I have a whole helluva lot to add to the old Austin vs. new Austin discussion, in which the town is always said to have been better in times that came before the current time, except to say that if you’re in the heart of downtown at the height of SXSW searching for a piece of old Austin, then you’re a shitty detective. There was a time when 6th Street might have been a reasonable starting point for such a search– I’m thinking of The Jesus Lizard at the Cannibal Club or bumping into Gibby Haynes at Emo’s, but others who’ve been around longer would likely cite different examples– but those days are long gone. That said, the term “old Austin” is a relative one at best, and each person who cares one way or the other probably has her own version of what it means.
I got to Austin in ’91, so that’s my old Austin. Others will look to other times, but my eyes will always set nostalgically on the first time I saw Bouffant Jellyfish at Liberty Lunch, whipped off my shirt to be more like the band, and dove into the crowd. Or the time I saw Pocket FishRmen at the 21st Street Co-Op, singer sporting an inflatable rubber ducky floatie around his waist, drummer naked (really, with all the flailing, the last member of the band who should be naked). Or watching Slacker at the Dobie Theater, where it seemed to play in an endless loop for the whole of my freshman year at UT. It was also during those days in Austin that I discovered the writing of the late, great Bud Shrake and the other self-described Mad Dogs, and learned about their old Austin, one centered, musically at least, around the Armadillo World Headquarters in the early 70s. And if I’d bumped into them personally in the 90s and asked them where to find the magic and soul of Austin, they’d likely have told me that I’d already missed it, just as I might say to someone today– well, I suppose that’s not entirely true.
What I’d say today is head straight for a little record store called Trailer Space and hang with the riffraff at the counter, because when I walk into Trailer Space, I feel like I’m in my old Austin, one that welcomes everyone in (but likes to give everyone a little bit of shit), one that’s a little dirty, one that defies convention and knows nothing of pretension. And if it turns out that Trailer Space isn’t your old Austin, then go find yours. Or fight to make Austin what you think it should be. Maybe see if you can round us up some affordable housing and decent public transportation. I’m happy to help.
Anyway, I might say all of those things, but most likely I’d refer anyone who asks to an essay written by Shrake for the Texas Observer in 1974 (and most recently published in Land of the Permanent Wave, An Edwin “Bud” Shrake Reader— fucking great), in which Shrake relates a discussion about “The Screwing Up of Austin” with an unnamed musician friend (Willie Nelson). Shrake, with whom I share a birthday but nary a trace of his writing talent, pretty much covers it. Check it out here, where you can read a preview of a few pages of the essay. (Then run out and grab Land of the Permanent Wave, where you will find the rest as well as many other great Shrake writings.)