We asked thoughtful locals why the 1970s left such a lasting imprint on Austin. We received many provocative answers, which we’ll share here first.
Feel free to send yours to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sherry Matthews, advocacy marketer
I believe Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff and Marcia Ball and Janice Joplin and the black blues icons and …. yes, weed (though I never used the stuff, brought me down) shaped Austin in the 1970s and made it in part what it is today.
The horrible drug laws created an attitude of distrust for authority and spawned Keep Austin Weird even if nobody sees it that way now (for retail biz originally of course but now the unique brand of Austin).
Photo of merchants on the Drag by John R. Van Beekum.
I arrived in 1969 just out of college and was going to work for the American-Statesman night desk as a lowly copyeditor until I saw the Sunday editorial by then editor whose name escapes me that suggested people should shoot the asses of offensive skinny dippers at Hippie Hollow with buckshot! I was aghast!
I felt in the ’70s that there was a very polarizing aspect of Austin, and I think it exists today. East Austin is still primarily where people of color live on the margins. Blacks are not finding Austin great, as they didn’t in the ’70s.
I wasn’t very happy with much of my life in the ’70s because I saw best friends who were Phi Beta Kappas from Harvard going to prison for weed possession! I was always the straight one who worried while others were stoned, eating brownies and watching strobe lights.
But I loved Sunday afternoons at Laguna Gloria (a free, beautiful place with nice art to hang out and picnic down by the water). In late ’70s, I helped Lady Bird Johnson usher in the running trail on Town Lake, wearing braces on my teeth and barely able to talk, but Steve Gurasich made me go and he was wise to do so. I lisped through the introductions but got over wearing braces very fast.
We were in awe of Janis at Threadgills, baked in the sun for Willie’s 4th of July, ate Mexican food at El Rancho after braving long lines, and had dinner parties at home since everybody was in graduate school and we had no money. I loved seeing the Hari Krishnas on the Drag, all the weirdness of Austin in the 70’s that sustains its label today. Keep Austin Weird was brilliant marketing. Who dreamed up that one?
UPDATE: An earlier version of this post contained a mischaracterization of Austin musician Jerry Jeff Walker.