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.
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Bobby Bridger, singer-songwriter, storyteller, writer, teacher
There is an old artistic axiom that necessity forces creative spirits to seek and find a place where the cost of living is low enough for them to survive while continuing to explore the creative process. Of course the axiom’s cliche is painters living and working in cold-water garrets in low-rent warehouse districts that provide both home and studio.
There is, however, a second, equally-important part of that old axiom. It is that eventually the exotic lifestyle that evolves from the success of the positive energy spun by creative spirits attracts the both the curious and the wealthy like the proverbial moth to the flame. Once this second part of the phenomenon occurs prices immediately rise in the heretofore inexpensive creative place, thus forcing the artists who created the energy to move on to less expensive places that can support their unconventional creative lifestyle.
When I moved to Austin at the very beginning of the 1970s one of the first things I was told was that it was the cheapest place in America to live. This of course was music to a struggling singer/songwriter’s ears. But the second thing that immediately caught my attention about Austin was something very simple: I had never been in a town where everyone was so proud of where they lived. During my first month in town I didn’t met a single person who complained about living there; indeed, everyone I met so LOVED Austin that many even mentioned they felt “honored” that they lived there.
Free-spirited Texans had indeed been relocating to Austin for generations because of the liberal environment created by the vast numbers of young liberal students at the University of Texas that were a huge percentage of the population. But the low cost of living also allowed the creative spirits to stay there and continue the exploration of creative expression. The result of this was that as the counterculture exploded throughout America Austin became a virtual green house of cultural creativity.
It would appear now that Austin is seeking balance in the old two-part axiom now that success has brought massive population growth and vast wealth into the region’s cultural equation. I sincerely hope she finds harmony in the very delicate process. I’m still proud and honored I was able to be a part of Austin culture in the 1970s.