Read State: Will Sheff of Okkervil River

Welcome to “Read State,” a recurring TM Daily Post feature in which we ask noteworthy Texans—from writers and singers to athletes and politicians—what they’re reading. Today we bring you the reading habits of Will Sheff, longtime Austinite (and current Brooklynite) and lead singer and songwriter of the indie rock band Okkervil River, whose latest album, The Silver Gymnasium, was released in September.

Because of the way my schedule tends to work, I don’t really have “average days.” When I’m at home in Brooklyn I read on the subway on the way to my writing/recording space, to kind of get my mind ready to work. Usually I’m reading something intended to help with the project I’m working on at the moment, and it’s most likely to be fiction or poetry. When I’m traveling with the band I read in stolen moments, most often at soundcheck while I’m waiting around. Usually I read more page-turner style books because it’s easy to stay focused on them (detective fiction is a favorite tour read for me, and I also love biographies). When I’m traveling by myself I’m unlikely to read at all because I’m usually either driving or working or sleeping. If I have spare time while traveling by myself it’s usually while I’m eating, and then I might read something on Instapaper, like some more long-form journalistic stuff.

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Is In Texas And Drug Questions Followed Him Here

Embattled Toronto mayor Rob Ford—the only major North American leader whose name, when Googled, auto-suggests the word “crack” as part of the search—is in Texas right now. Specifically, he’s here for the first day of the Austin City Limits Festival, where he’s on a “trade mission” to learn tips about the Austin music industry that he can take back to Toronto. He’s also accompanied by a host of Canadian press, most of whom are more interested in talking with the mayor about drug allegations (a friend of the mayor’s was arrested on drug charges this week) than about what the Toronto music scene hopes to gain from his visit to Austin. 

Austin residents don’t seem to have much to say about Rob Ford’s visit, which led the Toronto Star to report hilarious quotes from various Texans interviewed about the mayor and his city that didn’t make them sound particularly well-informed. (“He was voted best-dressed,” one said of the, er, not well-dressed Ford, though it’d be a fair way to describe designer Tom Ford.) Although that’s also a bit unfair—how much do Toronto residents know about Austin mayor Lee Leffingwell? 

In any case, the reactions to Rob Ford’s visit to Texas are revealing about both what our Canadian counterparts think of Texas, and what the Texans who are familiar with Ford think of his alleged drug-abusing persona

Who Said What At The Texas Tribune Festival

The third-annual Texas Tribune Festival wrapped up on Sunday, with headlining appearances by most of the major players in Texas politics in 2014 and beyond. Specifically, declared gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott and yet-to-declare gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, Senator Ted Cruz, and Texas First Lady Anita Perry all made headlines during their interview and audience Q&A sessions in Austin over the weekend. 

If you weren’t keeping up on Texas politics over the weekend, we can’t say we blame you—the federal government is on the verge of a shutdown, there was a lot of football on TV, and Breaking Bad finally ended, so it’s not like there weren’t other things to think about. But here’s a quick cheatsheet on what you missed if you weren’t paying attention to the #TribuneFest hashtag all weekend.

Anita Perry

No, Brits, It's Not Illegal To Masturbate In Texas

In a post on the Guardian’s Shortcuts Blog called “Masturbation laws around the world: the penal code” (yes, we see what you did there), the British publication claimed:

“[A] new measure which will come into force on 1 January 2014 will make many forms of male masturbation illegal. ‘Exceptions include sperm donations, which now must only be performed at a designated hospital facility.’”

The source the Guardian cites for that tidbit—which, it should go without saying, is 100% untrue—is the website the Tribune Herald. Somewhat legit-sounding URL aside, that is a parody news website that runs on a basic Wordpress template, has 75 followers on Twitter, and includes stories with other headlines like, “Obama to meet and personally arm Syrian rebels with special ‘first gun.’”

Welcome to the New National Home Page of Texas

Forty years ago, as the very first issue of Texas Monthly was being put together by Bill Broyles & Co., Life magazine folded. Though it would later resume publication (before finally folding again in 2007), and though it continues on today as a pretty amazing photo site, the coincidence of the legendary magazine’s demise and the new upstart’s birth served to make a point about the way the business was changing at the time. As Mike Levy, Texas Monthly’s founding publisher, wrote in his introductory note to readers:

The trend in magazine journalism away from big, mass circulation, general interest publications such as Life, Post, and Look towards the so-called ‘special market’ magazines, such as Psychology Today, New York, Sports Illustrated, and Road & Track. Americans are becoming more local in their perspectives, their interests are being narrowed and defined, and their magazine reading is being focused on what is going on in their own fields of interest and in their own backyards. Texas Monthly is a special market publication.

I’ve been thinking about this observation as we’ve been building this new website, which debuts today, on our fortieth birthday, at high noon low noon noon El Paso time … (what’s a few hours here or there?). Everyone knows that we’re living through another disruptive time in the journalism business. The web, and social media, and mobile devices, and everything else that you can squeeze under the umbrella of the Digital Age has upended the way readers read and the way journalists reach those readers and the way publishers make a business around the whole proposition. Texas Monthly’s print magazine has been an outlier to these trends. Our print product is a roaring, profitable enterprise that supports a large staff of exceptionally talented and experienced journalists doing exceptionally high-quality work. I’ll admit that this gives the magazine a sort of pleasantly old-fashioned feel at times: This is a place where, for a variety of reasons, the old way still works. But that doesn’t mean we don’t feel the pressure and see the opportunity presented by the way digital media are transforming our business. This new site is the biggest step we’ve yet taken to grab that opportunity.

The Walking Deadline

The goat on the cover of the June 1974 issue of this magazine was a nice touch. If you wanted to illustrate the descent of the state’s big-city newspapers into a form of journalistic trash, why not an image of a refuse-eating barnyard animal gobbling up a front page unworthy of wrapping fish? Griffin Smith Jr.’s accompanying story was no more subtle. “Texas journalism is, on the whole, strikingly weak and ineffectual,” he wrote, going on to tar his own profession as a “backwater.”


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