Fightin’ Words: Michael Corcoran v. Terry Sawyer
Another battle for Austin's soul divides a community.
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The old and new guards of Austin don’t share much in common other than an affinity for analyzing themselves ad nauseam and the city in which they live. The latest spat over what Austin used to be and what Austin can be is between Michael Corcoran, the award-winning, veteran Texas music critic with a penchant for contrarianism, and Terry Sawyer, the whip smart blogger who represents the wave of people who have moved to Austin recently in part because of the cultural cachet people like Corcoran helped foster.
“Only the mediocre are always at their best, someone said, which could be why Austin is so damn proud of itself,” begins a post titled “Welcome to Mediocre, Texas” that Corcoran, who took a buyout last year from the Austin American-Statesman, published on his personal website last Friday.
Corcoran goes on to rant about Austin's lack of pro sports, the poor quality of traffic-time radio, and the influx of people unsatisfied by their hometowns who have moved here, presumably like Sawyer. But at the core of his riff is the sad state of Austin's music and movie scenes, which Corcoran argues have been replaced by the foodie scene represented by chefs Paul Qui and Tyson Cole, and pit master Aaron Franklin.
Corcoran points out that Austin's designation as the "Live Music Capital of the World" is misleading and a burden, and that the city has not produced a single Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member (that will change April 14, when Ian McLagan is inducted). "Rock stars aren’t launched here, they go to Austin to retire, work the steps, and wait for their Margaret Moser profile. [...] 80% of live music is unlistenable and yet we still have all these entitled musicians who want affordable housing and healthcare."
The post--though random in its sizing up of Austin to New York and Los Angeles--is satirical and pokes fun at a lot of the same clichés and inside jokes about Austin that were embraced earlier this year via the viral video "Shit Austinites Say." (Corcoran even calls out himself for his shortcomings as a novelist.)
But Sawyer saw Corcoran's commentary as a kill-your-idols opportunity. Taking to the virtual pages of Austinist yesterday, Sawyer ripped Corcoran a new one for his "f--- off note ... about the city as the apotheosis of half-assery."
"As long as I’ve lived in Austin, I’ve heard Austinites writing their city’s obituary," Sawyer wrote. "Sometimes, this comes from a sincere place of loss, as genuine scenes and notable haunts lose to the carnage of time and the butchery of gentrification. Other times, like this piece, it’s just the geriatric remix of Goldilocks chasing the dragon of that 'just right' porridge."
Sawyer unrelentingly calls out Corcoran as an old fuddy-duddy who is stuck in the past and is recycling viewpoints from 25 years ago. Sawyer cites Corcoran's false metrics, using a difference in music tastes as a counter-argument. "If Dylan and Jagger negate the efforts of Britt Daniel, then surely Lester Bangs and Ellen Willis make Corcoran’s ink the murmurs of someone on the wrong side of the velvet rope."
Sawyer, in his best Corcoran impersonation, refutes pretty much everything Corcoran wrote in his post, enacting a partisan-style debate about which the community is so passionate that t-shirts supporting one camp have already materialized.
In response to Sawyer's diatribe, Corcoran wrote the following last night on his Facebook page:
Heard In Mediocre, Texas:
This sucks. I’ve been writing in Austin for 10 years and nobody’s ever heard of me. I’m working for a blog that pays in Fun Fun Fun Fest drink tickets. Something’s gotta shake. I know, I’ll take a rant that somebody wrote in two hours for his blog and spend the next five days analyzing every sentence, with full use of my Word a Day calendar. I’ll eviscerate this much more successful writer in no uncertain terms and then everybody will finally know my name.
Congratulations, Terry Sawyer. You're on the map. Now let’s see what you can do with an original idea, not using another writer's work as a template.