Music, media and the metropolis : the case of Austin's Armadillo World Headquarters




Menconi, David

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This thesis is a case study of events in Austin, Texas, during the 1970s regarding the city's major musical and cultural institution, the Armadillo World Headquarters, a converted national guard armory at 525-1/2 Barton Springs Road that served as a music hall from 1970 to 1980. As such, this project is very interdisciplinary, involving history (as does any case study), ethnomusicology (relating a form of music to its culture and vice versa) and journalism and communication (examining various forms of media publications from the period, and relating them to larger processes at work). Given the events surrounding the Armadillo's demise in 1980, as well as the city of Austin's subsequent belated interest in preserving what's left of its local music industry, it would be exceedingly easy to fall into the trap of cynicism. But rather than cynicism, this project instead reflects irony. The history of the Armadillo, Austin and progressive country music is ironic in many ways, but in nothing more than the fact that a certain image of Austin as a laid-back redneck rock refuge is still being bought and sold. Further, this image no longer exists, nor has it (if it ever really did) for the past five years. Image, as they say, tends to lag a few years behind reality. Austin and the Armadillo are still in a sense inextricably linked. Just as it signified the "old" idyllic Austin at the height of progressive country music in the mid-1970s, the Armadillo's ghost now symbolizes the passing of that Austin into a distant memory, as the seemingly inexorable processes of growth and urban homogenization continue. "A hundred years from now musicologists will insist that a historical marker be placed on the property," one writer reflected on the occasion of the Armadillo's demise. "But living legends don't qualify as landmarks." Most Austin-datelined stories in the national media used to dwell on the city's numerous advantages and sultry ambience. Now they deal with feverish growth and its many negative consequences, including increasing crime, traffic and pollution, as well as the loss of an intangible "something" that used to define the city and make it unique. Few fail to mention the passing of the Armadillo as symbolic of an Austin and a lifestyle that are no more. Perhaps, then, it is the folly of our time (and other times as well) that we can't appreciate anything until it's either gone or too late to save. If this thesis is a first step towards creating a conscious appreciation for cultural processes and the physical structures that make them possible, then I will consider it a success