Dissonant Identities: The Rock n’ Roll Scene in Austin, Texas

By Barry Shank, 1991.

These are the excerpts from the above cited book that concern Zeitgeist/The Reivers [there’s quite a lot of text, so some scrolling is required…]. The author himself seems to have been a musician and perhaps a friend of the band. Here he describes the music scene in the early 80’s which centered around a few clubs, including The Beach and Raul’s, :

“Here we are just north of the engineering part of the university campus, at a club that used to be the Beach. Before 1983 it was called Folkville, now it is a beer pub called the Crown and Anchor. It is cleaner and quieter than it was, but it really looks about the same as it did six years ago when bands like Zeigeist, the Dharma Bums, Texas Instruments, the Wild Seeds, and Doctor’s Mob, and their insistent psychedelicized fans turned this ex-ice cream parlor and folk club intot he most exciting musical performance site in town. The tide of rock n’ roll music rose at the Beach once the efforts of the Raul’s punk explosion were integrated into local muisc traditions. It collapsed when the drinking age was raised to twenty-one. On the nights when my band would play this club, I would grab a beer and sit outside here on the patio, watching the people come in, agonizing over the size of the crowd and whether or not we would be good enough to satisfy them. The last show I ever played in Austin was here in July 1986. We opened for Zeitgeist; the place was packed. I remember that the audience liked us that night. We were really loud.”

The rest of the excerpts are not necessarily related to each other, but they’re the times any of the Reivers are mentioned in the book:

“Liberty Lunch sits on this part of 2nd Street that always looks to me like the dark end of a tunnel, leading out of the downtown area and into an unknown world. The streetlights barely cut through the obscurity around us. We find ourselves lured toward the club not by a neon sign or a flashing marquee but by a sound that slips through the structure of the building, a vibration that runs across our skin, contracts our stomach muscles,and quickens our step. We are going to see the Reivers. I feel my body tightening a little, telling my hips to slow down, to stroll towards the door. We must not rush as we pay our five dollars and go in.

They have already begun to play. John, wearing his T-shirt inside out, stares at the neck of his Telecaster. Kim and Cindy dance and play together. And we feel rather than see Garret work his drums. I know that it looks very crowded up front, but we should be able to stand over to the right and see pretty well. This band used to pack this place. Although they no longer fill the largest clubs in town, their crowds are still decent. Just last fall they lost their recording contract; they were dropped from Capitol Records. But the band seems almost relieved. Onstage, they appear lighter, happier.

The song they are playing is from their second album, Saturday. It’s called “Once in a While.” See the kids sort of swaying back and forth, moving thier weight from side to side, not yet actually dancing, but comfortable? This is the way the Reivers start. And their audience starts this way with them. This band breaks no new dance ground, but their rhythmic conservatism provides no obstruction for their ever-younger audience. In fact, the simple rhythms of the lower-pitched beats support the more intriguing upper harmonics of the guitars (emphasized by a “chorus” pedal and a bi-amped system), much as John’s gruff and somewhat stiff vocals provide the backdrop for Kim’s more liquid singing. “Once in a While” floats on, contrasting loud and quiet passages that gesture toward a greater engagement, a greater interest to come.

After a few more songs, they click. As they start a number called “Baby”, the crowd folds in on itself and then bursts out, dancing. The men look down at their feet, studying their own unfamiliar movements while they dance their first real joy of the night. Kelly, wearing a polo shirt and khakis, looking like the recent UT computer science graduate he is, leans over and says, “I’m feelin’ a familiar rhythm.” Looking over to the left, we see Josh shaking his long hair up and down. This slow headbang is what Josh, with a sort of self-deprecating irony, calls “his dance.” He sees us watching him and points up at John onstage before disappearing back into the crowd. In front of us is Rita, the Baylor student who said hello when we first walked up. As “Baby” starts, she shouts and begins dancing with considerable intensity, her waving elbows forcing us backward a few steps.

Several women, some of whom have been dancing all along, focus their attention on Kim Longacre. There is a young girl leaning against the stage, with loosely permed light yellow hair, a slightly turned up nose, and bleached Guess jeans, who appears to mirror Kim’s performance. While John sings the verses, Kim strums and sways, nodding at Cindy and laughing. During the bridge of the song, she steps forward to sing the line, “Leave me alone just for a while.” Everyone in the audience sings along, as one mass echoing this chant, but Blondie-in-Guess-jeans does more than that. She literally copies every physical move that Kim makes. She mimes Kim’s guitar strum, she bobs her head from side to side as though circling a microphone wiht the prosody of the phrase, and she hops backward at the end of the vocal line when Kim steps back and John reassumes the melody.

Kim looks at us here taking notes and steps down from the stage to say, “It’s magic, you know. It feels like you could do whatever you wanted to. It feels so uninhibited. It feels like you could look over at John and he’s making a weird face and you could laugh at him and he would just laugh back. It feels like I could stand on the monitor and act like a rock star, stick my tongue out at someone in the audience and not worry about being sharp or flat or finding the right chords. Its that zen thing. It’s a physical thing. I like the way it makes me feel. It’s heaven up there you know, when it all comes right through and it’s effortless. It’s just this voice coming out.”

Smiling, John looks over at Kim, down at us, and out at the audience. “The success of this band,” he says, “is fundamentally based on providing an almost religious experience for the audience, producing that feeling and making sure the audience gets it. What I want to have happen is for them to understand. It’s like there’s something there that you maybe can’t sit down and analyze, but they are there and they understand. It’s a real cathartic thing.”

And so while the Reivers continue to play, the men in the audience awkwardly dance, their bodies struggling to understand, and while the women nod and sing along with their understanding, I try to stand still and scribble words in a notebook, “Leave me alone just for a while.” I have to think about this a little bit.



In 1979, soon after she moved with her family to Austin from Palo Alto, California, high school senior Kim Longacre was introduced tot he scene at Raul’s. “I met this friend named Jeb Nichols who told me what was really good about music, and I believed him, and he introduced me to [the music of] Jonathan Richman and Elvis Costello. He also intriduced me to Raul’s. And the drinking age was eighteen, so we’d go to the clubs. I remember going to Raul’s and being really intimidated. People were very strange and a lot older than me and seemingly sophisticated in a real wordly sense. These people, the scene, I mean, I’m sure a lot of it was self-imposed, but they seemed to have soul. Hardship, they knew hardship. They seemed so urban. From Austin. Which is really funny. But to me it was like this real eye-opening experience- that people could actually do something they believed in. Like to be weird or something. I mean, it was just so wild. It was the whole scene. It was the clothes, the attitude. It was the men in the women’s bathroom. There were no rules. Anything went. You know, anything went, so long as it was strange. It was a freeing situation. Know what I mean?”
John Croslin formed Zeitgeist with Longacre in late 1983. he had already heard about the Raul’s scene before he moved to Austin in 1980. “I was just at the age when i could go to the clubs and it was real exciting. It was wild. I was sittin’ there in my blue jeans and t-shirt, lookin’ at these people that looked kind of strange, actin’ weird. And it was just real energetic. I guess it was the energy that attracted me. Everybody was jumping up and down.”



John Croslin insisted that, “the Reivers are a band that thrives on personality and not on hot licks or anything like that.” In fact, “the most important part of the band is our personalities going back and forth.” Kim Longacre agreed, “John understands that what a lot of people are attracted to in our band is our dynamic. And that we have a real intense relationship- two men and two women- and that sexual thing is just real attractive to people. And it’s always been there.”



As John Croslin put it, “I’m real downcast after a bad show. You can get real neurotic about this; it can make you crazy.” The difficulty of projecting this unanchored identity places severe restrictions on the variety of discursive elements (that is, the personalities) that can be combined in the members of the band. Therefore, an interiorized discursive sincerity, characterized by longing for purity that comes from an overinvestment in the Imaginary, is required. “Personalities”, then, determine the band’s style, since the ultimate production for a rock n’ roll band is a projected incomplete identity, yearned for by both the musicians and the audience.



John Croslin is the chief songwriter for the Reivers, receiving the credit and copyright for most of their material. But the “personalities” and creative musical input of the other members of the band enter into every stage of a son’s construction. “Usually I start with a melody more than any other thing. But it could be a rhythm, it could be anything. A lot of it is driven just by the way we play. A certain group of people can do certain things together. There are certain things about one’s personality that come out of the music. Rhythm is probably one of the real fundamental ones. You’ve just got certain rhythms inside you. But usually what happens is, I’ll just bring a song in- chords and melody- and we kind of go over who’s gonna sing it and try to work out some harmonies and stuff. And then if it’s not working for some reason, I’ll say well try this, and if it’s still not working, I’ll go back and try to rewrite the song if I feel strongly about it. If not, we’ll just kind of toss it.”
In the initial composition process, John produces a melodic and harmonic structure, which is already partially determined by his understanding of the way the band plays. The “personalities” of the members place limits on the musical structures the band can play. Fundamental components of who they are both constrain and enable their abilities to perform certain rhythms, to enact particular sound patterns.



In talking about the special nature of music in Austin for MTV’s Cutting Edge program, John Croslin said, “A lot of places people expect everybody to be able to play the exact right notes all the time. In Austin, they’re just lookin’ for energy.” Kim Longacre pitched in, “A new sound.” John continued, “People who like to do what they like to do.” And Garrett Williams, the drummer, summed up, “You don’t have to be perfect the first time or even the second time, and people will still like you.” Here, the key terms in the Austin aesthetic were laid out: energy, a new sound, a personal investment in one’s own music (like to do what they like to do), and a reduced emphasis on the precisely accurate execution of musical structures. The projection of an incomplete identity, structured by the signs of sincerity, produced by and aimed a t a group of adolescents struggling to represent themselves within the disabling constraints of an unstable Symbloic, requires an emphasis on intention, on the interior workings of the imaginary. Precise execution of a specific form is not only unnecessary but, to a certain extent, reveals a too concrete concern with the very symbolic structures already known to be illusory; it is far more important to “get the chills.” During one of out interviews, Croslin insisted that the interrogation of structure partially defines Zeitgeist. “Part of our thing is that we’re not absolutely sure of ourselves. We’re really, we question our lives and our selves.” This questioning is expressed by a willingness to display risk on stage, by overtly longing for the pleasurable and meaningful moments of completion, by performing more than the band can execute. This is the form that sincerity takes in postpunk rock n’ roll. The result of this emphasis on sincerity, intention, and the Imaginary is a performing style that displays an enthusiasm or an energy that overflows any disciplining structures. As Julia Austin said to me, “Yeah, I kind of like a coherent song performed with some imprecision.” John Croslin made th same point, “I’m a lot less concerned about someone playing the wrong chords as the show just not working.”



A similar foundation of sincerity underlies Kim’s evaluation of her own performances. “Sometimes when we play, it’s heaven up there, you know. When it all just comes right through and it’s effortless. It’s just this voice coming out. You’re not trying to do anything, you’re just singing. And that’s how I want it to be. But it’s hard, it’s like trying to be sincere….I don’t want to make it too important, but it is. I think it could utilize all the facets of your being to sing. I think it’s like the connection between heaven and earth in a lot of ways. And it shouldn’t be a big deal and people shouldn’t make it one. When you make it a big deal, then it’s acting. And then it’s not real. It’s not part of your life, it’s not movement, it’s a statue.”


Sincerity is the quality most highly valued in Austin’s rock n’ roll aesthetic, from punk to mainstream folk-rock. its presence guarantees the validity of a musical style and , by extension, of a way of life. It’s importance is enhanced by, and in turn enhances, the intimate emotional connections between musicians and thei fams. According to John Croslin, the intimacy can be heard in the music. “Austin is a real emotional town- the scene is. And our music is that way, I think. Its real hard to explain. I just think Austin, this scene is famous for just, I don’t know what the right word is, but in the beginning, when the Beach was goin’ on and everything, and everybody knew everybody, it seemed real famous, for everybody would go out and do acid and you would talk in this way to people, that you really didn’t know too well, that you might not ever talk to your parents. I don’t know if my being aware of that means anything to anybody outside, but that aspect of the scene, I think, is in our music.”


Over the Rainbow caters to the same demographically and politically defined group- Austin’s liberal professional- managerial class- that responds to Joe’s kids’ music. The shop is owned by an ex-UT English professor who is also the father of Heather Moore, the viola player in Joe’s “real” band, Grains of Faith. During the week, it is common to find Kim Longacre working behind the counter in the store. “I work every day of the week. And I get off work and go play in Waco and drive home and go to work the next day and get [my son] Max and, you get sick! It’s really hard and I sometimes think, actually, it’s never been, “Is this worth it?” It’s always been like, “Man I hate this job at Over the Rainbow. Why do i have to do this?” And I resent having to work a second job. But in some ways I really do like it. I feel like its keeping me honest or something. Well, it also limits you with the amount of time. You constantly doubt if you had enough time to practice that. Do you really have enough time to know the songs?”
John Croslin works at Half-Price Books, a used bookstore across Guadalupe Street from Wheatsville. He feels much the same ambivalence toward his day job that Kim expresses about hers. The bookstore provides a realtively relaxed working atmosphere; John runs the front cash register and chooses the music played over the sound system in the store. His boss loves John’s band and allows him some flexibility in his weekly scheduling. But, in return, John had to promise not to take the Reivers on any extened tours for at least a year. “Well, you know, it was part of the deal, cuz she had been burned by me the last time. I quit on her before when we went out to support the last record.” Nevertheless, John has come to depend on the security that the day job provides when he makes business plans for the band. “It makes it a lot easier to make a good decision. Cuz you can have all the integrity in the world and if people don’t like it, well, don’t quit your day job.”



John Croslin remembers returning from the first tour by Zeitgeist. “We were really the first band to try anything like that out of our group of bands. And we took off in our station wagon and just had the most incredibly adventurous, I-can’t-believe-we-made-it- back, sort of thing. But as soon as we got home, we immediately went down to the Beach and saw TI or something and everybody went, wow, what’s it like to be on tour? We were tellin’ everybody these stories and really diggin’ it you know.”



John Crolsin has thought a lot about producing. “The scope of the job is really big, but it’s really simple too. Because when you listen to a song as a producer, you go, why do I wanna listen to this? And you decide and you make that, whatever it is, clear. If it’s a song about pain, you want to underscore that; if it’s a song about awkwardness, you make it a little awkward, and you want the listener to understand it. I really love all the technical stuff about it. I just really get off on a well produced record. It’s really thrilling for me to hear all these sonic things they’re doing now. THey’re really wild and great. I mean, its just amazing how great a record can sound. On a great produced record, everything makes sense. It goes somewhere and its there for a reason. It makes sense, and it’s all taste. After all, there’s only so many ways you can mix records. You can bring out the dark aspects, you can bring out the funny aspects, you can make it a quiet song, or a loud one, you can bring the drums up. But when it’s well produced, whatever it is that you go for is the right thing to go for. And its right in the context of the record, in teh context of what they’re playing on the radio, and in the context of what someone at home, listening on headphones, would hear.”
This quote makes clear the qualitatively different standards used to evaluate the job of the producer. For each song, John is concerned with perceiving and highlighting its central emotional message. However, he delights in the “wild” “sonic things they’re doing now,” and the context within which he evaluates his own work remains the competition with ohter other recording- how this record sounds on the radio or his home stereo.
During the spring of 1990, John Croslin was working with the Austin band the Wannabees, recording a demonstration tape at an inexpensive local studio, Austin Tracks. The Wannabees are, In John’s words, “a drinking band,” in the tradition of the Faces, the Who, and the Replacements…



As John told me, “The Wannabees are a band that really like Husker Du and the Replacements. They are people that love the guitar sound on the Husker Du records or the production on [The Replacement’s]Let it Be or lack thereof. It kind of snuck up on them, then, when we went in the studio and started being real careful about the way things sounded. I think they were going, hmm, well, shouldn’t this be spontaneous? I mean, it’s really weird because they’re a drinking band and I’ve made it real clear I don’t want any drunkards in there trying to play. And it’s uh, that was kind of a shock to them. I’ve kind of had to educate them or do my best to point out, I said, look at , look at Pleased to Meet Me. That’s a great contrast. On Pleased to Meet Me the drums are there, it sounds good, the performances are real strong. Let it Be, they’re ok. The songs are great, maybe better, on Let it Be, but they’re not presented in the way that someone in Des Moines is gonna understand. You know, it’s not gonna entice them to make an effort to listen to those songs.”