Some Brief Histories of the Sun
Asking for a gig…
To see myself walking into that festive, messy, confused Sun office, mid-October, 1974, about ten days before my 29th birthday – well, that guy, that olive-skinned version of myself (I’m paler now), he weighed about 122 pounds, his front teeth were rotten, he had no college degree, and (though he wrote almost every day) he had published nothing since his underground high-school lit-mag Finnegan’s Awakening. Also, as I recall, he liked for other people to think he was tough. Mostly, he was scared – but game.
He – that is, me – was also flat broke. Sleeping on the couch of a friend of a friend. And about 2,000 miles from the home he’d never had.
Editor Jeff Nightbyrd asked only: “Can you write?”
“Yeah,” said me. “I can write.”
And he gave me my shot.
Whatever else it was – and it was a myriad sort of institution – The Austin Sun was a place where something like that could happen.
If you showed up, you got your shot.
A gaggle of improbable and remarkable people showed up.
Lookin' for a home ...
After dropping out of graduate school and trying my hand at a weekly cartoon strip (Ultra Tex) and some political cartooning for the Dallas Iconoclast, I secured an interview (that I was utterly ill-prepared for) with the Texas Monthly. After that disaster, I found myself drifting around Austin during the annual meltdown known as August.
A friend told me that she had heard about a group of people trying to form a local alternative newspaper. I checked around and found out that this guy, Jeff Nightbyrd, was one of the main figures behind that group. I called him and expressed my interest in what they were doing and asked if he knew of any places to rent. He said he might and to call him back in a few days.
I let a day go by and decided that I HAD to find out if there was any way I was going to be able to stay in Austin. So, unable to restrain myself, I called him at a time I figured he would likely be around …. 8am on a Sunday morning. In a voice that could barely form words he asked me to call him back later. I had my coffee and called again … figuring that by 9am he surely would have had time to compose himself. I was was greeted by something like “… are you fucking kidding me?? I said LATER!”, so I thought I’d better cool it …. the 3rd call was placed just after 10am. He groaned out another string of expletives but also an address.
It turned out to be a little 2 bedroom “cottage” directly beneath the flight pattern for the old airport. The noise was astounding, but the rent was only $80 a month. A few weeks later, I went to work for the Austin Sun and my life was forever changed. I spent four years in Austin and cried when I realized that I would have to leave town in order to keep doing what I had learned to do at the Sun.
Austin Sun Poster, ©1976, Kerry Awn
Polishing the Sun, 1976
Marty McKenzie, Word Captain
It was a sultry summer afternoon and I was dressed for softball. As a cook at Les Amis Restaurant on the Drag I played shortstop for Newman’s team, Las Cucarachas, but only 8 Cucarachas showed up so I drifted over to another game between Middle Earth Drug Crisis Counseling Center, where I volunteered, and the Austin Sun. Already an avid fan (the cover art, earnest ballsy journalism, music reviews, political scoops, personal reflections on sexuality and relationships), I even read topics I normally didn’t follow (gardening, sports, fishing trips to deep East Texas) and so I was a wee bit starstruck ~ despite the occasional editorial mishaps and fairly frequent typos I took for granted in an “alternative” paper without censorship or proofreaders.
Middle Earth won that game, just barely, thanks to a generous pitch from Big Boy while I was at bat. Due to my sudden fame as an athlete (or possibly because of my dyed-pink tee shirt sporting a Charlie Loving image ~ an aardvark at home plate and the caption “Aardvark Doglea” instead of “Dogleg,” a prescient typo) I was invited to the after-party at BB’s house. There I met Jeff Nightbyrd. Ever on his omnivorous recruiting hunt, he asked me what I was going to do for them down at the Sun.
So I said, “I can spell.”