Have you ever wondered how Guero’s “El Presidente” meal got its name? How about the genesis of Austin Studios or Whole Foods? Why is there a Willie Nelson statue outside of the Moody Theatre downtown? Joe Nick Patoski has the answers to those questions (and thousands more) in his new book.
The full title of Patoski’s 2019 work of nonfiction is “Austin to ATX: The Hippies, Pickers, Slackers & Geeks Who Transformed the Capital of Texas.” It’s a mouthful, and the book is just as dense as its title. Coming in at 367 pages (including sources and index), it just may be the longest book written about the history and present-day of Austin.
Each chapter in “Austin to ATX” has its own subtitle as well. Most of the categories of chapter topics won’t surprise anyone who’s familiar with the city: Scribes, Pickers, Vid Heads, Veg Heads, Conventioneers, Slackers…the list goes on. It’s an interesting way to set up a nonfiction book, and one that is essentially a history of Austin’s culture and business. Yes, the founding of Texas’s capital (long before it became the capital) is covered in the book. You’ll see names that anyone in this city is deeply familiar with: Lamar, Waller and Scholz, just to name a few.
But what you’re more likely to get is the history of Austin from the 1950s right up until the end of 2018. And that makes sense, since that’s when the city has done most of its growing and changing. Patoski covers the music, film and food scenes thoroughly — both the local legends and the national stars. It might be difficult for Austinites today to imagine what this area would be like without Willie Nelson, Richard Linklater and Aaron Franklin, which is a fair assessment. But there are plenty of names that are all but forgotten by the city in its current iteration. The author writes like a local and his passion for Austin is evident.
The only issue that arises with that perspective is that it seems sometimes the rose-colored glasses can be too rosy. Mention of Paul Qui’s legal troubles appeared almost as an aside in the story of his Austin success, and it doesn’t seem like something to be glossed over. The penultimate chapter, “Onward Through the Fog (Going Mainstream),” covered any other negative stories that hadn’t made it into the chapters with positive ones. Lance Armstrong’s doping controversy and loss of his titles, as well as the Devin Faraci and Harry Knowles allegations and subsequent push back at Alamo Drafthouse are both brought up in this chapter, though the latter probably should’ve been a deeper dive.
There’s nothing wrong with loving a city and wanting the best for it and its residents. But not at the price of skipping over the bad stuff — and that doesn’t just mean the traffic and the heat. It would’ve been nice to get a bigger picture of the Paul Qui and Alamo Drafthouse situations for readers that aren’t intimately familiar with those stories, but even more background on local artist Daniel Johnston would’ve been nice, sad as that story is. And, oddly enough, there isn’t even mention of Birth.Movies.Death., despite an excerpt from writer Jacob Knight and mention of former BMD editor Phil Nobile, Jr.
Faults aside, “Austin to ATX” is just about the best living history of Texas’s capital as you’ll get in 2019, and maybe in this generation as a whole. Patoski provides so much information on so many different subjects that you could potentially follow a thread that interests you and learn more in other books — or take the easier route and look them up online. It’s definitely a benefit to anyone who’s interested in the city and how it became what it is today.
Patoski will fittingly be at SXSW this year, which of course has its own chapter in his book. The author will be moderating the Who And What Makes Austin? session. Panelists in that session include WP Engine’s Heather Brunner, Franklin Barbecue’s Aaron Franklin and filmmaker/editor Sandra Adair (“The Secret Life of Lance Letscher”).
Originally hailing from Pennsylvania, Jackie has called Austin home since choosing to attend the University of Texas, where she graduated with a degree in multimedia journalism. She loves spending time with her dogs, writing about pop culture in all its forms and spending time with friends – eating, drinking and doing trivia.