Austin’s Rule-Breaking ’80s Punk Scene On Full Display In ‘Texas Is The Reason’

Photojournalist Pat Blashill’s new book features previously unpublished photos of bands that challenged racism and conservatism.

By Leah Scarpelli, David Brown & Caroline CovingtonOctober 22, 2020 1:20 pm, ,

In the 1980s, photojournalism student Pat Blashill captured a burgeoning punk music scene in Austin – one intentionally at odds with mainstream Texas culture.

His new book, “Texas Is the Reason: The Mavericks of Lone Star Punk,” is filled with his photos from that era, accompanied by essays by Texans like filmmaker Richard Linklater and drummer Teresa Taylor of the band Butthole Surfers.

Blashill told Texas Standard the scene that emerged in the university town was a rebuke of the racism, religious conservatism and the conservative Greek culture dominant on the University of Texas campus at the time.

“Some of the bands, they were kind of playing with the idea that Texans are these kind of backwards, slack-jawed yokels,” Blashill said.

He said Austin’s punk scene, which included bands like Butthole Surfers and Poison 13, was a collection of artists looking for creative ways to express angst and dissatisfaction toward mainstream culture. The scene thrived in a way unlike in any other mayor city because Austin was off the beaten path.

“There wasn’t this intense media, news or Hollywood or advertising industries in our town … so it had a chance to kind of fester and grow on its own,” Blashill said. “That was an advantage because then, I think, the scene was much more unusual, and it became much more unique and diverse.”

As Austin’s punk scene grew organically, it influenced some of the biggest alternative bands of the last 40 years, Blahill said – like Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

But Austin’s punk rockers didn’t experience fame like some of their counterparts. Blashill says he’s not troubled by that. Some of his friends have gone on to do “human, wonderful, caring things.” One is a talented psychotherapist; another leads sobriety groups. He called them “everyday heroes.”

“They’re doing things that … I think come out of some of what we were working through and processing as we made this loud music, and I made these pictures,” he said.

Punk shows in the 1980s were places where young people expressed their frustration and individuality in person – in the mosh pits; through loud and sometimes aggressive-sounding music. But that spirit isn’t lost today even though social media has become a dominant mode of self-expression.
One person recently reached out to Blashill about the current Latino punk scene in New York City.

“It’s kind of the same stuff,” he said. “You got people in a mosh pit wearing masks … but other than that, they’re doing the same thing.”

That’s because at its core, punk is about being human, he said.

“If you want to have a good time and get sloppy and slam dance with people and have that kind of essential, vital human contact with other peoples,
you can do it, you can find it,” he said.

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