Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cactus Cafe Obscenity

Something is happening here,

and you don‘t know what it is,

Do you?... Mr. Jones.

Bob Dylan, The Ballad of a Thin Man.

I was high above the Arctic Circle, in the Norwegian town of Tromso (The Paris of the North) when I recieved the word that the Cactus Cafe in Austin, on the University campus, was being forced to close. I was playing a great rock and roll room that night in Tromso; I’ve played 10,000 venues all over the world in the past forty years (from Skid Row Canada on up to the David Letterman show)and I would rate the Cactus Cafe in the top 5 music rooms. The insult of closing a culturally important venue was heard round the globe; it reached me in the far north. University presidents and student council groups are never known for their insight, guts and feelings – with regard to decisions which impact deeper levels of a community, and the future of the arts. I’ve seen both sides of the game. I recieved my Master’s Degree in Criminology from the University of California (as referenced on Blood and Candle Smoke) and decided music was a more important calling, for myself ; then worked my way up from the bars. I’ve seen a lot of sleezeballs and thieves in the music game, but nothing that compares with the drone-like, day to day decision making cowardice of the academic tribe. The University system has failed us.(The dead fornicating with the dead – to quote The Bard.) Colleges are turning out robotic accountants and morally warped bank ceo’s and parasite scientists sucking on the fat teat of the grant system. Campuses are strangely remote places where people walk like zombies through the fear vaccum and occasionly slaughter other people (Alabama and Virginia) because the vibe is deathly cold, isolate and fearful. When these things happen the University system reaches out and pretends to be part of the community at large. Only when they need sympathy. They NEED The Cactus Cafe in that vacuum. The University of Texas pays it’s football coach five million dollars, so I’ve heard. Put that into perspective of the Cactus Cafe losing money. Music, literature and art are the honest lifeblood and the deep current which helps heals the greater community. Live music – what’s left of it –is vastly important. AUSTIN Texas,once one of the most important music centers in the world, is turning into a soulless freeway; a clotted adjunct to Interstate 35. I keep thinking of that hole in the wall back in Griff Lundberg’s Cactus Cafe office - worn through by his hard working boots over the last thirty years. They’ll tear that wall out over shrieking body. Shame on the University of Texas and it’s Ballad of a Thin Man President. Something is happening here...and you don‘t know what it is....

Tom Tussell, Tromso Norway.


editor said...

Tom Tussell — a serendipitous typo? I kinda like it.

The academic world is a strange and frightening place, indeed. I have occasional nightmares about returning to university, not because I did poorly there, but because I came to loathe the culture.

I was asked to sit in on a hiring interview with a potential new hire for a position as a professor of the history and culture of the American West. My girlfriend also attended.

I found the procedure, the attitude, the grandstanding (except that of one prof who literally slept through the session, his head bobbing on his chest) absolutely revolting. I literally felt sick to my stomach.

My girlfriend was absolutely enthralled. We split up not too long after that. Our values were clearly at odds.

I have ever since stayed well away from that environment.

Sad about the Cactus Cafe, but not terribly surprising.

Miss the blog when there's a long gap. Thanks for posting again.

Jim Cornelius, Sisters, OR

Anonymous said...

If I may be so bold, so undiplomatic, even rude, I will pose the question: are you a songwriter or a curmudgeon-in-training? Stop whining and write a song about it. American Rivers meets John McCutcheon's Closing the Bookstore, Don't Look Down crossed with Jonathan Richman's Corner Store, Phil Ochs' When I'm Gone sung to the tune of Warren Zevon's Renegade, Mike Beck's Don't Tell Me married to the Who's We're Not Gonna Take It, City of New Orleans crashing into Billy Joel's Miami 2017...

Even if it doesn't help save the place, it at least gives people something to remember it by.

editor said...

Abner: Sounds like YOU have a song.

I've done that before: had an idea and thought, "that sounds like a Tom Russell song."

Then... "screw that; I'm writing that one myself."

Shoot straight you bastards...

Anonymous said...

Nah, I'm just a curmudgeon-in-training.

Wisegeorge said...

The Cactus is the only place on campus where a person can get a beer or drink without having to be in some fat cat booster club. They want to remove the bar, they are idiots. Someone will end up with a very nice piece of history and the Austin Community, where UT squats property tax free, gets another kick in the head.

Anonymous said...

Well, well... Look who has signed up for the Open Stage at the CC on March 6 :-)

My advice: pull a Jerry Jeff Walker and don't leave the stage til they bring in the cops and shut off the power (I think it was at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz some 25 years ago or so - he wasn't making a political statement or anything, just wanted to keep playing...)

Unknown said...

You can support Cactus Cafe by becoming members of the Facebook group "Save The Cactus Cafe (Austin, Texas)" and "Save The Cactus Cafe". It was a hard club to find - surrounded by the University - but it was worth the search! Heard Butch Hancock there in 2009.

Unknown said...


Speaking of the Cactus Cafe, that's where I first met you. I was teaching at The University of Texas at the time, and I said "I'm Tom Russell." You said "I was wondering where you were."

I just finished a little paper on the history of the university. I think you might be interested. The title is: "‘Keep the Negroes Out of Most Classes Where There are a Large Number of Girls’: The Unseen Power of the Ku Klux Klan and Standardized Testing at the University of Texas, 1899-1999."

You can download the paper at

I can't help but think that you might could find some lyrics in the archival sources that I cite.

Best regards,

Tom Russell
University of Denver