Chronicle writer be­came great cham­pion of Austin mu­sic scene

Moser, the driv­ing force be­hind the Austin Mu­sic Awards, died Fri­day.

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - METRO & STATE - By Deb­o­rah Sen­gupta Stith Peter Black­stock

Mar­garet Moser, a long­time staff writer for the Austin Chronicle, di­rec­tor of the Austin Mu­sic Awards and a cham­pion of the Austin mu­sic scene, died late Fri­day after a four-year bat­tle with colon can­cer, ac­cord­ing to her hus­band, Steve Chaney. She was 63.

Moser was born May 16, 1954, in Chicago, but her mu­si­cal life was shaped by the Gulf Coast and Texas. In a sprawl­ing piece she wrote for Ox­ford Amer­i­can mag­a­zine in 2014, she iden­ti­fied New Or­leans, a city with sparkling pa­rades where “rhythm in­fused the earth below into the clouds above,” as the ori­gin point of her mu­si­cal iden­tity.

Her fam­ily re­lo­cated to San An­to­nio in 1966 when her fa­ther ac­cepted a teach­ing po­si­tion at Trin­ity University. As a teen, she

im­mersed her­self in the city’s small but vi­brant coun­ter­cul­ture mu­sic scene.

In the late 1960s she be­came a reg­u­lar at Sunday af­ter­noon con­certs at the Ja­panese Sunken Gar­dens am­phithe­ater at Brack­en­ridge Park, which she wrote about vividly for the Austin Chronicle in 1995: “These Sunken Gar­dens shows were acid-drenched, Texas-fla­vored ver­sions of the San Fran­cisco hip­pie-era con­certs, and they’re where I was bap­tized by the spirit of live rock & roll.”

The school of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll trumped tra­di­tional academia for Moser. Even­tu­ally she dropped out of high school and chased her hal­lu­cino­genic-en­hanced dreams to Austin, where in 1976 she took a job clean­ing the of­fices of al­ter­na­tive bi­weekly the Austin Sun. She pestered her way into a writ­ing po­si­tion, which she held un­til the pa­per folded a few years later.

When the Austin Chronicle launched in 1981, she signed on as a gos­sip colum­nist. Her col­umn, pep­pered with tid­bits she picked up dur­ing late-night con­ver­sa­tions with bands in the back rooms of Austin clubs, be­came es­sen­tial read­ing for Austin mu­sic fans.

“She kind of gal­va­nized the scene around her col­umn,” lo­cal mu­sic writer Michael Cor­co­ran said.

As a fe­male mu­sic writer, Moser was an anom­aly dur­ing the boy’s club era of rock ’n’ roll, but she flipped the script on any pre­sumed lim­i­ta­tions. She used her wom­anly wiles to gain ac­cess where men dared not go. Her first piece for the Austin Sun was an in­ter­view with Randy Cal­i­for­nia of the band Spirit con­ducted in the bath­tub of his ho­tel room at the Driskill. “I was naked ex­cept for my note­book and pen,” she wrote in the Ox­ford Amer­i­can piece.

Moser wrote fear­lessly about sex. She wrote of zany es­capades with her glit­tery, gig­gling girl gang, high on life and as­sorted il­licit sub­stances. She seemed to laugh in the face of any­one who dis­missed her as just a groupie. Her posse of rock-lov­ing gals, the Texas Blondes, were the life of the party, and she was the queen of the groupies.

But she also be­came a scholar, delv­ing deep into the ori­gins of Texas mu­sic and de­vel­op­ing an en­cy­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge of the state’s sound. She traced the his­tory of rock, punk and the blues, piec­ing to­gether clues in songs with oral his­to­ries col­lected in a thou­sand bleary late nights.

Moser was known for her mag­nan­i­mous pres­ence. “Even when she was writ­ing a gos­sip col­umn, none of it was mean-spir­ited. To me, that’s big,” said Dianne Scott, pub­lic re­la­tions man­ager for the Con­ti­nen­tal Club.

Moser for­mal­ized her role as Austin mu­sic’s best friend by launch­ing the Austin Mu­sic Awards in 1982. She moved to Hawaii for a few years in the late ’80s after mar­ry­ing tat­too artist Rollo Banks, her second hus­band. (She’d pre­vi­ously been mar­ried to Austin photographer Ken Hoge.) After re­turn­ing to Austin in 1991, she picked up where she’d left off at the Chronicle and re­mained there un­til re­tir­ing in 2014.

In her later years at the Chronicle, Moser made a point of sup­port­ing Austin’s bur­geon­ing un­der-18 mu­sic scene. She took teen bands such as Mother Fal­con un­der her wing long be­fore they rose to na­tional acclaim.

“From the be­gin­ning, Mar­garet’s at­ten­tion pro­vided us with a vi­tal dose of courage to keep mov­ing for­ward and cre­at­ing new mu­sic,” Mother Fal­con mu­si­cian Tamir Kal­ifa said in a Moser trib­ute sec­tion the Austin Chronicle pub­lished in late June.

Dur­ing her last week at the Chronicle, the city of Austin dec­o­rated a small area on West Third Street down­town, just west of Nue­ces Street, with a gui­tar sculp­ture and a his­tor­i­cal marker nam­ing the location Mar­garet Moser Plaza.

After re­tir­ing, Moser moved to San An­to­nio with her third hus­band, Chaney. For the next few years, she seemed to thrive de­spite chemo­ther­apy treatments. She founded the South Texas Pop­u­lar Cul­ture Cen­ter, or Tex Pop, col­lect­ing ar­ti­facts and mem­o­ra­bilia to cel­e­brate the city’s mu­si­cal her­itage.

In 2016, the Austin Chronicle added the Mar­garet Moser Award to the Austin Mu­sic Awards cer­e­mony. The award was de­signed to honor a “liv­ing leg­end with deep roots in the com­mu­nity.”

“It’s a cruel lux­ury to know death will come soon, but it’s a bizarre com­fort to know how it will likely come,” Moser wrote in the Ox­ford Amer­i­can later that year.

In early June, she an­nounced that she had de­cided to dis­con­tinue chemo­ther­apy and was go­ing into home hos­pice.

Sur­vivors in­clude her mother, Phyl­lis Ste­gall; her hus­band, Chaney; and broth­ers Scott, Stephen and Bill. Con­tact Deb­o­rah Sen­gupta Stith at 512-912-5928. Con­tact Peter Black­stock at 512-445-3762.

AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN 2006

Mar­garet Moser kicks off the 2006 Austin Mu­sic Awards at the Austin Mu­sic Hall. She launched the awards in 1982, not long after she joined the Austin Chronicle as a gos­sip colum­nist.

JAY JANNER / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Mar­garet Moser (right), long­time di­rec­tor of the Austin Mu­sic Awards, is ser­e­naded by dozens of mu­si­cians at the end of her fi­nal Austin Mu­sic Awards in 2014. After re­tir­ing, she moved to San An­to­nio with her hus­band.

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