Musicians Off the Record: Louis Black

As editor/co-founder of the Austin Chronicle, and one of the founding architects of South by Southwest, Louis Black has long been a major cultural force. Black’s independence of spirit coupled with the immense bulk and influence of his enterprises have left a permanent imprint on Texas music.

The underlying earnestness of his Chronicle editorials and his advocacy of social justice are fueled by one of the most astonishingly creative minds in the state. But Black admits that as a New Jersey reared youth, he was lacking in grammatical skills. Upon arriving in Austin to attend the University of Texas in 1976, he nurtured his passion for journalism and claims to have finally learned to write “at the age of 27” as a staff member of the Daily Texan. “In this community, if anyone tells you ‘I want to start make a film, start a band or write a novel but I can’t,’ then you tell them the reality is that they don’t really want to do that because if you did want to, you go do it,” says Black.

The idea for the Chronicle began in 1981 and with the collaboration of hundreds of writers and artists, the weekly has become an independent, locally owned and operated alternative journal that reflects the heart and soul of Austin. “The paper is very much produced by the staff and the staff comes very much from the community and the community responds to the paper; it’s a good relationship, “ Black states. “It was something that just happened . . . we work with people who take their work seriously and like the culture.”

The idea for the South by Southwest music and film festival began in November of 1986, and by March, 1987, the first festival was held. The idea was to bring people in the music industry together to share concerns, discuss solutions, eat barbeque and play some softball at the conclusion. The SXSW film and multi-media conferences developed out of the music event’s success. He practically holds paternalistic feelings towards the festival, noting, “I actually get more offended at the bad press South by Southwest gets than the Chronicle; although I’m the press, so how offended can I get?”

Regardless of the financial windfall of SXSW and political muscle of the Chronicle, Black continues to believe in the spontaneous growth of human personality. “Humanity is a really great wonderful rich complex troubling thing. That’s expressed more now than ever,” reflects Black. “The genius of humanity is that things keep getting better because most people want to do work that they can be proud of.”