Musicians Off the Record: Michael Corcoran

Long before Michael Corcoran became a music critic for the Austin American-Statesman, he paid his dues at a publication called Sunbums in his native Honolulu, Hawaii. Today, he is perhaps the most influential scribe in Texas entertainment journalism and a veritable institution in Austin, where he’s dished out a Bible’s-length of humorous and often biting commentary.

Corcoran released his first book in the fall of 2005, “All Over the Map: True Heroes of Texas Music,” which profiles thirty-two trailblazing Texas musicians, many unsung. It’s this keenly intelligent, championing of the fringe element of music and society that his been his calling card from the start.

A do-it-yourself approach led Corcoran to his first venture, a self-published quarterly punk ’zine called Honolulu Babylon. Yet, the lack of a vital music scene in mid-80’s Hawaii compelled him to move to Austin. He remembers settling into “a place that had all this original music . . . I just thought, ‘I’ve arrived, this is where I need to be.’” His timing was no less than perfect. In 1984, the Austin Chronicle needed a writer to pinch hit for columnist Margaret Moser. Corcoran, who has a particular talent for seeing through propaganda, defied convention and thrashed a few media darlings, leaving a few hurt feelings but at the same time established himself as an irresistible read. The articles, he recalls, “were sensational, if I have to say so myself. Not sensational as in they were great, but demonstrating sensationalism in that they caused a sensation. . . . People loved it or they hated it, but everybody read it.”

His career at the Chronicle lasted from 1985-88, where his column, “Don’t You Start Me Talking,” revolutionized rock criticism in Texas.  Similar to another sometimes-ruthless but respected journalist who once called Austin home, Lester Bangs, Corcoran delved into drugs and eventually gave up his column. Retreating from the grind and taking on more freelance work, Corcoran eventually landed jobs in Chicago and Dallas at the dailies, serving as country music critic at the latter. 

Now an award-winning columnist, Corcoran has he had selections of his work chosen for Da Capo’s “Best Music Writing”annuals in 2003, 2004, and 2005.  Awards aside, Corcoran remains a willing advocacy-journalist who laments social injustices. Whether it be living conditions (he compares the white revitalization of East Austin to the cultural heisting of gospel, jazz and blues in the 50’s and 60’s) or economic rape (of musicians who find it hard to make a living in Austin), he finds music his salvation. “When you do it (play music) just for the passion, not for money, not for how your career is going, there’s just something inside that’s just gotta come out . . . to me, that’s the purest form of music.”