Ode to Lubbock

“Lubbock has this way of, while you’re there, making you feel like it’s the most normal place in the world; not until you go away and start comparing your experience there to the outside world do you realize that Lubbock is really one of the strangest places anywhere.” — Joe Ely

“Life in Lubbock, Texas taught me two things: One is that God loves you and you’re going to burn in hell.  The other is that sex is the most awful, filthy thing on earth.  And you should save it for someone you love.”—Butch Hancock

You either go crazy or play music in Lubbock. There’s not a hell of a lot to do.” – Delbert McClinton

There was this thing about the horizon in that flat country. When you were out playing, you loved to look and say “Oh, yeah, the earth is round.” And you would be right in the middle of it. I’ve always thought that being in that spot gave you this feeling that you were the center of the universe, that you were really special, and at the same time you were just a speck of absolute nothing.” – Jo Harvey Allen

Lubbock was just a tiny town, a little oasis in a big old nothingness, and I spent every bit of my waking time just trying to figure out ways of getting out of there.  But I really loved all that sky. You gotta fill it up with something, and music is a pretty good thing to fill up emptiness with.” – Joe Ely

As of today, I have lived in Austin for two whole weeks now.  I love it here.  Of course I do, who my age wouldn’t?  The city is a giant party, more or less, and the opportunities and options for young people are seemingly endless.  Compared to my former home, it’s more active, more fruitful, and more fun.

But I miss Lubbock.

There’s no getting around it, the Hub City gets under your skin.  There’s something about that red dirt you can’t wash off, once it’s in you, it’s there to stay.  Austin is famous for being “weird,” a progressive, cultural dot in one of the reddest states in the Union.  But Lubbock is way weirder.  Austin has been known as a “love it or hate it” kind of town, but Lubbock is more so.  The definition of a college town, but too spread out to fully be considered one, Lubbock is a geographical oddity, hours from anywhere, yet with an identity of its own.

The picture above is an aerial shot of Texas Tech University.  The building in front is the dorm that I first called home when I moved to Lubbock as a freshman, Stangel/Murdough Hall.  I hardly left campus that first year, splitting my time between classes and my dorm room.  I immediately hated Lubbock.  It was a large (I came from a rural farming community in West Texas with a population of 1,200 people), boring town.  I knew no one there, and I was a secluded, alienated individual, spending hours talking on the phone every day with my then-girlfriend who lived back home and would eventually break my heart.  I was homesick and friendless, and my frat-boy roommate was usually absent or, when present, blaring “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey.

There was only one thing that kept me in Lubbock – KTXT.

KTXT was the student-run radio station at TTU.  Many came for the music and stayed for the friendships.  We were the best radio station in town – we played a progressive array of indie, alternative, jazz, blues, rap, country, electro, etc.  We were the best student organization on campus – we were small but proud, weird and liberal and outspoken in the second most conservative city in the country.  We had the best parties, we put on the best shows at the dive-iest bars, and we brought the best bands to town.  Because of our dedication and promotion, everyone in town knew who we were, and the nation started to notice, too.

At a time when Lubbock, once a thriving cultural town with a vibrant music scene and history, was starting to lose its edge, KTXT kept it alive, bringing relevant indie bands to town before they hit big.  And every band that came through always said they loved Lubbock – the crowds were enthusiastic, the hospitality was rampant, the shows were well-promoted and professionally handled.  Weeks before a band was booked for the Tonight Show, they were stopping in the Hub City.  In the music world, KTXT was keeping Lubbock on the map, reminding everyone that it was a great touring stop with a rich rock ‘n’ roll history, and that there was more than one cool town in Texas.

For financial reasons, I lived on campus for the entirety of my college career – my sophomore year I moved across the street to a newly developed apartment complex, Carpenter Wells.  I would live in a two-bedroom flat with many potluck roommates until graduation.  I decided, however, that I would learn to enjoy my home; I became more involved with KTXT, attending Weekend Warmup and any and all sponsored events I could.  I made friends, got drunk, and partied like a college kid should.  I learned the ins and outs of the Lubbock music scene, the bands, the clubs, the people behind the shows.  I met all my friends through the station – a motley crew of people from all walks of life with one thing in common: we all loved KTXT.  We might have had the graveyard shift, we might have hosted the jazz show, we might have been the program director, we might have been a commentator for the FCC-hated comic book talk show, we might have been in a band that played for a station-curated event (or two, or three dozen), but we all knew each other and had each other’s backs.

It was that station (and Mike Leach’s exciting Red Raiders) that made me proud to be a Lubbockite.  Because I knew you wouldn’t be able to find it anywhere else.  We made the best of what could’ve been a dreadful situation – we lived and loved in Lubbock.

My senior year, Susan Peterson and the Department of Student Media shut down KTXT for “financial” reasons.  I put scare quotes around financial because, after much independent research in the months that followed, I learned firsthand that was not entirely the case.  Like any major decision that involves the bureaucracy of a major university, it was also a political decision.  But that is a digression and a post for another day.

Circumstances were beyond our control, and so began one of the most difficult and disappointing times in my life.  Along with a failed protest, a failed attempt at keeping the station alive on the Internet via a small business platform, and a realization that the majority of Lubbock cared little about our plight, the circle began to divide; people separated, graduated, and moved on.  Efforts at continuing via the Llano Idea were thwarted with broken spirits and lack of internal and external community support, financial or otherwise.  And so I discovered, without the lifeline of culture in Lubbock, what the city really was – just another boring, popped-collar college town.

The reason I stayed in West Texas was gone; after graduation, a few of us tried to keep the focus alive, realizing it wasn’t just a shotty student radio station, but a megaphone for the Lubbock music community.  Without it, the scene would die.  But what we didn’t realize was the here-today, gone-tomorrow approach was what gave Lubbock its identity.  We certainly didn’t intend to settle in Lubbock, no one we knew did.  KTXT was great, but not great enough to keep us there forever.  Ultimately, it would just be another life lesson learned in a town that gives life lessons everyday.

And so, a year after the death of my beloved station, a year after my graduation, and a year of being a barfly townie, I decided my time in Lubbock was up – I had to move on to somewhere with brighter lights, louder sounds, and more opportunities.  So I did what many Tech grads do (and what Stubbs BBQ did) – I moved to Austin.

The music scene, as predicted, is in a small slump compared to previous years – show attendance is low, bands are overbooked, new talent is sparse.  But Lubbock still, for its isolated geography and plain demographics, has a productive, dedicated music scene.  A recent post from my good friend Rachel delves into the best current bands in the LBK.  I am excited to see what the future will bring, but this time around I will be looking from afar.

Many people either love or hate Lubbock, but I, like many significant figures of the Hub City before me (Joe Ely, Buddy Holly, Natalie Maines), have mixed feelings about the place.  There are many things about it that piss me off, things that have happened to me there that have forever negatively altered my perspective on life.  There are many times when I want to disown the town and the idiots that live in it (see the bogus firing of Mike Leach for a recent example).  Yet I always come to its defense.  At the same time, I will stand up and proudly declare that Lubbock was once a place I called home, that I met some of my best friends in that town, that I learned more in that city than any other city has ever taught me, about life, about love, about me.

And I will stand up for Lubbock until I die.  I might agree with your argument against it, but I will still argue.  Because while there are many cons, the pros are not described, they are witnessed, they are felt.  They are lived.

Lubbock is a strange town, an acquired taste, beautiful and frustrating, brilliant and devastating, uplifting and mundane.  It’s a great place to live for some, a horrible one to visit for most.  I adore it.  I am compelled by it.  It’s a weird damn place.  It is what it is.  It’s just Lubbock.

Part of me wishes I could stay, but most of me is glad to have left.  I have spent my fair share in that town, and it’s time for the next wave to get their taste.  One thing is certain about this town of uncertainty – it’s a wonderful stepping stone for greater things.  Because Buddy, Joe, and Natalie all have something else in common: once they learned enough, they didn’t stay in Lubbock, Texas.

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