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Hangin' Out With ... Joe Nick Patoski

© 2005
09/12/2005 and 09/13/2005

Joe Nick answered a few questions tossed his way by MyWestTexas editor.

MyWestTexas: You live in Wimberley and are closely associated with Austin I would guess because of your writing in Texas Monthly. ...

Joe Nick:
I moved to Austin in 1973 with the idea in my head to write about music, which I've done, I guess, over the past 35 years. I write about other things too but my love of music still drives much of my curiosity, which keeps me in the writing game. When I started writing for a living, I wanted to write about the regional music scene that was bubbling up in Austin. Since then, my interests have broadened but have focused primarily on Texas. I operate on the Whole Other Country theory of covering Texas specifically, although I do cross the state line now and then to write other stories. So far, it's worked for me. I still haven't seen it all and my To-Do list keeps getting longer.

MyWestTexas: You seem to have a fondness for West Texas and the Big Bend region ...

Joe Nick: Of all of Texas, West Texas speaks to me the loudest and clearest. Maybe it's growing up in Fort Worth, Where the West Begins. I think it's more Mythic Texas, the Texas of the Imagination, can be found here, largely because of the mountains and the Chihuahua Desert. Without all that vegetation to get in the way, you can really see all the way to tomorrow on a clear day.

MyWestTexas: Are you currently working on anything new about the area?

Joe Nick: I'm working on an article for National Geographic about far southwest Texas and northern Coahuila and Chihuahua and I've come to find that biologically-speaking, this region is globally-significant as a wildlife corridor. Laurence Parent and I are working on a book about Big Bend National Park, too. Much as I love the rest of Texas and wouldn't trade where I live in the Hill Country for anywhere else, West Texas sings to me.

MyWestTexas: You wrote a piece this summer for Texas Parks and Wildlife magazine about a 70-mile hike across the Big Bend National Park. Why did you take on such an ordeal?

Joe Nick: The hike across the Big Bend was simple. I like challenging myself, seeing what this 54-year-old body can endure, and I like the Big Bend. It's the only region in the state with enough public lands to pull off a hike like that, and there's no geographical feature of Texas as evocative as the bend in the river that makes the Big Bend. I've seen the national park from many perspectives, but I'd never walked across it. You really do get to see it in a whole different light. There's no better way to see a place than to walk it. Driving, flying, and paddling just don't cut it.

MyWestTexas: With Lajitas growing slowly and catering exclusively to the richest among us, do you have any concerns that eventually tourists will find their way to the area in such numbers that will change the appeal in the Big Bend-Terlingua-Lajitas area?

Joe Nick: I do fret that Big Bend National Park will someday become like other national parks in the west, where budgets are devoted to people management rather than wildlife and natural resources. For now, it is still unspoiled. Big Bend Ranch State Park offers even greater solitude. But I've seen the real estate signs popping up in Terlingua even, and wonder how long this special place will remain special to me. The same folks who've been buying up Montana land for mega second homes are popping up all over Far West Texas. I fear a certain loss of culture at the expense of outsiders who see this as their new weekend playground. They just don't get the land or the people.

MyWestTexas: What were some of your experiences working on Texas Mountains with Laurence Parent.

Joe Nick: Laurence shares the same love I have for the Big Bend, so it was only natural we collaborated together for "Texas Mountains" and now the national park book. We did "Texas Coast" (to be released in October) because we thought it would make a good bookend to Texas Mountains. Laurence does lighthouses and shorelines as well as he shoots mountain and desert landscapes. Since we did Texas Mountains, he moved from Austin to a few miles away from me in Wimberley. But we both travel so much, we don't see each other that often. But if I'm going to tackle another monster hike, I'm going with him. He's a great leader, topo map reader and planner.

MyWestTexas: How's the blogging going? Why'd you decide to keep up your experiences using that means?

Joe Nick: I set up my website mainly to have an online resume. I got tired of making copies of my clips to solicit story assignments. I set up the blog last year. I really don't blog. That's an everyday thing and I really don't have the time. But I do post what stories I've written and for whom, since I don't have a home base like I did at Texas Monthly. And my interests are pretty well scattered so about the only reliable place to keep up with my writings are on my website. Consider that this year alone, I've been published in Texas Coop Power, Texas Parks & Wildlife, the Texas Observer, No Depression (my favorite music magazine), the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Time Out New York, Field & Stream. American Way, and Southwest Spirit. These publications don't have a whole lot to do with each other except somehow, they give me a voice.

Tomorrow: Covering three giants -- Stevie Ray Vaughan, Selena, and Katrina.


Hangin' Out With ... Joe Nick Patoski, Texas author, Part 2

Texas author Joe Nick Patoski is a veteran of biographies, magazine, newspaper and now, disaster coverage. He recently compiled a first-person account for People Magazine and was inside the storm-ravaged Gulf Coast area just days after Katrina rolled ashore. Joe Nick talked to MyWestTexas online editor Jimmy Patterson about his thoughts of the region after the storm.

MyWestTexas: I know you have tried, but it really is not possible to put into words what you saw along the Gulf Coast, is it?

Joe Nick: My latest adventure down on the Mississippi coast was a profound one for me. I've been in flash floods and survived tornadoes but I've never quite witnessed anything like this. Putting my thoughts into words is difficult. I'm glad I augmented some of my reporting for People with digital photos and audio recordings. Putting them all together makes the experience pretty vivid. But no single means of communication or expression really sums up the experience. Even the smells, from the autumnal scent of the fallen leaves blown down by the hurricane that hit me one morning on the steps of the Harrison County courthouse in Gulfport to the "stench of death" that Rob the photo assistant from New York told me I was sniffing on Roberts Street in Waveland where the army was clearing a path out of the debris pile, can't be captured. And in the case of smells, that's not a bad thing.

MyWestTexas: A lot of people both being interviewed and doing the interviewing say this has been a life-changing thing to witness in its aftermath. Did seeing the destruction have that same life-altering affect on you?

Joe Nick: I don't know that being there has changed me, other than to feel more compassionate about those who are less fortunate than I did before. But I'm already compassionate; I'm a liberal and proud to say so.

MyWestTexas: Texas seems to be responding quite well to taking in these less fortuate people, doesn't it?

Joe Nick: Any nation is responsible for all its people and Katrina has underscored that. A friend of mine from Lubbock has been describing volunteer work aiding the displaced there. Austin is taking in an inordinate amount of New Orleans musicians. Houston is becoming the alternate New Orleans although I'm afraid not even the oldest part of Galveston captures the romanticism and beauty of St. Charles Street, the Quarter and all of NOLA. It's nice to see Rick Perry out front in public in a manner the President has not conveyed. It may be nothing more than image-shaping, but it's definitely a positive. Too bad he can't show the same leadership with the Lege, especially when it comes to school financing.

MyWestTexas:On you blog, you said Mississippi took an even worse hit than New Orleans in some respects. All the talk has been on the years it will take for New Orleans residnts to recover. How long will it take people in coastal Mississippi?

Joe Nick: The good news in Mississippi is the people I visited with, who already did heroic deeds in saving one another, didn't wait around for help long. That's a good thing, especially in rural areas, where help was painfully slow to arrive. Call it rural values, a Can Do attitude, or rugged individualism, but these folks were taking charge fast. I have no doubt they will rebuild as soon as possible. I did notice that the wetlands and marshes showed very little signs of damage other than man-made objects. It's a vivid lesson why the destruction of wetlands in the name of development is now extracting a huge price. More wetlands would have buffered the damage considerably. I hope our leaders see the wisdom in their restoration.

MyWestTexas: I have to change course and ask you about your biographies. You've completed biographies about two giants, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Selena. Both had a sort of magnetic pull on their fans and both seem to be a lot like Elvis in that they've gotten even bigger after their death. What can you tell us about the experiences of putting those two books together.

Joe Nick: Stevie Ray and Selena were both very difficult, yet rewarding subjects to tackle. Both were unauthorized biographies, meaning they did not have the blessings of family members, but that didn't stop me from writing them. Both were important figures and deserved to be explained to both their fans and to the greater public. I knew Stevie from hanging around the blues scene in Austin during the 70s. Knowing his story and the people and scene around him, I could write about his life with some familiarity. I interviewed Selena for Texas Monthly nine months before her death. I'd been tracking her career since the late 1980s, having an interest in la onda chicana and Tejano music, which I guess is kinda rare for an Anglo -- I wrote the introduction to John Dyer's book, "Conjunto Pictures," which is also coming out this fall. When I saw the reaction to Selena's death in San Antonio and Corpus Christi, I was moved to want to tell her story in more detail -- to her fans, to put her in perspective in the Chicano music world; and to all the folks who had no clue who Selena was and couldn't understand why all the people who were upset by her death felt that way. Both biographies stand as the definitive work of their subjects, which I guess is something to be proud of.

© 2005


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