March 12, 2006, Austin American-Statesman
Louis Black is a wreck. For this particular newspaperman, this fact is not news. People who know Black are quick to say he is unsettled, self-loathing, temperamental, explosive and passionate to a fault. Almost unanimously, they invoke an ugly synonym for “jerk” to describe him. (Almost unanimously, they still love him.)
Black, co-founder and editor of the Austin Chronicle, denies none of it. His snarled personality — a knot of contradictions and impulses in the cause of doing something important and good — makes for interesting encounters, lively anecdotes, inflated legends and flamboyant fictions. He is known as much for these as for his foibles and tics: squirming in his chair, pacing the floor, flapping his hands. His mouth runs with astonishing velocity. Just watching him makes you jittery.
As the face of Austin’s alternative weekly and co-founder of the South by Southwest music, film and interactive festivals, which run this week, Black wields great influence and has accomplished much for the city. SXSW has brought hundreds of millions of dollars to Austin coffers and earned the city an international reputation. Black and his colleagues at the Chronicle and SXSW have propped up and nourished the local music and film scenes that so many take for granted.
Without Black, a music fanatic and film savant, the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World would lack much of its cultural stock.
“The music scene would have died a long time ago,” says Mike Levy, publisher of Texas Monthly. “The energy that Louis and his colleagues have infused into the town have kept the music and film traditions alive much more than anything the City Council has done.”
That energy has a price tag. Black’s emotions, especially his anger, tend to get away from him and make messes.
“He’s a very passionate person,” says Michael Hall, former managing editor of the Chronicle and now a senior editor at Texas Monthly. “That means all the great things that come with being passionate. But, on a dime, Louis can also show the darker side of what passion will lead you to do.”
He struggles with this. He is in therapy. The guy formerly known as Louis Black is trying to mellow. Meanwhile, he has a newspaper to run and world-famous festivals to put on. Continue reading