Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Spiros Doesn't Deserve a 173rd Chance; Shut 'Em Down

spiros bullets
Orange paint marks the bullet holes in this photo by Marcos Molina (Subcomandante Quito)

There's a definition of insanity, popularly attributed to Albert Einstein, that goes something like this: Insanity means doing the exact same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.

By that measure, 172 police responses to the same nightclub in 18 months is pretty damn insane. And that's before you factor in the shooting that injured eight patrons outside of Spiros last Thursday night. So the unavoidable question is this: Should Spiros be shut down? It's a question Austin PD and the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission are asking. They've shut the club down for seven days pending an investigation as they consider whether to follow through with a nuisance abatement suit, which would give the City the power to close Spiros for good.

As a music fan, it always sucks to see a club disappear, especially if we're talking Austin. The City of Austin's most recent economic impact study of the cultural sector estimated that music contributed $420 million to the local economy in 2004 (click for PDF). We're called the "live music capital of the world" for a reason.

And in a city where live music already appears to be under attack, giving the cops the power to shut down a venue makes me queasy. If you don't know what I mean, just look at the condo wars that forced the Mohawk to build a great wall around its outdoor stage to appease the noise ordinance. And next door, at Club de Ville, you hear the sound engineer notifying a guitarist mid-set "Can you turn down your amp just a hair. The cops are outside with decibel readers." And then there's the Freddie's debacle, which essentially killed live music at restaurants.

I try to side with the venues as often as possible, but as someone who spends lots of time on Red River, I have to make an exception for Spiros. Do what you gotta do, APD, even if it means shutting down Spiros for good. We can't tolerate that kind of shit, not in our neighborhood. A rap sheet that long was already ridiculous. The shooting is just the straw on the camel's back. And NO ONE should be cool with what happened, or shrug it off and say it was no big deal. It was the biggest of deals: your safety and your life.

If it was a one-off occurrence, that would be one thing, but this club has had 172 police responses since 2008. And it's a sad truth that the gunmen took advantage of one very well-known fact about Spiros: There is always a mass of humanity over-crowding the sidewalk in front of the club. The shooting happened 15 minutes after the club closed, which means there shouldn't have been a crowd at all. No other club has this ridiculous sidewalk-loitering problem. The only crowd next door at Emo's was the bands loading their vans to go home. But at Spiros, you constantly have to either elbow your way through or walk on the street to get around. A nightclub that thinks it's a good idea to let 30 to 40 drunk people crowd along the sidewalk at 1am is asking for something to go wrong.

Now, the first thing that lots of defenders of Spiros are going to say is "You want Spiros shut down because it's a hip-hop club. If that shooting was at Red 7, you wouldn't be saying shit." But that's just it: That shooting would've never happened at Red 7, Beauty Bar, Mohawk, Red Eyed Fly, Room 710, Stubb's, or any of the other clubs in the Red River district. If Full Service showed up late to their show and then got kicked out, do you think they'd come back 15 minutes later and shoot up Headhunters? Hell no! They'd be like, "That sucks. Aw, well, let's smoke a bowl."

Can you picture Pitchfork-reading indie kids unloading glocks into a sea of skinny jeans and American Apparel V-necks? No. You reap what you sew as a scene. I'm not condemning hip-hop. There's some intelligent, thoughtful hip-hop in this city (Bavu Blakes, Betaplayer, Stormshadow, Nov 27, etc) that doesn't sink to the level of mediocre thug raps. Instead, I'm condemning the culture of turning a blind eye. I'm condemning the culture of exploitation and half-baked excuses. The owners of Spiros know what goes on in their club. And the people who frequent Red River do to. People will complain with a whisper, first checking to make sure none of "them" are around. But that's a 20th-century way of doing things. It's 2009, folks. We have a black president and, more than likely, a latino Supreme Court justice. Progress has been made. We can't be afraid of talking openly and honestly like adults about issues that affect our community.

Lots of bloggers and other media outlets aren't going to get anywhere near this debate because of the perceived racial component. That's unfortunate and a mistake. This is not a racial debate. Trust me, the indie music elitists at Mohawk don't hang out with the grungy roots-rockers at Room 710 who don't hang out with the snobby fashionistas at Beauty Bar who don't hang out with the combat-boots-wearing goths at Elysium. Etc, etc, etc. Is it because they're different races or ethnicities? No, they're all white. It's just that culturally, they're all as alien to each other as Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy in Trading Places. BUT they coexist. There's no violence between these subcultures, or within them. Why? Because their scenes aren't based on shallow pissing contests and false bravado.

No Red River club is guilt-free. Trendy hangouts like Creekside Lounge and Beauty Bar are infamous for their hipster patrons who snort coke in the restrooms. Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure your average psychedelic rock show at Beerland is being watched in "high definition" by at least a handful of folks. And who hasn't smelled the pungent aroma of mary jane during a roadshow at Mohawk. But the recreational drug use that may or may not go on along Red River is meant to enhance the show or party experience for these people. It's easy to avoid if you don't want to be a part of it. And violence is never a factor.

Props to AustinSound.net and TwoGroove for fostering dialog on their websites. I respect that they and their readers have opinions and aren't afraid to share them, especially when some blogs are being oddly mum about the shooting, and others just regurgitate info that you could've read elsewhere.

But I take issue with some of the comments on Austin Sound's article. RayRay from the blog Austin Town Hall says aloud what the silent blog world is thinking: "I’m really afraid that this is soon to turn into a huge racial issue." Respect to RayRay for saying what everyone else is thinking. But how backwards are we with political correctness that we think it's more important to avoid offending an ethnic group than it is to discuss the very real threat of violence in our community?

Aaron Robert Hall, a frequent Austin Sound commenter, had this to say: "I am personally not a fan of Spiros and I certainly don't condone what goes on there, but everyone is entitled to get their freak on however they like." That sounds good on paper because A) Of course, no one condones club shootings, and B) The sentence still maintains a sense of tolerance with that last part about getting your freak on. Whenever I read or hear PC statements like that, I'm reminded of this poignant line from the comedian Bill Maher: "Don't be so tolerant that you become tolerant of intolerance."

That's exactly my point. There is no room on Red River for gun-toting morons who would spray bullets into a crowd. There is no room for club owners who allow mass loitering on a public sidewalk. Like I said, no club on Red River is perfect or guilt-free. But for whatever recreational drug use may go on, when the kids get high no one dies. And while no one died in the Spiros shooting, it's only a matter of time before that does happen if we allow a place with a history of violence and no redeeming qualities to continue operating.

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Jennifer said...

ajay i super agree w/ you. excellent write-up. having worked at a venue for over 6 years, being a music promoter, & avid music club goer, i can tell you all variables in the spiro's equation spell trouble. there are many individuals responsible for that violent mess, on all ends of the gig that night. once it comes down to gunfire, game over. period.

jen, bleu french laundry

gene said...

This whole thing is just ridiculous to me. APD really should step it up with Beat Cops on 7th & Red River. Not just walking around with decibel readers, but actually doing something besides harassing musicians and hitting on girls.

Gene griffin
The Versatile Sydnciate

dmf said...

I tend to agree with you as well, Ajay. While I don't want to hold the club responsible for the shooting, just because that's a heavy burden of blame to place on them (and thank goodness no one was killed!), I think they have certainly had their chances to clean the place up and make it safe, but have chosen just to try to maintain course. I also think, though, that this is a valuable opportunity to have the APD and City finally address the overall problems downtown before an even more serious situation takes place.

natturner said...

cant help but notice that only black clubs get shut down (or burned down) in this town. first there was the fire @ midtown live (where the police said "burn baby burn"), then the shack on webberville rd burned down, then there were the complaints that shut down chesters on 12th st (too rowdy for a residential area, but now thees a white club in the same bldg). then when the tx relays brought blks folks into town they shut down highland mall. not a very welcoming place...

Ajay Miranda said...

I see where you're going with this, Nat, but keep in mind RedRum and the Backroom also got shut down and those were white (metal/punk) clubs. It's up to us to stand up for any venues that are unjustly persecuted, regardless of the genre of music or race of the customers. But with Spiro's there is more than enough reason to shut the place down. I'm not familiar with Chesters. Maybe you can fill me in on that.

I've been to Highland Mall during relay weekend, as I'm sure you have. I don't blame the mall's owner for closing. A mall is a private property that exists solely to make money. It's not a park or a church. During relay weekend you can barely walk through the mall because it's so crowded, but no one's buying shit, and the regular clientele (brown, black, white, and Asian FAMILIES) stay away. It's just a bunch of teens walking around trying to look tough, and surprise surprise there's always at least one fight breaking out. Tell me how it's a smart business decision for the mall to stay open and welcome that kind of hostile self-entitled environment. The ONLY color that factors into that decision is GREEN, not black or white.

I'm Mexican and I've dealt with my fair share of racism. You know how many Lou Dobbs fans there are in Texas? Too many. But if closing a mall for the weekend to avoid violence is the most racist thing you can accuse Austin of doing, then I say we're doing pretty alright.

Ian Morales said...


You weren't here in Austin when Spiro's first opened and it was the Latin hot spot in town. There was a bi patio outside where DJs spun LFC, Mana, Moenia, Sentidos Opuestos...and it was always a good time. I haven't been back in years ever since it changed the layout of the club and the music. That's the Spiros I will remember. It was the last time Austin had a Latino hang out other than Miguel's La Bodega (also shut down, not a black club Nat). Adios Spiro's.

Anonymous said...

the problem behind spiro's is josh cisneros. he is a douche.

Anonymous said...

Word on Josh being a douche. Trouble has followed him at every venue he's run over the years. He is one shady dude, and I'm glad he got shut down.

Anonymous said...

I was part of the original Spiro's crew and I saw it go through many changes. It was opened in 1999. It started out as a jazz club then turned into house music. When it added the latin theme is when it began to grow. It used to be a great place to take a date. Once it turned 18 and over is when it began to go downhill. I left shortly after there was a stabbing right in front of the door between 2 asian gangmembers. But once it changed ownership and that guy Josh was in charge is why incidents like the shooting happened. All he cared about was bringing in cash and didn't give a damn for the consequences.