Farewell, Joe Gracey

Back in the ’90s there was a sort of underground movement bubbling up in cities all around the country, people cooking up lively mixtures of old country, old time rock, punk, R&B, blues and god knows what other rootsy music. A lot of us were playing it, whether mostly singing to lonely campfires in the desert or open-mic nights (as in my case) or in bands that people actually crowded into venues to see. And we liked to talk about it day after day on a listserv called Postcard2. (Remember listservs? – I realize that listservs are now an ancient and dead form of internet community, dinosaurs from an earlier geological area of the world wide web.) Before it descended into petty feuds, rampant snarkiness and cliques, P2 was a wild and rich place, full of stories of new songs and new bands from around the country, new music heard, people seen. Most of the folks were twenty- or thirtysomething wannabes, but occasionally a few wiser old hands joined in and lit fireworks under all our excitement and self-importance.

One of my faves was Joe Gracey, who seemed to have sprung out of (or else cultivated) the Austin music scene from its first inspirations of promise in the 1970s to the center of the party it had become by the 1990s. Joe loved to talk and rant about all kinds of things. A lot of it was about music he liked and didn’t like, especially music made by his wife Kimmie Rhodes (a talented singer-songwriter and all-around artist), often weighing in with a contrarian’s megaphone and halting the list’s worst stupidity. (I remember one day in particular where a number of posters were ranting about the Dixie Chicks “selling out” – they had made the “mistake” of becoming popular – and he shut it all down with a short comment, “I love the Dixie Chicks and I hope they make a ton of money.”) He also wrote about playing bass on this or that album, producing albums, what he was making for dinner that day, the bottle of wine he planned to open. When he posted about his day it had all the glee of a young kid screaming with joy on a wild roller-coaster ride.

A friend just passed on a note that Joe passed away from cancer this morning, cancer he had been fighting for years. Little did I know; maybe he mentioned it on a day I wasn’t tuned in. I just read this profile of him, published in Austin this past summer while he was on his last round of cancer treatment. Little did I realize that he hadn’t spoken a word since 1978, when he lost his tongue and larynx to cancer. At age 28. The “talking” he used to do on the listserv was the only kind of talking he had done since then. And how he could taste food without a tongue and after so much surgery on his mouth is a mystery, but his posts on food were so mouthwatering I often had to go upstairs and get something to eat. He was not a man to let his cancer deprive him of the goodness of life. (One of his last blog posts, written from his hospital in Houston in August, reads “Hello from Chemoland!”) The catch phrase he is often remembered by from his radio days is “Another day in Paradise!”

Folks like Joe remind us what it means to live a life well. He wasn’t well-known, but my observation is that most of the people who live well are too busy living to get themselves known broadly. Over his decade on the radio and his continued years in and around Austin, he touched multitudes. To share a bit of life with a guy like him is to have your own life lifted. He will be missed.


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