Sex, music writing and the Margaret Moser interview that never happened
I never had the privilege of knowing Margaret Moser so, consequently, I don’t have any stories about her warmth and magnanimous spirit like the countless moving tributes currently flooding social media.
“We all have people that we go out to the club and we see, and it puts you in a good mood just because they’re there. And she was like that for everybody,” my friend and former colleague Michael Corcoran told me in late June. He described this as “the essence of Margaret.”
Director Margaret Moser kicks off the 2006 Austin Music Awards. Kelly West 2006 AMERICAN-STATESMAN
In June, Moser announced that she had entered home hospice, and the Austin music scene quaked with grief, understanding one of our greatest champions was not long for this world.
Though I had no personal connection to her, the news hit me hard, too. I’ve been thinking a lot about the space women occupy in the public consciousness. It dawned on me recently that I’m the first woman to hold a music writer position at my newspaper, an institution that’s been around for well over a century. I’m not, however, the first prominent female music writer in Austin. Moser helped shape the narrative about Austin music since the ‘80s, and that’s something rare and special. I felt like it was my duty to write a tribute to her.
Though her moments were precious and many people were clamoring for a few minutes of her time, she agreed to meet with me briefly when she traveled to Austin in late June for an exhibit she was curating at Antone’s on blues great Robert Johnson’s Texas years.
I realized I had never really spent much time with her catalog, so to prepare, I spent a few days immersing myself in her work. And I was blown away.
Her historical knowledge of Texas music was formidable, and the passion she felt for artists she featured bled from her pages. But her autobiographical pieces were the ringers, the stories that lifted me up and the ones that gutted me.
She was fearlessly honest. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, she didn’t leave anything out. She wrote vivid first-person accounts, about the time she lost her virginity at the Sunken Gardens in San Antonio, the time she conducted an interview in a bathtub, “naked except for my notebook and pen,” the time she shared a “pile of cocaine” with a woman she should have hated because they shared the same beau, a woman who turned out to be the mother of future Austin music stars Charlie and Will Sexton.
She wrote about zany escapades with her glittery, giggling girl gang, high on life and assorted other illicit substances. She seemed to laugh in the face of anyone who dismissed her as just a groupie. Her posse of rock-loving gals, the Texas Blondes, were the life of the party, and she was the queen of the groupies.
She wasn’t always the hero of these stories. She described in painstaking detail the quiet devastation she felt when she realized John Cale, the musical thorn who stuck hardest in her side, found true love. She told us what it was like to be discarded, just another girl from the road.
“I had committed the ultimate groupie sin, the Bad Thing, the I-told-you-so part: I’d fallen hard for John and my heart was no longer into sex, even with musicians for fun, after that,” she wrote.
I was entranced and amazed. She wrote many of these stories decades before the term “slut-shaming” emerged as something people ought not do. It was so bold and brash. And it must have been so very hard.
“The whole thing about being a groupie, being up front about it, she kind of gave people an excuse to dislike her, but she never backed down,” Corcoran said. He told me she was sensitive, “She’ll cry at the drop of a hat.”
I decided that would be the focus of my interview: What was it like being a pioneer in the field of not just music, but also writing about sex for women?
She came to town a few days before the July 1 show, and I was excited when her best friend E.A. Srere, who was handling her schedule, secured me a 15-minute slot. But on the day of the interview, E.A. sent me a message asking me to text before I came. Moser was having a rough day. The interview didn’t happen. We exchanged a few more messages about rescheduling, but with each one the tone felt more strained. Moser was going through a bad spell, and while her friend was politely answering my requests, she was negotiating the agonizing process of watching a loved one slip away.
I backed down. It felt like the right thing to do. When time is limited, moments belong to the people who matter, and I was superfluous. I also was fully aware of the inherent selfishness behind my desire to do this piece.
I desperately wanted to ask Moser, “How did you handle the haters? The people who slammed you for being up front about your position as a sexual being in the music scene? The people who considered your capacity for lust a reason to dismiss you?”
The unspoken subtext was so obvious it was almost embarrassing: “And how should I?”
The first time I was dragged online over something I wrote, and every time since, the conversation inevitably devolves into some variation of “you just want to (expletive) that guy” or “you just need to get (expletive).” Because that’s what happens when you’re a female writer with an opinion someone doesn’t like.
One of Moser’s greatest contributions to the canon of music writing is the way she embraced, even venerated, the role of female lust in the experience of rock ‘n’ roll. As well she should have, because, after all, isn’t giddy, tingling ecstasy one of the deepest things a song can make you feel? Isn’t the very term “rock ‘n’ roll” a euphemism for sex?
I like to believe she would have answered quickfire keyboard losers curtly: “Yes, maybe I did want to (expletive) that guy and maybe I understand his music on a deeper level because of it. Maybe that music moved through my body in a way you can never understand.”
Music writing has always been a boys club, and Margaret Moser was one of the first women to break in. But her greatest gift to the female writers that follow her is that she never pretended to be one of the boys.