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Michael Corcoran's top 10: a music writer says farewell

Michael Corcoran

I love being in the newsroom, but I could never really concentrate there amid all the phone interviews and random chatter.

Which is why I always love to come in on the weekends, when the features department is empty.

It's sad to realize, writing this, that I'm at the Austin American-Statesman on a Saturday morning for the last time. A decision I felt so strongly about — taking the voluntary separation agreement (buyout) and moving on to the next chapter of my life — is starting to weigh on me. I'm really going to miss this place.

I came to the Statesman from the Dallas Morning News, a bigger paper, because I wanted to cover music in a town where it was more than just an excuse to meet like-minded souls.

If you want to write about Abraham Lincoln, you live in Springfield, Ill., not Chicago. Music is a quality of life issue here, stamped into the history and the soul of the town.

I can't tell you how many times I drove down to Austin after seeing a great band in Dallas because I wanted to hear them again in a place where the fans understood what was really happening musically.

I first moved here in 1984 at age 28 and thought I'd found paradise. I'm now 55, and Emo's on a Saturday night holds the same appeal to me as a packed emergency room.

A few weeks ago, someone asked me how long I've been at the Statesman. I pointed at my son, 6-feet-1-inch and growing, and said "that long." He had his first birthday two weeks before I took the pop music critic job 16 years ago. Now Jack's a senior in high school, so the plan is to see how long I can refrain from writing anything more than a list of college preferences and requirements.

But first, here's another list. (Still a master of the segue!) I'll leave you with my 10 favorite stories I've written in the past 16 years. Links can be found on Austin360.com.

Several of these are stories another paper wouldn't have let its music critic devote the hours and hours it took to research and write. Some of them are sports stories. A couple take first person to the brink. But my editors trusted me, and their editors backed them. And these are some of the stories I wrote.

Michael Corcoran can be reached at yikescrawford@gmail.com.

1. 'Exhuming the Legend of Washington Phillips ' (Dec. 29, 2002)

I got a lucky break on this gospel pioneer's past and was able to rewrite a bit of history not many folks cared about in the first place.

2. 'Songs of An Empty Sky ' (Sept. 10, 2002)

Weighing in on Bruce Springsteen's 'The Rising' on the one-year anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy.

3. 'Still Tippin' To the Top ' (Dec. 22, 2005)

The 2005 Horns, led by Houston homeboy Vince Young, take Cali with dreams of becoming the first Texas championship football team with African American players.

4. 'The Stones Made a Rebel Out of Me ' (Oct. 22, 2006)

The Rolling Stones make their first Austin appearance, which makes me reflect on what's become of my life.

5. 'Amazing Grace ' (Sept. 29, 2007)

A profile of "Sister Bobbie" Nelson, who's been playing piano for brother Willie since she was 6 and he was 4. If any two people deserve to live forever...

6. 'Discovering Keepers of Folk Music ' (April 25, 2010)

Primary research of the Gants, the Depression era Austin family that recorded more than 40 songs for the Library of Congress in 1936.

7. 'The Soul of Blind Willie Johnson ' (Sept. 28, 2003)

On the trail of the mysterious, 1920s bottleneck-playing street-corner singer from Marlin whose songs were covered by Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and more.

8. 'Face the Music' (Oct. 8, 2000)

A football star and crack dealer while at Elgin High School, rapper Nathan Mackey was about to pay for the wrong side of a double life.

9. 'The Devil and Billy Joe Shaver ' (May 3, 2001)

Billy Joe told his incredibly sad and poignant life story with such honesty. I just wrote it down.

10. 'Squeezing Out Sparks ' (June 7, 2001)

A profile of iconoclastic accordion master Esteban 'Steve' Jordan was the only time I've feared for my safety during an interview. We ended up becoming good friends.

Michael Corcoran can be read and reached on Twitter @michaelcorcoran.