- Associated Press - Friday, June 6, 2014

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - ?Wammo could easily have been Austin’s biggest slacker, but for the hassle of entering the contest.

The singer and nightclub DJ had no day job, went stretches without a permanent address, went by a weird name and played in a band with a weird name.

The Austin American-Statesman (http://bit.ly/1j6wTlJ ) reports he arrived in Austin in 1985 and drank for free at the Beach Cabaret and the Electric Lounge because he knew the owners.

Oh, and there’s this: He played one of the characters in “Slacker,” the 1991 film that showed the world the march-to-your-own-drummer slice of Austin that Wammo and others so enthusiastically inhabited.

“My only job was to go spin records and play music,” said Wammo, 52. “I had no day job. I had no real job at all. I was living the life.”

Austin’s embrace of eccentrics, dreamers and misfits has lived on, but only as a sort of cultural inheritance from the “Slacker” era that most writers and cultural observers say had faded by the end of the 1990s. Recent polling and economic reality suggest one of the central tenets of Slackerdom has indeed given way to a different outlook: People in boomtown Austin seem to increasingly value work, focus and career success.

“Austin used to be a spot for a lot of people to check out. Now it’s a good place to check in,” said Peter Zandan, a pollster who has been doing opinion surveys here for three decades. “We used to be a place you could go to go nowhere and not do much. Now, increasingly, Austin appears to be a place where people go to be somewhere and do something.”

Zandan conducted a wide-ranging survey in April to gauge people’s attitudes in the Austin metro area, asking everything from whether the city is on the right track to whether Austin has retained its (literally) trademarked weirdness. Among other things, though, he was struck by the change in the slacker scene.

Zandan concluded Austinites now are less likely to choose a laid-back life without a steady job, partly because of optimism about their career prospects. Of those responding to his survey, 87 percent were either satisfied or very satisfied with their job. Nearly three-quarters said they were confident or very confident that, if they lost that job, they could find one as good or better within six months. Only 3 percent described themselves as underemployed.

Zandan also asked a related question: Which group did Austinites feel the strongest connection to?

Between college students, retirees and the 6 percent of those polled who said they are unemployed, only half the city is working full-time. Yet 22 percent of those polled still said their strongest connection is with people from work. (The next closest answers were neighbors at 16 percent; religious community, 13 percent; hobbies, 13 percent; and school, 12 percent.)

“If you work, there’s almost a 50 percent chance work is the group you associate most closely with,” Zandan said. “That’s a working town.”

“Slacker” director Richard Linklater did not consider the term synonymous with lazy. It alludes to a lifestyle that grew in the 1970s, when the University of Texas cost $200 a semester and Austin’s vibe was more relaxed, recalled George Cofer, then a UT student and now executive director of the Hill Country Conservancy.

“You could be at the lake in 10 minutes,” Cofer told the Statesman earlier this year. “We had the best music in the world, all the good honky-tonks. It was easier, freer, more open then.”

By the early 1990s that vibe had shaped Austin’s reputation as the bohemian, conspicuously tolerant, liberal capital of a conservative state. In 2012, when an O. Henry Museum exhibit rebranded the prolific Austin writer as a slacker, an assistant curator noted: “That’s the true definition of a slacker: someone who’s productive, but not at what they’re supposed to be doing.”

Story Continues →