Janice Williams Loves Austin And sometimes I write about it.

November 17, 2011

An Austin Legend

Filed under: Austin,Radio stuff,Spasmodic Dysphonia — Janice @ 10:30 pm

Joe Gracey passed away today. I did not know him personally, but I had a keen interest in his life. Joe was a disc jockey in Austin in the era that I so desperately wanted to be a part of all things Austin – the 70s. That was the era I discovered Willie Nelson and Texas Monthly and read voraciously about the Armadillo and all the fun things, and wild things, people were doing in Austin. I didn’t know about radio and wasn’t thinking about going into it at the time, I just wanted to be a part of this fun musical community.

I did end up getting to play the music of Austin on a station in Amarillo called KBUY-Texas Country. It played Jerry Jeff and Willie alongside Dolly and Conway and even alongside Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was patterned after KOKE in Austin where Joe Gracey was making a name for himself.

I heard of him after I was in Austin radio, but didn’t know much about him. But after I had the diagnosis of spasmodic dysphonia and was finding it more and more difficult each day to do a radio show, to talk on the phone, or to even order through a drive-in fast food microphone, I read an article about Joe. He had cancer of the tongue and lost his tongue and parts of his mouth and his larynx as they tried to get the cancer. They did get the cancer, but removed his beautiful voice, his livelihood, and his ability to communicate.

I read how had would buy a stack of the Magic Slates like we all had as kids (where you can write on it and then lift the top page and the writing goes away). He would just those to scribble words and communicate. Having already been scribbling and using sign language or clapping my hands to get someone’s attention, I could only imagine how hard that would be to know that was your fate forever. Joe was voiceless for over a dozen years before the Internet came along and email became commonplace. He wrote that that opened up whole new worlds for him and finally gave him a way to communicate with friends at a distance. Since email came along, it is certainly my favorite mode of communication and I can imagine how joyful it would be to have it open those long silent lines.

My voice, fortunately, got better and I don’t think about it on a daily basis, just occasionally when I have “bad days” that affect it. But I still remember the fear of how it would be to be a disc jockey that can’t do an air shift anymore–not because of being laid off or quitting or the known fears of the world, but from losing a voice and having no control over the situation. I greatly admired Joe Gracey for finding a way through his career changes and life changes. I read today that more recently he was somehow given his voice back with a larynx implant that gave him a voice he didn’t like and didn’t recognize. In a very small way I could relate to that, too. My voice is not the same as it was 10 years ago and I miss the voice I once had. It isn’t noticeable to anyone but me, but it is different.

Joe’s cancer came back in the form of esophageal cancer in recent years. I had not really kept up with his story and didn’t know he was sick again, so it was shock to know that he had died. I want to revisit his story and his blog and see where he was these last few years as he again battled through whatever challenges he faced. It’s quite a story and another amazing, interesting Austinite is gone.

1 Comment »

  1. I’m one of the bunch who still remembers listening to Joe on KOKE in the middle ’70s. Once, in my teenaged hubris, I even dropped off an air-check tape for him to listen to–nothing came of it, of course.

    Comment by Sam — November 18, 2011 @ 6:17 pm

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