Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused

On the final night of SXSW...

The town car was pulling up the Hilton driveway when I flagged it down. The dark tinted passenger side window lowered and I leaned in to address the driver. “How much to the Airport La Quinta?... What?... Sixty-Nine bucks? Fuck that!” I stumbled on, oriented myself east. Clocks we’re moving their little hands past the four now and the streets were pretty vacant. I had been in a crowded suite with a bathtub full of Newcastle, stacks of American Spirits, writers, photographers, various industry day-jobbers, and some musicians – I’d had too much, had to get out. I pushed through an empty parking lot, across 5th street, waving at unlit taxis. Finally I stood at the corner of 6th and something, the same spot I caught a cab with Will the night before, I wasn’t nearly this inebriated then, but there were thousands of people around… I hadn’t quite enough in my pocket for the taxi, but I realized that only when we’d arrived at our hotel. The driver let out a deep sigh, the sort of sigh that only an immigrant working a night shift for nothing could muster at a drunken white American who just couldn’t afford it this moment. “Give me what you have and get out.”

This only occurred once I had accepted SXSW as the orgy it is. I’m accustomed to the comfort of a small attentive paying audience of genuine fans, not a moving, multiplying mass of distracted shareholders. I never fully participated and I’m lucky that the people we work closest with get a good night sleep, take meetings seriously, and smile. I stayed out of the hoards, sickened, on the side of it all with too much pride or too much shame. I heard no talk of art or meaning, I mostly heard conversations of fashion, of ego, of money. But I did meet some kind and genuine people, I did witness Pete Townsend, Rachel Fuller, and Martha Wainwright in a soul shattering musical moment, I did perform with that emotional vigor that I only can grace an audience with when they have backed me up against a wall – a whore performing for his pimps. And that’s the attitude. Too much. It was overwhelming for me, I must admit. It becomes clear to you how insignificant the artist is as an individual – there’s so many of you, and no matter how talented you are, the only real leverage you hold is that no one would be able to have a job where they can fill up an entire downtown section of a city with drinking, carousing, name-dropping, and music (I guess) if it weren’t for you and those like you. Someone to write it, someone to perform it – that’s all that is really necessary, but we all trek down to Austin to attempt to get some attention from those selling it. All of us that we know of, I mean, we never hear about those with too much pride or humility to reject it.

On Sunday, when the skinny jeans and sluts and name-droppers had cleared from the city, when the police barricades were lifted and cars moved freely down a somewhat scrubbed 6th street, when the thousands of band members had cleared from the stages of every bar, restaurant, or auditorium in town, we had a day off before heading to Ohio. I sat alone in a downtown park with my guitar and listened to the crows fighting in a nearby tree, saw families pass by college students passing by drifters. I brought my fifth and sixth meals that week from the enormous Austin Whole Foods and stayed for hours. Spring settled nicely into Texas, I wrote about love and sex and god and all those things that bring them together and keep them apart. I realized how much I love Austin, how much my hindsight of the last week was positive. My rejection of it brought me into the arms of some really smart, searching, and enjoyable people. My acceptance of it found me connecting with people that could benefit my career - and it got me nice and wasted. In retrospect, it was a good, necessary week at work.