Wednesday, March 18, 2009

South by Stay Home: It's Official I'm Too Old for this Shit

I've been doing SXSW just about every year, one way or the other, since 1992. That first year, I was training as a waiter at the Magnolia Cafe, and I learned-- fire by baptism-- about how nuts this town gets the third week of March. Roughly a bazillion musicians and music fans descend on the city, a place already crawling with music fanatics. I came to understand there were the haves-- those with all-access badges-- and the have nots: those of us waiting on them.

Over the years, I learned more. You can buy a wristband, which may or may not get you into a show. You can-- as I eventually did several years-- earn a badge either as a performer or a journalist. I call these badges Asshole Badges, as they allow their owners to sashay to the front of very long lines, past folks waiting and waiting and waiting, often not getting in because they lack the credentials. And I have to say, years I had an Asshole Badge, I enjoyed playing that front-of-the-line role.

Somewhere over the course of the past seventeen years, I came to recognize a certain anxiety accompanying the arrival of the festival, which grew to include a film conference and a multi-media conference. If I tried to wrap my head around all the offerings, and map out a plan, I got stressed at the prospect. If I vowed to ignore it and stay home, I suffered FMS-- Fraid of Missin' Something syndrome-- sure I would hear later that Jesus had played a small hole-in-the-wall around the corner from me, and that it wasn't even full, and he did a Neil Diamond medley the tore the roof off. One year I skipped it all together, and left the state. That was a decent idea.

This year, as with last year, I tried to figure out a way to enjoy myself, hoping to attend a few free shows and to use some connections I am very lucky to have to catch a few out-of-town acts. I happen to know some radio folks who are gracious enough to let me sit in on in-studio sessions, which means I don't get the full throttle experience of seeing a performance in a room packed with drunken revelers which, if you ask me, is about as perfect an experience as I could hope for.

Monday, Chris and I hit the early morning pre-festival show at the Four Seasons. This is sponsored by KGSR, happens all week, costs five bucks, includes lots of good free food, and tons of performers. There's also down time between sets, but that's okay. Monday we saw locals Kacy Crowley, whom I just love, and the also wonderful Nakia, whom I first met when he worked at the Apple Store. Nakia went on to do a stint with the Small Stars, a side project of Miles Zuniga, he of Fastball fame and a man I once had a very odd and confusing flirtation with about six hundred years ago. It's been lovely watching Nakia break out on his own.

Tuesday I laid low. Today was supposed to be a Fun Day. Henry's band, Seafields of Elephants, was playing outside at Jo's Coffee on South Congress. Chris and Big Red and I headed down and got a parking spot so incredible that I thought about leaving the car there all weekend and taking the bus, just so I could feel that happy incredible-parking-spot feeling for several days. We got a call on the way down that M. Ward was going to be playing a show at Radio Room on 6th Street at 5. And I was also going to go catch Mistress Stephanie and Her Melodic Cat at 6. Well, the best laid plans and all that...

At Henry's gig, he's sitting on stage, not playing, while some big guy is rapping away. I run into Hen's bandmate's dad, who explains the drummer is looking for parking, which is eating into their short gig time, cutting it down to about ten minutes. Then, I spot my ex-husband, aka The Narcissist of the Universe. I have done an excellent job of avoiding that fucker for two years now. But there he was, with his little wife/daughter, the "child" who insisted he divorce me, and who did everything in her power to drive me out. She succeeded (I recall one of her friends telling me she was well aware that her father could never say no to her and that this would be the case when it came to ending the marriage). Not only were they there, but they hovered near the stage, robbing me of the chance to watch my son up close. I decided on the spot, at least for the afternoon, to forego my fledgling attempts at Buddhism, embrace my inner-Jersey-girl, and feel the hate. Of COURSE he was hovering around the stage. That's what he does, hoping my son will get signed and that when this happens, that my son will invite his sorry old ass to open for him because yes, at the age of sixty-something, he still believes he is going to be discovered as the next Rock God. WhatEVER.

Then I went and ordered some food, because my blood sugar was crashing. I was waited on by a former coworker. We worked for a company that suffered so much in the economic crash that she is back to slinging concessions and I am forever scrambling for clever ways to pay the mortgage. Turns out our former boss, who owes me many thousands of dollars, also owes this coworker three months back pay. Look, I'm not grudge holding here, I'm just saying it's hard enough trying to eke by as it is, and it's even harder to not fantasize about how, if I had my back pay, I'd be good for a few months over here.

The veggie dog helped a little, until I looked up and saw HER-- yes, the woman who, sixteen years ago, slept with my then-boyfriend. When I confronted her about this, years after the fact (she had approached me, all cheerful at a party) she said, "Oh that? That was so LONG AGO!" As if this would somehow make me feel better.

Distracted by all these reminders of shit, I hardly got to focus on the kid's ten minute set. On a bright note, I did get to meet the woman who hosted Hen for a month in Paris a couple of years ago. She was in town for SXSW and, at long last, I bestowed upon her a Kick Ass Trophy because, really, taking in a sixteen year old stranger for four weeks is an awfully kick ass thing to do.

After that, I got it in my head that the gods would somehow arrange for me to get into the M. Ward show. So I found a five dollar parking spot near the highway and hoofed it over to a line that was about 200 people deep. I stood in the middle of 6th street, trying not to listen in on the conversation of the two punks behind me debating how "hot" some chick was, and realizing the futility of my efforts. From all sides, my ears were assaulted by high-decibel distorted rock screaming from every club and tent set up for the week's day parties. The sun beat down. Defeated, I headed back to the car, deciding not to see Mistress Stephanie, but rather to go home and crawl into bed.

On my way to the car, I spotted a young dude sporting what I like to refer to as Unearned Ruggedness, one of those long, sloppy neck beards favored by 98 pound weaklings trying to look like lumberjacks. Hello, Unearned Ruggedness Man? It's Austin. It's 99 degrees 340 days of the year, and you are probably living on a trust fund. Enough already, shave that fucker off.

Wait, do we notice that Spike is feeling irritable? Thing about those Unearned Rugged beards is that they remind me of two people in particular. One is my ex-stepson, who conspired with wife-daughter to drive me out. His role, which I know I have detailed before, but let me say it again, was to smash all of my potted plants, ceramic possessions, and wedding gifts up and down the front sidewalk and all throughout the house. He felt this was his right to destroy my things. The Narcissist, when I told him this was domestic violence, explained that, no it wasn't, Stepson was just "trying to communicate his feelings."

Curiously, over a year later, I had a young roommate, whom I adored, who had a boyfriend who not only looked freakishly similar to the Stepson-- right down to the Unearned Ruggedness beard-- but they shared a first name, a middle name, and both had a last name that ended in the same uncommon two-letter combination. Not only that, but they both went by their same middle name. Stepson was the heir-in-waiting to a bunch of family property. Roommate's boyfriend, who was supposed to only stay over once in awhile, actually moved in, never moved out, never paid rent, never got a job, and-- no shit-- began having his Charles Schwab statements sent to my house. He was a vegan with such a high metabolism, he had to eat constantly to keep his low weight up. Ironically, all the chopping of vegetables burned more calories still, causing the need to eat more. He spent so much time steaming vegetables at my house that, no really, my gas bill spiked noticeably. Do you know how hard it is to drive up a gas bill via steaming kale?

Even more curiously, when Unearned Rugged Beard Boyfriend finally moved out, the Green Mug disappeared with him. This was a $45 handmade mug I had purchased in an attempt to console myself for all the many objects Unearned Ruggedness Stepson had broken. (The plan didn't really work, as the Green Mug forever reminded me of him). Many months passed and then, one morning, I went outside to feed the cat and, mysteriously, the Green Mug was sitting on the front step. Hmm...

So yeah, seeing Unearned Rugged SXSWer on my way to the parking lot triggered an avalanche of bad Unearned Ruggedness memories. At least, in the parking lot, I located two cheerful young women who had not yet paid for parking. So I gave them my parking pass and saved them five bucks. When they tried to pay me, I insisted they not. This made them very happy. And so, at least a little, their smiles salvaged a bit of my day.

Then I came home, and read this story, about a woman whose dog ate $400, which she is attempting to sift out of the dog's shit and reconstruct so she can trade it in at the bank. I wanted to think, "My life isn't so bad, at least my dog didn't eat $400," but wait, she sort of did. Because I just dropped $1600 on a new fence, since the dog kept tearing through the old one. Last night, I let her out to test it. In five minutes, she tunneled right under it. I wonder if I can sift anything out of her shit to reconstruct and turn in at the bank.

Tomorrow is a new day. I am going to sleep a lot tonight. I am going to joyfully accept the gracious offers of my radio friends to hear some performers in studio. I am going to listen to KUT broadcast some shows live. I am going to do this in the comfort and privacy of my own bedroom. I might even relax enough that I fool myself into thinking that I can somehow, without too much discomfort, work my way down to a decent spot at Auditorium Shores to hear M. Ward play for free. And I am going to make plans to leave the country next year for all of March.


Southpaw said...

Take me with you!

Aaron said...

I suffer from the same thing. I so desperately want to not be involved at all next year. But it seems that in this town it's a must if you're in anyway related to those art forms. I am afraid of suffering the same FMS syndrome and afraid I'll miss out on business and connections as well. Alas, perhaps I just need to make it happen. Thanks for giving me courage boost! :-) Now for only three more days for 2009...

Anonymous said...

"I came to recognize a certain anxiety accompanying the arrival of the festival...If I tried to wrap my head around all the offerings, and map out a plan, I got stressed at the prospect. If I vowed to ignore it and stay home, I suffered FMS-- Fraid of Missin' Something syndrome"

I just moved to Austin 6 months ago so this is my first SXSW. I'm already experiencing what you talk about. Glad to know I'm not the only one!