24: “I Have Learned to Enjoy Every Single Aspect of SXSW.” An Interview with This One Dude I Know Pretty OK About Going to SXSW
Me: OK, so you were telling me about the first time you had the thought, “My God, I hate music.”
Dude: Yeah right, it was in Austin, Texas on the Saturday evening of the South by Southwest music festival, in 2004….I was limping out of Beerland to find someplace to eat. (I had broken a bone in my foot while jumping up and down to The Spits, but wouldn’t realize it until a week later, after walking through three airports (Austin, Houston-Hobby, Midway) and several typical Chi-town commutes of walking several blocks to busses and trains, and the “sprain” wasn’t getting better…) Beerland wasn’t the problem—it’s still my favorite bar in Austin—and the bands who were playing in Beerland weren’t the problem.The problem back then was everyplace else. From mid-morning to the crack of dawn, the city surrounding Beerland was filled with live music, and most of it, after three days and nights of this, all sounds the same. 4/4 One-Four-Five honky hokum.
Me: One-Four-Five honky hokum. What do you mean?
Dude: “Louie Louie.” “More Than a Feeling.” “Blitzkrieg Bop.” Those are fine songs in and of themselves, but when it’s all you hear for literally hours at a time, like: Here’s the intro, here’s when the drums kick in, here’s the verse, here’s the chorus, here’s the verse again, here’s the boring guitar solo, here’s the breakdown, here’s the end, and here’s where the fevered ego frontman talks and talks and talks as he introduces the next song, “Ass Grab,” and it’s about grabbin’ ass (or something).
Me; That’s when you had that horrible thought.
Dude: “My God, I hate music.” Exactly.
Me: Wow. That’s tough.
Dude: And I meant it. It kinda floored me, because I had never-ever had such a blasphemous thought before. It was always quite the opposite, a life centered around bands-bands-bands since the age of ten, and live music since the age of seventeen.
Me: How do you move forward after enduring such tragedy?
Dude: Well, I wrote it off to sensory overload, but that thought lingers, and it never goes away. And it’s the perfect comment on rock and roll, on the music industry, on any and all festivals, and on what every rational human being should feel after more than two days at Clusterfuckstock.
Dude: Clusterfuckstock. AKA, South-by?
Me: So you’re saying that that was when you first had the thought: “Music. It’s the worst.” Is that right?
Dude: Sure, but:I want to be perfectly clear that, in spite of what I said above and what I will say below, I actually and earnestly love SXSW. The good outweighs the bad. While I have no interest in moving there (and I’m sure the locals are quite happy about that), Austin is a wonderful place to be in March, after slogging through another upper middle west winter. Beer, shots, margs, food trucks, friends you don’t get to see more than 2-3 times a year if that, bands you never get to see, new bands who inspire, laughing til you can’t breathe….I’ve broken my foot during SXSW, caught the flu during SXSW, came down with food poisoning from an Arkansas Wendy’s that led to vomiting all over the rental van’s steering column while entering Dallas and then the drummer had to wipe the vomit off the wheel before he drove before we made it just in time to play and before literally dozens of trips to the Beerland men’s room before playing the gig with clenched ass…grown quite familiar with the AAA tow-trucks and the unintentional cultural exchange program that seems to go on between myself and the red state mechanics dotting the hinterlands between Chicago and Austin. I’m not complaining. I’ve grown to enjoy every aspect of this experience! I’ve learned to accept failure, flatulence, and bankruptcy as a basic fact of life for low-level musicians on tour, and I’ve learned that “This is Spinal Tap” isn’t strictly a comedy, and by this point—finishing my sixth visit to SXSW one month ago—I’m grateful for similar lessons taught to almost all of the bands who play there.
Me: What kind of lessons? What do you mean?
Dude: Well, I bet more bands break up on the Saturday of SXSW than any other day of the year. It’s like what Thanksgiving weekend is for college freshmen still dating their sweethearts from high school.
Me: Why is that?
Dude: I don’t know. I’m just a drummer. But if I had to make a guess, I’d say it’s through a remarkable combination of no sleep, dehydration, piled-on hangovers, frito-piearhea, and the stresses of loading in and loading out and trying to park an out-of-state van while literally hundreds of others driving out-of-state vans are attempting similar feats, any and all inter-personal issues between band members come to light.
Dude: Among other things. But it’s a perfect storm, and it’s awesome! Everybody Hits the Wall. Everyone has lost their voice. Everyone’s in a bad mood. It feels impossible to force down those cans of domestic beer, but it’s drunk anyway, out of habit. You ask, “How you holdin’ up?” and you get the best answers! People are tired, they’re miserable, they’re hungover, they’re broke, they hate music, they hate their music, they hate the people in their band, they yearn for silence. Everyone’s bleary-eyed and haggard. Oh, the futility of it all! Why are we here?! Rod Rooter from Big Enterainment hasn’t been at the showcases to point his cocaine-stained index fingers and say, “You got the goods!” And by Saturday evening, at the parties, you play for no one. Because no one wants to hear music anymore. Sneak the Stones onto the bill of a house party on the east side. Nobody will give a shit! Sorry, Keef. Music is the worst!
Me: But it’s fun though, right? I mean, that’s the whole point. Beats workin’.
Dude: Sure, and as to hitting that wall, what’s great is that when you know it’s going to happen, and you know what to expect, then you can sit back and enjoy it. Two thousand bands played the 2013 SXSW, or so I was told. Two. Thousand. That’s a lot of quixotic ego coming face-to-face with exhaustion and rejection. Because so many drive thousands of miles to get there, then they play in front of three people, three people who are paying more attention to their smartphones anyways.
Dude: Uh-huh. So, hopefully, you learn to laugh at it, accept it, enjoy it, and know that this too shall pass. Because, for most, it’s a damn fool thing to do with one’s time. But it’s what you signed on for, right? And we haven’t even gotten into the financial part of it. You realize that somebody, somewhere (beer companies? Bars? Bartenders? Silicon Valley? Pepsi? “The Industry?”) is making pretty good money from this, and it ain’t you. Which is another reality to confront, sooner than later.
Me: And this is why you love it?
Dude: And this is why I love it. Yes. It’s a test, of sorts, of your brain, liver, heart, soul, conscience, constitution, and (most importantly) musicianship. OK, kid. You’re a unique snowflake and all, but behind your aloof demeanor and your tattoos and your taste in clothing and your haircut, do you really want to do this? Do you love music, even when you hate it? Like to party, bro? Yeah? Prove it. To yourself, because nobody else really gives a shit.
Me: So what’s the point. The end result?
Dude: When you push through the other side of that wall you confront on SXSW Saturdays, you’ve killed your inner ham-and-egger. You’ve slain the weekend warrior within. You’re a Road Dog—fartin’ freedom (aka Doritos Locos Tacos). There are no illusions and delusions. There’s no thinking about it. You go home, and you did have fun, and you hope you sucked less than you did before, and you hope you’re learning, and you will keep trying trying trying, [sings] “oooh I been dirt, but I don’t care,” and all you need is a night or three home, and you’re ready to get back out there, in spite of/because of.
Me: So I guess it’s “Thanks again, SXSW?”
Dude: Definitely. Hope to see you next year.