South By Southwest Diary
So we close the bar at the Four Season's Hotel and walk back to the clunkhole we're staying in. The lobby is like the one in the shining. It's 2:45 AM . we walk in and I immediately gravitate to the piano in the lobby and sit down & play Laura. My three friends are cheering me on. I segue into "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing" and "Three Coins In The Fountain" Im drawing a small crowd and some girl requests a Ray Charles number. My 3 pals convince the gal to lie atop the piano and sing What I Say while I play it. They are snapping photos voraciously. The girl is pretty cute but her boyfriend looks like Slash with purple hair. When he gets up on the piano, I retire. Just then the parking attendant comes huffing through the lobby muttering to himself:
"Hey - its south by southwest - wadda they expect ? chop-chop fUcking service ???"
You hadda be there....................
I was in this Mentor program where ya sit at a table with your name on it and they parade these wideeyed kids in to ask you questions. They get fifteen minutes mano a mano with each mentor. So there's this A&R guy named Allen Mintz sitting there and this gorgeous red headed gal in a miniskirt gets shown to his table. My attention is aroused and I'm pupil-vacant at that moment. They are way across the room so I cant hear any dialogue, but it's apparent she's brought a walkman and hands him a pair of phones and she also slips on a pair. In best A&R ponytail tradition, his eyes close and he gives it his best listening shot. The moment the music starts (I'm guessing), the redhead starts silently lip-synching to the tape in an animated Madonna way directly in Mintz's face whose eyes are closed and is missing the whole thing. She is gesticulating, waving her arms in the air, pointing her finger in his face and he is oblivious to the whole thing. I'm dying. I motion to Bob Mould who's at the table next to me to come over and we both are watching this madwoman while Mintz is still in dreamland. Thank heaven I had someone to share it with.........
Sixth Street is the Bourbon Street/Beale Street/Haight Street/Bleeker Street/ of Austin. For SXSW, they close it off to traffic at night, and let the masses pour over it like Aunt Jemima on flapjacks for seven blocks. One just knows that the locals are horror-fied and stay in their abodes until this Plague leaves town. They set up a stage on one of the sidestreets and headline Joan Osborne on Thursday night. Polygram buys the main ballroom at the Driskill Hotel which has a balcony that overlooks that street. They also buy out the stage that night and put on only Polygram acts culminating with Joan dear. My friend Jimmy has a friend who has a room in the Driskill Hotel with its own private balcony that overlooks the stage. This is the place to be for Osborne's concert. We sit like rich, civilized, white men, while the crowd stretches 4 city blocks in front of the stage and one block behind it. It looks like Times Square New Years Eve. We sip champagne and feel literally above it all. Thank God for Jimmy's friend. Joan puts on a pretty good show. The crowd adores her. I like it but the drummer pisses me off. Not enough simple 2 & 4 for alfonts. Friday night I stay in the room and rest up for the strarwars bar later that night .
Saturday we go to the AustinRecords Convention. It's huger than its ever been. A vinyl collectors nightmare/dream come true. My lawyer, an avid collector, whose shelves of collectables came crashing down in the Northridge quake narrowly missing me, his houseguest, drops a cool $300 the first day. I use tantric control and purchase an Al Kooper Armadillo World Headquarters poster from 1976, and some Beatle shirts for Bill Lloyd & myself. I will return Sunday to see if my zen control is intact. (I'm much more helpless in an import CD shop).
Saturday night I stroll the warzone of Sixth Street in the aftermath of a thunderstorm which did not discourage the amateurs. It looks like a cross between the 60's Haight, and the depiction of 12/31/99 in the film Strange Days. It is clearly an anamoly for the end of the world and the comparison is not lost on me. Young kids with that patented vacancy of youth in their eyes tumble past me like so many white zombies. Angry live punk cacaphonies pour out of every storefront providing the soundtrack for the end of the world. I am invisible. Everyone looks right through me with very few exceptions. I am everyparent in a world I dont belong in. My sociological curiosity sated temporarily, I make for a club where my friend Jules Shear is appearing at the stroke of midnight. Outside I am stopped by Gary Lucas, one of Captain Beefhearts last bandleaders and a fascinating gutarist in his own right. He helps me kill the half hour I need to and I invite him in order to be socially correct. The moment we enter this barely upholstered sewer, I let him off the hook. There is loud punk cacophony blaring from bookend stages into this room Jules is gonna play acoustic in. It's disgraceful. I stay for Bird In A Cage (that Jules knows how to open with irony) and We Were Only Making Love then take it on the lam. I see friends from Nashville everywhere.
It's last call Saturday night. I'm sitting at a table in my hotel's arcane bar with the constituents of a bi-city publicity firm and the guy that edits the Gavin Report industry tipsheet. A guy walks by with the fattest cigar possible and one of the ladies asks him to stroll on. At the risk of alienating some of you, most people that smoke cigars are assholes. Its not my fault. I dont care for the bouquet but I suffer it rather than engage them in conversation and have them come nearer yet with their cigar and assholian repartee'. So I figure this woman has made a mistake.
Sure enough, Smokey walks up to our table and inquires: "Is there a problem here ?" I'm not taking this bait. I just clam up. She just wants him to move on with his big fat cigar, is all, she says. He is belligerent . "What are you ? Industry geeks havin your free drinks and talkin music biz shit?" Still I'm silent. "What do you do?" he says.
Gavin guy reads Smokey's name tag and says he's from Nashville like most of us and we should be more friendly. Smokey finds out what Gavin guy does and starts with him :
"Oh sure - you run that self-congratulatory rag where all you schmucks jizz all over each other in print, right ???"
Still I'm silent. Gavin retorts - "What do YOU do ?"
Smokey puffs and speaks and reeks: "I'm in a band. We play at all the gay bars (eyes narrowing) homosexuals, ya know ???"
Words well up in my throat. I can't quell them any longer: "So, then your cigar's just in there temporarily, right ???"
The table erupts in enough laughter to bring the security guard & Smokey departs. I go up to my room, play mandolin til dawn and fall into a fitful nap. So much for Saturday Night in Austin.
BACK HOME IN NASHVEGAS
First off, I have never slept harder than I slept last night. I woke up at three AM and the power was off. Thought to myself: "wow - the powers off.." and went promptly back into the arms of morpheus.
HERE'S WHAT I THINK
SXSW and their ilk are not a good idea for bands that are trying to get signed. The venues, for the most part, are inappropriate. The sound systems suck. Audience people are jammed inside to a degree that would give a fire inspector apoplexy (sp?). Most star A&R folk won't put up with that much discomfort. The bands do not get paid and are tense beyond belief cause their careers are allegedly on the line. This does not breed an evening of superb musical entertainment. That is not to say that some gigs will fall thru the cracks and be memorable & helpful. But generally speaking, I'll take a showcase in the band's hometown anytime.
If a buzzband with a new release can get into a good, comfortable venue (i.e. Hotel ballroom, actual theater) and they really are capable of playing live better than their CD, it makes sense to do the gig there.
If a name act is having trouble being credible in the alternative world (read: industry) because of too much success and gives a sh-t about that situation, then it makes sense to play there. I think Joan Osborne and Randy Newman did themselves a lot of good by performing at SXSW.
But, if you're just a punter, or an industry person, who has the cost of a badge in the bank and wants to kill a long weekend, this can be a great deal of fun. The mexican food is some of the best in the world (so I'm told), one of the biggest record collector shows unspools that same weekend in austin yearly, the weather is a welcome relief for snowbirds, and the hotel bar scene is unparelleled for parodies of the music biz .
I had a great time and got to hang with my crew:
Danny Kapilian, Mike Goldsmith & Jimmy O'Donnell. I had very nice conversations with Bob Mould, Glen Burtnick, DJ Fontana (The King's drummer!), Arthur Brown (the god of hellfire) and Gary Lucas - all people I had never spoken to at length before. I met Big House, some great guys from Bakersfield just signed to MCA, a guitar player from Huevos Rancheros (an all instrumental band from Canada), and Dusty Wakeman, an alternative producer from LA. All in all, an experience I'd like to share again next year.
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