Sunday, March 20, 2005


South by Drunkwest

For the 13th consecutive year, I braved the crowds, the weather, and the uneven performances of the South by Southwest Music Festival. One would think that I, a grizzled veteran, would know how to avoid the main pitfalls of going to the shows everyone wants to attend, and drinking too much too early. I regret to say I am never entirely successful.

Some things were different this year. My friend B., who has provided me with the $150 wristband that grants access to everything, could not come through this year. Since he had given me over a thousand dollars' worth of wristbands in the past, I had nothing to be upset about. He felt badly, though, and came up with some compensation.

First, he got me on the guest list for Schmoozefest 2005, also known as the Austin Music Awards. This is the premiere people-watching event on the Austin music scene, with a complete cross-section of humanity crammed into the Austin Music Hall. I did not have access to the VIP area, where the world-class schmoozing takes place; but there is still plenty to see and laugh about with our extended circle of friends, which we refer to as The Tribe. The award presentations, with their interminably self-congratulatory acceptance speeches, are broken up with a variety of musical acts. Up first was Pinetop Perkins, the octogenarian barrelhouse piano player. Music definitely keeps you young (or in the case of Keith Richards, keeps you alive). Later, John Cale performed with The Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra, which was a real treat. Cale has been there and done that in the business. He partied with Andy Warhol, for Pete's sake. I was unable to stay for the later acts, as I am a (marginally) responsible adult who has to be at work at 7:30 AM. This fact, combined with my lack of a wristband, keep me at home Thursday and Friday nights, watching college basketball. More on that in a future post.

I was planning on attending the free outdoor show Saturday; B. had assured me VIP access, with free beer and food. Then my friend S. called, asking if I would hit the clubs if he provided a wristband. I didn't know where he got it, nor did I care. After waiting for some violent thunderstorms to pass through (insane changes in the weather are a fact of life in Central Texas), I headed down to the show. My VIP access turned to be S. handing his pass to me over the fence, which I then used to get in without incident. The storms had left a strong, cold wind in the area; I immediately began pounding beer to keep ahead of it. Although it kept me from freezing, it did not provide much of a mind-altering effect, either; others complained about "drinking twelve beers and not getting a buzz." I told them that four consecutive nights of partying had caused them to develop an immunity to suds. The last two acts of the night were sublime. Del Castillo--I was going to describe them as Latin-flavored rock, but perhaps it's more accurate to say they're rock-flavored Latino. At any rate, the two brothers who play guitar are mind-bendingly accurate and tight. As for the Neville Brothers, they are beyond my limited powers of description. Their shows are a quasi-religious experience for those who love music.

Having said that, we left during the Neville Brothers to explore some of the other 1300+ bands in town. Unfortunately, we made a long walk to see a bad Italian act, which is a chance you have to take at SXSW. Later, S. and I saw Dwight Twilley, who was good, but I was fading fast. Have I mentioned that I am old and verrrry out-of-shape? I wanted to stay for Ronnie Montrose, but all I could think about was finding a cab to take me my back to my car, which was two miles away at this point. Thus ends this year's sojourn at SXSW. Will I brave the drunks in sardine-can nightclubs again next year?

You bet.

Monday, March 14, 2005


The Flip-side of Freedom

There's been a lot of talk about freedom lately. Recent events in Iraq and the Ukraine show us that freedom and democracy are such attractive concepts that people want them, no matter how ham-fisted and amateurish the delivery system. It seems that tyranny has no long-term future.

But freedom has a symbiant, without which it cannot long survive. It is tolerance, a concept no one seems to be talking about. After the United States spent considerable blood and treasure dismantling the Taliban, the president's supporters on the religious right appear hell-bent (pardon the pun) on creating a Christian Taliban right here, branding dissent as un-American and organizing campaigns against any perceived threat, even SpongeBob. And before anyone accuses me of bias, let me note that a conservative speaker can scarcely open his mouth on a college campus these days without being shouted down by leftist students, a practice every bit as odious as anything dreamed up by a preacher with beautiful hair and a $2000 suit. We have entered an era where an honest difference of opinion is viewed as a character flaw by the other side. We don't want to walk a mile in another person's shoes; we want to burn his shoes, and make walking barefoot illegal.

Our national discourse should not become a zero-sum game. Please bear this in mind while watching cable-news pundits describe the president as a simpleton tool of big business, or compare Hillary Clinton unfavorably with Satan. The erosion of tolerance leaves the back door open for tyranny. Anywhere. Even here.

Sunday, March 13, 2005


A Toe in the Water

Look at the people;
In the streets, in the bars.
We are, all of us, in the gutter;
Some of us are looking at the stars.

Look around the room--
Life is unkind.
We fall, but we keep getting up,
Over and over and over and over...
--The Pretenders, "Message of Love"

I don't know exactly what I'm trying to accomplish here. I just know I have an itch that needs scratching, and blogging looks like the perfect solution. The times we live in are a target-rich environment, rife with people and institutions in dire need of a Web-based asskicking. I assure you, Gentle Reader, I am the right person for the job. I am long on vocabulary and short on tact. If you are easily offended, well...I will offend you. In fact, I'm probably not doing this right if no one is offended. Feel free to comment on my posts; I will read them. Do not, however, expect me to respond with any regularity. You see, although I do want readers, and I want them to be entertained, I'm not really doing this for you. I'm doing it for me. So I'm going to make me happy, and hopefully others will want to come along for the ride.

Next time...the flip-side of freedom.

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