Page Two: Mea Culpa Redux, and Again Mea Culpa

Confessions of an evil dwarf

Page Two
The Sunday morning that begins the last day of South by Southwest is a coda to the event, a thoughtful postscript lacking the insanity and cacophony of the nine days preceding it. In the evening, instead of 70 showcases, there are only three. There is the softball tournament and barbecue during the day, almost always well along by the time I awake. I feel it distantly – in the same way, but without the intensity, that I feel electric connections to the tidal wave of activities and events that are SXSW. Even to those I don't witness or experience, I feel a certain connection, as preparations have been going on for so long.

But this morning is lazier and fresher. There is the sense of relief that it is almost over, and as deep a sense of loss for the same reason. It goes by too quickly to really experience except in these distantly connected ways. It is, and then it is over.

I lie in the bed, the overcast light of the day drifting in through the hotel room windows. Still, nothing is illuminated. I have no eyes, and I must see, to paraphrase Harlan Ellison. Adrenaline has evaporated; any residue of energy is exhausted; excitement has mutated into the aching pain of a body too beat up. "Why does hard livin' come so easy to me?"

At first, I can't move. When I finally get out of bed, I will embrace the riddle of the Sphinx, pain in every joint, walking like one who has been abed for weeks, not hours. My body is bloated, distorted, and in pain; my eyes have been run through a disposal unit for minutes, the pieces haphazardly glued back together.

There is a mid-Thirties cartoon, The Sunshine Makers, produced by Van Buren Studios for Borden Milk. In it, a village of overly happy, Smurf-like dwarves produces milk while singing irritatingly pleasant songs to the sun and fresh air. Across the way is another community of morbid little creatures, all dressed like undertakers, chanting about how sad they are and, in a sense, how happy they are that they are so completely sad. A war breaks out between the two, with the forces of morbid darkness raining arrows of black despair upon the smugly joyful imps. They respond by shooting endless amounts of milk upon the heart of darkness, until flowers burst into bloom and the evil blackness springs forth bathed in light. I feel as though I am the no-man's land between these forces, absolutely in sync with both, but really of neither.

Next week, in this column, I'll undertake the noxious, pathetic task of trying to write about SXSW in more practical terms. This discussion is futile; there is no hope of providing coherence or explaining logically what and how SXSW is, what it does, or why it does that to those so angrily and happily convinced of what it isn't.

I don't want to venture into the emotional quicksand of offering explanations where no structures of support should even be attempted, as there is nothing solid against which to brace them.

Those who know of our evil, corrupt, greedy, and destructive ways know. They do so completely and without question, as they are absolutely invested in this knowing. Trying to convey our feelings and sense of it all will make the Hunchback of Notre Dame look strong and articulate; the very words I use will connote exactly the opposite of what I am trying for. Explanation will seem equivocation; reasoning will seem lame rationalizing; trying to offer our conception of what is right will be perceived as dripping of the oozing fat of cancerous corruption.

Ordinarily, I wouldn't even do it. Rather, I would tell a joke while picking up a straw hat and cane for a song-and-dance routine. But recently, I wrote about how the city has never really given financial aid to SXSW. In light of this year's fee waivers, the righteously indignant, the consistently suspicious, the delirious naysayers, and the pure, holy, and self-anointed critics of all and anything that is done have staged a celebratory assault on SXSW that makes the Teddy Bears' Picnic look demure by comparison.

On this particular Sunday morning, I am just hoping that feeling returns to my legs so I can stop hobbling, that the pain reigning in every joint subsides in at least a few, and the ache of any bend of the body will lessen. As I am Jabba the Hut-like in my conscious, expansive corruption, I wish I were also in my body, at least this morning, when all is deflated and coated in small pains.

SXSW is Austin; it is of Austin and based on Austin. This we all know. People come to SXSW neither because of business nor to be chic and hip. They come because they love music, film, and ideas and because they love to talk and listen; they come because of the clubs, the theatres, barbecue, Tex-Mex, and the people. SXSW is not artificially born out of our genius, and each and every one of us knows that. It is Austin. A week before or a week after the Sundance Film Festival, Park City, Utah, is a ski-resort town. But Austin is always Austin – it's just a lot more so during SXSW.

SXSW is consistent with and a part of everything that Roland Swenson, Nick Barbaro, and I – along with our friends, co-workers, staffs, running buddies, compatriots, comrades, and fellow travelers – have done over the years. We honor this town, celebrate and respect it.

I am not pleading innocent to any charge. I am not challenging any accusation. This year, I became, more than ever, the poster child for all that is corrupt, evil, and wrong with SXSW – some of those things being real, others imagined. I accept this position with honor. Once I believed my future was so without possibility that I wouldn't even be lucky enough to end up with a job in a convenience store. Now I represent the forces of pure, unmitigated evil. Lying on the bed alone in this room, I am like one of those completely mad, megalomaniac psychopaths in a sword-and-sorcery film, relishing the villainous deeds I've done and the evil to come. I deny it not.

Everywhere, there were posts celebrating day parties and touting non-SXSW, evening events as the way to go: free beer and great music to be enjoyed without either a wristband or giving a penny to SXSW Inc. There were lists of these parties and maps to where they were. Yet, despite this secrecy, it was SXSW that caused them to be overcrowded.

All that is good about SXSW happens in spite of us; of everything dark and down, we have sole authorship. We plot and plan all year to thwart any- and everyone's fun. We try to make the events truly dark. As in The Sunshine Makers, we shoot thousands of arrows of darkness into the air, hoping to spread our evil across the city. In spite of our best efforts, there is joy. No matter how hard we try, so many people still manage to enjoy themselves. Grinch-like, I fume and fuss, wondering where we have failed.

Our dark agents travel the city doing evil. We make Moriarty and Fu Manchu look benign. We are there to pull the rug out from under, to trip the unsuspecting, to lay the banana peel at exactly the wrong place.

All the people who enjoy and/or benefit from SXSW know just how malignant we are. Our year-in and year-out efforts at causing doom and spreading despair are worthless. The real SXSW is at the parties others throw, in the folks they entertain, and in the sales they make. The others are the true authors of SXSW, the architects of its warmth, the champions of its qualities. They deserve all kudos!

That SXSW has to comply with every city regulation is mundane. That police, housing, and fire officials routinely visit SXSW clubs and venues during the event is meaningless. The idea SXSW often chafes under city restrictions and because of dealings with city representatives is just a fiction. The amount of planning, negotiation, thought, meeting, and care we devote to following city ordinances and restrictions is, to most folks, just nonexistent. That we have a liaison just to work with the city so that we are in compliance is a hallucination. That we have absolutely no control over fire marshals, the police, housing authorities, and city officials in general is not true! We control the city! All the times SXSW clubs were visited, warned, fined, or emptied were simply diversions to mask our power and control ... AhhHaa!

I am a malicious son of a bitch, and I'm very proud of myself.

SXSW starts – and, then, exploding, it rips and tumbles with all the grace of vicious, white-water rapids. There is almost no place one can stand and breathe, no oasis of calm that would allow those of us who put it on to actually partake of it. SXSW moves at the speed of light, except when it slows to the crawl of a snail, before rapidly returning to peak speeds.

SXSW was rough for me this year, in any number of ways. But on Saturday night, I stood for an hour and watched the people on the street. All week, I felt the energy in the air and witnessed the pleasure that so many people felt. According to many, the SXSW staff stood in the way: The nearly 1,600 bands were dupes, and our extraordinary volunteers – who define and shape the event as far as I'm concerned – were fools.

In that last Sunday morning, moving slowly, in pain and stupid, there is a peace. Perhaps this is because SXSW achieves, to some extent, what we have been working at and for all our lives. Because SXSW represents what Austin is, as well as what it is about. Because SXSW is almost exactly what the idea of this city means and has always meant to me. Or maybe it is simple gratitude to all the people who made SXSW happen. According to us, that would be so many, many different people; according to others, it would be every one of those except for those of us at SXSW. end story

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

sxsw, South by Southwest, SXSW, city of Austin, SXSW afterparties, The Sunshine Makers

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