Page Two: Rogue Waves
Ghosts of SXSW and the 'Chronicle' past
By Louis Black, Fri., March 11, 2011
Quinlan: You've been cookin' at this hour?
Tanya: Just cleanin' up.
Quinlan: Have you forgotten your old friend, hmm?
Tanya: I told you we were closed.
Quinlan: I'm Hank Quinlan.
Tanya: I didn't recognize you. You should lay off those candy bars.
Quinlan: It's either the candy or the hooch. I must say, I wish it was your chili I was gettin' fat on. Anyway, you're sure lookin' good.
Tanya: You're a mess, honey.
– The obese Police Captain Quinlan (Orson Welles) talking to the fortune-teller and prostitute Tanya (Marlene Dietrich) in Welles' Touch of Evil (1958)
The cover date of this issue is Friday, March 11, 2011, the first day of this year's South by Southwest, which kicks off with the Film and Interactive Festivals. It was two-and-a-half decades back that SXSW launched, initially as a regional music Conference and Festival that took place over a few days. It was never, it should be noted, exclusively or even predominantly focused on unsigned bands, but rather on regional indie acts, whether signed or not.
This year marks not only the 25th anniversary of SXSW but also the 30th anniversary of The Austin Chronicle, both bundled on top of each other to the point of some confusion, but both engendering the feeling that an overwhelming, oversized rogue wave of time is crashing down all around us. Not surprisingly, the stacked anniversaries are encouraging me, at least, to spend far more time dwelling on the past than thinking of the future, at least for right now, because as much as we are accused of being stuck in the past ("Now Austin was really cool, and you should have been here back when ..."), mostly those observations are to set a context for the present and future.
The only real way to survive voyages that take decades is to look forward. Looking back won't exactly turn one to salt, but it will surely slow you down, and also lead to miscalculating the best course ahead. Periodically, it makes sense to slow down and figure out where you are, where you've come from, and how you got from one to the other. The Chronicle and SXSW past and present have very much occurred in the open with the public bearing witness.
Currently the Austin History Center is featuring the exhibit "5X5Y: 25 Years of SXSW Music," running through July 31. It explores SXSW events and history with an enormous number of documents, photographs, posters, audio and video clips, and miscellaneous other materials. It makes it easy and fascinating to follow the path of SXSW's development and get a rich glimpse of its history (and Austin's), as well as its impact on the local, national, and international music scenes.
As part of the opening kickoff party for the exhibit this past Saturday, SXSW Managing Director Roland Swenson and I participated in a panel on SXSW moderated by Joe Nick Patoski at the History Center. There we were, telling old (and some new) war stories while sitting right by the exhibits.
Coincidentally, earlier that same Saturday, I had introduced Richard Linklater's Slacker for a Heritage Society of Austin screening at the Alamo Ritz. After the film, I did a Q&A. In so many ways, Slacker represents a chunk of shared past for many of us, both those in the movie and those from that time, even if they're not in it.
This layering of SXSW and the Chronicle is about many pasts: the past of the paper and the event, of Austin, and of many, many people who lived through all or part of that time, but also of those who were involved with, recorded by, engaged in, entertained by, worked for, or worked around one or both of them. These histories cover so much of my life here in Austin.
The effect of watching Slacker for the first time in a few years was compounded and even confused by viewing the extensive collection of materials – including many, many photos – illuminating the history of SXSW at the Austin History Center.
Ghosts of Me Past and All Too Present
Quinlan: Come on, read my future for me.
Tanya: You haven't got any.
Quinlan: Hmm? What do you mean?
Tanya: Your future's all used up.
– Welles' Touch of Evil (1958)
Surprisingly, and somewhat unfortunately, the overall impact on me of all of this convergence was much more like waking up in a horror story (where you find that the despicable fiend is yourself) than any idyllic landscape of rainbows, fireworks, and pie. It is a story neither contrived nor fictionalized but sadly accurate about how ill-served some of us have been by time. Not that this horror story has caused great personal regrets leading to a lamentation for evils done and unwise choices made, but simply one resulting from a catalog of one's own decomposition over two-and-a-half decades. Looking at the remarkably fresh-faced, youngish folks we were at the beginning of these great adventures compared with the way we look now, emphasized that I, at least, have become a decrepit, worn-out zombie, wearing every inch traveled and incident survived on my face as though a tattooed record.
The only saving grace, however, is that as remarkably young as I look in some of the photos (and actually even quite fit in a few of them), my feelings at the time never matched those looks. In many ways, I was born a misanthropic, cranky old man, and over the years this quality was fueled and has not abated. Thus, I have no memories of ever having felt young and fresh – only those of complaining, muttering, and aching.
Still, even though it is just a pictorial documentation with no emotional resonance, coming face-to-face with the transition so plainly documented was tough.
Two New Books
The occasion of the joint anniversaries has seen the publication of two different books from UT Press.
The Austin Chronicle Music Anthology, edited by Austin Powell and Doug Freeman, is an anthology of 30 years of music coverage in the Chronicle, from late 1981 through today. Not only does it offer some of the best writing from that period; it's also a trip to read contemporary coverage of 30 years of Austin music, written by some of the sharpest and wittiest observers on the scene.
SXSW Scrapbook: People and Things That Went Before, edited by Peter Blackstock, Jason Cohen, and Andy Smith, relates the story of SXSW's first 25 years by documenting that history with lots of information and an encyclopedia of personal observations, accompanied by an archive of related photos and other images.
The chapter covering each year begins with a by-the-numbers section (including such categories as registrants, bands, and venues). Each year's Austin Music Awards show lineup is included, as is the SXSW keynote speaker. Then noted are such categories as "Memorable Panels," "Notable Panelists," "Memorable Showcases and Events," "Some of the Austin Acts," and "Whatever Happened To." Accompanying this info are both historical essays by the editors and others as well as the personal reminiscences of a small army of SXSW veterans. The group includes Howe Gelb, Britt Daniel, Vicki Peterson, Robyn Hitchcock, and Steve Wynn, among many others. Running through the whole book in very small type is a complete list of every band that ever played SXSW.
This year introduces SXSatellite at the Regal Arbor Cinema in North Austin and the Regal Westgate to the south. The main idea behind this is to allow Austinites who would like to see some of the films playing in the Festival to have access to them without having to drive Downtown. The programming at the Westgate and Arbor won't be exclusive, but will complement what is being featured in the rest of the Festival.
The 2010-11 Austin Music Awards Show and Poll Results
The 2010-11 Austin Music Awards show will be on Saturday, March 19, at the Austin Music Hall. The 29th annual awards show, beginning at 7:09pm sharp, is the ending celebration for SXSW Music 2011. The lineup this year includes the Wagoneers featuring Monte Warden with special guest Joe Ely, storied Sixties band Bubble Puppy, the Bright Light Social Hour, and the Meat Puppets with Roky Erickson. The evening will close with a concert-length set from Mother Falcon.
For several decades now, The Austin Chronicle has published the results of its annual Music Poll on the first Wednesday of the South by Southwest Music Festival because the awards show was that night.
Since the show has moved to Saturday:
The results of the 2010-11 Austin Chronicle Music Poll will be posted online (austinchronicle.com/musicpoll) on the evening of Saturday, March 19. This will be concurrent with the Austin Music Awards show. The results will be printed in the Chronicle that comes out the week after SXSW, with a street date of March 25.
Presented by The Austin Chronicle and SXSW and co-sponsored by 93.3 KGSR and the Art Institute of Austin, the event is a benefit for the SIMS Foundation. This year, the Music Awards show will air live on channelAustin (Channel 10). Tickets are currently on sale at Waterloo Records. The price is $15 in advance and $20 the night of the show. Your SXSW badges and wristbands include entry to the Austin Music Awards.
SXSW ScreenBurn Arcade, SXSW's video game Festival takes place at the Austin Convention Center. Free and open to the public, Friday, March 11 (2-6pm) and Saturday-Sunday, March 12-13 (noon-6pm).
Free shows at the Auditorium Shores stage on Lady Bird Lake:
Thursday, March 17: Luke Rathborne, 6pm; Twin Shadow, 7pm; the Strokes, 8pm. Friday, March 18: Suzanna Choffel, 6pm; World Party, 7pm; Blue October, 8pm.
Saturday, March 19: begins with an afternoon family-friendly show. The Groundwork Music Orchestra, 12:40pm; Ozokidz, 1:30pm; and MarchFourth Marching Band, 2:30pm. Then the lineup continues: Kurt Vile & the Violators, 3:30pm; Man Man, 4:30pm; Middle Brother, 5:30pm; the Felice Brothers, 6:15pm; Bright Eyes, 7:30pm.
Friday through Saturday, the convention center will host the Texas Guitar Show and the Flatstock 29 poster show, both of which will be free and open to all from 10am to 6pm. Visit www.sxsw.com/collectors for hours of operation and more info about these exciting exhibitions.