War Stories Panel
Austin Convention Center, Thursday, Mar 16 Stanley Booth's hands are as beautiful as his Southern prose. Tennessee-born, Georgia-bound author of what most likely remains the best book written on the World's Greatest Rock & Roll Band, The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones -- due for reissue later this year according to its author -- Booth's finely sculpted fingers and long, perfectly manicured nails embodied this elegant Southern raconteur. Seated at the center of a long panel of distinguished music critics past and present (insert joke here), Booth cut a figure befitting his stature as a respected rock & roll poet. A healthy, well-cut mane of salt and pepper shag and a smart sports coat framed a handsome face that conjured what Gram Parsons might have looked like in his 50s. Naturally, though, it was his voice that did the talking, a downy drawl enveloping his thoughtful, carefully worded stories like music he had heard mixed in with the wind and trees in the Memphis of his youth. "That sound entered into the fiber of my being," said Booth, a faraway look in his knowing eyes, and a wistful tone in his soothing voice. When Booth spoke, everyone listened. South by Southwest has always done an exceptional job of sitting down conference headliners like Carl Perkins, Tony Bennett, and Patti Smith for one-on-one Q&A's, and if ever a writer begged for the same treatment, it was Booth. Not that he wasn't in good company: old school Rolling Stone vets-turned-scholars Ben Fong-Torres, Ed Ward, John Morthland; onetime Cream queen Jaan Uhelszki; and New York Times music critic Ann Powers all brought colorful war stories to a panel moderated by Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith. While Ed Ward cited a paranoid, coked-out Marvin Gaye as his absolute worst interview, Fong-Torres called his encounter with the soul legend one of his best interviews, the Bay Area writer revealing along the way that he had spent the last week of Otis Redding's life documenting the writing and recording of "Dock of the Bay." Uhelszki chuckled with good-natured embarrassment at her assessment of the "thugs" at Creem, who would routinely trash -- in print -- those acts they'd been denied access to, recounting the time Iggy Pop came up to the magazine's office and had a trashcan handed to him as a hat. "Theatre of the absurd," Uhelszki remarked. Powers brought a contemporary spin to the proceedings with her own tales of trashings: her own, at shows where reviewers from The New York Times are frowned upon. One way or another, though, the proceeding always gravitated back to Booth, who it seems charmed everybody with his candid admissions ("I've made an amazingly small amount of money doing this, because I've written about things I wanted"), and equally candid rock & roll romanticism ("There was an element of idealism to the Stones playing in Auburn back then, because they could've been somewhere else making more money, but they felt they were needed in Auburn, and by God, they were)." In the end, Booth all but defined this splendid panel: "I was at Altamont. I saw a guy killed in front of me. You want to talk about 'War Stories'? I've seen war in rock & roll."