It’s A Wrap, Or All Things Must Pass

Austin, TX: 3/20/04

Saturday gets into fab gear with one of the architects of the 60′s, Andrew Loog Oldham. He’s a graying gent, now, and his memory is mostly kind except in a very few occasions (“Brian Jones: he was a pain in the ass. A whinger and a moaner.” “Phil Spector: antidepressants and martinis don’t mix!”)

We hear about the early days of the Stones, from the time they’d taken over the residency at the Richmond Station Hotel from the Yardbirds; their recording of the Beatles’ I wanna be your man that John and Paul pretended to finish writing on the fly just for them; and Mick and Keith finally starting to write on their own (but not locked up in a room until they produced a song, as the legend has it.) One remark tossed off casually, that in writing songs, the sound of words is more important than the words themselves, is something that I’ve always believed to be true but that many deny heatedly. Yet a good “sha la la” or “be bop a lula” is worth a thousand words!

From the old statesman to the young businesswoman: Andrew Loog Oldham made way for Ani DiFranco, and the audience changed accordingly. A lot of her comments focussed, quite naturally, on the process of independent music making, it’s joys and its pitfalls, and its motto: “get a gig; then get another gig!”

Into the stretch… The evening starts inauspiciously: Angel Dean & Sue Garner, an old-time, traditional acoustic duo at times reminiscent of the Everly Brothers, were booked into Coyote Ugly, a new venue that takes its name too literally. The bartenders dance on the bar; they also straddle the chattering customers, whip them with leather belts and tie leashes around their necks; they do body-shots; they rub lime slices onto one another’s crotch with their teeth; they hop along the entire length of the bar like demented rabbits with taps! Hello? Acoustic music venue?

From the east side to the west: Mary Lou Lord is setting up on 6th Street as I walk past, toward the former, lamented Waterloo brewery that is now the Fox and Hound. The set-up is the same as in earlier years, a covered stage set in the middle of the courtyard on the side of the building, but what’s new is the huge satellite dish on top of the terrace, beaming some televised sport to a noisy crowd whose whoops at times drown the music down below. Steve Tannen and Deb Talan, a.k.a. The Weepies –why “Weepies,” I don’t know; their record is called “Happiness”– play on despite the noise, folkies in the mold of Simon and Garfunkel, except that they both play the guitar, and that Deb’s clenched-teeth delivery reminds me of Mike Ferrio of Tandy. They’re fun and not weepy in the least, and the audience is appreciative.

From the west back to the east. Mary Lou Lord has a good crowd on her street corner now, but we’re hurrying back toward Coyote Ugly for Tammy Faye Starlite “l-i-t-e like the adjective”, who is the one person who can be expected to be able to tame the unruly Uglies. And so she does. Tammy’s rude, she’s crude, she’s Mel Gibson’s wet dream and worst nightmare. The medium is country, the message is XXX, the crowd laps it up, and the bartenders stay behind the bar.

Time out for a couple of Fuller’s London Porter at Lovejoy’s, just across the street, and it’s back on 6th for a non-SXSW show: the popular Austin punk band Cruiserweight or, as they would put it, “cruiserweight” is playing at the Flamingo Cantina after midnight. Stella, the singer, is a small, jumping bundle of energy –the ultimate quantum. She pirouettes, bounces, gesticulates like a disjointed robot, and barely escapes various flying bodies and guitars on stage. The audience is mostly local, though there are a few SXSW badges here and there, and they sing along to most of the songs. My feet are beginning to complain; fortunately, that’s it for the evening.

Austin, TX: 3/21/04

If it’s Sunday, it’s softball and barbecue. Despite a dodgy forecast, the weather is cooperating. The softball tournament is already under way when we arrive to the playing field (eventually, the club owners’ team will win over the print media’s) so we pile high a plate of Ruby’s barbecue and sit on the bleachers to watch the games (injuries! flying catches! sliding into first but coming to a halt 3 feet short! a double play! a 22-0 score!) and chat with fellow survivors of another year of madness.

It’s not over, though. We’re not leaving until Monday, which leaves us time for dinner at the Bitter End (mixed green salad with glazed pecans and goat cheese, and rib eye with tomato coulis, barbecued zucchini, and penne for me, with a glass of the wee heavy; the same salad, and salmon with mushrooms, corn, and black beans for Linus, with the excellent O’Brien stout) and a final visit to Emo’s for The Dung Beatles. Crude, lewd, bewigged and bejacketted, they’re just like the Beatles except scatological, and they regale us with the soundtrack for their movie “Felch!” It’s well done, in a “what were they thinking!” kind of way, and would not breach our defenses on any other day, but by now we’re helpless and they know it. Oh, and they squat between songs, too…

Next, and also from Austin, Ping, a band with several members, and shiny lights, and … I don’t much remember what else. Definitely a guitar, probably some kind of keyboard? Not heinous, I think.

Finally, and I stayed only because Linus wanted to check them out, The Diamond Smugglers. Same guys as the Dung Beatles, plus backup singers and a Neil Diamond impersonator. I know this not. Don’t ask me.

There’s still packing to do, fitting the loot between the socks and the underwear, and remembering to put the scissors in the checked bag. Sleep.

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