Written by Mary K. Moore, Assuming the Voice of an Old, Curmudgeonly Austinite
Hello from the front lines of the South by Southwest (SXSW) Music, Film and Interactive Festival. Most of you know my musings from the Austin Convalescent Center newsletter where I am Editor, Manager, Photographer, Columnist, and now that my grandson gave me his old inkjet, Publisher. People often ask me (well no one ever asks me): What was SXSW like back in the old days, when it was a sleepy little music festival whose only sponsor was the finest dope and best sorority ass this side of the Pecos River? A far cry from the corporate rapist that once a year overtakes our city, which sells its Texan soul for a bunch of free green tea in fancy bottles. Davy Crockett would lose his coonskin over this abomination. “Come and take it” indeed. As for me, rather I drink tea made of armadillo piss before I accepted that corporate swill. But I’m a veteran. A SXSW veteran. (And Vietnam, too. But no one cares about my war stories. And those who would, I had to leave behind in that tall grass, the chopper mercifully drowning out their cries.)
Anyhoo…It was the late 1980s. Back then, Lance Armstrong was just a cyclist with a full nutsack and an empty bank account. And SXSW was a little music show where you and four other people gathered in a yawning space to nod your head rhythmically, forced to buy the featured artist’s homemade cassettes by the sheer confrontational nature of the intimacy. Grunge was just the stuff between the bathroom tiles. We didn’t have Pearl Jam. We had Pearl’s Jam…and it was delicious, dammit! Sixth Street was between 5th and 7th. That’s all. And the Real World was the one that kicked your ass every single day that you came home from the power plant–now a Whole Foods bigger than the state of Rhode Island. We’re talking old school. Like the kind with an asbestos-lined auditorium and outdated textbooks. The kind that all Texas public school children enjoy.
Now SXSW is made up of hipsters. In this week alone I’ve seen more sunglasses than in a domestic violence shelter after Super Bowl Sunday. Come mid-March, the out-of-town assholes descend on this city faster than you can say breakfast taco. (What’s up with those anyway? I swear, you could roll up dog shit in a tortilla, serve it from an air steam window, and it would be scarfed down every gullet with a badge dangling from it.) What used to be a collection of label-less musicians looking for their big break turned into a glut of corporate-sponsored bands taking their names from simple nouns. Friend, if you haven’t heard The Vines close a set with a guitar solo from the Geico gecko, then you’re not at SXSW!
But it’s not just the music side that’s outgrown its britches. Ten years ago when they started the SXSW Film Festival, Robert Rodriguez was just another little violent random ruffian I had to scream at to get off my lawn. In fact, the First Annual Film Awards were hosted in Mike Judge’s family room. But the honors truly came into their own when they opened up the pool of Hall of Fame inductees–specifically, anyone who had ever touched down at the local municipal airport. And before they knew it, they were able to return Debra Winger to her crypt and start partying with the biggest stars ever stuck on a three-hour layover.
But no SXSW would be complete without some little punk bragging to me how they spotted Quentin Tarantino eating pancakes at 2 a.m. at some greasy spoon hole-in-the-wall. And to this I say, “Get the fuck off my grass, Rodriguez!”