Mid-Texas midlife melodies, and other diversions (March 26, 2002)

I don’t know a lot about music in Texas, but the music scene in Austin is alive and kicks heavily. (The roads, however, are where you really have to be brave. Trucks everywhere, and all on a mission. Favorite bumper sticker spied to date: “Texas/Bigger than France”). Earlier this month I experienced my first SXSW, the biggest music biz conference/festival in the US, as a volunteer no less (interesting, but…never again). I did get to sit in on a couple of not-bad panels and saw some decent shows: the Silos, Kristie Stremel (big fun), Mayflies USA, Amy Rigby..way too much going on to catch everything I wanted, but it was OK.

One of the highlights was finally getting to see Rigby, who played a 1 a.m. showcase upstairs at a sedate Indian restaurant called the Clay Pit. The Girlfriend and I both felt she was as engaging and captivating onstage as on record; I loved the guitar heroics towards the end (really), and the Girlfriend noted that Amy was the only singer-songwriter we’d seen that night (there were two others) who: 1) introduced herself from the stage, 2) didn’t make self-aggrandizing or sophomoric remarks passing as stage patter (asking the audience to buy her and the band members drinks, etc.), and 3) talked to the audience as if they were friends…she was, in short, an adult. After the show, she came out into the club and sold some CDs while talking with fans (also, the only one to bother doing this). We introduced ourselves and had a pleasant chat, and that was nice. I was impressed that she asked me if I missed Slovenia, since most people I talk to about it expect me to feel like I’ve been released from prison, which isn’t at all the case.

Since my return I’ve been busy filling in the cultural blanks I missed out on overseas (another expat hazard, you don’t get the fine subtleties and some hometown pop culture passes you by…which of course ain’t necessarily a bad thing. I must be the last American who’s never seen an episode of “Survivor”). Music-wise, I’ve definitely gotten that our generation has gotten big into alt-country, a/k/a “Americana” (I notice that there’s no such category available on the Yahoo groups, but if you’re not quite sure what alt-country is, pick up a copy of No Depression magazine, published out of Nashville and available at any bookstore where cappuccino foam is spooned). And last week I finally reassembled my stereo system and played some LPs I’d had in storage since `96; I’m happy.

I like Amy Rigby because she writes music (with wit and heart) for the real world; as anyone can tell, she lives in it along with the rest of us. I liked a comment she made at a SXSW songwriters’ panel: “I feel like I’ve really succeeded if I can take my experiences and put them in a song and then have other people paste their experiences right on top of it.” Not to get carried away, but I also find that what Amy and plenty of other LBers are doing — i.e., performing against all odds — is inspirational; it seems to validate my own interest in such matters. There’s something heroic about going out there after 40, when you’re supposed to have long since put away your teenage dreams and retired to the house and kids, or at least a respectable day job. At the least, it’s good to know you’re not alone in your obsessions.

I should probably also mention a heavily attended public interview given by the half-lucid, half-incoherent, but always amusing Courtney Love (at 37, she qualifies as a LateBoomer, doesn’t she? Even Kurt Cobain would have been 35 this year), who’s involved in much-publicized litigation against her label and by extension, the entire record industry, with better artists’ contracts in mind. Courtney wasn’t the only one at SXSW who predicted the entire music business was headed for a crash in three years; as far as I’m concerned, it couldn’t come too soon. I know much more than I want to (don’t we all) about the way the deck is stacked against talented musicians with something to say, and in favor of the mindless machinery of Clear Channel and its ilk. I can only hope that what comes after won’t be quite as screwed up. One can always hope…we’re about due, aren’t
we.

Hearts and flowers, y’all.

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