Report from the live music capital (February 4, 2002)

Hi all,

Yes, this is just to report that I am alive and have returned…sort of. I’m back in the USA, but now write from the city of Howdy Honda, Covert Ford and Henna Chevy, namely Austin, TX, where Threadgill’s and its cream sauce preside over the north side and the funky perennial attractions of the Continental Club and the Austin Motel over the south; jalapenos in everything and bilingual signage on everything, unpredictable weather, roadside signs hawking candidates such as JACK STICK FOR STATE REPRESENTATIVE, something on the menu at Luby’s Cafeteria called “fruit congeal,” great swooping and overlapping Jetsons-like highways that I’ll be figuring out for some time to come, and a popular local allergy called “cedar fever” (which they say you’re likely to catch after a few years here; something to look forward to?).

Along with the warmer weather and the more reasonable pace (except for on the roads) compared to back East, the club scene in the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World was a definite attraction for the Girlfriend and me, though I confess that with all the effort we’ve expended over the past few weeks devoted to obtaining housing, transportation, furniture, water pressure and the like, we’ve hardly managed to catch any entertainment at all aside from the tube (I did manage to head down to the Continental Club last weekend for a Saturday afternoon matinee featuring a few entertaining local dudes, and the place was just like I remembered from my last visit, probably well over a decade ago). I do miss Slovenia, but Austin has its own distinct charms and the parking is usually easy. (Yes, I admit it – I’m going to be volunteering at the South by Southwest music festival/conference/extravaganza in March.) Ah, SXSW: I find I don’t know any celebrities under 35 (or don’t want to). But I love that this town has its own music-video channel, and from what I’ve seen, most of it’s even worth watching.

Being BACK back (as opposed to Just Visiting) remains strange; it’s the same place, and yet it’s not. Everyone seems to be squeezing the lemon harder, and from more angles; the lemon, of course, is us. And the TV: every time I turn it on, “Third Rock From the Sun” seems to be on. And after five years away, I come back to find that Leno, Letterman, Sally Jessy and Bryant Gumbel seem to have aged not five but 15 years (constantly being on the tube must age you triple-time; even that stripling Conan O’Brien looks middle-aged these days). And I’m still trying to figure out why a local bagel shop advertises “bottomless cups of coffee” – available in small, medium or large.

To elaborate on those post-9/11 blues, I’m dismayed to find that, after a short interregnum, trivial booshwa and gossip seem to have re-triumphed. On Elvis’s birthday, the Girlfriend and I visited Ground Zero (she cried, I didn’t), which looks these days like just another urban construction site – but oh, the heaviness in the air which everyone comments upon, can’t be wished away. And now, we’re not in that cold dark sad place either; but even in sunny Austin, homeless men still walk freeway access roads, and the only constants I see as I drive along the city streets are gun shops, pawn shops, and churches.

Sure is different when you’re observing it from within – but at least I know there are alternatives in other places. I like Austin; for all the America here, this is at least a real, distinct place, and I’m looking forward to getting to know it better.

Hm…later, then.

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