South By Southwest (SXSW) is back in town this week, and once again I’m just not feeling up for it. Fact of the matter is that I never do. It comes to town every year during UT’s spring break; it’s loaded with tons of really cool stuff and…I just can’t make myself care. And that bothers me.
I come from a very, very small city. People there look forward to the Quandrangle Festival and the Four-States Fair and Rodeo. It’s something big, and it’s something to look forward to as a break in the monotony of factory life and sleepy suburbs. I moved here almost a decade ago to have access to and look forward to bigger things. But somewhere during that timespan, I stopped caring. When, during my life, did I do a violent 180° and cease to be a joiner? When did I become anti-joiner? When did I become the stoic mysanthrope marching to the beat of his own drum? I lost my sense of community. Maybe I burned out during my Jesus years. I dunno. But I know that I hate all things Big and all things Festival and all things Event. Why? Why?
I do admit that participating in stuff this big yields a great expense, not just monetary expense (SXSW wristbands are ~$130usd), but it’s the huge expense on time, energy, mental attention. And for what? To see a bunch of bands. I’m a music fan…always have been, and I fucking love to see the bands I like play live shows; even in a crowded auditorium, it’s an intimate affair, and the capacity of the room gives me confirmation that I’m not alone in liking who I like. But the foundation of my decision process is completely unlinked from this understanding.
When it comes to it, I picture having to drive downtown, hunt for parking, and walk 5 blocks to the venue, stand in line, pay a high cover, buy a drink at festival prices, and cram into the festival crowd for a bad view of the stage. Somewhere on the fatigued walk back to my car, I’ll get hit up for spare change at least once. It’s a likely outcome, it is, but it’s the only outcome I visualize when I’m trying to decide whether to engage in the process of going to the show, festival or not.
On the surface, that seems to be the answer to my abhorrence of going out. But underneath it all, something deeper is happening. I hate people. I hate crowds. I mean, I like being anonymous, but I don’t want to be alone. Does that make sense? It’s a bigger town, and there’s a high chance that I’ll never cross paths with someone who knows me from any of my regular haunts (God forbid someone I know shows up and sees me having a good time–the horror!). That’s comforting. But it also means I’m on my own for trying to be a joiner in a scene. You can’t just walk up and say hey to people hanging out at a show; it’s just creepy. So where’s the payoff? Where’s the big reward in going to see a band and enjoying the fuck out of the show if there’s no one I know to recount the experience?
It’s a huge expense on me to go to any of the shows during SXSW; even the free, non-festival shows that are all over the place typically require throwing myself into the fray. I’m a non-joiner. I stopped wanting the company of others. And so, on the final balance sheet, the costs outweigh the returns. Therefore, I don’t go, regardless of how fucking badly I want to see these bands.
This is what happens every year: SXSW wristbands and badges go on sale without any of my attention. Since I seldom read the Austin Chronicle (founder of the festival), it flies under my radar. Once I’m reminded that SXSW is coming up, I yawn and feign disinterest. And it begins, and I finally grab a Chronicle to see who’s playing, and that list soon becomes a list of who I want to see and in the span of hours turns into a list of bands I should’ve seen. For instance, here’s a list of bands playing this year that I really, really would like to see, but won’t:
- Ulrich Schnauss, electronic musician from Germany who I’ve recently started adoring
- Peter Murphy – yes, THAT Peter Murphy – played tonight
- Tori Amos, playing right now (I guarantee that nobody without a SXSW badge is getting in)
- Meat Puppets are clearing the stage now
- Echo and the Bunnymen
- Deadmau5, an electronic dance duo
- Tricky, tomorrow night
- Devo shortly thereafter
- Dinosaur Jr
- I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness (I like this local band)
- The Crystal Method
This list is of pretty-much the only bands I care to see out of the 5 pages of fine-print listings. I know SXSW is all about the smaller bands and the unsigned acts. I get that. But I can’t justify running around between venues to listen to unsigned showcases. I just can’t. I know, I know, every single band has a Myspace profile with their music…fuck that nonsense. Spending all that time researching these bands in order to plan my schedule just adds to the cost. There’s no easy way to sift this pile of rocks, and in the end I have to rely on chance. The last time I went to see an unsigned band that I actually knew, I had the chance to hear a few bands that I ended up really, really liking. That’s a huge payoff. But it’s pure serendipity; it’s pure luck, pure chance.
Serendipity. I stopped listening to Serendipity shortly before she stopped talking to me. I think what happened is that somewhere during my first 6 months here I fell in with a crowd of non-joiners who pissed and moaned about the ills and evils of 6th Street and festivals and whatnot. Generally, they trampled on and killed every flowering desire growing in me to get out and live in the face of chance. Their voices became the din that drowned out the voice of Serendipity until all I could hear is static. They spoke out, and I listened, and I internalized and slowly, root by root, I died. I can point the finger, but I’d be lying if I didn’t point it at myself, and that’s a hard truth to swallow. I listened, and I let them influence my life into a cold stasis. I overheard, and it became the fulcrum by which I weigh the balance of costs and returns.
That’s been years ago; I don’t hang out with those people anymore. Most of them I don’t talk to, some of them I refuse to acknowledge, and a handful of them I still respect but see once in a blue moon. Their sphere of influence is completely dissolved, but I still bear the damage in myself. Some day, I’ll wake up. Some day, my root will wake up and take to the soil. Some day, the flowers will return.