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stories >> 1998 - 03 - 22

South by So What

      What a weekend. Austin's in that spring time mode right now, when God and all his hosts of angels are singing down the sweet airs of heaven deep into the heart of Texas. Between the weak excuse Austin has for winter and the brutal heat that we're due in a few more weeks, there's always those precious days of perfection of Austin spring. The sun's already got the hard hint of summer ferocity, but the wind blows cool, and the bluebonnets are popping up, and the only clouds you see are a few lonely cirrus clouds that got lost from some winter storm off somewhere else. Everything smells like those grapey mountain laurels, I sleep with all the windows open, and I have a real hard time reminding myself that I have to work for a living. I start working on my yearly sunburn and try to let the days linger on and on before they're gone.
      The only bad thing about spring in Austin is freaking South by South West.
      SXSW, as they call themselves, is just as annoying as the freaking Sun Dancin' pretention fest that I endured in Park City. For a week or two, a bunch of people show up in Austin, clog up the streets, give each other dirty looks, give each other the "more musical than thou" attitude, and music music music. Clubs get real expensive and you can't get a table at the swanky restaurants. Ugh. The two bands, maybe, that I want to see are going to cost me the unionized $10 a piece, and I get to hear them each play for an hour . Ugh. Ugh. I think someone else already coined South by So What.
        So here I am, enjoying my spring time, engaging in some genial hatred for SXSW, and I get a letter from my long time hermano Pete up in Philadelphia. He tells me, "Alan, my man, you HAVE TO check out my buddy's band at SXSW, they're ruling kicking taking no names you'll love them you have to go go go GO!" I write him back, tell him if I remember, yeah I'll go. Not good enough for the man, he writes me back on Friday to "remind" me to go see the band, so now I figure that I'm pretty much bought into it and I guess I'm going to go see Marah at the Copper Tank on Friday night. Den of Frat Boy Hell and Lousy Service
      Cantone calls at 5:30 and leaves this long rambling message, "It's Friday night... and, y'know, I like to drink beer on Friday nights... and, y'know, I think you like to drink beer on Friday nights... so, y'know, maybe we could, like, drink beer or something..." I'm smiling that big smile as I listen to it, and I'm itching to jump out the door and head right down to the Crown. As I'm heading for the door, a minor crisis pops up, so I grit my teeth and curse a blue streak while I fix it, but I still make it out by 6:30 and I'm bombing down Lamar to the Crown.
      Cantone's there with his friend Toni (or Tony or Toné or something, I never saw her spell it) and I smile at them and tell them, "I'm so glad to not be at work right now." I don't even pause as I walk by them to go inside and buy the first pitcher, and I come back, sit down, smile again, feel that little shiver as my shoulders relax and I tell them, "I'm so glad to not be at work right now." I can't even tell what Carl and Toni are talking about. I'm listening with half an ear, watching some NCAA game with half an eye, slurping down some greasy Crown fries, sipping on the beer, and every now and again I tune back in and tell Carl and Toni, "you know, I'm so glad to not be at work right now." The sun's getting on towards setting, Toni's already late to go babysit her nephews, the air's perfect and it's all so so so good.
      Toni leaves, Carl and I drain the pitcher, and I'm so happy and the long lost Rage is sinking its teeth into me. Carl starts banging his fists against the table in that Rage chant, and he tells me "How about a bottle of whiskey?" I shake my head no, and he says okay, but he's still beating out the Rage tatoo, and I look back at him and say, "Well, maybe a little bottle of whiskey." Like a shot, we're out of the Crown, off to the liquor store, and I tell the guy "We're looking for a little bottle of whiskey." He tells me the little bottles are behind the counter, so I smile at him and say "Yeah, but maybe we should look at the big bottles first." One bottle of Maker's Mark later, and we're back at Carl's place, pouring out whiskey with his roommate Shawn and digging through the CD collection.
      There's not so many times I regret not having a big stereo and a lot of CD's, but Friday night was one. We've got the door open, and Carl's shuffling through five different albums as he turns up the volume so loud that we can't hear ourselves hollering along. The whiskey's ice cold as we listen to "Buenos Tardes" by Ween, half of the "Must've Been High" album by the Super Suckers, and a mess of Gourds songs. I'm looking down at my watch and it's about 8:30 right now. Pete's band is on at 10:00, and I tell Carl I've really got to go downtown. He keeps me there by pulling out some rat poison soaked Djarums and putting on "Tear Stained Eye" by Son Volt. I smoke the Djarum, drain my glass, and watch Carl fill up the flask as they're singing

      Walking down Main Street
      Getting to know the concrete
      Looking for a purpose from a neon sign
      I would meet you anywhere the western sun meets the air
      We'll hit the road, never looking behind

      Can you deny, there's nothing greater
      Nothing more than the traveling hands of time?
      Saint Genevieve can hold back the water
      But saints don't bother with a tear stained eye...

      If learning is living, and the truth is a state of mind
      You'll find it's better at the end of the line...

      and my heart's aching in my chest as the cigarette burns down to the end of my fingers. I've got my eyes closed now as Carl digs up his bike, and the wind's blowing soft. Orion's serene overhead, and now Carl's outside, and we're ready to get downtown.
      Boom! Downtown. Garden Escape. I skirt the Leper into a Dukes of Hazard parking job in the middle of the GE lot, we're running across the street to get my bike and have another glass of whiskey. Aj, Cliff, and Tim are sitting there stressing about the new site, and I feel a quick stab of conscience that I'm not doing anything. Carl and I drink off the 75 mls of 17 year old Scotch that I've got sitting there, Tim's asking me about some Chinese characters on the board and I get confused and think he's talking about the Sanskrit "Bodhisattva" I scrawled across the top. The Rage is pumping through me again, and Carl and I are on our bikes blasting down to the Copper Tank.
      Copper Tank, Copper Tank. I hate this place. I did have a great time here one night with Jim, when we happened in on dollar beer night during our Four Horsemen days. But in general, it's expensive, crowded, hard to get a drink, generally a lousy place. When we get there, I realize I've left my bike lock back at the damn office. We try to persuade the simian door man to let us stash our bikes inside, and he's having none of it. I tell Carl we'll be right back. The woman in front of me decides that she doesn't want to pay $10 to get into the freaking Copper Tank, so she turns around and walks, handing me her garter as she goes by. I'm pissed at the door guy, but I'm stoked that I've got a garter, so I wrap it around my neck and pump as fast as I can back to Garden Escape. A taxi cab keeps pulling up next to me, so I look over at it and hang my tongue out in my Michael Jordan impression as I pedal with everything that my drunken delusions can muster up. Zip in and out of GE, bike lock in tow, I bunny hop all the way back to the club, find Carl, the bikes we lock up, the cover we cough up, and then we're inside and trying to get a beer.
      Did I mention it's hard to get a drink in this joint? I stand at the bar for twelve or fifteen minutes, watching people at the ends of the bar getting drinks as soon they walk up. There's some guy behind the bar who keeps telling me that he's not a server and can't pour beers. I do manage to get him to take my backpack off my hands. Carl keeps coming up behind me and hollering, "WHAT'S THE HOLD UP, BUBBA!" in my ear. I smile in spite of myself, and by the time Michelle the bartender gets up there, I just point at the beer the guy next to me is drinking and tell her, "Two of those. Yeah, I have no idea what the hell it is." Beers in hand, tab opened, I breathe a sigh of relief as I realize that Marah is playing.
      Carl's wandered back to the bar as I'm trying to edge forward. I wonder what he's doing. He comes back laughing, telling me that he's been hitting on the male bartender. "I asked Michelle to tell him that he's a handsome young man!" Carl's laughing so hard he can barely talk. We push forward through the crowd as Carl works the homophobia to clear us out a space next to the stage. He starts babbling about giving people The Pez, and he keeps nodding his head upwards in that's "What's Up?" move and I'll be god damned if it doesn't look like a giant crazy blonde Pez dispenser. I'm laughing now, and I jump back to the bar, sliming my way to the very end of the bar (I can hear Jim in my mind screaming at me "You've got to flank 'em!") and I holler Michelle's name and I'm re-beered in twenty seconds. Back up front, and I start rolling out the gritos, and Carl's pounding me on the back yelling obscenities at the guys on stage. They're playing some song that sounds like "I really feel like an asshole," and I'm laughing so hard that you can hear me over the music. The play some banjo songs, and I'm pretty stoked, these guys are pretty cool, but now the set's over and I've got to meet Pete's friend Paul. I try to find him as the stage manager keeps pushing me back from the stage; for some reasons he's terrified that I'm trying to put my empty beer glass on the stage and keeps telling me "Take your empties back to the bar!" Carl starts telling him how good he looks in his cowboy hat and I just start randomly hollering out "PAUL! WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU? PAUL!" I see a guy waving at me, must be Paul, so I give him a big Pez. He's trying to tell me that he'll be back in five minutes. Great, cool, I run back to the bar and pull the flanking maneuver again, order three beers, and then I'm back up front, trying to put the empties on the stage just to piss off the guy with the cowboy hat. Eric materializes from nowhere, and he talks with Carl and I. Time passes. The next band sets up. Time passes. The guitarist, who's about 5'4" and looks to be seventeen, is whining into the microphone that he needs someone with a wrench because he doesn't want to "mess up my fingernails adjusting this mike stand." Time passes, and I'm drinking Paul's beer and telling Carl that I'm going to excoriate Pete for sending me down to see his buddy who's too cool to talk to me. More time passes, the whiny guitarists starts playing a punk rock song, and I think, "What the hell" as I drain the rest of Paul's beer. They play their song, and just then it's... PAUL! HE'S BACK!
      Back to the bar, this flanking thing is perfect, and we're outside chewing the fat. Paul turns out to be a real cool guy, and we talk about Pete, and we talk about life, and I promise to try to buy the record. I babble on and on about something, and then Paul's gotta go, and I feel really good for having come on down and done something for my buddy Pete. Back inside, I get Carl, and we want to make it to the Hole in the Wall because there's supposed to be a secret Gourds show at 1:00. We're out the door, insulting the cowboy hat guy one last time, unlocking the bikes, and zooming down 6th street.
      Carl's hopping over everything that's not moving quickly, and I'm just trying to keep up with the speed. As we come up to Congress, Carl dorks the bunny hop and I see him endo over the handle bars and slide along the side walk. His head's up, and his feet are up, but he's perfectly sliding along on his stomach, knees, and elbows, and he looks like a human shuffle puck. I find this intensely funny, and I pull up next to him, trying to talk through my laughter. "Oh, my man , are you okay? That was the sweetest face plant, baby!" Carl's not cut anywhere, but he resting his head on his handle bars and moaning. I'm a little bit worried, so I say, "You're okay? You don't look hurt?" Carl just tells me, "Ouch." Then he's sitting upright again and in an instant and he's pounding down Congress.
Terrifying Jack Hegemeony       Zoom, zoom, zoom, up to the Hole. My whiskey damaged brain thinks that something to eat's going to make Carl feel better again, so we stagger next door to the Jack in the Box. I order ten stuffed jalapeño things, Carl gets some junior burger, and we plop down to examine his wounds. They're all clothing related, and Carl's a little miffed to have put some new holes into his North Face jacket, and his keys have burned a hole in the front of his jeans, but he's okay and we eat our food. The jalapeño things are as gross as can be but we eat them all and check out the Hole. It's 12:15, but the guys at the door tells us that the secret Gourds show isn't until tomorrow night. They coolly give us back our $20, and we're back out by the bikes.
      We're indecisive for a second, and then I tell Carl I've gotta go home. He says goodbye, and I'm off to home and sleep.

      When I do get home, there's a message on the machine. It's Carl, and all he says is, "You look mighty good in that cowboy hat."

 

 

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