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South by Southwest on a Shoestring: A Diary

Margaret Schwartz

Schwartz writes about her odyssey at this year's South By Southwest Festival in the 'Home of Live Music' [Austin, Texas]; the place where 'Music Still Matters.'


800 Kimball Rd Iowa City, 7:48 am, 1 April. Loose, moisture-heavy snow is falling out of the pewter sky. The ground is bare though, and has been most of the winter. I keep thinking, as I do this time of year, that I should go out and rake some of that stuff up.

The rest of SXSW I spent recovering in Chez LF. We watched really stupid movies, like the Beatles' Help and the delicious if anyone remembers that one. We agreed for like the fiftieth time that Verhoven's Starship Troopers was the best movie ever. LF even showed me a movie he'd made, starring our friend Arthur as "Art" and a lot of Hebrew and Russian characters, and so forth. It was beautiful.

I lay in bed that last night and I listened to the peculiarly quiet sound of the Texas night, at least this night on this particular spot in Texas. Tomorrow I'll take the bus to the airport and go back to Iowa to write about my experience in the "Home of Live Music"; the place where "Music Still Matters."

I realize that LF and I were discussing these slogans, in more or less indirect ways, the whole week through. How we don't think that anyone should bother talking about The Strokes because it's arbitrary that we should have an opinion. How he still likes the White Stripes even despite the hype. How Black Sabbath is stoner rhythm and blues. LF earnestly believes you can tell a real honky tonk singer. I know less about it and demur, because I'm afraid I might not be able to.

What we were talking around and through was the ideal part, the part that "matters." This is a highly personal thing: over and over we found ourselves in disagreement (how sad LF shuns both Pavement and the Pixies!) but agreeing that these were matters of taste. Bad faith, on the other hand, was the abdication of that taste, of that inexplicable, personal set of dis-and in-clinations. People who feel like they have to form an opinion about The Strokes because Spin featured them on the cover of the "Only Bands That Matter" issue have handed over their personal taste to what amounts to a PR firm.


I'll end with one last detail from the MTV2 showcase. That Here Be Monsters neon sign didn't light up in the "Monsters" part, when the roadie (but better groomed) guy came to turn it on. I thought it was quite witty, at the time, to have a sign that said "Here Be Monsters" up above a stage set for rock music: the inevitable image of a museum case displaying Monsters of Rock just like at the Museum of Natural History in New York.

And the inevitable suggestion that here was the place where meaning stopped.

Anyway the "Monsters" fails to light and the roadie (b.b.g.) guy pulls the string a couple more times, shrugs, and slithers away. And that's just about how much clout those bastards have over me, I thought to myself (probably grinning like an idiot). Maybe because I was standing next to the pianist from Starsailor and he'd just gotten me high or because it seemed so improbable that anyone would think me an audience worth impressing or that, finally, I wasn't flattered by any of it, but excited by the chance to be there, where absolutely nothing happened. Not like I thought it would, anyway.

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