“South by Southwest Interactive is in some ways a lot like the Internet itself. There are endless options all competing for your attention: hundreds of parties, both official and unofficial, 30,000 other attendees to meet, and more than a thousand panels on topics ranging from “Getting Started With Angel Investing” to “The Comfy Chair! Are We Sitting Too Much?” Nearly everyone who’d been to the festival before, I’d discovered by then, had a meta-reading of it and advice on how to game it. Aggressive networkers print out and memorize pictures of particularly important people with whom they hope to mingle. Some recommend breakfast meetings for clear heads and clear agendas; others say the evening is the best time to network, over beers. In Davis’s estimation, it’s a mistake to set foot in the Austin convention center for the official programming or to attend any of the sponsored parties. “That part’s a waste of time,” he said. “I like sitting. Sitting and drinking are my things. … During the day, sleep, exercise, management, getting lunch with some people. Just doing normal things here leads to meeting interesting people.” – Noreen Malone
“Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk… ice cream. Ice cream, Mandrake, children’s ice cream.” General J.D. Ripper
“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Dr. Johnson
After you’ve been doing this long enough there is, at least now and then, a moment when you say to yourself, “If I ever put up that post I’m done!” The sentiment usually follows some very long and seriously convoluted thinking that never lead to a coherent post. My first one involved a scenario where Bob Dylan did a backflip off a speaker tower while holding a roman candle in each hand. It was all related to my ongoing disgust with rock critics and I’m not sure if I ever ran out a version of it. (Hell, after 13 years of doing this I’m not sure I ever wrote anything.) My other moment of digital Götterdämmerung involved talking to people about Burning Man and watching their reactions. What follows IS NOT that post, but merely pieces of it. Again, after 13 years you find yourself pushed into things that you weren’t ready for, but what the hell?
The gaping void demands it.
A couple of weeks ago we spent a few days in Portland strictly for observational purposes. As a family we have long watched the ongoing Cold War that rages between The Rose City and Brooklyn’s Park Slope section. At this point Portland has gone up a couple of notches as they have Salt and Straw which claims to be an ice cram parlor, but is in fact an advanced physics experiment to see if locally produced hefeweizen can exist in a solid state. Towering above that is Portland’s efforts to de-flouridate their water supply. Porltanders have determined that since their water is free range (You can see The Mighty Columbia roll on from the box seats at the dog track.) it only makes sense to take the next step and create America’s first craft public utility.
Ball’s in your court now, Brooklyn.
In the middle of figuring all this out we wound up at an arcade in downtown Portland where they offer 100 old school video games and one beer on tap, Pabst. Between rounds of Dig Dug Alaska Wolf Joe was taking inventory of his quarters while I nursed an almost room temperature PBR. Out of nowhere he looked up and asked, “What’s the deal with SXSW? Are you only a player if you show up there? Do you and Mom even exist as serious Internet entities if you don’t go?” At the risk of sounding like sour grapes I looked him in the eye and said, “SXSW is Burning Man for middle managers.”
Come on – bashing SXSW is nothing new.
Maybe it was more of an organic once upon a time, but as I explained to AWJ – some times things need to get watered down so the middle managers of America can think they’re cool. SXSW lets them expense some carefully faded jeans and one of those shirts you’re suppose to wear untucked. It lets them have those jeans pressed until they show a sharp crease so they can spend the night sucking on a mojito with the rest of their ilk. As far as they are concerned at that moment they cannot get any cooler and that’s why the only rough comparison you can make here is Burning Man since you have to be a serious old spoot to compare it to an old SRL show.
More importantly he opened the door so he was forced to hear my old saw about how the bourgeois have always co-opted the fringe, but in doing so the fringe has always wound up as a watered down or more easily digested form of itself. When Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra teamed up to perform George Harrison’s Something they were not endorsing the counter culture. Instead they were signifying to those of similar age that now and then one of these hippie bums might just write a tune Nelson Riddle could arrange ring-a-ding style.
Not that such a thing would happen today. How icky would that be – some old spoot born in the 50s holding court over today’s music?
At least I can stop there. Prior to departing Portland we ran into a family with small children. They stopped and asked where they could find Voodoo Donuts as they saw us carrying a VD box. AWJ looked at them and said, “Right up the street on the left, but you can’t take kids in there.” This lead to our talk on the way home of experiencing a thing just to experience a thing. Not that AWJ paid much attention as he was texting to arrange meeting his associate The Militant Feminist Vegan so they could go to some underground show featuring three bands who have decided that recording their music in any way is selling out. Which is too bad because contained in that conversation was what the guts and infrastructure of my never finished Burning Man post, which means we can save that for another time while we take a moment here and listen to music the old people like.