I haven't been sleeping much lately, which has carried over to Austin. Maybe I'm finally getting old, or maybe I'm coming out of a growth spurt, but I just can't seem to sleep more than six hours or so as of late. The first night in Texas was no exception. I was up early and headed to the Convention Center by 9:30.
I met with a friend and was set to hit some panels when I decided to sit in on the keynote address for 2012 SXSW. Bruce Springsteen was the keynote speaker. I"m not historically a big Springsteen fan, but I figured I was there so I'd see what he had to say.
It was amazing.
He was funny and self-deprecating and talked about the music that had influenced him and why. When he launched into an acoustic breakdown of "We Gotta Get Outta of This Place", I was overjoyed. I have a deep, abiding love of Eric Burdon, and Bruce readily admitted to ripping off the Animals for his own work. He talked about the unmitigated, abject sadness of Roy Orbison's songs, the genius of Dylan, and the importance of the Sex Pistols.
He touched on something, briefly, that stuck with me all day, about the emotional depths of these artists. He referred to the Animals as being ugly and emotionally frightening, and I ponder this everywhere I went.
Great music is emotionally frightening. There's something in the lyrics and music that can take your very soul to the precipice of despair and fear and love and joy in ways that you're not just hearing but experiencing as you delve into that song. The gravity of the emotion is so overwhelming that it hurts to take yourself there for that three or four minutes, but it's so good that you want to go back there over and over--whether it's a repeat on your iPod or CD player, or rewinding your cassette tape while you drive to school, or even resetting the needle on your record.
There are lots of songs with boundless emotion that simply look at something and comment on it. They aren't great because they don't make you ache to be in that moment with the singer. If the artist is afraid to look at that part of themselves, if they compartmentalize their own selves in such a way that even they can't face it, they'll never find the truths they need to take their audience to that unforgivingly beautiful place.
I ended up winning one of the lottery tickets to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band last night at the Moody Theater. I figured I had to go, having never seen him live. There were less than 3,000 people in attendance, and it was strangely intimate, even with the huge band. I only knew one of the songs he played during the first two hours of his set. What impressed me was that it wasn't a show so much as it was Bruce and his friends having a party on stage and inviting the audience inside that inner circle. I was within ten feet of Bruce and Stevie and Patti, and I watched the Boss crowd surf. Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine joined him for a couple of songs, which was amazing.
I was a little disappointed to skip the Low Anthem to see Springsteen but was overjoyed when they were the first opening act. I'd seen them open for Mumford & Sons last June and was excited to see them again. Apparently Bruce was, too. Alejandro Escovedo was the second opener. Bruce had played with him briefly the night before, so it was a no-brainer that he would be invited to perform. I'd never seen him live, either, and loved it. He was like Leonard Cohen and Joe Strummer's illegitimate Latino son.
And I met Casey Reed from Fight the Quiet. I told him I'd be sure to mention them when I wrote about my day.
Finaly, Adam Taylor told me to go the Ginger Man and catch Loretta Bilieux. Adam's bassist from the Rain Dogs, Michael Giblin, was backing Loretta. "She's a good friend of mine and a Lancaster local... and will be your new idol. She's a power woman with some fuckin PIPES." OH MY GOD! Adam was right--isn't he always?--I loved her. I will most certainly be writing more about her in the very near future.
I had my picture taken with the lifesize Fleshlight. I drank a beer that didn't suck (Thanks, Gibby!). I saw Bruce Springsteen twice in a day. (I told him hi for you, Tiff. He says he misses you.)
And I still didn't sleep much, so I'm up and at it again. Be sure to follow me on Twitter (twitter.com/stephqj) for my Instragam pics throughout the day. I have no idea where I'm going today, but I'm sure it'll be an adventure. And I'm positive I will smell the 21-year-old musicians coming before I see them.