Whilst I am in the midst of Holy Week, moving toward the crucifxion and resurrection--around the world some Hindus are celebrating the end of winter with what can only be described as the most colourful of festivals ever. Dousing themselves and each other in colour, Holi, is not the most reverential or perhaps even 'religious' religious festival--but it seems like a blast.
I was in Austin last week for SXSW. I went to explore the feasibility of doing a theology and popular music intensive on site next year. I have taught a couple of classes on music, religion and theology for a while now and always wanted to expand the 'live' component, and this event might just be up the alley. SXSW is expensive, prohibitively so if one is thinking of inviting students to pay an already exorbitant class fee, so we went to see if one could experience the conference on the ground floor as it were, and have it be a viable experience.
I actually think that the lo-fi route might be the best way to experience what I have in mind. 2200 bands of all stripes descend upon Austin for SXSW and the city is alive with music from early morn to well into the wee hours--the whole thing is like a cross between Mardi Gras-Spring Break-Coachella and Burning Man--people out and about everywhere-some in states of decay(alcoholic or otherwise), but the mood is upbeat and celebratory.
People are there because they love music and there is a lot of music to love. We managed to see a bunch of free music and I was more than happy with 99% of the experience--there is some great music out there, and it will probably never make the radio, and that is unfortunate--because being somewhere like SXSW reminds you how narrow, predictable and boring most radio music is these days--insert artist/add beats/market the shit out of it, rinse, repeat. Austin reminded of how much I love music.
A few observations after SXSW:
1. Radio stations-held captive to corporate profit margins are essentially creating background noise for consumer capitalism and little more--that's not to say there aren't some good radio stations, there are and LA has a few, but overall, the music we are exposed to via mass media has about 20% of the breadth of those same mediums when I was growing up.
2. Drummers rule. Everybody loves drummers and drumming. Not only were there drummers setting up their kits and playing in the streets and drawing crowds and participants--the bands we saw, which covered a wide variety of musical styles, had amazing, lyrical and creative drummers, who often played classic rock kits amended with technology of all kinds-from digital samplers, to electronic drums and keyboard triggers.
3. It would seem that for most bands and much of their audience--the old rules of rock music no longer apply--I have never experienced so much genre mixing in my life--hip-hop-rock-latin-metal-nu-sol-old-soul-folk-electronic bands were everywhere--any instrumentation, any permutation to get the job down--no pretension, no limits and it worked. That said-there was an obvious and huge indebtedness to punk music as a whole--the Red Hot Chili Peppers--for bringing back the idea of groove-music with a serious edge, and David Bowie--perhaps it is because I was obsessivley listening to Bowie's new album, which was released the day I left LA--but his influence was undeniable in much of the music I heard.
4. LA produces great bands--I heard a few of them--didn't know where they were from, but the line, "we are...from LA" was ubiquitous, and they were always good--maybe I was lucky, but I don't think so.
5. Two bands I really liked NO and Semi-Precious Weapons.
I've been travelling a bit and busy when I havent been and the blogging has suffered because of it. ots to write about, but I need to carve out a bit of time to catch up on some thoughts and ideas. But I thought i'd share this little piece of Tom Waits. I've spent a bit of time with Mr. Waits lately as I am thinking of using some of his ideas for a conference talk or two. I am particiapting in Subverting the Norm II in a couple of weeks and my main talk is taken from a Waits quote-his quote: 'there ain't no devil, just god when he's drunk.,' mine is an inversion, 'there ain't no god just the devil when he's drunk.' We'll have to see how close I stay with Waitisms, but for now I'm enjoying exploring his thinking.
“My kids are starting to notice I'm a little different from the other
dads. "Why don't you have a straight job like everyone else?" they asked
me the other day. I told them this story:
In the forest, there was a crooked tree and a straight tree. Every day, the straight tree would say to the crooked tree, "Look at me...I'm tall, and I'm straight, and I'm handsome. Look at you...you're all crooked and bent over. No one wants to look at you." And they grew up in that forest together. And then one day the loggers came, and they saw the crooked tree and the straight tree, and they said, "Just cut the straight trees and leave the rest." So the loggers turned all the straight trees into lumber and toothpicks and paper. And the crooked tree is still there, growing stronger and stranger every day.”
Sometimes being straight gets you into trouble:)