V4N2: March 1998
Volume 4 Number 2
Table of Contents
Audiences also have ambivalent reactions to SXSW. Downtown traffic, always problematic, is horrendous at this time. The clubs are jammed, the sets are too short, and the ticket prices have soared.
When going in the direction of south by southwest, you are exactly on the 30th parallel.
What would happen if we took Fred Sanders, Earl Harvin, and Marchel Ivery, threw them into the same jazz club, turned the lights down real low, and let them play all night long?
We try to put a positive spin on African American news and African American experience in a sense so that everything you read about and hear about isn't negative.
-- Tommy Wyatt
Interactivity is the essence of new media. It's the ability for the user to engage the content.
-- Dewey Winburne
He is more than cool. He is perhaps the coolest man I've ever encountered in my short, unhip life. I'm not expressing an opinion here, I'm voicing a fact.
Regardless of what side of the debate you find yourself, fellow Austinite, you gotta admit at least one thing. It's big. SXSW is very big.
Usually when you see Christ with a cross, he's either on it or he's dragging it on one shoulder to his own crucifixion, looking kind of dejected. Here, he was Atlas Christ, holding up the world. I could see his muscles strain.
As SXSW Grows, So Do Its Alternatives by Paul Klemperer
As South By Southwest (SXSW) has grown from a regional music convention to an international music and media extravaganza, the response from various cultural sectors of the Austin community has also grown. Decidedly a mixed blessing, SXSW has made life more exciting here, helped put Austin on the musical map, but for many it is a week of smoke and mirrors; streets clogged with out-of-state cars, clubs clogged with out-of-state bands, and then, like a Ray Bradbury circus, it is gone, leaving only a hint of brimstone on the air.
There were the understandable growing pains: As more bands applied for showcase slots, the reserve army of unsigned musicians mushroomed like the detritus of an IMF austerity plan. Streetcorners swelled with fashionably alienated youths muttering between pierced lips, Why was I not chosen?
For the chosen it is also something like the gift of the monkey's paw. You become part of a media happening -- a small part. You get to play a short set for little or no pay and wave your demo tape at label reps. Secretly, you wonder if playing a real gig at a non-showcase venue wouldn't be more worthwhile.
Audiences also have ambivalent reactions to SXSW. Downtown traffic, always problematic, is horrendous at this time. The clubs are jammed, the sets are too short, and the ticket prices have soared. But it is a once-a-year event and, in the end worth a little frustration. There are some great bands, which you may never get the chance to see again. So shut up and dance.
While some Austinites have grown bitter or jaded, or just left town, others have accepted SXSW as an environmental phenomenon, a musical El Niño, and have adapted. In the early years of the conference, various alternative events began to crop up -- alternative showcases in particular -- often with the rebellious attitude of the outsider. (Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges!)
But this attitude in turn has evolved. SXSW has come to be more than the officially sanctioned conference and showcases, rippling out from the downtown area and drawing a response from an increasingly varied collection of businesses and organizations. Alternatives to SXSW are becoming not so much antagonistic as supplementary, and this not only shows conference participants more of our great local talent, but helps to galvanize the Austin artistic community as a whole.
Non-showcase clubs provide a natural alternative to the slam-bang half-hour sets of the showcases, and benefit from the influx of visitors. Of course it's hard to squeeze in all that music, especially if you've mapped out your itinerary to the last minute in order to maximize the number of bands you can hear. But if you want to go to a bar to relax and enjoy good music (isn't that really the point, after all the showbiz hype begins to curdle?), then get off the beaten path. Especially if this is your first time to Austin.
Other clubs have their own alternative showcases. The Voodoo Lounge (308 E. 3rd) has its Voodoo Fest, blocking off part of 3rd Street. Two years ago the Reverend Horton Heat headlined there, and local Unhung Heroes (sadly now defunct) hosted a poignantly surreal white trash party.
Justin McCoy, who books acts for the Blue Flame (formerly the Blue Flamingo at 617 Red River), has again organized the alternative South By So What. His goal is to offer an "alternative to the mayhem" and give the public a chance to see a wide variety of musical acts that the conference proper might overlook. This showcase features 90 percent local acts, from surf to C&W to rock to tribal industrial to whatever. McCoy plans to "cover it all, with no limits, from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m." This year McCoy is also encouraging local record labels to set up booths at the club, display product, and have listening parties during the day.
Not all the alternatives are to be found in nightclubs. The coffeehouse scene has grown to Seattle-like proportions in recent years, with a number of them featuring live music on a regular basis. Peg Miller, whose Chicago House shows provided an alternative to the 6th Street fare years back, remembers struggling for more than 10 years to get coffeehouse music and spoken word performances accepted. Now, she says, they are an established part of the Austin scene.
An offshoot of the coffeehouse is the bookstore/barrista combo (you know, the big shiny copper and steel industrial espresso maker that periodically gives off bursts of steam like a miniature Italian train station). Beyond welcoming SXSW visitors with pithy marquee greetings like the restaurants and hotels flanking the I-35 access roads, some of these megastores are expanding the showcase concept. Fiona Cherbak of Borders Bookstore (10225 Research) has indie label showcases planned every night of the conference, from 7 to 9pm (working between the daytime workshops and nighttime showcases downtown). Antone's artists will be featured on 3/19, and Dolittle Records on 3/20. The next two days will feature the singer/songwriters of Hammstein Publishing (3/21) and the Nashville Songwriters Association International (3/22).
And there's more. Proving you don't need a bar or an espresso machine to have a music showcase, the vintage store Under The Sun (5341 Burnet Road) has big plans during SXSW, according to proprietor Steve Dean. The store provides an alternative venue for alternative country, acoustic blues, rockabilly and swing. Performers can strut their stuff for "fans, out of town musicians and industry people in an intimate atmosphere that avoids the crunching in" of the downtown showcases. Again, to work around the SXSW schedule, the Under The Sun showcases will run from 4 to 9pm.
Under the Sun's line-up runs as follows:
- 3/19 -- Libbi Bosworth, Ted Roddy and the Tearjoint Troubadours, Roy Heinrich and Roger Wallace, and Herman the German;
- 3/20 -- Susanna van Tassel, Steve James, Billy Bacon and the Forbidden Pigs, Chris Gaffney, and Wayne Hancock;
- 3/21 -- Karen Poston, Teri Joyce, Dale Watson, Josie Kreutz, and Cornell Hurd;
- 3/22 -- the Jivebombers, the Horton Brothers with Joe Clay, Hot Club of Cowtown, and Kim Lenz and the Jaguars.
This is just a sampling of the kinds of alternative events that are cropping up. While there will always be a love-hate relationship between SXSW and those most affected by it, the fact that creative alternatives are developing in the Austin community shows that many of us are moving beyond the insider/outsider dichotomy which is so often prevalent in the music industry overall. Rather than approaching SXSW as a kind of musical lottery, these alternatives show that it can be used as a hub for expanding artistic projects and resources. And that's truly alternative.
A Film Festival in the 30th Parallel by Jenna Colley
Ernesto Gonzales greets me at the plywood door of his one-room office in East Austin, "Supposedly, the Governor used to live here in post-Civil War days. You know the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue thing. I'm surprised that the city hasn't taken it over and renovated it," he says as I scurry in and take a look around. The room boasts one coach, a very intense looking computer and a large window. As the sweet breeze of the afternoon air stirs and the sunlight seeps into the room, I instantly have the premonition that someday I will be telling someone in a bar somewhere that I was there before "it" got big. The "it" is the 30th Parallel Film Festival. I was expecting bitter film students wearing Vans and baggy jeans, bitching about their films not getting submitted to South by Southwest, but what I found were two dedicated, organized and relatively film-market-savvy guys whose main goals are to screen films that would otherwise never be seen, and to give those filmmakers a chance to learn more about the business of distribution.
Gonzales, along with his partner Carbon Reynolds are the founders of the festival which will be running concurrently with SXSW March 13 through 18. These guys are trying to get in on the action by creating their own action, and they seem to be doing a pretty good job. Since late-October, Gonzales and Reynolds have managed to screen approximately 376 films, secure sponsors, process applications, choose entries, land venues, and remain optimistic. Modeling their festival after the Slamdance Film Festival in Utah (that runs Jan 23 against the Sundance Film Festival), they understand that they're going up against Austin's most popular film festival. Do they give a damn?
"The college film market needs to be integrated. When you're making a film, you don't think about who you're going to sell it to or acquisitions, and then that's just money down the toilet. We want to provide a festival that lets people watch these films and where people can push their films, with more focus. You have to learn to treat this as a business," says Reynolds, constantly rubbing his eyes and smoking a cigarette. He looks worn out and I can't help but wonder if he really thinks he can pull this off. "I wonder if we can pull in the crowds. We just confirmed that all of the screenings will be held either on Sixth Street or just two blocks away. We'll be breathing right down their neck. We'll be right in their face. I think that there is room for two festivals, I think there is room for five festivals. We've just tried to plan our main activities in the lull of South by Southwest. It's a hot time, and if these people are going to be here anyway..."
According to Gonzales, they have already managed to get an exclusive representative from Sony Pictures and representatives from Miramax and October Films will be filtering over. They are in the process of setting up workshops, and advertising. The aura of the ever-powerful and influential SXSW seems to hover over their every move. Gonzales is hesitant about advertising in the Chronicle and even more hesitant about releasing the names of film venues for fear of sabotage. They have had little interaction with the Austin Film Society, who has staunch loyalties to South by Southwest. They have, however received support and guidance from the organizers of the Austin Heart of Film Festival and the University Film Alliance.
Their fears are not unfounded. Late last year, upon hearing that they were calling their festival SouthbySouth Alternative, the duo was contacted by Nancy Schafer, the executive producer of SXSW Film Festival, and asked to change the name.
Reynolds and Gonzales had already begun building their connections and establishing plans under that name, and were too busy to respond. They were soon served with papers from Schafer's attorneys asking them to comply with the request. They eventually came up with the SouthWest Alternative Film Festival. After talking again with lawyers, Gonzales and Reynolds were advised politely to simply "stay away from the compass." This got them thinking. They began looking at maps and spontaneously called the airport to get ideas on possible pilot lingo for flying over the Southwest. They found what they were looking for. When going in the direction of south by southwest, you are exactly on the 30th parallel. Festival entries have come from independent and college filmmakers from around the country. The festival is boasting five world premieres, with a total of 50 screenings.
"It was really hard to pick from the entries." says Gonzales. "We wanted films that were not traditionally in festivals that showed the basics of filmmaking and got some sort of story across. We wanted to leave the deadlines open for those whose films didn't get into SXSW. I'm very optimistic and scared about a lot of the areas that we don't know. And it's not that we are going out there to kill SXSW. Of course not. I've gone every year and had a lot of good times. It really is a great festival, but there's just a lot of people who get left out in the cold." With a project this stressful, one has to be realistic. Will Gonzales and Reynolds succeed? Will they have enough left over once the film business has taken what it wants; will they learn from their mistakes and say what the hell let's do it again? I don't know. After all, no matter how indie or how Hollywood, this business is a bitch, and only the strong survive.
Forget SXSW's Rock & Roll...Enjoy Some Jazzby Ma nuel Gonzales
What would happen if we took Fred Sanders, Earl Harvin, and Marchel Ivery, threw them into the same jazz club, turned the lights down real low, and let them play all night long?
Bliss. Smiling ivories. Grooving drums. Growling sax. The only thing that might be better is if the three of them performed with their own trios and quartets. Not just three brilliant young (and not so young) Texas jazz musicians, but 10 or 15. What then?
Well. Then, we'd have South By Southwest, is what. The first Friday night of the SXSW Festival, Leaning House Records controls the Elephant Room's main (and only) stage, bringing together the Fred Sanders Quartet, the Earl Harvin Trio, and the Marchel Ivery Trio. I suggest that rather than follow in the footsteps of every other Austinite and non-Austinite greedy for 10 seconds of this band, 15 seconds of that band, that rather than pay 50 dollars for a cab from 4th and Lavaca to 6th and Neches (back and forth, back and forth), that rather than snacking on questionable musical talent, that you sit yourself down for one night in the cool confines of the Elephant Room, grab a pint of Guinness and help yourself to a well-deserved musical feast.
Friday night's performance showcases Leaning House Records, a small, Dallas-based record label devoted to Texas Jazz which has so far released six recordings (two Marchel Ivery, two Earl Harvin, a Fred Sanders, and a Shelley Carrol) of clean, crisp, traditional, inspired jazz. None of your KennyG - sopranosax - send - in - the - clowns - smooth jazz hits, but the good stuff. Porter, Davis, Getz, Parker, Rollins, Adderly. Your heavy hitters hit by your heavy hitters. Earl's heart never skipping a beat, Fred's fingers never missing a step, and Marchel's sax lifting you off your feet. You can't go wrong with these fellas. Old school musicians, all of them, playing from a time when jazz was more than just experimental, but soulful. Filled with the blues. Broken backs and sore feet and restless minds.
So if by Friday you have grown tired of the angst-driven pulse of SXSW Rock n' Roll, if you've grown tired of ten bands in one night, tired of musical chairs and musical soundbites, tired of the too-big crowds packed into too-small space, head to the Elephant Room. That's where I'll be, drinking my Guinness, listening to the sweet sounds of Fred Sanders' smile, the inspired rhythm of Earl Harvin's heartbeat, and the low growl of Marchel Ivery's horn.
Inner-Media by Sandra Beckmeier
Covering this story a month late seems practical. Why? Folks are bombing Austin for the Babylon of music, film, "personalities," and multi-media mayhem-gospel-depending upon the size of the readers hard drive I suppose. No pun intended.
Regardless of what kind of media is new, global and hip, there is a certain amount of satisfaction in unwinding this story of the the reality surrounding publications that fashion themselves in newsprint while creating alternative content. It's a symptomatic response to what most of us know as traditional print media -- not in form or content, but the art of resisitance is a movement in itself.
Without a sign of life in the threaded world of "info-tainment," as I half-jokingly define what I watch and refuse to read as news/alternative, progressive media is as satisying as stumbling upon a rare image of a black Jesus. It is a form of cultural truth, proving that as a culture we are evolving -- slowly, but at least the shit is moving away from "historically speaking."
East Austin's The Villager was founded by a group of folks led by Tommy Wyatt in May of 1973, just after affirmative action began, while heroes of the community like Wyatt began structuring a general challenge to support African American owned businesses. Here we are, 25 years later as The Villager remains true, and proudly celebrates with the community proof that the impact of positive journalism versus the marketable world of tragedy works. Improvisation is journalism.
ADA: Individually, how did you enter the world of newspapers?
Wyatt: Well, I was in insurance for 14 years. Basically I started out writing a small column. Eventually we tried to buy the paper, because it was fairly illegitimate and wasn't maintained like the publisher wanted. But after we approached him, and he refused to sell I decided to start my own with the help of others.
ADA: You had another publication prior to The Villager, is that right?
Wyatt: We still produce the Black Registry, which is basically a classified directory of black-organized businesses in the city. We started it as a way to have a composite list because we were moving into the '70s and people were responding to us with the "well, we don't know where to find black businesses for things," so we decided put it together and have it ready.
ADA: It's a comprehensive directory.
Wyatt: Yeah, just like the yellow pages.
ADA: Except this says "Hello Pages." That's cool.
Wyatt: We did two issues before we began to produce the newspaper. We started realizing that most of our businesses normally didn't advertise because the advertising was too expensive. After we continued talking with people about a need for a more frequent source of advertising we found we could provide something lacking in the community.
ADA: You mentioned a number of "special projects" within the publication. Of those you mentioned, there was one called the "Youth Brigade." It is a voice for kids?
Wyatt: We organized it in 1986, intending to introduce students to the world of journalism early. It was our first priority because there weren't many opportunities for our youth to learn about different careers. There are fewer people going into print media, and the other thing there is something like 400 of us across the country but when you look up with the dispersement of our communities many kids aren't even aware there are African American owned newspapers. We provide a service for a lot of these kids because it's their first job. The reason we need this in Austin is because black students are all over the district. At one time we had predominantly black schools like Anderson High and all our kids went there, but after integration our kids were all over town and sometimes the parents didn't even know what was going on. The kids don't know what's going on with each other, and they don't get a chance to talk, so what they can do through the Youth Brigade is share information about their schools. Besides, black kids are oral and don't well on tests. What this teaches them is logic and logically putting a story together is an important tool for them to carry along.
ADA: While using their voices.
Wyatt: Exactly. We have 15 kids in the program right now and seven who have come through and are working journalists today.
ADA: Yeah! I had breakfast with Akwasi Evans of Nokoa, which we both know is a progressive paper. What is The Villager's slant politically?
Wyatt: Well, it depends on the issue at hand. What we do is strictly from an African American point of view, and we try to put a positive spin on African American news and African American experience in a sense so that everything you read about and hear about isn't negative. We make the front page of a newspaper and it's because a black person killed somebody, robbed somebody, raped somebody. Politically speaking, we support those programs and candidates who support our point of view.
ADA: A positive shift.
Nokoa is well-known as Austin's progessive weekly, built from the ground up by Akwasi Evans, who lives and understands the struggles including losing "the house" but keeping the paper. He's built Nokoa from faith and politics, keeping the dream alive while ensuring a "progressive newspaper" and a strong safety net for organizations fighting forces.
"I've seen a lot of changes within the progressive movement in Austin," Evans said. "How could it be any different? We don't represent the black community exclusively. We represent everyone who is seen as progessive: the gay community, Hispanics, women. We are political and always there when folks need us."
Nokoa could be stream-lined with national publications like The Nation, Mother Jones, and In These Times, explicitly pushing through what is commonly understood as mainstream media because of the point of focus with news. Innately humanist, these all hail from outside of what we know as "mainstream society," who (all too often because of pressure) turn their backs on anything outside of their reality. Dr. Manning and Ron Daniels are nationally-known, first-rate columnists and also contribute to Nokoa.
Evans points to a primary concern of the paper, which maintains a large encompassing arm for social consciousness, but oddly enough the publication doesn't receive economic support for its efforts. They get enough to grow, which is a familiar problem for grass roots publications, including ADA.
"The progressive part of the population represents 760 billion that's a 'b' with a lot of zeros behind it." Evans said. What that means for all of us is a built-in frustration for publications representing "b"'s, without any kind of financial support, which ironically would in turn support so many people. "So it's doubly frustrating to approach, say, car dealerships about advertising and they won't," Evans said. "What does that say to us economically? We are the consumers. This year is a make it or break it for a lot of folks, and Nokoa is no different. We're trying to get online, get more advertising and continue to grow."
New Media in Austin by Courtenay Nearburg
In a recent conversation with Dewey Winburne, one of the founders of the SXSW Interactive and proprietor of Interactive Architex, a multimedia firm, I peeked in the windows of a new industry, a structure that holds so many implications for the economy of Austin and the rest of the world. I found myself totally enthralled with the complexities of this new industry, and I can't help but wonder where I fit in.
First of all, what is multimedia? "Multimedia, so way broadly defined -- it's including an internet broadcast of the element -- that's multimedia," says Dewey, trying himself to encapsule the hugeness of the concept. "Interactive media, which is what multimedia is, is not just multiple medias, it's the interactivity." And again, "Interactivity is the essence of new media. It's the ability for the user to engage the content."
Well, that sounds pretty interesting, but what exactly does he mean, "interactivity"? Dewey prefers the term "new media" to describe what he and about 7000 other folks in Austin (as of 1995) are developing. New media people are working out the kinks of the assimilation of all media as we know it, into one distribution tool, your friendly PC.
If the home computer is the movie screen, television screen, stereo, and even the distributor of these products, what you've got is a real computer revolution that shakes the corporate structure to its very core.
"The monoliths don't know how this is going to work yet; their new TV, their new VCR. The competition is so steep and the little guys are popping up like popcorn, " Dewey explains. "The new economy will be so diverse. A new monolith will emerge with WebTV and with DVD (Digital Video Disk), and DVD will be storage, which will do away with, like, Blockbuster." Wow...the CEOs start running.
Which brings us to the SXSW Interactive effort. The film component and the multimedia element are merged for 1998. With attendance last year at about 750, the Interactive Festival is not the big draw the Music and Film festivals have been over the last few years. According to Dewey, Interactive should eventually absorb the functions of the music and film components, but again, where will the Warner Brothers be when that happens?
"This industry is so embryonic, that there's no aristotelian dénouement, there's yet to emerge the introduction, characterization, setting, plot, conflict, ending that took film four years to figure out," says Dewey. "No money is going to be made until they figure out an interactive presentation that everyone understands -- all the elements and their functions."
"That's taking film to a whole new level -- that's not subtitles, that's like, ubiquity at moment of offering. And, you know, Lord...ubiquitous communication to all cultures in one expression of production. I haven't even figured that out yet."
"Technology is so turbulent, so irrational, that convergence is going to dictate the way. We have the intelligence, we have the talent, but we will always be behind the big cities. (Austin)," Dewey asserts.
Right now, the multimedia industry is the fastest growing industry in the United States, according to the mainstream press. In that picture, Austin follows behind four other major markets for development. That list begins with Los Angeles (those film folks, again), then New York City, Boston, Seattle, and finally, Austin. Each of these other cities have begun to initiate "cyber districts", housing start-up multimedia crews in low rent buildings wired by the cities for high speed internet access.
"Austin is poised for the new millenium to be the next Silicon Valley. I mean, it's a technopolis, what with the GATN Project and all," says Dewey. GATN is Greater Austin Telecommunications Network, a seven-agency enterprise including UT, Austin Community College, Austin Independent School District, the City of Austin, Travis County, and the LCRA in partnership with Southwestern Bell and Time-Warner. The idea behind this enterprise is fiberoptic technology for the entire state of Texas using "discretionary money" provided by the government.
Back to SXSW Interactive: The conceptualization of an interactive festival as part of SXSW was introduced to Roland Swenson, SXSW Director, by Dewey and the very people who birthed multimedia industry in Austin. Dewey now holds the title, the Creative Director of the Interactive Festival. He describes going to Roland for the first time in 1994, and how Roland was reluctant, in the beginning.
"Roland knew already, in his own insight, that the interactive thing had value, and he had been thinking about it. I came along with the plethora of nonprofits and indigenous people who were trying to create something and we joined hands happily together."
Dewey also had some credibility, having just won "Best of Show" by New Media Magazine at the Comdex conference, the monolith of new media festivals that occurs twice a year, once in Atlanta, and once in LA, and drawing about 50,000 attendees for each showing. SoftBank, a merchant bank, finances the Comdex gatherings, and other technology shows, including MacWorld.
In the second year that Dewey and Roland joined efforts, Microsoft sponsored SXSW Interactive with $15,000 in 1996, to promote their CDPlus technology, a music marketing tool that made audio CD's interactive. The CD's contained not just music, but video and biographical elements as well. Despite a strong push provided by Sony in the first years, CDPlus went by the wayside with only a few artists produced in the format, including Bob Dylan, and Dewey's effort, Willie Nelson.
When asked about music marketing further, Dewey begins to hedge, concerned about the impact of this piece. For a music town, this is a HIGHLY sensitive topic. "Agents won't go away, they'll go away in the format that they work in now. The new middlemen will be the techies. The problem with the web is the same problem you have with books. The web will become so prioritized, that there will be virtual representation for artists in distribution."
But there will be middlemen, still. "Your service provider is not the technology. It's the marketeer." Did I say "Wow" before? Double Wow, more CEOs running, and now they're record labels and merchandisers.
"People who are technological weenies will never get enough money unless they get a fat daddy, to establish the network to sell enough product to make a living. The big guys will buy the developers out and the little guys will retire to their big lakehouses and live happily ever after," Dewey says.
Look at Human Code. Almost immediately upon start up, they signed a five-year/$85 million per year deal with Microsoft, and yet they haven't participated in SXSW Interactive yet. $85 million each year for five years? Can I please say WOW again? Thanks...so why are they not playing with SXSW?
"Lots of people don't play with SXSW that could. It's frustrating," says Dewey. Last year, Origin chose to host a party at their 6th Street outlet, the Copper Tank, inviting the likes of HBO, during the SXSW festivals and yet, did not choose to contribute any money to the Interactive festival. Due to the deadline of this article, and the hectic schedule that the current director of the festival is following right now in preparation, I was not able to contact Hugh Forrest directly to ask him about this issue. Apparently, there was no communication between Origin and SXSW Interactive last year when Origin hosted their own event. Dewey has an opinion about this noticably tense situation.
"It's called politics. It's called 'power.' People, persuasion, power. It's a race, and there are conflicts." Sounds like some other issues that continue to plague our American democracy.
And why did Dewey take a backseat in the operations of the Interactive Festival? "I didn't want to do an event for a living. I brought the people, the wave, the conception to their organization. Hugh (Forrest) is the organizer. He's got the brains. I wanted to be the Creative Director, which I am."
And what will happen to Austin in this context of new media industry development? "We're in Austin, we're not in San Francisco. Little incarnations blipping on the screen which will be gone in two years unless one of their games gets ad time during the Super Bowl, like Digital Anvil did with Wing Commander."
Someone like Austin's RoseX just might have a chance with their new internet film release, Strange Attractor. But can the Strange Attractor work with the Wing Commander? That remains to be seen...
Rock Star & Barbie Dolls: An Evening with Johnnie Medina by Christopher Keimling
He's traveled all over the world. He's partied with the Sex Pistols. He's survived a nightclub shootout. He drives a black '65 Pontiac GTO and rides a Harley Davidson. He follows his passions -- for music and photography -- and achieves success by doing what he loves.
Johnny Medina is cool.
He is more than cool. He is perhaps the coolest man I've ever encountered in my short, unhip life. I'm not expressing an opinion here, I'm voicing a fact. His job, his experiences, his lifestyle, his modes of transportation -- all these things can be admitted as evidence. Even his name sounds cool -- Johnny Medina. He's so cool, it's downright exasperating to someone who pretends to be a writer but in reality is a photocopying, envelope-stuffing temp boy who still lives with his mom. When I first spoke with Johnny on the phone, he invited me to his living room on 9th and Red River. "Meet me at Club DeVille at 11:30, " he said. That was 11:30 pm; on a Tuesday. I could already tell Johnny was cool.
The bar was very dark. Intimate; not too crowded or noisy. Johnny wore black. All I could see was his head in the red glow of candlelight. The dashing grey in his moustache and short black hair belied his youthful face.
"So, ah, tell me what it is you do exactly," I asked, oozing the professionalism of a seasoned freelance writer, "You're a photographer?"
"I'm an entertainment photographer. Also an erotic photographer."
"Erotic. That falls under entertainment, doesn't it?"
He laughed, agreeing heartily. Johnny had a pleasant toothy grin; I could tell he liked to smile. He introduced me to the waitress and ordered us drinks. Every five minutes or so a lady friend of his would walk in and say hello. They would embrace, exchange a few words, and then he would introduce me. A gregarious Leo, Johnny later introduced me to everyone in the whole room.
I asked him how he got interested in photography.
"I come from a large Mexican family -- nine brothers and sisters. We were always celebrating birthdays. We had functions all the time with dozens and dozens of relatives," he said.
These family events had to be documented on film, he explained, and being the eldest son he was entrusted with the camera. His job was to hold it for his mom.
"All the kids got to play, hit the baseball. I'm standing there holding the camera. My mom would say, 'Don't push the button! Don't push the button!' "
One day when he was six years old, Johnny pushed the button. His cousin was having a birthday party and the kids were taking turns swinging at a pinata. Meanwhile, Johnny was looking through the viewfinder of his mom's camera. "It was like a whole other world," he said.
The piñata broke and candy rained down on the children. Instead of diving for candy, Johnny took snapshots. He shot the entire roll of film.
"I knew something strange had happened at that moment, because I really like chocolate," he said of this pivotal childhood experience.
I took a look at some of his work, using the pocket flashlight he handed me. As I paged through his portfolio, I came across something bizarre and paused. I looked up at him, my eyes pleading for an explanation.
"Part of my 'Barbie Dolls in Bondage' series," he said.
Poor Barbie was sitting on the lap of this menacing pirate-guy sporting an eyepatch and a handlebar moustache. With her hands tied behind her back, electric-tape x's covering her nipples, and her mouth taped shut, it looked like Barbie was in trouble. Ken was nowhere in sight. My guess was that the pirate dude had killed him.
"I've done some mean things to 1963 Barbies," he said. He showed me another Barbie photo. In this one, she appeared to be gazing out of a prison window. "Note the black eye," he said.
Johnny sure had come a long way from his family photo days.
"Why use a 1963 Barbie?" I asked.
"The '63 Barbie has eyelashes," he explained. Her eyes seemed bigger, too. The haunting expression on her face was far removed from the one of brainless glee normally associated with Barbie's image as the American icon of bimbonic vacuousness.
I turned the page, and was greeted by a hilarious, but no less disturbing sight -- Disney's "Hunchback of Notre Dame" carousing with a topless Barbie. She appeared to be giving Quasimodo a lap dance. His hair was disheveled, and Barbie's bra dangled from his outstretched arm. He had a big grin on his cutely misshapen face.
"Aren't you afraid Mattel is going to sue you?" I said, laughing.
"Disney, too" he said. He showed me another photo which was made as an advertisement for Forbidden Fruit. He cites it as the first photo that established his reputation and piqued his interest in erotic themes. It's a shot of woman from the waist down, squatting in high-heels and fish-net stockings.
My gaze wandered from the woman's prominently zippered black-leather crotch to Johnny's black leather jacket to the big padlock on the woman's ankle.
"What kind of stuff are you into?" I asked.
"I'd rather not say," he said, smiling. I flipped back to the beginning of Johnny's photo book, to the rock bands that represented his entertainment photography.
In these photos, Johnny had captured the delicious darkness, primal energy and authenicity of real rock n' roll. On one, a performer's mouth was wide open like a screaming banshee. His face was obscured in shadow, hidden by stringy hair. Brandishing a guitar, he stood poised like a warrior issuing his battle cry to the world. Johnny had framed the image in a jagged, zig-zag border; scratching the negative itself to obtain the effect.
"Sometimes I get carried away with the scratching, to the point where the negative is no longer useful" he said. Johnny also employs a moving image technique in order to create a "moving picture" in which everything looks like it's trembling with energy. In a photo of a Japanese punk-rock band, reflections and lights left bright trails in their wake; everything was alive with motion.
Johnny spends a lot of time on the road, and has had several careers in the music business. Starting out as a roadie, he worked as a sound engineer for twenty years for bands like Nirvana, the Cowboy Junkies, and Living Color. He also used to make music videos for local bands, and his video for metal band Pariah received airplay on MTV's Headbanger's Ball. Right now Medina is working as the road manager, photographer and sound engineer for Marcia Ball, a piano-playing blues artist he describes as "a female Jerry Lee Lewis."
With Ball he will soon travel to Australia, Greece and Sweden. Just recently he returned from a Blues Cruise in the Caribbean which he described as "8 days of non-stop decadence." Marcia Ball has also given private performances, including ones for Bill Clinton and Bill Gates. Johnny told me he had the opportunity to meet both of them in person.
Johnny takes pride in his rock 'n roll lifestyle. After ordering us yet another pair of Vodka Currants, he began waxing philosophical. "Every day is Christmas, every night is Halloween," he said, describing his life on the road. Soon his friend Anthony "Stony" Mrugacz joined us, placing his motorcycle helmet on the table as Johnny proceeded to tell us the story of how he got shot in a San Antonio nightclub in November, 1977.
"It was one of those cocaine bars where the Mexican mafia used to hang out. During the 70s, I worked as a college DJ" he said.
"Show him the scar," said Stony. Johnny rolled up his pant leg, showing me where the bullet had entered and exited his knee. Cool.
"Did he tell you about the time he partied with Sid Vicious?" Stony asked.
I was getting a little overwhelmed. Sid Vicious and Bill Clinton?
"He's got the photos to prove it," said Stony, seeing my look of bemused skepticism. Later, he said, "Have you seen Johnny's car? Let's go outside and take a look!"
No story about Johnny Medina would be complete without mentioning his car. Her name is Big Angie, and as we stepped outside to the parking lot, men started to gather around and sing praises to her glory. Austin poet Wammo was with us, rattling off her racing modifications.
"A 1965 Pontiac GTO. Black. 389 engine, positraction, 4 speed hurst, 750 Holly double pumper carb with electronic emission..." he said, rambling on with an expression in his eyes that wavered between admiration and lust.
"It kinda looks like the Batmobile," I said.
"The Batmobile was a modified GTO," Johnny said.
"Look inside," said Wammo, pointing out the specially installed race-car seatbelts and the gear shift with a giant six-sided playing die to serve as a grip. Now I was getting hot and bothered.
Stony told me a cop once pulled Johnny over just to look at his car. A female friend of Johnny's told me he doesn't drive over 30 mph. "He drives like an old man," she said.
We all went back inside, and Johnny made the rounds, introducing me to his guests at the Club Deville. I guessed the interview was over, because I kept dropping my pen and knocking over chairs. It sure was dark in there. That, or I was drunk off my ass.
Either way, I had a whole lot of fun -- and that's what an evening with Johnny Medina is all about.
On Sunday, March 15th, you can check out Johnny Medina's photographs for yourself when he presents:
The One Night Stand
Stroll through his world of Photographic Images! Sex, sex, and Rock 'n Roll for One Night Only!
Sunday, March 15th at The Artplex Gallery (across from the Dog and Duck), 1705 Guadelupe,8pm
Over 50 black and white images
Live Rock 'n Roll Provided by Camero Sutra
Food and Drink
It'll be cool
Up All Night by Harold McMillan
It's that time of year again. Time for the biggest music thing in the world. And it is right here in our front yard. It's SXSW LIVE, appearing at a live music venue near you -- and you, and you, and you.
As our Little City again fills up with musicians and other music biz pros from all over the rock n' roll world, Austinites will -- as they have been doing for years now -- debate the merits and shortcomings of our own homegrown music and media conference/festival. Regardless of what side of the debate you find yourself, fellow Austinite, you gotta admit at least one thing. It's big. SXSW is very big.
And unless you are just one of those folks who hates to see tourism-generated dollars flow into town, you probably oughta go ahead and admit another thing: in the big picture, SXSW is good for Austin. Like it or not, it just is.
At no other time during the entire year will there be as much music related activity in our fair city. The hotels will make a killing. The bars will sell oceans of whiskey. TexMex will fill many a New York stomach. And the media will have some-music-thing to report every hour of every day. Now that doesn't mean your favorite local rock n' roll band is gonna get the record deal they've always dreamed of. That is no longer, if it ever was, the point. It means that the conference is good for business. And at this point, Austin needs more music business activity happening here. If this is really the live music capital of the world (and it probably isn't), it is entirely fitting that the largest pop music conference in the world find its home here amongst us. Right?
It should be clear by now that the Austin Chronicle and the SXSW organization do indeed have a clue about what it takes to successfully promote and market music conferences. They seem to be peerless but for the competition they provide themselves with sister conferences, NXNW and NXNE. These guys know what they are doing. And, for the rest of us in the music business, there must be lessons to be learned from them. It wouldn't hurt either if the folks on the City Council, Chambers of Commerce, Music Comission, and the Convention and Visitors Bureau paid closer attention.
Austin, for many in the old guard, is still stuck in a provincial, small-town mentality when it comes to tourism and downtown revitalization. We all seem to acknowledge that our downtown needs something. Getting agreement on just what that "thing" is is the big problem. There are those who would welcome Austin's continued gradual slide into being a lose connection of private MUDs, restricted suburban deveolopments, and other enclaves for those with enough money to live in the country and avoid downtown altogether. Others, with definite ideas about what life in downtown Austin should be all about, seem to envision a high-polish Dallas knock-off reserved for the martini and cigar set.
The thing that SXSW does best, at least as an illustration of how to get folks to come and spend their money here, is show that the tourism marketing notions put out there by the Austin Convention and Vistors Bureau (for instance) really ignore a potentially huge market.
What market is that?
Duh...it's the music, dummy!
At one and the same time, Austin tells the world that it is the live music capital of the world, yet there is no concerted marketing effort to simply invite tourist to come to Austin for the music scene. As hard as it is for me to believe it, the Visitors bureau simply does not do consumer/tourist targeted marketing that tries to sell Austin as a destination for music lovers -- yet their letterhead reads "Austin, the Live Music Capital of the World."
Why do you think SXSW is so successful? Yes, there are a number of reasons, I'm sure. Many of them I can't begin to understand. One of the things that does, however, make a lot of sense to me is the connection to the local music scene. Now that connection, as I said earlier, is not so much about our local guitar heroes getting the BIG RECORD DEAL. But it's more than that.
The connection I am talking about is that for the four days of SXSW, Austin really does become the Live Music Capital of the World. Because of who is behind the Austin Chronicle and SXSW, the particular flavor of the music is mostly white/pop/rock/commercial. But make no mistake, these guys get the commercial music/recording industry -- all levels, from the gararge band down the street to Mr. Record Label President -- to come to Austin and hang out, spend money, listen to music, do business, have fun, and leave with good memories of their trip. The predominant memory that these folks leave with is that Austin is jam-packed full of venues for live music.
SXSW visitors are smart enough to know that these same stages are not as active when the conference is not in town. But the fact remains that Austin probably does have more live music stages per capita than most other places in the world. And if you like to travel, and if you like Austin, and if you like music, Austin just might be the kinda place you wanna come back to.
Imagine how much more fun it would be (this is directed to you, Mr. SXSW Visitor) to check out the musical treasures of Austin without the crowds, without the pressures, without the hoopla of this big stinkin' music festival. That is the kinda thing that promotes tourism during the other 11 months of the year. That's the kinda thing that makes folks wanna come back here in the summer months and check out the Jazz Fest or the Symphony's outdoor series or Elias Haslanger's little-big-band on the patio at Cedar Street.
I've had lots of conversations with other music business folks about this. To many of us it is hard to see why the ACVB doesn't use some of its marketing resources to attract these folks. Their mission, as they see it, is to go after conventions, advertise in trade publications for the hospitality industry, and go to trade shows. All of these things are indeed in the purview of the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau. But the focus seems a bit heavy on the conventions side and very, very light on the visitors.
Believe it or not, there are some cities that do a helluva tourist trade just selling their music scene, their climate, their hotels, and their regional foods to travelers. These cities just don't happen to be lucky enough to be the Live Music Capital of the World.
Verities by Christopher Keimling
And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they do." Luke 23:34.
The other day I visited a Christian bookstore near my house. Having driven past it so many times on my way to work, I finally grew curious enough to stop by and check it out.
Once inside, I found nothing out of the ordinary -- Bibles, cards, books -- until I stumbled across the apparel department in the back of the store. The stuff they had back there was so tacky it made my stomach churn.
I saw a sweater depicting a bloody Christ struggling beneath a massive, over-sized cross. It spanned his shoulders and was so gigantic and heavy that it threatened to flatten him like a pancake. On it were the words THE SINS OF MANKIND.
While a profusely bleeding Christ is a common enough sight, there was something different about this depiction. It put a powerful new spin on his suffering which I hadn't seen before. Not just forced to endure pain and humiliation, here he was also fighting to save himself from being crushed. The image actually showcased his strength more than it did his suffering. Usually when you see Christ with a cross, he's either on it or he's dragging it on one shoulder to his own crucifixion, looking kind of dejected. Here, he was Atlas Christ, holding up the world. I could see his muscles strain.
The power of this image was quickly lost, however, when I read the large print above the picture. It said, LORD's GYM. Underneath it said Bench Press This!! I was horrified. This is too much! Way beyond tasteless. Its effect on me was made worse because I had stopped by the store on my home from working out.
So there was Christ, bench pressing. Actually, he seemed to be doing more of a push up than a bench press. On another t-shirt, he was doing arm curls. Each of the hand weights weighed "10,000 sins."
Besides the Messiah-Pumping-Iron motif, there were other disturbing styles to choose from. One showed a close-up of Christ's shoulders and back, bleeding from horizontal slashes as the result of repeated whipping. The t-shirt read, "If you want to know what Love means, read between the lines." Another shirt pictured a normal Jesus, next to the words "Rebel -- with a cause." This didn't strike me as offensive, because it was true. He was a rebel. I developed a picture in my mind of Jesus wearing sunglasses, riding a Harley, and spreading the word with a black-leather gang of apostles. I could see his hair whipping in the breeze, and Mary Magdalene riding in his sidecar.
If they had a shirt like that, I might have bought it.