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For the second year in a row, I’m at South by Southwest, or as it’s commonly referred to by those who head to Austin every year, “South By.” I like to think I’m prepared for the onslaught of music, film and interactive knowledge that will be spread during these next few days, but I know better. Last year was fantastic, but it was tiring and exhausting too – all that mental stimulation can be overwhelming.
But then I remember that I heard Bruce Springsteen talk about his childhood steeped in music, saw Jay-Z perform Empire State of Mind at Austin City Limit and listened to Al Gore converse with Sean Parker about the future of social media’s impact on society. There were so many other magical moments of interaction that have me hooked on this annual shindig. So, here I am, back for all that and more.
Day One was spent familiarizing myself with all the important details that help make a festival run smoother – ie where one can find the nearest source of decent coffee and, for a more acceptable time of day, the best dispenser of sweet tea vodka.
Highlight from Day One was heading to the Paramount Theatre for the premiere of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, starring Steve Carrell, Jim Carrey and Olivia Wilde. It was a fun way to start the film part of the fest at one of my favourite venues here in Austin.
And then today, listening to the infectiously-enthusiastic Danny Boyle was inspiring, even for those non-filmmakers of us who were in the audience. The Oscar-winning director, who originally set out to be a priest, didn’t make his first feature Shallow Graveuntil he was 38. It was so interesting to hear how he goes about directing actors and working with music collaborators, particularly Rick Smith, one half of Underworld (who can resist getting lost in Born Trippy?). Rick has worked with Danny again now on his new movie, Trance, and we got to see a sneak preview of it. And it looks like another Boyle-inspired thrill ride!
The highlight of this SXSW Festival was announced a few months ago, and it’s the reason I’ve been looking forward to coming to Austin for the event: Bruce Springsteen’s keynote address. It was everything I hoped for and more. The line to get into it was snaking around the convention center 2 hours before he was due to speak, but it was well-worth getting into the auditorium earlier, especially since there was a tribute to the influential singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie who died in the 60s, highlighting the incredible power of his lasting legacy.
From Austin’s own Eliza Gilkyson to Jimmy LaFave and Spanish heart-throb Juanes (who sang at Mandela Day in New York in 2009), the set was a beautiful and moving testament to the man whose music is archived in the Library of Congress and the whole auditorium sang along to This Land is Your Land. Truly amazing. It was only fitting that the Guthrie tribute took place before Springsteen spoke – the singer was deeply influenced by the folk musician.
When Springsteen took to the stage, he was self-deprecating, humorous and sincere. Surprisingly, I also found him to look younger than I thought he would. He had the crowd spell-bound, listening to the evolution of his music career – how it all began and the way the various influences shaped and shifted him. And, grabbing a guitar from off stage, Springsteen illustrated the highlights along the way.
Pic: SXSW/Brian Brazer
I tried to tweet as much as I could because it truly was something worth sharing. Springsteen started by saying that when he first picked up a guitar there were only 10 years of rock history to draw on and that it was amazing to see what was happening in Austin now. He proceeded to list all the various genres and sub-genres (like black death metal) that are on display here now. It had the audience in stitches!
Some of my favourite quotes from Springsteen on his influences:
- on Elvis: “Inspired by the passion in Elvis’ pants, I wrapped my 6 year old fingers around my 1st guitar.”
- on Roy Orbison: “The coolest uncool guy you’d ever seen…sticking his knife deep into the belly of your teenage fears.”
- on Phil Spector: “If Roy Orbison was opera, Phil Spector was symphonies. He taught me sound, sound, sound is its own language.
- on The Beatles: “Looking at their album cover was like seeing the silent gods of Olympus; they were so cool. They had me thinking I’m never going to get there.”
- on The Animals: “They struck me deep as the first class-conscious album I’d ever heard.”
- on his admiration for R&B: “I went from being in awe of Sex Pistols punk to Motown soul music – adult music, sung by adults, not teenagers.”
- on James Brown: “Underrated, even still today.”
- on Bob Dylan: “He gave us the words to understand our hearts; he is the father of my musical country.”
- on country music: “The working man’s blues; full of the small+big things that allow you to put one foot in front of another.”
- on Woody Guthrie: I wanted an answer to Hank Williams’ question: why does my bucket have a hole in it…and I found Woody Guthrie, the ghost in the machine, and his fatalism was tempered with practical idealism.”
And then, The Boss’ words of wisdom for new artists – and the rest of us too:
New bands, learn how to bring it live and then do it night after night. Your audience will remember you. That was my meal ticket…
Rumble young musicians, rumble.
Open your ears, and open your hearts.
Don’t take yourself too seriously and take yourself as seriously as death itself. Don’t worry. Worry your ass off. Have iron-clad confidence, but doubt. It keeps you awake and alert. Believe you are the baddest ass in town and, you suck. It keeps you honest. Be able to keep two have the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in your heart and head at all times…if it doesn’t drive you crazy it will make you strong. And stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive.
And when you walk on stage tonight to bring the noise, treat it like it’s all we have. Then remember that it’s only rock & roll.
If you’re a fan, you’ll want to watch this in its entirety: