Wikipedia as Prologue
4:18pm. Bud Light Stage, Broken Social Scene and the Wait-For, Brown Paper Bag
I have to write this now; I won’t want to tomorrow. I’ve got only the paper bag from the bottom of the backpack I’ve been security-blanketing all weekend. But rock, paper, scissors: amnesia beats “clarity.” So, now. Think: message in a bottle. Dear Ashley(,). Dear Anybody(,).
It’s Sunday, Day 3 of Austin City Limits. I woke up hollow and too early from a system acclimated to caffeine intake at 7am, dyspeptic from the intake of ACL miscellany. By today, festival attendance has morphed into a prison sentence; the day, a time card in need of punching for the purpose of checking the appropriate boxes: “has had X experience,” “has seen Y band.” So now I’m putting in the time demanded by the wristband purchase I made months ago in some more hopeful, less hapless state of mind. But I’m worn internally. Music festivals are a brand of endurance sport, consecutive days of which are multi-dimensionally draining. Ironic that so much consumption results in vacuity.
I’m walking amid the damp smell of stale beer and sweat, weed and cigarettes, almost wandering. Alone now, having just decoupled from the friend who’d come to visit for all this. He’s somewhere in the city now headed for a plane. The human-as-lens I’d filtered these 3 days through. Gone. Absent. Alone in a crowd of people. Blank. Swarms of youth dressed conventionally unconventionally, choices of apparel that would set people apart in other settings but make them blend in here. The ‘90s are in full effect. Mostly not in the Nirvana way, though.1
This is not new. Now a sophomore effort, last year alone in the crowd because lost and swept up in the novelty of open hedonism. I suppose there’s plenty of comparability between this year and the last–dead cellphones and kind locals rescuing you from them, disoriented navigation, bands mismatched to the venue, bands whose goodness is eclipsed by the venue, sunburns indicating backpacks and sunglasses, spectators complaining too much about being stepped on as if they were forced to stand at the front, conversations competing with musical performances, pilsners, bruises, pipes, people, people, people –but the experiences are so discrepant. The would-be similarities do not digest into the same emotions.
What has changed so much in a year–is it happening, the aging out? I feel it,
“I get older…”
have felt it–
“…they stay the same age.”
–every time my Dazed and Confused refrain falls flat. It would be demonstrably more awkward if I didn’t pass for a freshman. The most liberal age guesstimate I’ve had in the weekend’s worth of introductions–unavoidable regularities of being sardined next to fellow fans–was 22. Ok. It’d probably be easier that way, to be honest, for me, you, everyone we know: to play the role of the 22 year old in these settings, where age is the master status. No need to reconcile appearances and extracurricular preferences with parenthood and professionalism. It’d be a thin fiction, a partial one. A matter of selective emphasis.2
4:49pm. Intra-set, Advancing, Brown Paper Bag
Alone in familiar fashion. It’s easier to move through the holes in the crowd a solas. The age-graded crowd. Oniony. Years peeling off standers-by in the progress toward the stage. I’ve made a stopping point at a patch of grass that’s much nearer the front. At this proximity, I’m surprised to see a guy with a 16 oz aluminum and a modest head nod to my left. Once you can see the shoelaces of the frontman, everyone around is wearing diapers. I feel compelled to bond with him over the exceptionalism, but he’s not receptive. He thinks I’m making fun, “You’re the only other person over the age of the majority I’ve seen for about a mile.” Maybe he just can’t hear me over the band. Redemptively, they’ve taken to covering a Modest Mouse song,3 a timely distraction from the failed connection…
…I like songs about drifters – books about the same.
They both seem to make me feel a little less insane.
Walked on off to another spot.
I still haven’t gotten anywhere that I want.
Did I want love? Did I need to know?
Why does it always feel like I’m caught in an undertow?…
Bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, bah, ba-ah-ah, bah, bah, bah, bah.
5:33 Inter-set, Voice Memo, 50 sec.
I have to do this now. I won’t want to tomorrow. I’m walking now.
I have a friend that says we have to get over this idea of crises like they’re only midlife or quarter life. He says, When will we realize that we’re in a constant state of crisis with little breaks, like bridges, in between. But strike that from the record: elucidation of perpetual existential crisis. This monologue was more appealing before it was audible. The sound of my voice is too high-pitched and tinny and out loud I’m just having the same conversation. The same conversation I always have. But with myself. My seams are coming undone.
5:38 Craft Beer Tent, The Line
“How is Bud Light a craft beer?”
“Maybe it’s a typo. I think they meant Crap.”
From the vantage point of Mid-life.
6:20 Bud Light Stage, Fleet Foxes and the Wait-For, Brown Paper Bag
“They’ll be wearing beanies. Just watch. It’s like their thing, like ya know?”
“Every time you use ‘like’ in a sentence it takes a year off your life.”
“I mean, how ol–nothing.”
“Ok, cool. So where are you like from?”
“You can call me Florida.”
The kid next to me from Maryland has kindly warned that my bag will melt if it rains. Maryland’s working with a muted version of that foppy Robert Smith hair. Or maybe Prince circa Purple Rain. I picked him up like velcro in the frontward migration vis-a-vis the showgoing advice, ‘Don’t complain when people push past you to get closer. Just latch on, and go with them. You might as well be part of their group.’ The wisdom of experience. The same conversation. I haven’t been off-script for 72 hours.
“You were saying something about Jersey Sho–” Formally, he’s here to see the band. But technically he’s caught up in the failed-cellphone-reception lament/attempt to find his friend. Every 30 seconds, a head turn back toward the mass to play Where’s Waldo. Give up, son.
From the stage, “How’s everybody doin’ out there tonight, Austin?! Wooo, yeah!”
Shaggy hair. Trucker hat. Neon accessories. Event staff of some sort.
“Mic testing, I guess.”
“Haha, yeah cool. Yeah, I love Austin. You can like still hear my accent, though? That’s surprising. I’ve been here for like two years now. School.”
“A whole–I mean–just two years, huh?”
“…so, if you could give a round of applause for her, she’s been working the water station all weekend. Woooo! Let’s bring her out here…”
“What’s happening? Are we applauding water again? It’s kinda funny, actually–half the bands I’ve seen have been attempting comedy about staying hydrated and drinking–”4
“…will you marry me?”
“–and how much they love Austin and–”
“Wait. What just happened? Did he just propose?”
You’re kidding me.
It’s 100 degrees and the flanneled FFoxes have fulfilled Maryland’s promise. I’m running out of bag. Or I’m raining. Or melting.5
7 something. A Tree Near the Bathrooms, The Ground, The Maybe-Wait for Arcade Fire, Notes App
A reasonable question is why I’m still here. T’s crossed, i’s dotted. You can go home, but I can’t leave. Maybe a list would help.
Number 1. I have to write this now. The sun’s down, so you can acknowledge certain realities. Oh my Jesus, I’m having the same conversation…
2. I’m convinced the effervescence is somewhere, like holding out for the goodbye with the appropriate amount of closure when you’re parting ways. The end that makes the experience worth it, the thing you hold up, the story you re-tell because you felt it. That sense of mob-like belonging from a shared experience with an undulating crowd. Like my 3-hour friends from The Strokes here last year–Joleen maybe? Jocelyn. We made joint bathroom trips like girlfriends. And that kid, her friend who tried to seem like he wasn’t in love with her.6
Yesterday it was almost maybe Skrillex.7 An undulating crowd of white upper-middle class youth, right hands bouncing in the air, up and down to the dub step. Couples magically forming in the rhythm. Under siege by the end, surrounded on all sides, encircled by six couples at final count, teenagers who’ve learned that it’s socially acceptable under conditions like these to dry hump in public and to do so en masse <so, “dry orgy”>. Go in with your own sweat, come out with everyone else’s. That goes in the pro column, actually. A badge of honor. But I couldn’t get swept up enough to lose count of the pairings, stop the commentary on coupling. The same social commentary. The same conversation.
3. Leaving would be an active decision. Maybe just one song, or wait until they’re playing a song I don’t know. Wait.8
4. This guy next to me just started talking to me, which is some sort of interactively legitimized distraction.
“…Yeah, this is my first year here. I just got off work actually. Waiting on my friend, but I don’t think he’s gonna show…cell phone’s dead…”
See, he’s just alonely, too. This is social altruism.
“…and I guess, ya know, Austin’s great, but I just really miss Vegas…”
He’s wearing a Led Zeppelin shirt.
“…like my family there and I just…”
Oh my Jesus, Oh my Jesus.9
“…and you see, Obama is doing all this stuff that nobody knows about. Like he’s arming a militia, giving guns to these 13 year olds…I’ve been reading…”
“Oh my Jesus, Oh my Jesus. I can’t get that song out of my head. You know that Zepp so–wait, Obama is giving guns to whom?”
“Look it up on YouTube. There’s videos. Just do like Obama, militia, guns, thirteen.”
“That’s ludicrous. There’s no way that’s true.”
“No I’m serious. Look, I’m not political or anything; I’m actually an anarchist.”
Uh huh uh huh uh huh uh huh. Uh huh uh huh uh huh. Da da da.10
“…been reading and doing a lot of research…see, I believe in The New World Order, which is like…”
“Uh huh.” Uh huh.
da da da
da da da
“…and actually I’m in the airforce, or i will be starting in a couple months. I just enlisted. but Obama can’t control me. I’ll make my own decisions when I’m in there.”
“Are you sure you have a clear idea of the feasibility of that? Like you’re just gonna disregard orders from a commanding officer if you disagree over where to fly your plane?”
“…well, yeah. By the way, I’m Rich.”
“Oh that doesn’t concern me.”
Extended hand for shaking.
“You go to school here, er what year are you?”
Cue the band.
“–hey they’re on. We should stand up.” Uh huh uh huh uh huh. “I’m–I’m just gonna move in here to get a better view.”
Shake, shake, escape.
Internal Escape, Time Unknown
5. The rule: Don’t complain when people push past you to get closer. Just latch on, and go with them. You might as well be part of their group.
And I had to follow this pair, pushing past, trying to reunite with their group. Maybe they could bring me to mine. Which is Reason 6, maybe– I know people here for the headlining act. And my phone says they’re near the sound stage. But miraculously this group has found its whole, and I lack the willpower to keep pushing toward the unknown. I’m melting. But they’re nice enough, inclusive, and actually into the band in a way that indicates longstanding appreciation. So, default to list item 3, ref: whenever there’s a song I don’t know. Surely, that will release me.
But I know them. The songs. And now I can see. Better anyway. I’ve just been chivalrously shifted forward in front of the group member who’s literally <literally literally, not literally figuratively> 7 feet tall. Shifted by the one that’s socially lubricating the group.
From the stage voice of Win Butler, “Ok this our last one. Austin, you’re our favorite town in the states.”
“Check it out, they’ve never played this live. Nah, check the set lists,”
So replies the social lubricator to my express doubt.
Last song. Home stretch.11
“Thanks you guys for the view and the party. Nice to meet you.”
“Yeah, of course. I’m Matt.”
“Hey, are you from around here? Do you think you could help us get back downtown?”
“Sweet, thanks. And you’re…?”
“Hi. I’m Alex.”12