Music is ubiquitous and confusing. Twice a month, Eric Spitznagel stares into the bottomless chasm of new (and old) songs, albums and musicians that permeate our lives, and tries to pretend he has any idea what it all means.
I wasn't at SXSW this year. And I'm pretty happy about that decision. My editor at MTV Hive invited me to attend, even offering tantalizing incentives like, "We'll buy your beer." As tempting as it was to max out my credit card on plane tickets and hotel rooms so I could feel the hot breath of a thousand strangers on my neck while listening to Dave Grohl slam Pitchfork, I managed to resist. Not going to SXSW has always been an easy decision. Even if there's somebody in the lineup that I've always wanted to see -- I'll admit, a two-and-a-hall-hour set by Prince sounds pretty fucking amazing -- there are invariably more than enough reasons why showing up would be like volunteering to spend the night in an abandoned insane asylum that's probably haunted.
This year's SXSW included free piggy-back rides. You could climb onto the back of some college student who was likely being paid less than a fast food employee and he'd carry you to whatever venue you wanted. If that's not enough to creep you out, just check out this teaser video. What is wrong with that dude? Why is he so frighteningly intense? Why isn't he blinking? I can't be the only one who thinks his giddy smile translates as, "I have a boner. I have a big, beautiful boner."
And that's just scratching the surface of the reasons I feel like missing the 2013 SXSW was like dodging a bullet. There was Taco Bell's Hype Hotel, which had performances by Blue Hawaii, Passion Pit and a massage station. A MASSAGE STATION? I'm in my early 40s and I've been to many, many rock shows, and I've never once thought, "You know what's missing from this gig? Not enough back massages."
You need more? The guy from the Honey Badger video was at SXSW. Because WHY? I don't know, maybe because the guy with the question mark suit from the Free Money infomercials was also there, and the Honey Badger guy was like, "That asshole isn't going to steal my glory!" There were "Augmented Reality" port-a-potties, which had a video display on the doors informing onlookers just how long the people inside had been there and whether they were standing or sitting. (If you come up with technology that would make even Mark Zuckerberg wince and say "Wow, dude, maybe some things need to be private," then you have definitely gone too far.) SXSW might as well change their name to "We Dare You To Show Up."
But as relieved as I was to miss out on the vast majority of SXSW, I did have a few moments of unexpected, genuine regret. I could write a novel about the reasons I'm so, so thankful that I wasn't in Texas last week. But here, for the first time in my history of not going to SXSW, are the reasons I kinda wish I had gone after all.
1. Andrew W.K. Was Giving Away Genital Wipes
This is it. It's the reason, first and foremost, that I almost caved. I came dangerously close to buying a last-minute plane ticket to Austin just for the chance to see Andrew W.K. promote crotch wipes.
For some reason, Playtex decided it wasn't a horrible, horrible idea to hire a Brony to be the public face of their Fresh + Sexy Wipes campaign. And then bring him to SXSW to do a show and give away a bunch of free samples of their crotch wipes, and invite people to use a confession booth where they can share, according to a Playtex press release, "Stories about those exciting and spontaneous moments where they could have used Fresh + Sexy Wipes." In other words, tell us about the most dangerous, disgusting, degrading sex act you've ever been a guilty participant in, and how you might've felt momentarily less humiliated or filled with self-loathing if you'd been able to wipe some of that grossness off your junk. Playtex is either doing a "Springtime For Hitler" experiment on how quickly they can self-destruct their own company, or this is the most genius marketing plan in the history of rock tie-ins.
I wanted to be there. I wanted to be there so badly that I had dreams about it. I envisioned W.K., smiling insincerely for the camera like some hippie Billy Mays, saying in his best infomercial pitchman voice "Are you tired of being stinky?" I do not understand why this wasn't the top story at SXSW. Why wasn't everybody tweeting about it? Sure, there were buzzworthy sets by Icona Pop, Afghan Whigs, Flaming Lips, blah blah blah. But the guy with the song from 2001 where he says "party hard" 30 times is giving away wet-wipes designed for sweaty genitals, that cancels out the awesomeness of literally everything else at SXSW. If you're in Austin and you hear that Andrew W.K. is in town promoting crotch wipes and your first instinct is not to immediately drop your iPhone and walk in the direction of where this is happening, you are an empty shell of a human being. A moment this perfect and beautiful and terrible doesn't happen every day. If you're within walking distance and you don't make every effort to witness it, you've missed the entire point of being alive on this planet.
A few months ago, I was asked to interview Mark Wahlberg, who was promoting a new line of bottled water called AQUAhydrate. I was happy to talk to him about the water, but I also wanted to ask about his movies. Because really, how much can you say about water? Whether or not Wahlberg likes bottled water is far from the most interesting thing about him. But if I was at SXSW and I got the chance to interview Andrew W.K., the ONLY THING I'd ask him about was crotch wipes. I could do two hours with him and not once mention music. I have so much to ask about Fresh + Sexy Wipes. I can't get the questions out of my brain fast enough. I'd be like a stoned guy trying to order food at a Taco Bell drive-in. I want everything, and I want it now. If I interviewed W.K., I'd be like the guy in the infomercial who isn't quite convinced. "Well sure, my scrotum smells like unrefrigerated hummus. But do ladies really care about stuff like that?"
2. People Standing In Line To See the Grumpy Cat
One of the biggest stars at this year's SXSW was a meme. Technically, it's a cat. Or more specifically, a cat's expression. A photo of the grumpy facial expression by a grumpy cat, dubbed "Grumpy Cat," was posted on Reddit back in September and was viewed over a million times in the first 48 hours. If you're on Facebook, you know at least one person who's overshared the grumpy cat photo with you, because ADORABLE. And that's fine. The Internet was invented for useless, stupid shit like this. But SXSW is ostensibly about, according to their website, "the unique convergence of original music, independent films, and emerging technologies." Not "remember that grumpy cat from the meme you saw that one time? That was one grumpy cat, ammarite? High five!"
I do not regret missing the opportunity to meet Grumpy Cat -- who's real name is Tardar Sauce, which is something I learned after doing the most minimal of research, and now it is something that exists in my brain, and I can't get rid of it. My regret is that I wasn't able to stand in line with the people at SXSW who for some reason woke up that morning, looked at the SXSW schedule, and thought, "This seems like a good way to spend a morning that is neither sad nor perhaps too revealing about the emptiness of my own existence."
3. It's Furry Friendly
Taken separately, they're just more examples of the festival's self-conscious weirdness.
But list it all together and it sounds like a furry fetish dream weekend. During the 2013 SXSW, there was a pedi-cab driver dressed in a panda suit. A breakdancing gorilla. Furry headbands handed out at a Huffington Post party. A TaskRabbit van covered in creepily realistic rabbit hair. Everywhere you looked, there was more soft and sexy fur, ready to be stroked inappropriately. The biggest furry display happened during the Prince set, where his 22 member band was wearing, as one news source reported, "fuzzy plush hats that looked like animal heads." There were raccoons, bears, foxes; every hirsute animal that somebody in the furry subculture has ever had fantasies about having really weird sex with.
And that's just what we know about. The furry vans and furry Prince horn players are what was shared with the outside world. Can you imagine what happened behind closed doors at those SXSW after-parties? The mind boggles at the perversion. I may not know much about SXSW, but I know this: Somewhere in Austin last week, somebody dressed as a panda was getting fucked on a dance floor. Or vice-versa. There is no way that didn't happen.
Well played, SXSW. Just when I thought you were entirely resistible, you offer a festival of crotch wipe giveaways by Andrew W.K., the saddest queue in the world for the saddest cat in the world, and Prince announcing that it's okay to want to fuck a raccoon. You've made me doubt my aversion to you. Well, maybe next year.