A ten-part mini-article, counting down over the next week or so.
Bill &Will – “Goin’ to the River”
Gonna go to the pawnshop,
buy myself a .38,
and then I’m going
to the golden gate.
This bratty 1963 number straddles the line between R&B and garage; the lyrics’ world-weary tone belies that fact that the song was written and performed by a bunch of snot-nosed kids, half of whom were in high school at the time of this recording. The gallows-humor going-off-to-die vibe – Bill or Will or whoever that is singing the lead makes it sound more like he’s going to a party – made this song my ideal lead-in track to the South by Southwest Music festival, a party that died a long time ago, and a party where some important inner part of you will also be dead by the time it’s over. I listened to it over and over again in my rental car.
I think I’ve been to South by Southwest 11 times by now, and in that time I’ve seen it go from a genuinely fun town-wide bash (5 dollar tickets available at the door, locals taking in the scene, all your friends buying you shots) to the music industry’s most cynical money-grab, the (extinct) spirit of Austin being pimped out to a bunch of migas-drunk New York publicists, with almost all the money going into the pockets of a handful of Austin fat-cats. I must have listened to “Goin’ to the River” 50 times as I steeled myself for my week (it used to be three days) at SXSW, knowing fully well I was about to play 10-odd shows to a bunch of music-biz people shouting intoxicated one-sided conversations at each other or staring blankly into their iPhones, knowing I would bust my ass lugging our gear across town only for some king-for-a-day security volunteer to decide my band doesn’t have the proper laminated pass and they’re not going to let us load in, knowing our 45 minute set would be cut down to 15 minutes, knowing by the end of it I’d decide that we should have never come, and above all knowing that we had it so much better than most, so much better than the band that plays to 15 people on a Tuesday night and then loads out defeated, so much better than that band that pooled all their money and flew all the way from some small town in Italy or Ireland or Mexico, only to have nobody pay any attention to them the 10 times they played, only to realize they should have spent that 5 thousand dollars – the money they saved up all year from day jobs and that they all pooled together – on an album they’ll now never make. I’d be driving over the Town Lake bridge – the one where people line up at dusk to see the bats – watching a long line of people streaming from the convention center with their badges blowing in the wind, dully combing through their canvas swag-bags, and I’d hear Bill (or was it Will) singing “Gonna go to the river / gonna jump right in…that’ll be the end.” I’d be standing in line at Austin Bergstrom airport, the longest Austin airport line of the year, the line that stretches halfway across the entire building, full of people staring blankly into their iPhones, and I’d sing in my head, “Where I go, Lord, I’ll be gone to stay.” It comforted me.
*This isn’t strictly just 2012; it includes some 2011 stuff I just couldn’t leave out.