At breakfast my ears become tuned into a nearby table where an industry trio are absorbing nutrients. A Scandinavian man is regaling an American woman and man with nuggets of info concerning the act with which he (and they too, I guess) are involved. He reels off a litany of venues on the band's current tour: Webster Hall in NY, The Metro in Chicago, and beyond. I've played many of them myself. Are they headed next to Minneapolis 1st Avenue, I wonder, or down to the 9.30 Club in DC?
The Scandinavian man spoke clearly and my Huevos Rancheros began to channel his confidence, tasting crisper somehow. Things were going well for his protégés. I figured him for the manager, perhaps, and the other pair for the US record company. He mentioned the Libertines, and his act began to take on a rockin' bad-boy swagger in my mind: they prowled through my head in leather jackets and motorcycle boots, peppered with chic tattoes in sheltered places. A few roadies, more heavily tattooed, followed in their wake pushing flight cases. I pictured two of the band lighting up filter-tip cigarettes, only just inside the designated smoking area. Pulling out a cigarette today shocks onlookers the way that brandishing a hypodermic needle did 40 years ago, when Lou Reed mimed injecting heroin onstage.
Meanwhile the trio at the next table held up their cups for more coffee, as the last of the refried beans followed the Heuvos down my gullet. The atmosphere was smugly expectant: we had finished our meals, and were about to meander our separate ways into the marketplace of SXSW, fueled by our Hyatt TM breakfasts.
And the act who was performing so to my fellow breakfaster's satisfaction? After last night's show, overdriven by adrenaline, they would have partied in their hotel or tour bus to between 4 and 6 a.m., eventually capsizing in a sea of drink and drugs. From this, I imagine them emerging long enough to swallow sufficient fried food to give them the ballast to pass out again until they can groggily totter out into the afternoon light, in the town where their circus is pitching its tent for the night. Then the catapult of adrenaline slowly pulls itself back, and back, until by showtime the boys/girls are fired onstage to deliver a hormonal sonic barrage of exhilaration and rage directly into the pineal glands of the young audience and their ear-plugged ears. The catapult propels you way beyond the stage - sometimes you don't land until soundcheck the next day, perhaps in the Chicago Metro. And from apotheosis to hangover, it's all about you. Your insatiable craving for attention has got this cavalcade out on the road in its six-wheel cocoon; has got the audience excited to love you; and is funding the by-no-means-extravagant breakfast that your manager and record company, even in these depleted times, are enjoying in Austin, Texas.
Is there any other job in civilian life that is so dramatic? I think of the trail of battered and shattered relationships, of health neglected and driven into the ground like a pick-up truck, of money accrued too fast and squandered before you knew you had it, of egos swollen to the size of blimps and then shriveled up in punctured self-esteem, of survivors rich, poor, and sociopathic, slowly adjusting to a world that no longer revolves around them.
And I ponder the way that we musicians need the calm, temperate business people eating their moderate breakfasts in semi-high-end hotels; and the way they need us.
Is there any other job in civilian life that is so insane?
Robyn Hitchcock, co-founder of the highly regarded Soft Boys and prolific solo artist (among other things), will be writing about his experiences down in Austin for Billboard.biz each day of SXSW.