Sitting in a modern chair in an old room. This room must have been here way back in 1989, when the Egyptians and I opened for REM.
This morning I found myself in a bicycle shop called Mellow Johnny's, performing to a room full of people for radio KEXP in Seattle. Someone in the audience had brought along a CD of my new record for me to sign. Since its release a week ago I've had as many as three people tell me that they'd bought the download -- I was touched that they'd actually paid money for something so invisible -- but this was the first occasion that the actual physical disc had entered the proceedings. It looked small and vulnerable: As with physical money (in the UK at least), recorded music has shrunk, from LP to tape to CD to intangible download. Does everything shrink before it vanishes? When I was a small child in the 1950s, it seemed like a whole family could sleep under a £5 note.
Even as things fade away, they start to reappear. Vinyl, like dial phones and Polaroid cameras, have become fetish items for hipsters. Relics from an era before iVerything became available through a smooth flat wing mirror are now icons cherished by many who have grown up since the time when music, pictures, and phone calls all came from different places. So YepRoc, my inspired and tenacious record label, are pressing up twice as much vinyl this time around. To celebrate Record Store Day on April 15th they are also releasing a double 12-inch single of songs that I've previously released as Phantom 45s -- for download only. This in itself won't save the music business; and arguably 'music' and 'business' don't belong in the same sentence. But it shows that persistence and adaptability are two keys to survival, in this game as in any other.
Despite the dwindling record industry, SXSW, by engulfing movies and interactive pursuits, has sprawled to a full ten days from its original four. The old template of 'alternative' visitors -- play some alternative, dude -- has gradually diluted to absorb more party kids. Or is that just how the newer intake seems to older attendees? So far I haven't been out to sniff the wreckage on 6th St, but I do miss Las Menitas, where one black-clad laminate-holder could vacuum up the huevos rancheros with another. My friend Holly Everett, a veteran of 19 'South Bys,' reckons that she can now tell indie musicians from R&B players from tattoo rockers from ambient DJs from hip-hopsters from sons of the dead simply by the way they walk; even if they were all clad in robes of white samite with hooded countenances -- mere silhouettes -- Holly reckons their stance would give them away. Each one is walking to their own tribal beat, unheard by the onlooker. She calls it the Groover's Gait.