WHEN I WAS EIGHTEEN, I got stopped for dancing while driving. I talked my way out of a ticket through my incredible skill at being both eighteen and female (a trick I couldn’t accomplish now with a bag of Krugerrands and a box of Krispy Kremes). Point being, there was a time when music utterly electrified my life, when its influence drove me to commit quasi-legal acts.
And then I unplugged. Why? Who knows? A colicky baby so sensitive to sound that he shrieked when the air conditioner clicked on? That was the start. I’ve always said that it’s not getting old that turns you into a square, it’s having children. But that baby is fifteen now and rattling the windowpanes with oddball musical delights from Japan, Romania, and Mongolia (Tuvan throat singing, dontcha know?).
Why, I had to ask myself—a former go-go dancer, for Hullabaloo’s sake—why was it that the last music I moved to was “It’s Raining Men” at a step aerobics class? When had I reached this sad state where I read more about bands than listened to them? A decade and a half had slid past me on the page rather than on the airwaves. I followed the rise of grunge, charted every tic of Courtney Love’s metastasizing public persona, mourned the death of Kurt Cobain, sniffed back a tear for little Frances Bean. But hum a single Nirvana song? Whistle along with one Hole ditty? Not on your life. I know one word of rap, and that is “yo.”
Norah Jones. Was it all going to come down to Norah Jones? Would Norah’s exquisite Muzak be the end of the musical line for me?
Then I fell madly in love again. Through the Internet wizardry of the teen boy in my life, I was introduced to the Be Good Tanyas. The haunting Appalachian-Dollywood songs of these three young women from Vancouver utterly mesmerized me, and I kept their CDs in constant rotation. I attached such ludicrous importance to this late bloom of passion that when Teen Boy told me that “my” band was going to play at South by Southwest, I almost considered going before quickly dismissing the thought. SXSW is an X-Treme Music Marathon best enjoyed under the influence of substances, controlled and otherwise. At the top of that list are massive quantities of the kinds of mate-seeking hormones that make really loud, really crowded, really smoky bars seem like a ton o’ fun.
But Teen Boy threw down the gauntlet. “Man, Mom, if you really like them, go see them live.”
Did I really like them? Was music still important enough to me to overcome the ultimate objection to SXSW of everyone my age who lives in Austin: parking? Or, try this: I found out that the Be Good Tanyas weren’t going to start playing until one in the morning. The last personal appearance I stayed up that late to witness was Teen Boy’s debut on the planet, and mind-bending pain was required to keep me awake for that one. Pain, and then drugs.
The drugs-and-pain motif began to seem ominously symbolic. I considered the wisdom of just curling up with a good remote and declaring myself officially Too Old for Music. Really, wasn’t it long past time to trade in the white go-go boots for a pair of Naturalizers? But my son’s challenge, combined with visions of an easy-listening dotage, drove me into the night. All that and a nap. Then an IV of Diet Coke. Then a little Chardonnay. (Your basic suburban housewife speedball.)
It was like Mardi Gras in downtown Austin. Hordes of music-mad, mostly young people from around the globe had flooded the streets. I was so spellbound by the sight of an extraterrestrially attractive couple speaking some Scandinavian language that I ran straight into three adorable Japanese girls in short skirts and kneesocks setting up a drum kit on the sidewalk. One of the girls, her hair in pigtails, giggled like an animatronic woodland creature and, boinging her head from side to side, begged me, “Prease, you wait. We pray music. Hoppy, hoppy music!” The throng swept me along until I found myself in front of a club with an ambulance out front, lights twirling, and a blubbery British guy bellowing, “Stinky Bob’s been beat up!”
Who could resist? I ducked inside and was immediately buffeted by ovary-shriveling waves of sound cannonading from amps all turned to 11. The only thing louder was the smell of old beer, old smoke, and new pheromones. I had happened upon a punk showcase, and I was the oldest person in the place by an easy three decades. This would have been embarrassing had I not possessed the superpower granted to all women of a certain age: invisibility. I enjoyed the tattoos and nasal hardware until my ears started bleeding, then pushed on.
The next venue I stumbled upon was a hip-hop showcase. I’m not certain whether the peppy ditties were those of featured artists Ovadose, Chingo Bling, or Slim Thug. All I can say for certain is that I was not only the oldest person in the place, I was the whitest. Fortunately, that seemed to make me twice as invisible, so I happily complied when Slim Thug or Mr. Chingo Bling ordered, “All y’all hos and homies, shorties and thugs, put all y’all’s hands in the air!” Swaying rhythmically, I even threw in a bit of crotch-grabbing for added authenticity.
Near midnight, I started to fade and had to resort to the crack cocaine of canned beverages, Red Bull. By one o’clock, when “my” band took the stage, my eyes were bulging, my carotid artery was throbbing, my palms were sweating, and I was grinding my teeth in a caffeine ovadose. In short, I was the perfect stalker groupie fan.
Fortunately, the Be Good Tanyas deserve a million fans as rabid as me, because, hallelujah, my band was even better in person than on CD. What a joy to witness the alchemy you assumed had to be studio