A lot of people claim to look at the glass as half-full. What you don’t hear is crowing about the half-empty glass. But with the exception of Larry David and his ilk, who bitch for a living, most people don’t want to hear about a half empty glass. There’s nothing more unpopular than the American whiner. Dampens all that can-do spirit.
But why are we talking about metaphorical glassware in relation to attitude, anyway? Where did that one come from? Well, who cares? The image is out there indelibly, despite the fact that the world would probably be a whole lot better if, half-full or -empty, that glass was instead a shatterproof plastic tumbler. Better yet? One of those sippy cups for babies. Imagine how one would feel about life if, despite content level, he or she could throw that plastic analogy from a tenth story window and not only be confident that it would remain intact, but that not a drop would be spilled.
Alas, we’re stuck with the glass metaphor, and, sadly, I’m one of those half-empty haters. For me, though. it’s worse than that. For folks like me, the whole glass deal is like when your vessel is half empty with the Coca-Cola you’re drinking and your little sister comes along and begs for a sip. You actually let her. When she hands it back, not only is that glass covered with greasy fingerprints, but there is an odd oily slick atop the liquid’s surface, and there’s something floating in there. Looking at your sister, who gives you a grateful, satisfied smack of the lips, you notice her glistening, snotty upper lip.
I’ve a bad attitude. I freely admit it. However, after wearing a rather sizeable ass-sized groove in the couch, annoying everyone I know with quotes from The Big Lebowski, and developing, from so much time in the dark, protruding eyes like the adult tarsier, I decided things had to change. Maybe I saw it on some televised evangelical program; perhaps I spied it on the side of a box of Karma Krunch (now with riboflavin), but something, somewhere told me I had to get out and do something. I had to shout a resounding Yes! rather than that greasy, floatie and gunk-filled, half-empty No to the universe!
Ever competitive and always up for a challenge, I decided that I not only had to say Yes! instead of No, but that I had to say Yes! to just about everything. Kinda like that Jim Carrey movie, Yes Man, except (and I know this will sound negative) nothing with wacky sex acts or eating stuff that might be showcased on Fear Factor. I know: I’m a wuss.
My cousin invited me to South x Southwest, as she makes the pilgrimage to Austin every year from Laguna Beach and stays with a locally situated friend. Would I like to drive from Houston and join them?
Honestly? No. Sweaty people. Crowds. Insufferable hipsters. A lack of available clean public restrooms. And most importantly: live music.
Hey, I come by my aversion to live music honestly! In 1978, at the urging of my musically inclined sister, my dad took her and me to see the Rolling Stones perform at Soldier Field in Chicago after the release of their Some Girls album. It was packed, we had nosebleed section seats, it was impossible to get up to even go to the bathroom, and the Stones were hours late. My dad (the model parent), some guys to our right, my 14 year old sister, and I were passing a joint back and forth when some huge long-haired bearded dude in dirty overalls fell on me from behind and threw up in my lap. True story!
I won’t bore you with the punch in the face I got from a guy with really bad aim at a 1984 Iggy Pop show at the Windsor Plaza. Nor will I go into the impossibility of seeing past the very ample, very much in love couple who formed a wall before me (in my primo seats) at the 2008 Radiohead show at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell pavilion. Or the Pretenders concert in 2009 at the House of Blues, where an exuberant white-collar sort flung a Jack and Coke in my face while flailing to Back on the Chain Gang. To make it worse, he felt awfully bad about it and insisted on patting my chest with a beverage napkin until I started to scream.
Oh, and there are all those musicians who’ve camped out on the couch, “borrowed” money, slept with my girlfriends…and boyfriends…wrecked my car–but heck, there’s no need to go into that stuff!
So…really? South by Southwest? I’d generally say No. But in light of the new me, I said Yes!
I rolled into town in my rented vehicle, and boy, did my ass hurt! Long story. But did I complain? No! Did I want to see Moby in a fenced in lot next to a few taco trucks? Um…Yes? It was fine. All of it was fine. The pretty little girls in belted vintage nighties. The ambient smell of pot wafting through the air. The folks dancing and waving their arms around, obviously having a good time. As a person who never has fun, it pretty much goes without saying that I don’t dance. That’s what fun people do. But, in the name of my new-found zest for life, I kind of swayed back and forth a bit. Let’s not push our luck here.
It turned out that the Moby deal was close to Austin’s branch of Domy Books, so I suggested to my friends that we head on over and check out Domy’s contribution to South by Southwest: What by Whatever. Anyone familiar with the original store in Houston knows that Domy offers a selection of some of the coolest and most interesting art books, magazines, zines, and some funky toys. For What by Whatever, Domy Austin had a full lineup: the second two person exhibition of by photographers Ed and Deanna Templeton entitled There Ain’t No Forgettin’. The Templetons, residents of suburban Huntington Beach, California, document their surprisingly gritty surroundings (Ol’ John Wayne’s turning in his Pacific View grave–you’ll find it to the absurdly far right) in a casual, insider-y fashion. Ed, a two-time world champion professional skateboarder, has documented the subculture here and has been exhibiting his paintings and photos both nationally and internationally for a number of years. He has published over ten books of his work.
Deanna Templeton has been photographing her travels for almost thirteen years, and her work has a knowing Diane Arbus-like feel. She has also published three books, and has been shown on the national and international scene. Her current project is that of documenting the “body autograph”, a phenomenon quite popular with those wacky kids these days. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: some rock star signs your butt with a Sharpie, and there you have visible proof that you’ve been in the presence of a god. No more of those idiotic, cumbersome keepsake booklets star-crazed fans used to be so fond of. Okay, the drawback is that you’ll never be able to wash that left ass-cheek, but isn’t anything worth having worth sacrificing for?
Anyway, the combined effort formally echoes, without being derivative, the sensibilities of Arbus, and Robert Frank. The subjects here know they are being photographed and most seem too preoccupied or burnt out to care. The resulting photographs have a very natural feel, and though some of the subjects may not be friends or acquaintances of either Templeton, the photographers have attained an intimacy here that is gritty and genuine. Though the works could be put in the same general ball park as those of Larry Clark or Nan Goldin, I felt that the Templeton’s lacked the voyeuristic leer that accompanies much of Clark’s pictures, even though many of the Templeton’s subjects are nude or seemingly drugged out, or both. For whatever reason, there seemed to be a lot of male subjects hanging around in a shirt and no pants. If Larry Clark had taken these, they would have come off as unctuous and with an air of scopophilia. The same subjects through Nan Goldin’s lens would seem, despite griminess and dire circumstance, hipper-than-thou. No, the people in the Templeton’s oeuvre seem like people they, and as a result, we, are pretty comfortable with. It’s as if one fellow, nude from the waist down, simply staggered into the frame and is in no danger of being too cool. Maybe he’s thinkin, Wow…yeah…those pants are around here somewhere…
Another nice element of this exhibition is the way in which the photographs are hung, framed (or not framed), or hand manipulated in a painterly manner. On the back wall of the store, several framed pieces are placed together in a tight cluster. Another particularly nice piece, two juxtaposed unframed shots, are of swimmers beneath the surface of a body of water. They are joined at the edge of the photographs by their truncated torsos. This gives the pairing a simultaneously unified and disjointed. fluttery feel. Some photos are under glass, others are pinned, edges curling, to the walls. It’s a compelling show, and fitting for South by Southwest. While I didn’t see anything quite this gritty going on in the streets of Austin, the slackerly, debauched feel was perfectly fitting for the time and place.
I thought Domy pretty much had it going on. Sure, I was more in my comfort zone there than I was, say, in a mile-long line for the Port-A-Can, but, in typical Domy fashion, the scene here was smart, hip, and pretty well organized. Besides a broken spout on a beer keg, Russell Etchen, artist, former Houstonian, and Domy Man-in-Charge, did an amazing job of orchestrating all of the cool facets of What by Whatever. At the back of the store, Dublab, a Los Angeles based non-profit music public broadcasting internet collective that also does art and film collaborations, dj’d and broadcast their live show via streaming video on their web site. In the lot behind the book store, a stage accommodated at least twelve different bands each day (and night) from Thursday, March 17, through Saturday, March 19. I caught the final act on Thursday, Fantastica Bastidas, whom I, despite my stodginess, really got into. Lead singer Sonia, with straight black hair and thick bangs, belted out songs in an angry, edgy, but sort of melodic screech, and the merciless beating she was giving that guitar of hers made me think I might be more emotionally balanced today had I just joined a band…
I was grateful for the Domy connection, to be truthful. Had I not known of What by Whatever and known some of the people involved with the scene, I would’ve been standing around like a dork, just like I did at every other place in Austin.
To keep things consistent in my much-biased Domy-related activities, my friends and I also checked out Magda Sayeg‘s crocheted-covered trees and lamp posts around town. I didn’t have a chance to look at much art while in Austin–going downtown was an unbearable zoo, and by the time I got there, the Arthouse at the Jones Center, which had an exhibition or two I would have checked out if I didn’t fear being trampled, was closed.
To conclude a seemingly endless day, a friend of ours and his band, SanAnTokyo, backed up the legendary Austin musician, artist, writer, and filmmaker Jad Fair. He’s one of the more gifted lyricists I’ve ever seen or heard, and we got to sit in relatively comfortable seats at The Hideout Theatre.
So there you go. I got through an entire weekend of saying Yes! without complaining too terribly much (at least at first) and without getting beer thrown on me or getting punched in the face.
My Yes! commitment continues, though I sometimes get the feeling that all of this leaving the house and a continued flurry of activity will only make me more of a crotchety, misanthropic recluse. I will consider all invitations and challenges, within reason. Again, no weird sex shit, and no repeats of scenes from Pink Flamingos. Keep in mind that, as Ed Helms once said, whilst imitating an elderly person chatting with a telephone solicitor for a sketch on The Daily Show: I’m old. I need ointment. Just something to consider…
(All photos with real people and stuff taken by Barbara Brusehaber McMurray. Or some random guy she roped into taking them.)