Give Him Some Water so He Wont Die

South By Southwest by OC Weekly

Mick Rock, "the man who shot the '70s," is looking more and more like Phil Spector. Hiding his eyes of the world behind sunglasses, he bares a white-toothed smile when a fan approaches him with a vinyl copy of Lou Reed's Transformer,the cover image of which he shot. Rock chomps down on the record and poses for the throng of photographers gathered to document him signing his book, BloodandGlitter.It's all part of a two-week-long exhibition of his rock & roll portraitures at Factory People, a boutique on the bohemian strip of South Congress. Featured is a head shot of the Ramones that is especially eye-grabbing because it is one of a few that portrays them in color. In another, Andy Warhol sports a Santa Claus outfit and giant lollipop and lets a denim-clad Truman Capote hug him. (Other famous shots that might have gone unnoticed: the cover of Iggy & the Stooges' RawPowerand a good portion of the images from Bowie's Ziggy Stardust days.) Rock's casual shots of Reed, Pop and Bowie in their heyday are regarded by Obey Giant creator Shepard Fairey as seminal images in celebrity photography, one he says his protégé, Mark "the Cobrasnake" Hunter, will someday capture. Incidentally, the Cobrasnake is in from LA, shooting SXSW—but from the outside. He says he chose not to get a press pass for easy entrance to the showcases because "that's not really my thing."

Somebody gave struggling bands the idea that handing out fliers at SXSW is a great way to generate publicity. Mostly, it's just really annoying, but if you're gonna get out there and push your band like a used-car salesman, you might as well do it with style. Follow the lead of this young fellow in a slim-fitting vintage shirt, slicked-back hair, dark sunglasses—he's like the indie rock version of Vince Vaughn circa Swingers.With a cigarette dangling from his lips, he says, "Good times, good music. It's all about the party, baby." He hands you a post card featuring the Gun Shy. You don't check them out, but you do drop them into your blog. You're more interested in checking out a slightly less gregarious band, Great Lake Swimmers. The lead singer's deadpan introduction goes something like this: "We're from Toronto. This is a song about manic depression."

Nevertheless, the set is delightful. Pretty and sleepy, but not somber. That is, until their morose lead-in to the last song: "This is the first of many thank-yous to Dylan and Phil for putting us up here in Austin. Thank you for coming to our first show in America. This song is called 'I Will Never See the Sun.'" Hey, what did you say about that party, baby?

"It's sad when some 85-year-old who had shock treatment is better than everyone else," someone says one chorus in to vaunted Texas acid martyr Roky Erickson's set at the Threadgill's Psychedelic Ice Cream Social, and isn't that a nice thing to hear? Because history loves an artsy weirdo, and Roky's so artsy and weird he elevates toward genius—the American Syd Barrett, the guy who kissed the sky and then fell hard on his ass. After a lot of long trips in the '60s, poor Roky went from his band the 13th Floor Elevators to a series of insane asylums. That's dedication to your muse, though. Anyway, he's back tonight, and he had a vaguely pained, half-surprised sort of look for the whole set, opening his eyes all the way only when he'd smile at someone he recognized in the crowd, but he pecked merrily at his guitar and couldn't have done much of anything to get this feel-good hometown crowd to quit loving him. "Starry Eyes" was darling power pop; forgot the middle tune's name, but it's the blues riff about the Beast; and then Roky's othermonster hit, "Two-Headed Dog." Nothing says "thanks for visiting Austin" like a couple of hundred ex-hippies singing along with "Been workin' in the Kremlin with a two-headed dog!" The PA blew up right then, and since no one really knew the lyrics but Roky (not that the crowd didn't mumble supportively), the set rolled to a flat-tire stop after three songs. Roky slid out from that guitar pretty quick, and everyone applauded extra, extra hard. Here's some for the songs, Roky; here's some for just being you. Here's for the free ice cream we get in the back, and here's for all our tax dollars that paid for the electricity the insane asylum zapped you with back in the '60s. Sorry—we cool now?

It takes an inhuman amount of stamina to be a rock star. SXSW gives aspiring bands a glimpse into the Big Time—grueling schedules, industry scumbags, unremembered compromises that make up a whole career. It's all there for a taste test at SXSW. Some will be jolted awake tonight by the image of a black-clad A&R agent on a police motorcycle, dragging the rotting corpse of a deer. A quick spin in the fast lane can leave you debilitated and dependent on pills just to remain semi-functional. Look at Roky Erickson, the poor bastard: after only three songs, he had to be strapped down to a strong board and carried off to a dark quiet room. Rock stars live a little less for the music to live forever.

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