My first thought is, is that a mouse? But no, it's a huge cockroach, running up the wall and across the ceiling of Quesadilla Heaven -- a funky dive where the Ivy League old media zombies gather for lunch during South By. But the food is great. It's basically a patio with a kitchen next door, not too far from the Four Seasons.
They do refried beans right. The beans are spicy, but not so hot you can't taste them. When the beehived waitress brings my plate of huevos rancheros, they are practically floating in a puddle of pork grease. She tells me you're supposed to use the corn tortillas to sop it up.
They only take cash here. The owner doesn't want to lose money to the credit card companies and his customers put up with it. I know, what a hassle! Soon, everyone will be paying with their phones anyway, like the Japanese.
I'm sitting at what seems like a card table covered with a plastic red-and-white checkered tablecloth. There's a little bottle of green hot sauce that has a crust around the cap. The back wall is covered in vinyl records. Looking around, I'm probably in the minority of people here who have ever bought a new LP record, let alone a 45! But it's a quaint touch from a bygone era before we figured out the Stones and Zeppelin, Elvis and the Colonel, we're all making their fortunes ripping off black music. Like Bieber, only better. Who I read now smokes dope.
I mean, this cockroach is ENORMOUS AND HAIRY, like Bernie Leadon's mustache circa 1973. The Austin natives I had been drinking aguas frescas with the night before warned me about the Texas-sized roaches I might see crawling around town. They are called "palmetto" bugs, but they just look like big, hairy cockroaches. No one told me they could fly.
It was during a quick lunch -- everything feels rushed at South By -- with Richard Vann Sprecher, a good friend I made on the plane ride back from MIDEM four or five years ago. Rich worked his way up from being the road manager for Foghat to head of Warners A&R when that really meant something. He's also the only guy to sail solo around the world in an animal-powered boat.
So Richard is talking about something called "media convergence theory" and I'm watching as this mouse-or mustache-sized creature is making quick figure eights right above our table. I can't tear my eyes off of it. Then suddenly it stops and... seems to lose its grip on the ceiling, like it's going to drop straight into Rich's chicken posole! But before I can say or do a thing, the roach starts flapping it's wings and takes off flying.
Wings? Roaches don't have wings! Imagine spending your whole life thinking you know something about fish and water, and then one day you're shopping in Pasadena and you see a fish walking across the street!
"Flying" is probably not the right word. It's kind of bouncing from ceiling to floor -- knocking over a salt shaker on the table next to us, banging into the mariachi bandleader's guitar, briefly tangling in Beth Ditto's hair, and finally, slamming itself like a Kamikaze into an eggshell blue wall. The roach leaves a wet mark as it slides to the floor, still moving slightly until a woman causally crushes it under her boot heel before leaving with her carryout order.
It's like when you're on an early morning run down Rasputin's Revenge in Vail's legendary Back Bowls. The sun is just right, you can feel the cold but it's exhilarating, and you're listening to the seventh track off Glen Frey's 2nd solo album called "Moon Explosion" through a pair of Beats by Dre you got in a gift basket, picking up speed just as your hitting that moment in the chorus when Glenn doesn't know what kind of beautiful thing or sucker punch Life is going to throw at him next --
There is a light in the darkness
There is a light in the darkness
There is a light in the darkness
Some kind of light IN THE DARKNESS!
And the next thing you know your skis have left the ground and you are tumbling into a rocky ravine at 30 mph. No one, not even Steve Jobs, knows what the future holds. I'm talking specifically about the disaster called iTunes 11.
Every few years like clockwork I have a dream in which I visit Linda Rondstadt's old house -- the funky one in Tuscon, before she moved back to San Francisco. I arrive to find the driveway unfinished, so I park my car, take off my shoes, roll up my pants, and wade through a cold, shallow stream as I approach the house.
Someone is playing the Beatle's song "Blackbird" on an acoustic guitar. Ms. Ronstadt is at her loveliest, almost too beautiful for human language.
She stands on the porch in a flowing white dress holding a pitcher of iced margaritas. All of the Eagles are there, sitting cross-legged at her feet in a semi-circle, except Joe Walsh who hasn't joined the band yet. Somehow I know that the first word she speaks to me will become my mantra and unlock the secrets of not only my life but the true meaning of music. Why did all the best bands happen when I was at the age when everyone feels that way about the music they grow up with? Can someone explain why the recording technology of today make music sound really annoying? Is electronica the new grunge?
She opens her mouth to speak and -- that's when I wake up. Every time.
One of the waiters dutifully sweeps the dead cockroach into a dustpan, and even though some of us have gone back to eating, we're all still watching -- the unshaven alt rocker in torn jeans and a ragged Windows T-shirt, the blonde hipster PR-type from New York who could pass for a model behind her black frame glasses, the suits. Even Rich, who has seen things on the road that would leave most people permanently damaged.
And then it hits me. It doesn't matter.
Whether it's Rebecca Black's "Friday," or that OK Go video with the treadmills, or Taylor Swift's gaudy parade of tabloid heartbreaks, fans just need the connection. Does your song capture the sweeping terror and fragile brevity of human experience?
If so, maybe we're interested.
Oh sure, you've still got to have the goods to truly make it big. Even Don Henley needed help with "Hotel California" and they almost didn't include it on the album! And don't send me your crappy demos and expect an introduction to an A&R guy who can't make your career anyway.
But if you can find a cockroach that does something no one has ever seen before, put it up on YouTube! If it's the right cockroach that does the right kind of something, for the right reasons, at the right moment, and is somehow seen and heard by the right people, you just might briefly make a terrible living in this crazy business.