I have to come realize that I have lived most of my life under the pressure of self-imposed deadlines. This writing project is a perfect example. I didn’t have to do this. But for some reason I set myself the ludicrous goal of writing a chapter a week for a year. I’ve enjoyed doing it, mostly, but it’s been a constant psychological burden. Of my own making. It’s not the first time I’ve put pressure on myself, and it probably wont be the last time either.
In my early twenties, while in law school, I decided that I didn’t want to be a lawyer. Instead, I wanted to be in a career where I could be creative. But I set myself an arbitrary deadline to find that career. I promised myself that if I’d not found success in a creative job by the time I turned 30, then I would get a proper job.
I wanted to enjoy my 20’s too, and for the most part I did. I didn’t think much about the future. I moved around a lot, I lived in different countries, and I explored all sorts of potential vocations such as screenplay writer, band manager, and film director. In the process I had a lot of fun, but I never made much money. For a decade, I was always broke for the last week of every month, and if it wasn’t for my magic credit cards* that lifestyle wouldn’t have been possible. (* They were not magic at all).
So for a long time, the date of August 28, 2005, the day that I would turn 30, was a significant deadline for me. When I turned 29, in August 2004, I knew what was around the corner and I started making plans to make a change. Around that time I got a better job within the Texas Legislative Council as a Researcher, and I moved into a nicer apartment on South Congress.
My friend Steve and the guys in the Real Heroes had to help me move though, because I’d dislocated my kneecap again playing soccer, requiring surgery. In fact, I got injured in my first game back, after a year of rehabbing the same knee, from the same injury and reconstructive surgery. The new apartment was on the third floor, so after a 2nd knee surgery, I was marooned up there for a while, unable to walk or drive.
That’s where I started making real plans to leave Austin and to be an attorney in New York. I decided I was going to take the Bar Exam and move to New York City when my new lease expired in 12 months’ time, three days after my 30th birthday. Or alternatively, based on the promise I’d made years earlier, that meant that I had one more year to make it as a creative person.
I met Farah in December 2004 and then I took the Bar Exam in Albany in February 2005 (see Chapter 2). After the exam, I became friends with a guy called Jason Schell. He had a weekly radio show on Saturday evenings on KOOP called ‘Potluck’, playing random music from around the world. Late one night, after we had been out drinking and talking about bands, he invited me to do a segment each week on his show about music from the UK. Or maybe I invited myself. But either way I had a new creative focus.
I’d never done radio before but I loved it. Each week I’d find three songs that were linked in some way, maybe geographically or stylistically, I’d write a few jokes, play the tunes, and we’d have some banter. Sometimes I would pretend to be from the city I was spotlighting and do a really bad comedy accent. I’m not sure how many people in Austin got the joke, but Jason and I thought it was funny.
MySpace was the big social network at the time and one week while searching for new music from Sheffield, I came across a band called the Arctic Monkeys. They only had 2 or 3 songs back then and less than a 1000 followers, but the songs were brilliant so I put them on the air. This was early 2005, and so I’m pretty sure that I was the first person to play the Arctic Monkeys on US radio. I kept saying to Jason and Farah that they would be the next big thing, but everyone said there was no way because they had a stupid name. I wonder where they are now?
I really enjoyed the radio experience and I started to develop an idea for a new show together with Steve. We called it Alien Radio and it was a mixture of UK music and comedy sketches about Austin, from an outsider’s perspective.
We wrote a bunch of scenes, recorded them on a mini disc and pitched it to the bosses at KUT. I tried to tell them about this new thing called ‘podcasts’ and that this would be really good as one of those, but they were not interested.
The Summer of 2005 was pretty good though. Farah I and were pretty much inseparable. She was working down the street from my apartment at Pink on South Congress, and so we saw each other pretty much every day. There were a couple of Special Sessions at work that summer, but nothing too demanding. I worked until about 8pm most nights which meant that I built up a stack of vacation credit, but I didn’t get burned out.
As that big 30th birthday deadline approached in August 2005, I started to wonder if leaving Austin was the right thing to do. I’d got my results from the New York bar exam in May, (I passed), and so I knew that I could practice as an attorney there whenever. At the same time, I was falling in love with Farah, the radio show was going well, I had a decent job, and I was happy.
But whenever I brought up the possibility of me staying in Austin, Farah would actually encourage me to go. Not because she didn’t want me to be around, but because I don’t think she wanted to be the reason that I broke that promise I’d made to myself. And she wanted me to do what was best for me. She said that if our love was true then we would find a way to make it work.
I reasoned that I was ready to leave Austin, but I wasn’t quite ready to leave Farah. So I pushed the departure date back until December. And when my lease expired I moved in with Farah for a few more months.
My 30th birthday was a good one. The day before my birthday was a Saturday and so I was planning on doing my segment on Jason’s show as usual. But he had plans to be out of town and he asked me to fill in for the entire 2-hour show. It was the 10-year anniversary of the week I’d first come to Austin, and the 10-year anniversary of the Oasis v. Blur chart battle. For two hours I could play whatever I wanted. I decided to present a two-hour Britpop special for the people of Austin.
I worked on preparing the show all week. I recorded an expletive-filled phone conversation with Liam Gallagher of Oasis (both parts played by me), and I edited some Beatles dialogue to make it sound like I was interviewing them. I had my friend DJ Linda help me with the knobs, and I presented a countdown of my top 10 Britpop songs. Pulp’s Common People was number 1, and Liam Gallagher (me again) called in to complain.
I loved every minute of it and it got a good response from the listeners. Finally, I’d achieved a small amount of creative success, and I’d done it with just a few hours to spare before turning 30. But it wasn’t quite a new career, and I retired from radio that night.
For my birthday, Farah rented out a movie theatre at Dobie Mall and we watched Ferris Bueller’s Day Off with all our friends. And she also quit smoking.
Then Farah and I went traveling together in Europe. All those extra hours working for the State meant that I had accrued something like 10 weeks of paid vacation. So I took off the whole of September 2005.
I took Farah to the UK and Norway on what still might be my favorite trip ever. We flew into Glasgow, and Farah met my Mum and Dad for the first time. We had a couple of jetlagged pints with the parents on the banks of Loch Lomond, and there wasn’t a single moment of awkwardness. Farah was amazing with my folks, and I think they probably fell in love with her too that day.
Over the next few days we saw Scotland almost beat Italy in Glasgow and then we went to Oslo to see Scotland actually beat Norway with the Tartan Army. Farah had a macaroni pie at Hampden and a weird fiskepudding in Oslo. We stayed at a 5-star hotel in Edinburgh, (thanks to the magic credit card), and we had a picnic in Princes Street Gardens watching the end of festival fireworks.
We went putting in St. Andrews and had fish and chips in Anstruther. In Oslo we stayed with Jambo, we visited the Nobel Peace Museum, and I fell off a chair in a pub after the Scotland game. Farah didn’t stop laughing for days. We had a night out with friends in London, and Farah memorably kicked me up the arse in Edinburgh.
After an amazing week, Farah went back to Austin and I stayed in Scotland for another 10 days. I went to a family wedding in Italy and saw a bunch of bands in Glasgow, but I really did miss Farah. I guess that’s when I knew for sure that I wanted her in my life forever.
I remember I got back to Austin in late September 2005. My old friend Craigy was getting married in Chicago at the start of October and Jambo and Nelly were coming over for it. I managed to convince them all to come to Austin first, and we got tickets for the ACL Festival.
It was a pretty solid line-up that year. Oasis and Coldplay were headliners, and we saw Franz Ferdinand and The Walkmen on the Friday and Saturday, but Sunday was strong all day. That would have been Sunday September 25th, 2005.
Here’s the thing – all week long building up to the festival, the idiot weather forecasters were saying that Austin was going be hit with a massive hurricane at the weekend. This was less than a month after Katrina had hit New Orleans. So all those images of the flooding and the looting and the chaos were pretty fresh in everyone’s minds. And people in Austin started freaking out about this supposed hurricane. It wasn’t even raining and people started to hoard food and gas as if the apocalypse was coming. Seriously, I remember going to HEB and they were completely out of bread and bottled water. People were fighting over frozen pizzas, and I couldn’t even make a sandwich.
The hurricane never arrived. It didn’t even get cloudy. Instead that Sunday was the hottest day in years. It was 107F. And me, Nelly, Craigy and Jambo, four pasty white Scottish guys, were outside all day at the ACL Festival, from noon until 10pm. It was fucking brutal. We didn’t even have hats on. I think that we saw Doves around 4pm, and then Arcade Fire around 5pm. Both bands were amazing but we were dying.
Somehow we stayed until the end. We felt like we had been at war. On the Sunday night after it was over, we walked back to my apartment and we all collapsed on the floor. Our clothes were ruined with dust and sweat, our bodies were overheated, our brains had melted, and our feet were numb. We’d done three days at the festival, and ten hours in desert storm conditions.
Then Farah called. I’d hardly seen her in two weeks, what with being in Scotland and hosting the lads. She hadn’t been to the festival so she was full of energy. She told me that she was going out to see a band she loved called Dungen, and that she was on her way to pick me up. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.
Somehow I dragged myself off the floor, changed my clothes, and went out to Emos with Farah. Emos is/was a great venue, but not if you haven’t sat down in three days. And Dungen are an awesome band. But it could have been The Beatles themselves and I would have loathed it. I remember when the lead singer of Dungen announced that their next song was to be the last song of the night. I was so happy. And then they launched into a 20-minute psychedelic jam. I was sure that they were taking the piss. I nearly went up there and unplugged them myself.
Finally it was over and we’re walking back to Farah’s car. She’s walking, I’m hobbling. I’m grabbing every lamp post and staggering around like a zombie. But I know that the end of the night is near. Then we walk past the goth club Elysium and Farah remembers its 80’s night, so she says she’s just going to pop in for a quick dance. I’m like “You Are Fucking Joking!” But in she goes and in I follow. Mercifully, we were out of there in about 15 minutes or I may have strangled a goth. Anyone else would have done the same. The things you do for love.
After Craigy’s awesome wedding in Chicago, I sold a lot of my stuff and I moved in with Farah. My 30th birthday had come and gone. The big deadline had passed. It was time to get serious. I loved living with Farah though. It would have been easy for me to stay. But I’d made a promise. Maybe Farah would have thought less of me too if I’d gone back on my plan. I knew I had to go.
So I made myself a new deadline, as I always seem to do: find myself a job and an apartment in New York by the end of the year.