Lou Barlow hates my guts. This I know is true. I’ve seen him perform three times (solo, with Dinosaur Jr., and with Sebadoh) and on each occasion his hatred was made apparently clear. My recent behavior at a Sebadoh show proves I haven’t learned my lesson.
It all began back in 2005 when PtheStudP, Johnny Goodyear, and myself saw Lou Barlow perform a solo performance during SXSW at The Parish. As I remember it, he put on a fabulous, intimate set, highlighted by a performance of the song “Mary”, a song questioning the true origins of Christ.
Afterwards we went off to catch more shows and drink more beer. By the end of the night our merry crew of mischief-makers were stumbling up the sidewalk of 8th street in search of our parking garage when we saw Lou Barlow, in the flesh, up ahead, walking towards us. He was close enough that none of us dared to notify each other in case he’d hear us, yet far enough away that we had the awkward, silent walk ahead of us. As we neared the face to face walk by with Lou, I scrambled to think of what to say.
By the time we stood feet away, I only lowered my head and avoided eye contact with the Almighty Lou. He passed by us, and not a word was spoken by any of us. Within my head I awoke, realizing something had to be said: a thank you, a “we’re big fans”, or even a question like “Will there ever be another Folk Implosion album?” With each step forward, our opportunity to speak to the great one moved further and further away. I quickly turned around to see Lou’s back walking away and blurted out, “GREAT SHOW LOOOOOOOOOOOOU!”
Lou stopped in his tracks and turned his head back toward us. Upon his face sat an annoyed scowl, followed by a disappointed shake of his head. I had angered the Gods. He turned away and not another word was spoken.
Once we’d retreated from the scene of embarrassment, Johnny and P railed into me for mocking Lou. I had no intentions of making fun of Mr. Barlow, but PtheStudP’s retelling captured the complete obnoxiousness that was my shout of, “Great show LOOOOOOOOOOOOOU!” To this day I haven’t lived this moment down.
So when the opportunity to see Sebadoh at Emo’s in Austin arose a few months ago, I was tentative. Did I dare tempt fate?
Of course I ignored my uncertainties (it is Sebadoh after all), and went to the show, vowing to myself that even if the opportunity came up to talk to Lou that I wouldn’t take it. My friend Doon and I arrived in Austin early in the afternoon, so we decided to visit 6th street for a few pre-show drinks. Not a good idea, especially when you start at four in the afternoon. After burgers at Casino El Camino, we hit a few more bars, eventually watching the NBA Dunk Contest which only caused me to drink at an even faster rate (a pseudo-dunk over a Kia won? Really?!).
By the time we arrived at Emo’s, I was three sheets to the wind. As we strolled through the entrance, the first thing I saw was Lou “mother fucking” Barlow running the merch booth, all by himself. There were no patrons, just Lou, leaning on the counter, smiling at the passer-bys.
As I neared him I felt his eyes moving up toward my face and I realized I had to retreat. What if he remembered me as the “Great show Loooooou!” guy?! I made my way into the crowd, found a hiding place up by the stage, and spied the merch booth from a far. Part of me wanted to correct my wrongs, to prove to Lou that I wasn’t a gigantic douche, yet I restrained my drunken self.
The girl standing next to me must have noticed me watching Lou because she interrupted my stakeout asking, “You ever seen Sebadoh before?” I awoke from my haze and answered her question, feeling like a creeper. But then she one-upped me. “Yeah, we’ve seen them play the last three nights starting in Norman, then Dallas, and finally here.” I love Sebadoh, but following the band for three straight shows? She was either a Lou Barlow groupie or stalker – or both. “You ever talked to him?” she asked.
“Um…no,” I replied, hiding the shame of my one Lou Barlow interaction.
“Yeah, we talked to him last night. He’s so chill. Real nice guy.” Crap. The one time I interacted with the guy he was neither cool nor relaxed. Was I that big of a dick that I could melt Lou Barlow’s “chill” personality into burning anger?
Eventually Lou and crew took the stage for sound check, and as I stood stage side, Lou bent down in front of me to adjust his pedals. “Don’t say anything, don’t say anything, don’t say anything,” echoed in my brain. Somehow my inner-monologue squelched my urge to speak. The girl next to me didn’t have the same restraint. “Are you playing all of ‘Bubble and Scrape’ tonight?” she asked.
Lou looked up through his horn-rimmed glasses and grinned, “Yep, we’re playing stuff from everything. ‘Harmacy’, ‘Bubble and Scrape’, ‘Bakesale’, you name it.” He was so nice! So congenial! How had we started off on such a bad foot? Yet I remained stuck to my position as a “viewer”, no interaction necessary.
As with most sound checks, I checked out for a bit, staring blankly at the drum kit as thoughts of shitty dunk contests danced in my head. Lou bent down in front of me once again to tweak his pedals some more. The headstock of his guitar sat right in the line of my vision, and I noticed something strange: a 12-string guitar with only four strings. Without even thinking, the alcohol took over my brain and I said without any filter, “That 12-string only has four strings.” I don’t know who I was talking to, or why I was talking – I was simply talking for talking sake. Lou looked up to me and smiled. Crap! He’d heard me!
“That’s right,” he replied in a tone that implied I was a four year old. I’d broken my code, and now I didn’t know whether Lou was mocking me or if he regularly spoke like Ms. Lippy to his fans. I had to add a follow-up question; I’d already broken my code of silence, might as well try to redeem myself from sounding like a complete tard. “Um, what song do you play that guitar on?” I asked. In hindsight, this was a horrible question, but for some reason, in that moment I figured he was like Sonic Youth and had a guitar for each song.
My friend realized I was talking to Lou and captured this momentous occasion with his camera phone (I'm the bald dude staring at Lou's guitar).
Once again, his nurturing voice responded, “I play it on a lot of songs.” He gave me another friendly look that could have been read as either mocking or grateful. To this day I’m not sure if it was a “Wow, that guy’s a drunken fool” smile or if it was a legitimate “He’s a fan and I care about that guy” smile. I didn’t have time to mull over his response because only seconds later the first chord rang out of the speakers and all my inebriated thoughts were on the music.
He could have answered “Beauty of the Ride” with him playing his mystical 12-string here:
The band went on to play for two hours. TWO HOURS! Usually when a show goes this long I get bored, but I actually had no idea it had gone this long. I figured it was a 45-minute set until Doon informed me later how long they’d played. It was literally one classic after another. Like putting your i-Pod on shuffle through your Sebadoh folder (translation: fucking well time spent).
Only later did I realize that I’d made a fool of myself in front of Lou once again. First time I was an ass, second time a fool. Third time’s a charm, right? I guess I’ll just have to wait for the Folk Implosion reunion tour to make things right.
A clip I took only moments after being talked to like a child by Lou: