On my work desktop are Aquarian tearsheets that go back to August 2004. They rest in case they’re ever needed—the ones that old almost never are—on a hard drive that has 869.86 gigabytes of a total 1 terabyte free. Those are humbling numbers.
At this point, in capacity either as an intern, freelance columnist, editor, contributor and then editor again, I’ve worked for The Aquarian for a decade. A not-insubstantial portion of its 45-year history. As such, many of the tearsheets on that hard drive of features, reviews, columns, etc., are my own. This is especially true of the older issues.
I don’t remember what I was looking to dig out the other day, but as happens from time to time, I went surfing through directories of old Aquarians—the way I might if I went into what we call “The Morgue” in the back of the office and flipped the pages, only with less ink on my hands. Early into 2005, I found a feature I wrote called “Drunken Notes From SXSW.”
Now, I did this more than once. I went to the annual music festival/conference in Austin, TX, five times between 2004-2008, the first as a representative of WSOU and the rest on behalf of The Aquarian. The 2005 “Drunken Notes From SXSW” was the first time writing about it though, and it was exactly that: Me, drunk, scribbling hand-written notes on how my days and nights were spent over the course of that long weekend in Austin. Some of the original notebook pages were scanned with the feature. A wonder I could read my own writing.
The main impression? Not nostalgia, or golly-I-wish-I-could-do-that-again or anything like that. It was how much shit I talked. I talked so much shit! It was all, “Fuck this band,” and, “Fuck these people,” and “I’m drunk fuck off and rock and roll sucks and fuck you.” A running theme throughout the whole piece was multi-directional (including inward-bound) fucking.
It occurred to me reading that that’s not something I could get away with today. Back then, it was in print for a week and then it was gone. I don’t think The Aquarian even had a website, and if it did, I know for a fact that nobody went to it. Now, if I was to talk needless, senseless, poorly-syntaxed shit on some random artist about whom I may or may not have even meant it, I’d be opening myself up to all kinds of unwanted hassle. And yes, by that I mean an email asking why I talked all that shit.
Most people think of the internet as the free space where one is totally anonymous and able to let loose whatever viciously stupid, unfounded, profanity-laden garbage might occur to them on a given afternoon. Fair enough, but if you put something out on the internet and it’s in your name, it’s there forever. It doesn’t just go away. If I got back from Texas and printed something about fuck hipsters and SXSW was full of assholes—and it would seem I did—it was gone in a week just about everywhere but my hard drive.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure somebody has an Aquarian from 2005 sitting around. Hell, there’s a stack on the floor of the editorial office that starts before my first issue as editor, Aug. 11, 2004, so I know they exist, even if the pages are yellow as hell. Fact is though, the vast majority of the copies were printed, went out, read (hopefully) and trashed. Completely ephemeral. There in the moment, gone in a week’s time.
Not to say I never got in trouble for talking shit and that I still don’t from time to time, but I find these days I’m much more guarded precisely because I know everything I say in print goes online with my name attached. That’s probably for the best, since the world needs more shit-talking like it needs the oceans five degrees hotter, but even for just a couple minutes, I missed the excitement of getting away with the unfiltered, unrestrained—and indeed, frickin’ wasted—shilling of opinions.
You never realize how much you’ve been playing it safe until you see a reminder of when you didn’t.
PS: Happy birthday to my wife, Wendy Wright, who turns 33 today. I feel comfortable saying that because I know she never reads the paper (or the website).