Scenes From Nowhere

A Coachella diary from that other desert to the left

"We were victorious," says one.

"We damn near convinced everyone we should pitch our tents on their front lawn," brags the other.

Jason Hill

Goldenvoice's Tollett may insist this isn't Los Angeles' show, but in the VIP tent, it might as well be David Geffen's luxury box at the Staples Center. Everyone chats. Everyone networks. Artists, roadies, publicists, pals, agents, party hearties and groupies act like it's a fashion show. A good percentage of the women wear cowboy hats or stunningly chic boots, some with fur for an Eskimo motif -- in the desert.

Surrounded by the chain-link fence, the VIP tent sits to the left of the main stage, the one ostensibly featuring the best music. But that doesn't deter the gamesmanship. Try to listen to the Mars Volta and become enveloped by giggling and small talk (they sucked ass anyway, like a Rush cover band manned by 8-year-olds). Eat a burger and spot a blond-Mohawked Kelly Osbourne, whose pronounced pout suggests she thinks this is minor league.

Looking over the stone railing that doubles as a rest area, I notice Chris Dangerous, guitarist for the Hives, and Fredrik Sandsten, drummer for the Soundtrack of Our Lives, sitting side by side. Their bands are from Sweden -- in our minds, they represent a new garage-rock movement coming from their homeland. So is this the case, and what do they get out of playing a scene like this?

"It's a strange thing," says Dangerous. I know it's him -- dressed in black, his shirt says CHRIS DANGEROUS in white letters, and the shades and blank expression make him look like he doesn't give a shit. "You get one band from Sweden that makes it big, and then a lot of other bands follow."

He pauses and looks at his friend. " I mean, we don't play the same music at all."

For his part, Sandsten is happy to be here. "At home, [a festival like this] is supposed to be as dirty as possible," he says.

Sandsten's uniform includes a ruffled light-blue shirt; he's hip to the late '70s. Is he dying in the heat? "This one is very light," he remarks. His singer should be so lucky: Ebbot Lundberg is being treated for sunstroke as we speak.

Hip can be perilous.

I meet Fun Yung Moon in the parking lot Sunday. Moon is a sound engineer and musician who lives in Tucson and works in Phoenix. He's 33 years old, friendly, and pumped. With a frighteningly skinny frame, pot-leaf-decorated fanny pack, beard and balding head, he resembles a street guru. Moon recites his love for the Beastie Boys, and recalls his favorites who've played Coachella over the years (Björk, Jane's Addiction). He contemplates our good fortune.

"It takes a long time to stir shit up back in Rhode Island, New York, Long Island, Philadelphia, Boston. I mean, we're talking straight-arrow blue bloods, basically," he says. "But out here in the West, you can come and bust 'em on horses for smoking pot, but you can't stop the people. You can't stop what's going on out here."

So here we are, two Arizona boys exchanging pleasantries. Suddenly, Moon says, "Can I hit you with one thing so you know I'm legit?"

Sure. And then he freestyles into my recorder.

"No product placement of gangstas or spacemen, just your friendly neighborhood inner child locked in the basement. The cellar/Not the sellout/The underground dweller/The boy next door/I can predict the next war . . . Syria/But that's not what this text is for/Why should I/When we're all going to out and get wrecked some more/Like I did before."

Sounds about right.

Moments before the White Stripes walk onstage Sunday night, the atmosphere around me grows alarming.

Until now, the weekend has been a musical show-and-tell. Kinky and Café Tacuba, with quirky beats and varied influences, rocked the Mexican avant-garde; Joseph Arthur kicked it folky for what he called his "hippie" minions; Franti, in a solo-spoken word jaunt, inspired an overflowing tent of people to hold hands and absorb his powerful anti-war speech; Timo Maas and Deep Dish dropped jaws with simultaneous worldbeat-informed spins; Jack Johnson and Ben Harper aimed to hit their crowds with acoustic spark but mostly served up wet firecrackers; and Perry Ferrell played amped court jester with an unannounced DJ set. But this is the zenith, the beginning of a one-two Detroit jab and hook along with Iggy Pop and his Stooges.

But in the darkness, a flashing red-and-yellow medical light and siren makes its way through the crowd. Someone is hurt. Not more than 30 seconds later, I peer at a girl standing next to me. Her eyeballs are rolled back into her head. She stands as stiff and straight as lumber. And then she collapses, smacking her head on that beautiful grass, tensing up like a fish out of water, convulsing. As onlookers hover to watch and friends rush to help her, I'm pushed away, and she disappears into the masses. The Stripes launch into the frantic "Black Math." Guitarist Jack White strains like a strung-out CC Deville.

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