You know what I hate about rock? I hate tie-dyed tee shirts. I wouldn't wear a tie-dyed tee shirt unless it was dyed with the urine of Phil Collins and the blood of Jerry Garcia.--Kurt Cobain, 1992
The only tie-dye I remember from Lollapalooza '95 was a cut-rate, red- and orange-splotch job worn by this drunken dweeb who kept spraying me with spit during Cypress Hill's gangbuster set. "Hits from the bong!" he kept yowling behind me. "Hits from the bong!" Fifteen minutes after the East L.A. Spanglish rappers had performed their pro-pot anthem, he was still obliviously at it: "Hits from the bong! Hits from the bong!" Then he feebly attempted a crowd-carry and belly-flopped on my head.
I present all this to justify the warm sense of satisfaction I felt an hour later when, three songs into Hole's gig, I saw him swarmed and brutally taken down by four beefy security goons. I don't know what he did. Maybe they didn't like his shirt. Maybe he was waving a shotgun shell at Courtney. Maybe the guards just got tired of his yelling. Regardless, the last image of a tie-dyed tee shirt I have from Lollapalooza is of its wearer being dragged out of Desert Sky Pavilion in a choke hold.
It's a fitting one, I think: Out, spirit of the Sixties! We exorcise you from this festival of triumph over classic rock! No more must the youth of America make the choice between dinosaur rock and Eighties sugar pop. This is 1995, by God! We've got grunge, we've got hip-hop, and, best of all, we've still got punk! Punk on major labels and commercial radio, no less! Sonic Youth is headlining the biggest commercial tour of the summer (inject maniacal laughter). It's the final victory of indie rock--who cares that it's ten years overdue? Out, out, damn tie-dye! Hey, Garcia: Later, Jerry!
(All right, all right. No need to speak ill of the Dead. Even at Lollapalooza, there was an air of respectful sorrow at Jerry's passing. New Times photo guru Tim Archibald and I asked scores of Lollapaloozers--fans and artists alike--to reflect on Garcia's death. Check out the photo documentary on page 97).
Haight Street and Telegraph Avenue, Melrose, Capitol Hill, and B and Second streets in the deep East Village seem to live in every state now, 20,000 strong, from town to town to town. You can get Doc Martens anywhere. It's a Lollapalooza nation.--Gina Arnold
It all started here. The Lollapalooza vision became reality on July 14, 1991, at Compton Terrace on the Gila Indian Reservation. Fifteen thousand fans baking their brains in 110-degree heat to hear Jane's Addiction, the Rollins Band, the Butthole Surfers and Ice-T, among others. Here was rock critic and longtime Amerindie supporter Gina Arnold's first take:
"I've had my doubts about the righteousness of the Lollapalooza phenomenon. And yet, when I saw Henry Rollins--you remember Henry, formerly in Dischord's SOA and later on in Black Flag--face down the Compton Terrace crowd. . . . I felt a very personal sense of achievement. And by the time I saw them, later in the day, chanting 'Want to be a cop killer' along with Body Count, I knew for a fact that something momentous was occurring. It was the first whisper, a ghostly sigh of success, a rumor whistling across the plain, that the old guard was changing. Forget mainstream radio and the color-bound gridlock of the rest of the industry: The ecstatic reception of Ice-T's new band by 15,000 unbriefed Arizona teenagers said that there might be room in the real world after all for challenging music. At least there is a place, now, for the world to hear it."
That's one thought for Lollapalooza-bashers to consider.
Here's another: The positive impact of Lollapalooza on this country's music industry cannot be denied. The scores of major-market radio stations that shifted their format from classic to modern rock, the ongoing punk renaissance, MTV's addition of hours of "alternative" programming, and, most important, the trend of major labels signing and promoting bands whose sound and message formerly relegated them to indie-label obscurity--all of this can be traced, at least in part, to Lollapalooza's financial success.
So why do so many dis it so hard?
Some of it is selfish backlash by indie fiends who are upset to find that "their" music has irreversibly crossed over. "How could our music appeal to them, too? How dare it even try?" wrote Arnold of fan reaction when the first wave of underground bands broke through. "We were like horrible kindergartners, unwilling to share our secret toys with the world at large."
It's a natural reaction, but a sadly ironic one, given that engineering such a revolution of taste was supposedly the goal of the Amerindie movement in the first place.
Another, more obnoxious species of Lolla-critic are those obedient enforcers of dominant culture who chuckle uneasily at "kids these days" and ridicule the festival as a hypocritical exercise in anticonformist conformity.
"What you won't see a lot of is anything truly 'alternative,'" wrote the Arizona Republic's Bill Goodykoontz in his Lollapalooza preview column, which burned most of its inches on all the "weird" stuff one could witness there (basically a quick rewrite of the Lollapalooza press release on nonmusical side attractions). "That's because there isn't much left for this kind of thing to be alternative to. . . . When everyone else in the crowd is wearing a black Nine Inch Nails tee shirt, too, you're not different anymore.
"Alternative, indeed. To what? Abba?" Damn right to Abba. But more so to a-ha and Genesis and Wham! and Lynyrd Skynyrd and Boston and all the other mind-numbing crap that so much of this country's youth listened to in the Eighties because the good stuff, the angry stuff with a soul, was so hard to find.
And where'd you get the idea that "alternative" means "dress in an utterly unique fashion"? There's power in numbers, Bill, and "kids these days" seem drawn en masse to music that encourages them to both keep their eyes open and get pissed off about what they see. I think that's great. And what's more, if they all wear clothing or decorate their bodies or style their hair in a way that identifies them as an individual part of a growing, aware, pissed-off whole, I think that's great, too.
One more thing--you wrote that Lollapalooza "is like much else in life--a lot of it's been done before." Guess that's why you chose to focus on a kid with a Mohawk and the body-piercing booth in your piece that ran the day after the event, rather than, oh, say, the music. Strange hair and body piercings at Lollapalooza--quite an original angle, if I may say so.
End of rant. Let's get to the fun stuff. It's "Best Of" season here at New Times, so, getting into the spirit of things, I offer you a random array of Best of Lollapaloozas. "BOLs," if you will. This fest had lots of 'em:
Best Storm of the Bastille: This goes to the several hundred cheap-seaters who, in a formidable display of tactical organization, rushed the metal barriers separating them from the front-of-stage/box-seats section on a prearranged signal: the first song by Cypress Hill.
Ninety seconds of fascinating mayhem ensued as hopelessly outnumbered security personnel attempted to hold back the onslaught. They were like eels striking into a school of fish, snagging random, unlucky individuals as the vast majority streamed by. Those caught were picked up and violently jettisoned over the nearest barrier, where they quickly rejoined the pack. Eventually, a half-dozen insurgents picked up a six-foot section of barrier and used it to ram the guards to the ground.
It was a storm whose time had come. Lollapalooza without moshing is like sex without moans, and solid sets by the Jesus Lizard, Beck, Pavement and Elastica were all artificially subdued by the absence of a swarming pit at the foot of the stage.
Best Misuse of Cold-Weather Gear in 102-Degree Heat: A toss-up between the Mighty Mighty Bosstones, who performed in full hipster suits, and Mike Watt, who took to the second stage in a heavy flannel shirt.
Best Onstage Political Spiel: Goes to B-Real, who, at the close of Cypress Hill's set, admonished the crowd: "You motherfuckers better go out and fuckin' vote because we don't need that Dole motherfucker in the fuckin' White House." Fuck yeah, B.
Best Guitar Solo: Any of the several taken by Pavement ax-master Spiral Stairs. Surgically clean, even at warp nine.
Best Hostile Star/Fan Interaction: Goes to Beck and the trio of blue-painted hecklers who spotted him standing outside the backstage exit with friends. They boisterously tried to entice him for a beer. Beck, who had canceled all interviews for the day because he had a bad cold, looked over and issued a meek "Hey, what's up?" before ambling toward his tour bus. Unsatisfied with merely being acknowledged, the wanna-be Braveheart extras let loose a torrent of insults and curses: "You fuckin' loser. What are you, too good for us, you little wiener?" etc. Beck glanced back once and looked like he was about to cry.
Best Last-Minute Save: Goes to Beck's bassist Abbey Travis, who kept Elastica in the show by filling in on four-string. Elastica's bass player had walked off the tour two days before it hit Phoenix. Travis played with a notebook of progressions at her feet, but made it through Elastica's 50-minute set with nary a falter.
Best Backstage Courtney Love Quote: Said to a roadie helping her log onto the Internet: "What, what, what, what is my fucking password? Hey, what kind of pill do you want? I've got any kind of pill you want."
Best Onstage Courtney Love Quote: Said to a dude in the pit who screamed, "I want to fuck you so bad," as she came onstage: "You wanna fuck me? If you make it up here, I'll do it. If you make it past all these big, strong guys, I'll do it. I haven't been laid in a while. Come on, be brave." Best Beat Box: Goes to Malik B. of the Roots, a Philadelphia hip-hop quartet that laid down some seriously phat lyrics and grooves on the second stage. With live drums, standup bass and Malik bustin' the dope beats with his mouth, the Roots demonstrated there is life for hip-hop beyond the sampler. Keep an eye out for this group.
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Best Stage Presence: Courtney Love, hands down. She stumbled. She slurred. She preened. She deep-throated condoms full of water. She argued with her band about what song to play. She sang the hell out of her songs. She looked really cool with her hair blowing in the fan breeze with one leg up on a stage monitor so as to flash some serious thigh. She played the part of a rock diva burning the candle at both ends. With a blowtorch. She posed hard, but she was a riot to watch.
Best Thing About the Phoenix Crowd: Most of them stuck around to hear Sonic Youth. Reports from most other Lollapalooza dates had a third or even half of the audience leaving after Hole. There was a noticeable exodus after Courtney and Company left the stage in Phoenix, but nowhere near that kind of hemorrhage.
Sonic Youth's set was worth sticking around for. The musicians were so comfortable onstage, so straight-up and so on top of their sound that they were a friendly wonder to watch.
Feedback is like a genie. To make it work magic for you, you have to keep it under tight control. Sonic Youth never let the monster slip its leash. Just when you thought the band had fallen over the edge into chaos, the sonic assault would stop on a dime. Thunderous roars and shrieks to silence in a split second. Awesome precision. And when Thurston Moore howled into the microphone over his band's crashing pillars of noise, I took it as a cathartic tribute to Hsker D, Sugar, the Minutemen, TSOL, Redd Kross and all the other underground war-horses of the Eighties that pulled and pulled, but never fully got their due.