HellFest

Music festivals come straight from Satan. It's the only way to explain them. People have been complaining for years that rock is the devil's music, but they've got it all wrong. Standing around all day sweating in the hot sun in an endless sea of human wreckage, sucking down four-dollar cups of water, watching hotshots (the road crew, mind you, not the musicians) work their asses off to please the mercurial mood of the crowd -- this sounds like what to you? Lifestyles of the rich and famous? It's capital punishment, for chrissake. In other words, Hell.

Whenever some big show starts grinding its circus wheels, I'm reminded of the various reports I've received over the years. An old college professor described Woodstock in less than idyllic terms. "Three days of peace and music?" he'd bark. "Huh! Three days of trying to figure out where I parked the car." Or my friend Jon, who worked Woodstock II as one of the suckers who kept a fire lit all day and night to warm the huddled masses: "It rained during Aerosmith. I knew it was God punishing us for trying to do it again."

Large, unwieldy assemblies of people over long stretches of time can come to nothing but trouble. I always figured these mass celebrations were a government tool for mind control, similar to the way powerful government agencies flash subliminal messages during big TV events -- the World Series, the Super Bowl, Roots. With an annual brainwashing event like Lollapalooza (more than one billion served since 1991!) masquerading as an "alternative" youth fair, why isn't it obvious? Who short of the FBI would assemble the current mishmash? And who is this Perry Farrell guy anyway and how did he end up with ownership of this word Lollapalooza? The guy was a singer in an overhyped art-metal band and next thing you know he's out franchising a rock festival? A junkie with business sense? Pretty suspicious to me.

Alas, any cynic can have a field day tearing apart the numerous contradictions and inconsistencies behind the big event. Last year there weren't even any pretenses of giving the kids a show on the way to enlightenment. The roster spelled it out -- in Monsters of Rock terms. The loud, testosterone-driven acts (Metallica, Soundgarden, Rage Against the Machine, et al.) were perfect for shirtless males and the few topless females just dying to get back to the good ol' days of Seventies festivals when Ted Nugent and Aerosmith ruled the land and kids took angel dust, not Ecstasy, and ended up climbing trees in their underwear.

This year's electronica-laden lineup, like the music biz in general, isn't getting the response they'd hoped. Already the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion has backed out owing to contract negotiations in which the band members were told they'd have to take a cut in pay because of lackluster sales. So what's this say? That people are once again fed up with the same-old-same-old being repackaged as something new? That people are far less excited about electronica than the music biz professionals had predicted? That in a few years' time we'll be back to the same Steve Miller/Fleetwood Mac classic-rock crap that really never went away in the first place? That maybe if bands worked on writing songs the whole world could sing instead of gazing at the earrings in their navels and thinking how cool they are, then an audience might be able to "share" in the experience? That if the music biz didn't keep throwing any old band at the wall in hopes of making the short-term buck maybe a few musicians might have a career ahead of them working as something other than mop boy at a fast-food restaurant (where Summercamp will surely wind up sooner or later)? That if kids had developed an adequate attention span they might stay interested in a band longer than an album or two and therefore would allow the band to work up something new without fear of losing its fans?

I suppose none of this actually matters to anyone attending Lollapalooza this year. As long as the drugs work out, who the hell cares what the bands sound like? It has more to do with the party, anyway. Everyone's got a strategy. Sensitive guys always figure the brutes head for the mosh pit, leaving them plenty of time to commune with drug-struck females who might take their tops off if they ask nice. Think I'm kidding? I know what goes on at these types of things. And normally I'm all for debauchery; America's too damn Puritan for its own good. But to believe that any party is a great party would excuse the existence of a puffball like Jimmy Buffett, and that's hardly my idea of a party, you know? Besides, anyone who tries to get sleazy or dare find love while Korn is on-stage deserves to have his head busted open by the nearest pair of Doc Martens.

There are plenty of questions you could fire off at this year's organizers. Seems fair to ask whatever happened to women at Lollapalooza. I seem to remember in years past the festival included them -- Siouxsie and the Banshees, L7, Babes in Toyland, the Breeders, and (for a few '95 dates at least) Sinead O'Connor. Whatever fantasies you may have of political correctness, common sense dictates that not many people want to take part in a meeting of the all-boys club -- including boys. And music programmed throughout an entire day usually attempts a range of dynamics, not just loud, louder, and loudest. Working your way from one musical thug to another just don't cut it. Balance is nice; case studies in monotony are not.

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