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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.

But to be fair to this year's organizers, Lolla's always had a mild case of monotony. Sure, the Jesus and Mary Chain and Lush and Pearl Jam (among the big guns in the '92 edition) may seem an eclectic mix, but that's nothing compared with -- and I can't believe I'm saying this -- those old Fillmore days when Bill Graham put on the worst of the hippie-slob groups alongside some dynamite soul band or an ancient blues artist. How's about a cowboy, say the likes of Jim Lauderdale, at Lollapalooza? Sorry, pardner. Alternative rock means mostly rock, plus whatever hip offshoots are accepted by the alt-rock masses. Besides, whatever might have been alternative about this rock never translated to the mainstream.

Another fair question: Who will attend this festival? If the question were who should attend, the answer would be no one. But as far as who will: Rabid fans of any of the acts are expected, but moderate fans not wishing to pay a full day's fee to wait for a set by their favorite band might not pony up, considering the haphazard fare. I guarantee you that most kids in Middle America can't name a single song by Tricky or Orbital, let alone hum one. The absence of selling points is transfixing. Even Snoop Doggy Dogg, the one artist here with a modicum of charisma, has got an uphill battle as the lone rap act. Rap on record has provided some of this decade's finest musical achievements, but live it doesn't usually translate.

What are you left with? Tool? If you'd gone to Lollapalooza a couple of years ago you could've caught them in better company. They now sound like simplistic riffage to these ears, so cart me off to the old age home 'cause I ain't gettin' it. The Marley brothers -- Julian and Damian, not Ziggy -- will play reggae; the audience will smoke pot. Big event there. Even the second stage, where they usually hide a couple of cool things (cf.. Guided by Voices, Superchunk, Mike Watt), sounds like a bummer. Dr. Octagon? Inch? eels? James? No thanks.

You know and I know what this is really telling us: It's over. Let's admit it and get it out of the way. All things must pass. All good things come to an end. Better to read it now than in one of those typically useless essays years later when it does nobody any good: "By 1996 Lollapalooza had ceased performing the function it set out to perform. The next year was worse." It was all right while it lasted, but now it's time to let it go. Certainly with sales falling flat in most markets, the message is clear.

Lollapalooza '97 will be held Wednesday, June 25, at Coral Sky Amphitheatre, 601 Sansbury Way, West Palm Beach, 561-795-8883. Scheduled acts include Orbital, Tool, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Tricky, Korn, James, Julian and Damian Marley and the Uprising Band, eels, Summercamp, Dr. Octagon, Jeremy Toback, Radish, and Inch. Showtime is 2:00 p.m. Tickets cost $34.


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