Lollapalooza '92: On The Road With the Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden

Can Perry Farrell's traveling rock and roll circus change the world? Only time will tell

September 17, 1992
Pearl Jam perform at Lollapalooza.
Pearl Jam perform at Lollapalooza.
Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

"Hi, Jim. How's your face?" asks Perry Farrell, stepping onto a tour bus that is parked backstage at the Shoreline Amphitheater, in Mountain View, California. It's day 2 of Lollapalooza's opening weekend, and aside from a surprise twenty-minute set on Lollapalooza's second stage with his new band, Porno for Pyros, the fans at Shoreline haven't seen much of Farrell. Behind the scenes, he's seemed to be there but not really there, a laid-back apparition toting a jug of cheap red wine, blending in and out of the proceedings inconspicuously, always with that odd, half-dazed, I-know-something-you-don't-know smile.

At the moment, Farrell is inquiring about the welfare of Jim Rose, the piratish ringmaster of the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow. Earlier, to the let's-gawk-at-the-car-crash delight of some 7000 fans who had gathered around Lollapalooza's small second stage, Rose had pressed his face into a mound of freshly broken glass and then grandly invited a few spectators to stomp on the back of his head. Now Farrell wants to know how he did it.

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"Am I right?" Farrell asks. "Is it arm strength?"

"No," says Rose.

"No?" asks Farrell. "You really, like, settle yourself comfortably and let them press, hoping there's not a jagged edge that will bust?"

"That's exactly it," says Rose. "What it is, man, is you gotta know your glass. You gotta know a wine bottle from a beer bottle from a Worcestershire-sauce bottle, and then you just hope."

Farrell is enrapt, every inch the awestruck fan. Rose offers another pearl of carny wisdom.

"Mostly, the only thing in the glass is this area right here," he says, touching a hand to his brow and then his cheek. "Your eyes are in the socket, so you've got that little bit of clearance. The only real pressure is on the cheeks and the forehead."

Farrell, frowning, considers this.

"But that's half your face," he says finally.

"Yeah," says Rose, looking pleased.

"Well, fuck, man," says Farrell. "We all do crazy shit."

Was it crazy for Farrell to hope that he could top last year's successful Lollapalooza tour? In terms of more-bang-for-your-buck entertainment, no.

"I have to admit there was probably a little skepticism after seeing the first one," says Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. "Nothing's ever as cool as the first thing. But I'm telling you, I'm really proud to be part of this. We had a bad show yesterday, and the coolest part was realizing that it didn't fucking matter, because there was so much to do. You realize, 'Okay, so the bass guitar went out on two songs' or 'They couldn't hear my vocals – big fucking deal.' It's so much bigger than just individual bands."

Lollapalooza '92 offers a much more impressive display of art, political information and general all-around weirdness than last year's model. But what about the vibe? Was it crazy for Farrell to believe that the tour's artsy, faintly revolutionary air wouldn't be tainted the second time around by the stinking, hype-laden breeze of capitalism?

Maybe. Lollapalooza '91 was the underdog tour that could, charmed by the homespun hippie idealism and I'm-a-freak-touch-me eccentricity that were Jane's Addiction's stock in trade. That it turned out to be big business seemed little more than a side effect, a happy bonus. But that was last year – before Nirvana went quadruple platinum, before Helmet was signed for a cool million, before fans who were hip to the Chili Peppers circa Freaky Styley started looking down their pierced noses at that cheesy, bandwagon-jumping Blood Sugar Sex Magik crowd. This year, everyone wants to be alternative, and Lollapalooza '92 was viewed as a golden egg from the git-go. And the idea that the 40,000 white, suburban, middle-class kids thronging Shoreline this weekend see Lollapalooza as a means of, as Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil puts it, "affirming their alternativeness" – and that the tour's organizers were banking on just that – is a bitter pill for some of the artists to swallow.

"Alternative is just a fucking label," says Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready. "I don't think we're alternative; I just think we're a rock & roll band. It's amazing that you can have voter registration and condoms and smart drinks and everything. But I don't like labels."

"There's nothing revolutionary about playing for big commercial monopolistic rock promoters for damn near forty bucks a ticket," echoes former Dead Kennedys mouthpiece Jello Biafra, who was on hand to hang with his pals in Ministry. "There are some interesting organizations allowed to set up booths. That, at least, is a start for these suburban kids who are used to simply marching down to the cattle hall, staring at the icon onstage and then going home. But it's still Vegas with a flannel face."

"Don't you have to be an incredible idiot to actually swallow some of the shit that's presented to you?" asks Thayil. "Is it cynical to say, 'I won't swallow,' and call something what it is? This whole tour is entertainment for the leisure class – there's no pretending about that. All it is, is a guilt release for the establishment's kids. I'm tired of the lie that alternative music somehow offers something that's anticorporate."

Yesterday, from the stage, Thayil's bandmate Chris Cornell took time between songs to address another common gripe about this year's festival. The moment the lineup was announced, detractors began grumbling about the lack of diversity on the predominantly male, hard-rock bill. "I'd like to apologize for all of us," said Cornell. "My penis would also like to apologize," he added, lowering the mike to his crotch and chiming, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," in a reedy Mr. Bill voice.

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Judging from the crowd response to Soundgarden's and Pearl Jam's sets, Cornell's apology wasn't necessary. But there's no doubt that Lollapalooza '92 is heavy on the testosterone; the bill is so overtly macho and feedback-oriented that the female-fronted Lush and the Scottish art-pop band the Jesus and Mary Chain had serious reservations about participating.

"We were a bit intimidated by the whole thing," says Miki Berenyi, Lush's neon-haired frontwoman. "We thought, 'Oh, God, they're gonna think we're just a crappy little English pop band.'" As it turns out, Lush's attack, aside from the ethereal vocals of Berenyi and guitarist Emma Anderson, is nearly as gritty as that of the Seattle stalwarts on the bill, and the Shoreline crowd has been receptive. "We thought they were all gonna be, like, Soundgarden fans, standing at the front giving us the finger," says Anderson. "But it's great."

Asked whether they've made new fans of any of the other bands on the bill, there is an excruciating pause, and then both Berenyi and Anderson break up laughing. "The circus people like us," says Berenyi.

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