There are two good reasons why the Lollapalooza Festival has defied the summer's recession-fueled box-office blues – doing sellout or near-sellout business at many stops on the itinerary – while hastily organized copycat packages like A Gathering of the Tribes, the Sisters of Mercy/Public Enemy/Gang of Four tour and the heavy-metal smorgasbord Operation: Rock & Roll have done so-so or shut down altogether. One reason is the ten months of planning by Farrell and his Lollapalooza brain trust: Jane's manager Ted Gardner, the band's drummer, Stephen Perkins, and the group's booking agents, Marc Geiger and Don Muller.
The other, according to Gardner, is that "every one of these bands is a legitimate headliner on their own.'' So were most of the other two dozen acts on the original wish list for the tour, including the Pogues, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Fishbone, the Sugarcubes, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Pixies and Public Image Ltd.
The original spark for Lollapalooza was England's annual Reading Festival, a three-day pageant of international postpunk stars and hot U.K. indie-chart bands. Jane's Addiction was scheduled to play last year but canceled due to illness (Farrell's voice gave out). But Farrell, Gardner, et al., went as spectators and came away so jazzed by the event they decided to mount a traveling version stateside, headlined by Jane's Addiction and booked into outdoor amphitheaters.
At that point, Farrell went into overdrive, becoming involved in everything from choosing the bands and judging artwork for display to arranging for free condoms to be distributed at the shows (some of which ended up being inflated into big penis-shaped balloons and batted around the audience). "I was very reluctant to play to a large crowd,'' Farrell says. "So I told Marc, 'If I'm going to do something of that size, I want to surround myself with other great bands and great things on the grounds – food, books, art – to make it worth the money.' I'm very proud of my band. I think we're great. But I don't think it's worth twenty-five bucks to see a flyspeck.''
Some of his schemes didn't pan out, like the illusionist he wanted to use during Jane's Addiction's set. For L.A., Farrell arranged for a cheerleading squad to come on during one number. Except the cheerleaders showed up without pom-poms, which disappointed him so much that he nixed the idea. "The sound, lights and trucking were the easiest parts of this,'' notes Ted Gardner with a weary smile.
Picking the bands just turned out to be a matter of natural selection. Siouxsie and Living Colour shared the same booking agency as Jane's, and the Rollins Band had opened for it on two earlier tours. Ice-T was already tight with the band, having traded epithets with Farrell on a hard, heavy remake of Sly Stone's "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey'' featured in the long-form video The Gift. "For two people who do such different music,'' says Ice-T, "if you listen to the records, we're damn near saying the exact same shit.'' That's especially apparent at the second Irvine Meadows show, when he and Farrell reprise their Sly duet with electrifying results.
Guitarist Paul Leary of the Butthole Surfers says Jane's Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro "claimed in an interview that he was going to kill himself on tour if not for a tape of the Butthole Surfers that he listened to on his Walkman over and over again.'' So the Buttholes were in, although they were bemused to find skittish newspapers abbreviating their name to "the B.H. Surfers'' in tour ads. "If my sixty-eight-year-old mother can say Butthole Surfers,'' cracks Leary, "what's their problem?''
Trent Reznor, the singer and leader of Nine Inch Nails, wasn't sure at first if he fit into the music mix or the tour's outdoor setting. "I feel like everyone's got a semipositive vibe, and we're the negative antichrist onstage,'' says Reznor. "I'm not out preaching, 'Be nice to your neighbor,' or 'Save the whales.''' Also, Reznor confesses, "we've just mastered the art of playing in a club.''
His worst fears were confirmed at the first date in Phoenix, when the Nails suffered a recurring power outage that effectively killed the bass and keyboard tapes they use in the show. And let's face it, dry ice at four in the afternoon is deeply bogus; in L.A., the band looked like it was having a hell of a barbecue onstage. But the Nails proved their worth at the concession stands, where they rivaled Jane's Addiction in T-shirt sales.
Without question, the most striking juxtaposition of sound and vision on the bill is that of Ice-T and Living Colour. Ice hits the stage with his posse, firing a pistol in the air and shouting, "Fuck the police''; Living Colour rams its message of cultural celebration and racial responsibility home with avant-metal ferocity. The two acts actually have the makings of a mutual-admiration society going. "Living Colour broke down barriers no one was supposed to ever break down,'' Ice says. (In San Francisco, he was out in the crowd, headbanging to "Cult of Personality.'') As for Ice's own black rock-and-rap band, Body Count, Living Colour drummer Will Calhoun says: "The concept is smokin'. Rappers should use more live musicians, leave the James Brown and P-Funk records alone.''
But the two acts hit a major impasse over Ice's liberal use, in front of a largely white audience, of what Calhoun dryly refers to as "the N word.'' Onstage, Ice uses it without apology but with pride. "People get on me because I use the word 'nigger,''' Ice says before going into "Straight Up Nigga'' from his latest album, O.G. Original Gangster. "In my category, all of yous are my niggers.'' The crowd, predominantly white, goes bananas. Later, during an interview, he sums up the difference between Living Colour and Body Count by saying with a laugh: "Living Colour is black. We are niggers.''
In San Francisco, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid responds with a special introduction to the song "Pride'': "In Africa, there are no niggers. And I will die before I become a nigger for your entertainment.''
"That word is about reduction,'' Reid contends. "It means that for 400 years, anything you could possibly imagine is justifiable. A lot of gangster rap talks about 'this is real, this is what's on the streets.' But is that a reality we can live with, and grow with? Absolutely not.''
Even Ice admits that if he gets anything out of this tour, he'd like it to be the demolition of a stereotype or two: "All I want them to do is come out and say, 'I like him.' Not get the message, not understand a word I'm saying. Just think, 'Those black guys on the stage I used to be scared of, I like 'em.' I want to come out and say, 'Peace.' If I can do that, that's cool.''
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