At the end of a serene street in Venice, Calif., there’s a house that sticks out among the neighboring bungalows like a punk rocker at a Bob Dole rally. It looks like a Gothic aircraft hangar, with panels of blue stained glass set against a gray industrial-metal frame. Once inside, you’re greeted with tranquil world music wafting from a built-in media center at the far end of the large living room. Bright sunlight reflects off the pool outside, casting shadowy stripes on the high ceiling and multicultural folk art that’s scattered throughout the house. Last year, this bohemian dream space was featured in Architectural Digest.
This is the house that Lollapalooza built –– Perry Farrell’s handsome reward for revitalizing the summer-tour business in the early ’90s. His links with the annual festival have since grown increasingly tenuous, and this year he’s completely abdicated his advisory role with Lollapalooza. Instead, Farrell’s breaking away with a movable fest of his own. Christened ENIT, it’s due to embark this September on a 13-date inaugural run, with Farrell’s current band, Porno for Pyros, headlining. “It’s celebrating man or woman’s coming of age; it’s the earth’s bar mitzvah,” explains Farrell. “I want to use an adult format, celebrate being intoxicated, celebrate sex, caring for the earth, the passing of the baton from the old to the young.”
Farrell has passed on the Lollapalooza baton to his four partners: Marc Geiger, a vice president at Rick Rubin’s American Recordings; Ted Gardner, the former Jane’s Addiction manager; and Don Muller and Peter Grosslight, both high-level executives at the William Morris Agency. With Farrell out of the picture, the festival’s most public face is Geiger, a former booking agent who must field endless questions about how long Lollapalooza can sustain its five-year run of solid profitability and whether it can retain its credibility at a time when the term ‘alternative rock’ seems to have lost all meaning. “It has been an uncomfortable couple of years for us,” Geiger admits. “We think the majority of what’s called alternative music is such shit. Listen to any major-city radio station in this country –– you’ll hear the same 10 to 12 bands. We don’t want to turn into a radio-station festival.”
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Lollapalooza’s main rival this summer is H.O.R.D.E., the festival created five years ago by John Popper of Blues Traveler. Whereas Lollapalooza broke the traditional dominance of dinosaur rock tours with a bold gathering of new youth tribes, H.O.R.D.E. (Horizons of Rock Developing Everywhere) has prospered with bands that grew in the cultural space created by neo-hippie nostalgia. “You go to Lollapalooza expecting something you’ve never seen before,” says Popper. “It’s more about your conscious mind: “Wow, that’s interesting. I’ve never seen that before.’ With us you’re going to see something that’s inherent to you, music for your soul. Social music, Miles Davis called it. Music to get drunk to and scam on the opposite sex with.”
Duke’s coffee shop is an unlikely venue for Lollapalooza’s well-heeled custodians to hold court in. The Sunset Strip restaurant is a living museum of the ’80s L.A. hard-rock scene, its walls plastered with posters and photos that range from Guns n’ Roses to countless metal hopefuls who never made it past a supporting slot at the Whisky a Go-Go or Coconut Teaszer. Marc Geiger is not here to talk about the demise of hair metal; he’s here to address the criticism that’s been leveled at Lollapalooza, carping that he sees as unjustified. The alleged crime? Booking Metallica and Soundgarden as headliners for this year’s festival, a pugnacious pairing that arbiters of alternative correctness are calling Monsters of Rock Revisited.
“Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit! Bullshit!” says Geiger, a fresh-faced Jonathan Richman look-alike with a Type-A personality. The young executive tirelessly argues that although the sixth Lollapalooza will indeed climax with a thunderous display of heaviosity, the day will mostly evince the eclecticism we’ve come to expect since the tour’s 1991 inception. The main stage will also include punk replicants Rancid, their creaky forebears the Ramones and Asia’s Shaolin Monks, alongside a rotating roster of guests. The second stage will feature a more consistently alternative lineup, including Ben Folds Five, Soul Coughing and Cornershop. There’s also a third stage, reserved for indie-label bands.
Sitting next to Geiger and nursing a brown plastic coffee mug is fellow Lollapalooza partner Gardner, a grizzled, laconic Australian whose management roster includes this year’s main-stage mystery booking, Psychotica. Gardner points to an old photo of Echo and the Bunnymen on Duke’s wall of shame as an example of the prealternative bands that Geiger and Gardner worked with in the ’80s, groups that set the stage for the ’90s success of Nirvana and their ilk. The original idea for Lollapalooza came to Geiger and Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins at England’s Reading Festival in 1990. Gardner says that after watching the Pixies play to “40,000 kids screaming ‘Debaser’ together,” he and Perkins talked about creating an equally exciting American counterpart. They received the instant benediction of Jane’s Addiction’s frontman Farrell, who assumed the role of adviser-pitchman for the event and supplied the name, taken from a Three Stooges movie.
Lollapalooza first rolled out in July 1991, an unlikely convoy of musical styles and personalities that included industrial tyros Nine Inch Nails, black funk-rockers Living Colour, English goth royalty Siouxsie and the Banshees, Texas terrors Butthole Surfers and Ice-T, with his metal band, Body Count. Not only was this motley tour an unheralded breakout success, the whole event took on an almost mythical aura when Farrell announced that Jane’s Addiction would split up after the tour’s last date, in Hawaii. By the time the second Lollapalooza started in ’92, it was widely recognized as a focal point for new youth culture, a growing mix of multicultural media, politics and food, plus the tattoos, regurgitation and pierced genitalia of the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow. Grading Lollapalooza has since become a seasonal sport among rock’s opinion makers. Just as wine lovers swill, spit and judge each year’s Beaujolais Nouveau, every Lollapalooza lineup is carefully submitted to the alternative taste test.
From the second year on, Lollapalooza has been accused of losing its original magic, of growing formulaic. Farrell, it was frequently rumored, wanted to hand back his patron sainthood. In an apparent attempt to restore Lollapalooza’s musical credibility, the organizers last year named Sonic Youth as headliners. The New York cult band’s taste-making influence was detectable throughout the bill, with friends like Pavement and Beck suddenly elevated to main stage status. Too alternative by half, said critics, pointing to the tour’s lackluster ticket sales.
“We thought it was interesting to be criticized artistically and then put together a lineup we felt comfortable with and get criticized commercially,” says Geiger, as he rolls shreds of his napkin into string and tears them into pieces. Last year’s experience, he says, led to the decision to throw Metallica into the mix for ’96. “Metallica’s from a genre that’s now verboten, but it’s actually alternative to what’s happening now. We only wish there were more bands with that kind of credibility around.”
To illustrate his point, Geiger grabs a pen and notebook lying on the table; he scribbles down the phrase “shitty bands,” circles it and then scores two lines through the middle. Point taken, but surely dropping James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich into the multicultural milieu of Lollapalooza is as incongruous as dropping Metallica fan Beavis and his pal Butt-head into an episode of the sensitive alterna-teen drama My So-Called Life.
“Yes, people are scared of the Metallica-Soundgarden audience,” says Geiger, who concedes that the pair’s proximity on the bill is a less-than-perfect arrangement. “And they wonder what kind of signals we’re sending out by having a couple of heavy bands –– ‘What’s happening to alternative?’ I can give you a very simple answer: Alternative is dead. It’s been dead for years. It’s been dead since ’93 if not ’92. It’s dead, it’s over, it’s full of imitative bands, and we’re gonna look for great ones, period.”
Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich says he’s enjoyed all the controversy surrounding his band’s selection as headliner: “It’s been quite fun to sit in the center of the hurricane these past couple of months. After the initial shock of being approached by Lollapalooza had sunk in, I realized that although we may not have been appropriate in ’91, Metallica in ’96 was more appropriate. Reading between the lines, it seemed that maybe a certain stagnation had set in and Lollapalooza was looking to reinvent itself.”
Ulrich describes Metallica’s Lollapalooza wish-list lineup as “everything from Sepultura to Al Green and all points in between,” which hints at something as alternative as any of the past bills. The drummer also had his heart set on Oasis until they broke big themselves. For the second stage, Ulrich still fancies Black Grape, the band fronted by the former Happy Mondays singer Shaun Ryder. “That’s a man I have to have a beer with,” says Ulrich of Ryder, whose self-proclaimed predilections lean toward substances more toxic than bottles of Bud.
Metallica insisted that second billing go to Soundgarden, the band with the highest Led content of Seattle’s grunge generation. Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil says that the admiration is mutual, noting that Metallica were originally inspired by Britain’s grass-roots movement –– the new wave of heavy metal –– rather than the vulgar excess of American hair metal. “That wasn’t popular in the early ’80s, but they stuck by it, and I think that’s worthy of respect,” offers Thayil, well aware that this distinction is lost on many of Lollapalooza’s detractors.
“I’m not worried about the whining,” Thayil adds. “Lollapalooza was a big alternative lie to begin with. They had a definite target demographic, and they hit that very well –– white suburban people aged 18 to 24 –– which doesn’t seem very alternative to me. If you go to a Metallica or Guns n’ Roses show, you’ll see that the audience is actually more diverse socially and economically.” Thayil finds the perceived schism between metal and alternative “a ridiculous polarity. Look at the whole spectrum of music, and they are just a little bit apart. Look, we’re not talking about the difference between Moroccan music and hip-hop here.”
The type of partisan feelings stirred up by Lollapalooza has never given John Popper sleepless nights. His H.O.R.D.E. tour (sometimes dubbed Lollapatchouli) is immune to bad vibes. The media have shown comparatively little interest in how he’s put together the four previous events, and all the faithful seem to demand of the bill is the jam band authenticity that naturally accompanies pot-fueled dervish dancing. It’s the kind of music that is often dismissed as retro-rock, but it might as well be called perma-rock, so enduring is its hold on the public imagination.
“At some point in people’s lives, the kind of music we’re selling will affect people,” explains Popper, who sits barefoot in the bar of his New York hotel, a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt wrapping his considerable girth and a cowboy hat atop his noggin. “That’s why I think it will last. Hendrix and Zeppelin to this day have validity.”
Where Farrell is a romantic who broke up a still-promising band rather than risk repeating himself, Popper is a cool pragmatist who continues to milk a winning formula. The one H.O.R.D.E. constant has been the presence of Blues Traveler at each of the festival’s four outings. It has paid off, too, with the multiplatinum sales of the band’s 1994 album, Four.
Inspired by Lollapalooza’s first-year success, Popper called a 1992 meeting of bands such as Phish and Spin Doctors, who, as Popper puts it, “played to eat.” To capitalize on the followings each group had in pockets of the country, it was suggested that they pool their drawing power and book themselves into larger venues. Stringing together eight shows during the summer of 1992 was a logistical nightmare, says Popper, who in true do-it-yourself spirit made most of the calls himself. The first H.O.R.D.E. tour lost a couple of thousand dollars; the following year’s outing made about $8,000 and generated, Popper says, “just enough interest to keep going.” He’s not bashful about announcing that he and Blues Traveler manager Dave Frey, as principal shareholders of what has become a very profitable enterprise, are finally receiving the remuneration they deserve.
To many, the H.O.R.D.E. masses looked like washed-up (or unwashed) ’60s time travelers, and even Popper confesses that, initially “our concourse looked like a Third World ghetto, with all these emaciated hippies selling whatever trinkets they could scrounge. Now it’s snowballing; it’s gotten way beyond that.” As he speaks, Popper fingers a brass-inlaid Tibetan dagger that a fan sent him, alarming the music-biz B-boys schmoozing at the table next to him.
In 1994, inter-band jamming was brought to the forefront at H.O.R.D.E., with acts like Sheryl Crow, Dave Matthews Band and the Allman Brothers Band performing together in various combinations. By last year, the festival began to nip at Lollapalooza’s heels in terms of box-office clout. According to the concert-industry bible Pollstar, the 23 H.O.R.D.E. shows grossed $8.2 million, comparing respectably with Lollapalooza’s $12.8 million for 29 dates.
Comparisons between the two tours will be even more conspicuous this year. H.O.R.D.E. is playing many major cities, including New York and Los Angeles, while Lollapalooza is focusing on secondary markets such as Des Moines, Iowa, and Knoxville, Tenn., possibly in deference to Metallica’s tour later this year. Musically, however, H.O.R.D.E. is still treated by most critics as a redheaded stepchild. And certainly, while Lollapalooza still takes risks –– like putting monks in front of Metallica fans –– H.O.R.D.E plays to a well-defined demographic that prefers musical reassurance over experimentation.
“Lollapalooza is more ballsy,” Popper admits, “exposing the audience to things they wouldn’t normally hear. We are catering to one fan. It’s all about pelvic music, music that works best when you’re properly inebriated. Lollapalooza is very much into the confrontational aspect, whereas we’re using whatever works. Conceptual bands wouldn’t work for us –– people with all that artistic angst. We won’t look at bands who don’t just crank live, and there are lots of those: Oasis, Bush… Green Day are not a band we could use. I have four words for Green Day: People miss the Jam.”
And here are four words for Blues Traveler and H.O.R.D.E.: People miss the Dead. “That’s a good one,” responds Popper. “But all that our show has in common with a Dead show is a similar appreciation of music. We’re harder than they are. Those people used to cover their ears and say, ‘What’s that heavy metal you’re playing?’ Besides, ‘the next Dead’ is not an elected post. But we can’t kick and scream; we just keep going and hope that eventually people will ask, ‘Who’s going to be the next Blues Traveler?'”
Despite the apparent cultural, sartorial and musical connections to the Dead, Popper sees H.O.R.D.E. not as a bastion of Birkenstock & roll but as part of a larger tradition of musical miscegenation that originated in 18th-century New Orleans, before coming north as the blues and mutating into rock & roll. The singer makes an impassioned case for placing Blues Traveler’s lightweight boogie in this noble lineage, but he oversteps the mark when he suggests that “if Muddy Waters was around now, he’d sound like us.”
No one would suggest Popper should play musical quotas with H.O.R.D.E., especially in a year when Lollapalooza’s main stage is virtually all white. In fact, previous Lollapalooza performers Cypress Hill are touring this summer with Fugees, precisely the sort of alternative hip-hop that Lollapalooza has featured in the past. Popper’s enthusiastic name-checking of black cultural icons only points up H.O.R.D.E.’s racial specificity. Yes, former Arrested Development singer Dionne Farris has appeared on the tour, but A Tribe Called Quest have not, despite Popper’s vague recollection that they have. In truth, H.O.R.D.E. rarely acknowledges anything most African-Americans would recognize as contemporary black culture.
“It’s not about color,” says Popper. “It’s about musicianship. I think Prince would work real well on a H.O.R.D.E. tour with whatever band he puts together.” H.O.R.D.E.’s single main-stage black performer this year is Lenny Kravitz, who’s surely the kind of MTV-bred act who’s never “played to eat.”
“So I’m a pop guy,” responds Kravitz. “The guy who records on 8-track and all-tube [equipment]. That’s funny.”
Popper admits that similar complaints were made about the Black Crowes and concedes that compromises are necessary. “We had Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, a good band who we didn’t know socially,” says Popper. “We brought them on because we knew they were strong in the South, so there was something superficial about that in a sense. But they did fit, and Lenny will be fine, too.”
“It’s frustrating to people who want to know what a H.O.R.D.E. band is,” concludes Popper. “They’re the kind of people who think, ‘I’ve got to know you before I like you.’ If you wanna be on H.O.R.D.E., just have a killer live show and you’re on. Hey, I think Metallica would be a great H.O.R.D.E. band.”
Perry Farrell wants a couple of minutes to clear his head. The singer’s brain is buzzing with all the ideas he’s picked up from reading Kryon. Subtitled Alchemy of the Human Spirit, the book mixes ingredients like nuclear physics, the Pyramids and musical scales into a heady New Age brew. After excusing himself, Farrell does laps in the narrow swimming pool just outside his front room. As he does this, a dove flies through the open French windows and alights on the balcony beside the mannequins that were used on the cover of Jane’s Addiction’s 1990 album, Ritual de lo Habitual. “That’s amazing,” says Farrell as he hauls himself out of the water. “Someone must have died.”
This year all eyes are on Farrell. Can he successfully pull off a project he pitches as a scaled-down reaction to Lollapalooza’s runaway success? “To me, Lollapalooza was like [Persian] Gulf oil,” says Farrell. “Sure it made money, got the cars running, got the music industry rolling, whatever. It outgrew me. It got so big I could just about keep my finger on the pulse, but I couldn’t get inside. To be honest with you, I lost a love for it. after we [Jane’s Addiction] did it. There were even bands on the first bill that I didn’t care for. Lollapalooza has got a lot of people and a very big organization to support. Which tells me you should work with a small collective, deconstruct the corporate system where you can and you’ll build something.”
Farrell felt ground down by the other Lollapalooza partners, felt he had to step outside to pursue some of his less practical ideas. Farrell’s initial plans for ENIT range from selling tickets over the World Wide Web (via his teeth.net site) to working with cerealogists, a group of crop-circle researchers who want to use ENIT to make contact with extraterrestrials. Farrell has consulted with several ecological groups about the best way to leave unharmed the remote outdoor locations he intends to use. “The day has to do with honoring the earth and celebrating the earth by loving the earth –– just simply being entertained by her,” says Farrell. “It’s not about, ‘Go here, buy a T-shirt; go there, buy a falafel, buy a bumper sticker.’ You’re running up and down, and you don’t notice nature.”
Musically, the festival will involve about five bands, of which Farrell’s Porno for Pyros and the British group Love and Rockets are the first to be confirmed. Early in the evening, between a mass tree planting and a sit-down meal for 9,000, Farrell aims to stage a “happy hour” during which a “loungy” act will entertain an audience enjoying libations from local breweries and wineries. “We should learn to love every spirit, including cocaine, including heroin,” says Farrell, shifting into mystical mode. “If you don’t love it, and you fear it, you’ll be at war with it, and you’ll have the potential to be destroyed by it. Become an adult and learn to be amongst all the spirits that are on this earth. That’s what I’m hoping will occur from having been at this festival. If it doesn’t happen, then I tried.”
Not that Farrell has completely divested himself of his share in Lollapalooza; he’s still holding out for an equitable settlement with the tour’s other co-owners. As a privately held company, Lollapalooza is not obliged to submit its financial records for public scrutiny, but Geiger goes one better, offering a terse “none of your business!” when quizzed about the festival’s financial structure. Gardner calmly explains that the profits are divided up among the partners each year after expenses and charitable donations are deducted. One might imagine Farrell was tempted to keep his criticisms to himself and just keep cashing those Lollapalooza checks.
“I did that to a point,” says the man whose gold credit card is embossed with the words ‘Perry Farrell/Lollapalooza.’ “There were a couple of years that I didn’t care. I probably should have given up before, but I had pride invested. It’s not 100 percent a bad thing giving the kids a chance to see these kinds of bands every year. But I mean, Metallica, who am I kidding? I thought, enough –– at least I listened to the other bands. Maybe I don’t belong here. I didn’t feel my dreams and aspirations could be played out here.
“It’s not anger,” says Farrell of his current feelings toward Lollapalooza. “I just see where there’s progress to be made. I’m impatient, bored –– that’s the extent of it. I’d work with Lollapalooza tomorrow. Let’s get away from the teamster venues, get away from the concrete and out to nature, get a contact high. You know, I hear Metallica’s got a haircut –– so God bless ’em.”