The Guardian, August 29th 1991
by Simon Reynolds
means a bizarre happening. Lollapalooza is a mobile rock festival
currently traversing the US, a package of seven alternative bands
(including Siouxsie and the Banshees, Living Colour, and Butthole
Surfers) headlined by Jane’s Addiction, the Los Angeles-based art metal
group who dreamed the whole thing up. Recession has led to the collapse
of many of this summer’s US tours; Lollapalooza is one of the few
that’s selling out, even adding shows in some of the 21 cities on its
The more sanguine US commentators have
dubbed it as “Woodstock for the Lost Generation”. That sounds fanciful,
but although none of the shows pull more than twenty thousand kids, if
you factor in the 26 performances being played you get a combined
audience of nearly a half a million -- close to the number who attended
Woodstock. The difference is that for Woodstock, Sixties youth traveled
huge distances for the sake of an ideal; with Lollapalooza, the festival
comes to the kids.
The festival was the brainchild of
Jane’s Addiction’s charismatic singer Perry Farrell and drummer Stephen
Perkins. The idea was conceived when the band attended the UK’s Reading
Festival, a three day “alternative” rock jamboree, and, impressed, began
to wonder why there was nothing like it in America. Farrell immediately
saw an opportunity to create an event that was more than just a
budget-price opportunity for kids to check out a load of bands. So each
Lollapalooza performance comes with a sideshow of booths and displays
operated by political, ecological and human rights organizations:
Handgun Control Inc, Refuse and Resist, national Abortion Rights Action
League, Rock the Vote (an MTV sponsored group that encourage young
people to register to vote) and more. There’s also an “art tent”
featuring work by local artists selected by Farrell (himself a
Renaissance man, who sculpts, paints and has a full-length movie under
Lollapalooza is a riposte to the
“twentysomething” debate that raged through the US media earlier this
year. A number of critics and commentators characterized Eighties
post-punk youth as a lost and defeated generation, impotent,
directionless, and scared of political and emotional commitment.
Overall, it was argued that the “twentysomethings” have failed to come
up with a distinctive culture of their own to rival the baby boomer
generation’s contributions (the counter culture and punk rock).
is an attempt to rally the twentysomethings, to restore a sense of rock
as a counter-culture rather than an over-the-counter leisure industry.
“I predict a very strong youth movement will grown out of Lollapalooza,”
Farrell told me in May. “I want there to be a sense of confrontation.
But I’m not declaring myself left or right wing. I want to bring both
sides into it.”
So how did it pan out in reality? I
went to the New York area’s date (a couple of hours drive out to
Waterloo Village in the wilds of New Jersey) with high hopes. But
problems, or at least realities, intruded. One of the reasons the
twentysomething generation seems to lack an identity is that it has too
many cultural options, so that you either become a partisan of one
subculture or you succumb to a schizoid eclecticism.
bill reflects the fragmented nature of modern left-field music, ranging
from Nine Inch Nails’ overblown electro-theatre to Butthole Surfers’
acid rock buffoonery to Sioxuse’s Goth and Ice T’s gangsta rap. Most of
these groups attempt to reconcile or transcend genres, in order to
achieve “crossover”. Living Colour blend metal, funk, jazz, soul et al
into a polite, ungainly fusion with impecceable left-liberal credentials
but little sense of danger. Ice T (now a superstar thanks to his role
in the movie New Jack City) tried a more interesting gambit--not
fusion, but fission, a split persona. For the first half of his set, he
was “black”, a baleful rap hoodlum; for the second half, he tore off
his cap, let loose flowing locks and rocked out as a “white” headbanger
in his very own metal combo Body Count.
cultural element of the festival was a shambles. The art was tediously
“taboo-breaking” stuff (computer warped images, art made of detritus and
found material), while the political aspect was more piously right-on
than Perry Farrell had hoped. Overall, the event was marred by
disorganization. Bringing your own food or water was forbidden, but they
didn’t provided enough food concessions to cope with the demand.
actually unites the youth of today was never really articulated. Most
performers swore a lot, which went down well with the crowd, and there
were various platitudinous expressions of opposition to censorship. But
the most pronounced unifying aspect of the twentysomethings is a kind of
voyeurism. This is typified by one of the groups participating in the
cultural sideshow element of Lollapalooza--Amok, a publisher and
distributor of “extremist information”; magazines and books by or about
serial killers, conspiracy theorists, crackpots, and weird cults, plus
video compliations of atrocities and autopsies.
Addiction themselves are a great band languishing for the lack of a
cultural context that would make them a world-historical force. (Hence
Lollapalooza). After two brilliant major label albums--Nothing’s Shocking and 1990’s Ritual De Lo Habitual--they’ve
built up a huge cult following, through reinvoking a sense of rock as
an underground--a dark haven of deviant and transgressive behaviour.
Jane’s Addiction are like an intellectual cousin to Guns “n’Roses.
performing below their transcendent best, Jane’s Addictoin fuse idioms
(heavy rock, funk, ethnic music, psychedelia, Goth) in a far more
volatile and incendiary fashion than Living Colour or anybody else in
the “funk’n’roll” genre. Clearly, Farrell desperately wants his audience
to live out their fantasies, rather than live through Jane’s Addiction
vicariously. For Farrell, the only sins are self-denial, boredom and
nostalgia. As the encore “Classic Girl” goes: “they may say, ‘those were
the days’, but you know, for us, these are the days.” I was left
feeling that the twentysomething generation, listless and impassive,
doesn’t deserve Jane’s Addiction.