In my office at home, I have a poster advertising the very first Lollapalooza in 1991: Jane's Addiction; Siouxsie and the Banshees; some new band called Nine Inch Nails; Butthole Surfers; Rollins Band; Ice-T; LIving Color.. Along with the poster, the promoter gave me stacks of tickets to give away to...well, anyone, really, because no one was buying them.
I remember the Ramones, who were playing in Toronto the same night, being escorted in and given chairs in the infield of the old Exhibition Stadium. There were the four of them in their leather jackets, sitting all along on folding chairs in full view of the crowd. It was strange and cool at the same time.
The following summer, everyone wanted to go to Lolla. The mainstage line-up seems almost like a fantasy: Soundgarden. Pearl Jam. Ministry. Red Hot Chili Peppers. Jesus and Mary Chain. Even the side stage was surreal with its full daylight performance of a newish band called Tool and another one called Stone Temple Pilots.
Lollapalooza remained a highlight of my summer through '93, '94 and '95. Beastie Boys. Smashing Pumpkins. Rage Against the Machine. Alice in Chains. Nick Cave. Green Day. Hole. Beck. Gen X had it reallly, really good.
But in by '96, things had changed. The event felt more corporate. Ticket prices had gone up. And most worrisome was the announcement that Metallica would headline.
Metallica? Weren't they one of the bands the Alternative Nation was supposed to hate? Yes, times were different then. The general consensus was that Metallica and their fans weren't welcome. They didn't fit with the alt-rock roots of the festival. But label politics being what they were and with Metallica's management company being one of the most powerful, a lot of arms were twisted and pistols held against temples. Metallica would headline. End of story.
The feel of the festival was completely different. In previous years, the backstage area was a pretty groovy place with bands freely mixing with other bands. For about five minutes, I had the privilege of shooting baskets with the Beastie Boys. Al Jourgenson made me drink from his bottle of Jameson's whiskey. Eddie Vedder laid on the grass in the sun, talking to anyone who wandered by.
In '96, though, the whole area was sealed up tight on orders of Metallica. They had their space--the biggest space--and they had their exclusive backstage privileges. The vibe was all wrong. Metallica killed Lollapalooza.
There was one more tour in '97, but it was so poorly attended that it's not even worth recalling. The best anyone could do was Sisters of Mercy and James. Even the addition of Tool didn't help.
Lollapalooza went away for a long while before it was reincarnated in its current form. It's been tremendously succcessful in its second life, although oldtimers will scoff at how things have turned out. It's very corporate and very...unfocussed in its musical worldview. Hell, Lady Gaga played the show in Chicago for a couple of years runnning.
But that's the way music is today. Back in the early Lolla days, it was all very tribal: the Alternative Kids vs. the rest of the universe. Lollapalooza was OUR event, OUR festival featuring OUR bands. We could all be weirdos together.
Then Metallica came along and ruined it.
The current Lollapalooza bears no resemblence to what it used to be in those early days. Black Sabbath as a headliner? It just goes to show you how much more ecumenical rock as become. Something for everyone from every era, I guess.
But then again, I remember talking to Henry Rollins at the '91 show and he raved about how "Iron Man" saved his life. "'Heavy boots made of lead!'" he screamed at me. "The dude is isolated! Lost. Lonely. Angry. Ready to strike out. How punk rock is that?"