Nothing makes me feel more like an out-of-touch old man who has been gutted of all youthful rebellion and teenage angst like a music festival. And the larger the music festival, the older and more useless I feel. That is why it is no coincidence that when August rolls around I get a bit more crotchety, a tad less limber and a hell of a lot more ornery. That’s right. It’s Lollapalooze time!
I used to go to every music festival. Rock and roll was my fucking life when I was growing up. I might not have had live-action friendships in junior high, but I did have the comfort of Green Day, Metallica and the Stone Temple Pilots. When I finally did gain a semblance of a social life, it was centered largely around music (and drugs) but mainly music. We would drive to the seedier areas of Dallas and go to the 18-and-up music clubs to see the local acts blast out their thrash metal tunes to crowds of future lung cancer patients and their shirtless girlfriends. To us, these smokey poorly lit fire hazards were like heaven. We were living the hip and cool teenage lives that television told us we should be living. That stamp on our wrist was like a brand that said to the world “I had a better time than you last night.” The next morning when I’d stare at the remnants of the fading ink and smell the aftermath of the night on my clothes, I’d smile knowing that my life had grown beyond the boundaries of my comfortable closed-in neighborhood.
After a while, sneaking to the downtown clubs wasn’t enough. We thirsted for more music, more hedonistic forms of rebellion and more bare-breasted women. It was time to graduate to the music festival. And so throughout late high school and into college and after my move to Chicago, I became a regular attendee at some of the largest festivals the area.
I fucking loved the festivals. So many bands. So much sun. So much pot. I dug the smell of the sweat, grass and beer, all mixing together to make a perfume that is distinctly the scent of outdoor rock-and-roll. I loved the shitty greasy food. I loved weaving through the crowd to get to the front of the stage, dodging elbows and nasty looks from the weaklings who didn’t have the fortitude to do the same. I loved feeling ageless as I jumped around and screamed and rocked back and forth as the older burnouts stood under umbrellas on the lawn, donning their tie-dye shirts and lawn chairs clinging to relevancy. I loved getting high midway through the day and lying on the lawn, listening to those bands that occupy the midday slots when everyone’s getting a little lazy and overheated. I’d just relax under the shade of a tree, my eyes glossy and red, nibbling on a hotdog or sucking on a frozen banana as the distant hum of an electric guitar fluttered around me like dragonflies. I remember sucking down red wine from a pouch someone had sneaked in and regretting it an hour later, realizing that triple-digit weather and merlot don’t mix. I loved wristbands and ticket stubs. I had a shoebox of these things. And I’d wait by the side of the stage to get an autograph or just say, “Thank you for changing my life,” to whatever band I was into like The Pixies or the Flaming Lips. I wanted to fill my closet with band t-shirts. These fan uniforms symbolized that you were part of a greater family, one not linked by blood but by chords. I loved when it rained because it always rained at the perfect time, like when Blonde Redhead spiraled into a string of moody tunes. Sunsets were just as perfectly timed, like when I heard Willy Nelson sing “Rainbow Connection” as the sun set over the Mississippi. Getting to the festival was half the fun. Coordinating a caravan, finding a ride, begging for a seat. Pit stops, snack stops, lunch stops, smoke stops. On the way there we’d talk about how fucking excited we were to be going and on the way back we’d talk about how fucking excited we were that we went. And then there was the prospect of live sex. Not only would there be drugs and rock-and-roll, but perhaps there’d be tits and dicks and asses too. I saw my share of boobs and teenagers sucking face. A friend watched a guy get a blowjob from a girl during a Korn set at Texas Stadium. But even though there were actually scant showings of flesh, just the promise of prurient entertainment was enough.
The last music festival I went to was Pitchfork a couple years back. I wanted to see the Flaming Lips. I went for one day by myself, and I fucking hated it. The crowds were too thick. The sun was too hot. The food tasted like shit. The sound was muffled. The lawn was torn up and muddied. Everyone dressed like children and noone took off their tops. Weed smoke filled the air, but by now, I’d rather get high at home and raid my fridge. Most the bands I loved broke up years ago. Beer is too expensive. There are too many booths selling sunglasses and ironic t-shirts. You’re nobody unless you have a VIP pass, and pushing your way to the front of the stage is impossible since an unspoken etiquette has taken root amongst today’s well-mannered youth. The old fogies still sit on the lawn, and I stand near them. I’m just another relic in a museum now, another notch on the evolutionary belt. The kids have taken over, and it fucking sucks.
Have I really changed this much in a decade? Has my sense of adventure truly withered and died? Have I soured over time, a permanent grimace across my wrinkling face? Is this what happened to my father, a man who loved music enough to teach himself to play guitar but who thinks anything recorded after 1970 is garbled noise or just plain gay?
I remember when I was a child I hated Chinese food. It looked strange. It smelled strange. And the texture was slimy and chewy. It resembled nothing I enjoyed eating, like hot dogs and hamburgers. Flash forward a decade, and I can’t stop shoving Kung Pao into my face. Seriously, me at a Chinese buffet is a pathetic yet awe-inspiring sight. Perhaps this happens with music as well and all things that require a personal taste. Just as palates change over time, so does the ear and the eyes and the mind. What was irresistibly intoxicating when I was 18 isn’t necessarily going to be so captivating now. Listening to a guy with shaggy hair drone on a guitar might have sounded new and interesting when I was still living with my parents, but I’ve now seen hundreds of shaggy haired guys strumming away. And maybe as we get older we make being physically comfortable a higher priority. And baking in the sun while blowing money on overpriced beers makes me very uncomfortable. Perhaps as we get older, we venture closer to returning to the beginning, completing the circle and becoming big babies who demand the basic amenities of a ceiling fan, a comfortable couch and an unobstructed view of our televisions.
So perhaps I shouldn’t beat myself up. Perhaps this is in my genetic make-up, in all of our genetic make-ups, and I’m just being honest with myself for once. I’m not going to live forever, and I don’t want to kill myself trying. I’d rather have a cozy night on the sofa with my boyfriend than get my nose bashed in a mosh circle. I’d rather bake a pie than drop my cell phone in a Port-a-Pottie. I’d rather watch the live video feed of Lollapalooza than actually go to Lollapalooza. And does this make me an irrelevant old fart? Should I be sent for demolition, put out to pasture, sold off for parts or donated to Goodwill? I don’t think so. I think I see the writing on the walls. I’m what the youth are rebelling against. And so I’ll choose to play the part and pull myself out of the ring before I embody the sad cliche of the fighter who didn’t know when to retire. Rock and roll might never die, but I certainly will.