Coachella… 10 Years Later

This year was my third Coachella attendance. I went to the first one ever in 1999, when people worried it would turn into a repeat of the disastrous Woodstock concert the summer before, when Limp Bizket incited a riot somehow. I remember seeing the desert stars, the mountain backdrop behind the stage, the sun, the wafting smell of patchouli, the polo field grass; I remember wasting a few hours in the beer garden, camping out by a reservoir in 110 degree heat, and how awesome that show was! Ten years later, ten years older, and it’s just not the same. There wasn’t much of anything memorable this year except my feeling that Coachella might be too much of an institution to be interesting anymore.

I got there a little late for my favorite band, Okkervil River’s set. Wil Sheff seemed disturbingly frantic onstage and although it was great hearing some of my favorite songs live, it was uncomfortable watching him flail about and fall down and have the lackadaisical desert crowd chew on their hands while he gave it all the grit he had.

For Real:

I want to know this time
if you’re really finally mine. I need to know that you’re not lying,
and so I want to see you tried.
And I don’t want to hear you say it shouldn’t really be this way,
because I like this way just fine.

The lineup wasn’t that solid this year, but that’s okay, I’ll just go and enjoy the scene I thought. But then what’s a scene without a soul? Was it just the music this year? Or have we as a generation — this place in time, 2009, with the economy deflating and with nothing to rail against left in office, the cultural sinkhole this country has become — misplaced our soul?

Sure, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were great! Karen O has a great stage presence with her Mick Jagger strut and beaming countenance, yet my soul was unmoved. Not like the year The Pixies and then Radiohead captivated me for three straight hours and I nearly lost my mind in the music. Or Beck coming out dancing to his Midnight Vulture era white boy funk while the stars spun kaleidoscopic overhead. Maybe it’s not the concertgoers at large that are too blame. Maybe it’s just this concertgoer?

A lot has happened to me and the world since those less-than-heady days of 1999, including but not limited to: graduating college, George Bush, romances, the death of romances, Tsunamis, Katrina, my career, wars, Barack Obama, and on and on… yet Coachella feels, disappointingly, unchanged. Two outdoor stages, three tents, a bunch of abstract sculptures. Kids taking drugs. Parents taking babies. Women in bikini. Men in straw hats and torn t-shirts. The constant parade of humanity up and down the polo field reminded me that we’re all connected, we’re all the same, in this small world of flesh and pain, and damn that’s annoying!

I bought new shoes for the occasion and they sure don’t look new anymore. All beer-spilt and mud-crusted. What was I thinking? I would have been better off wearing old rags. Speaking of which, while I was taking a break sitting under a tent in the shade, a disheveled lady — missing teeth, actual dirt stuck to her cheek, armpit-stained t-shirt — asked me if I had spare money for her to get something to eat. This was not some druggie having a bad trip. This was a real-live homeless chick! Inside Coachella! How the f did she get in? I contemplated giving her ten bucks just to find out. That’s besides the point, but at the same time is my point exactly, what happened to Coachella?

I’m 33 years old and a shinning example of a man too loose at his hinges to ever make a proper door. So don’t walk through me!

I’m 33 years and 60 days old and a perfect blueprint of a man without a rudder. So don’t try steering me to your paradise beaches and sea-shelled coves.

After watching Flavor of Love for two seasons it was hard to go and rock out to Public Enemy. I left before hearing one beat. I have to wonder how much power they’re fighting these days? Is that fair of me? To judge a band by the exploits of their flamboyant hypeman? Probably not…

I left before hearing one forlorn lyric from Robert Smith. The sun had barely set behind the mountains and I was already heading for the car, of which I had forgotten the location and whereabouts, making the exit evermore painful. I put another Coachella behind me in the dust without much fanfare or even looking back.

The night air was kinetic with strobe lights and buzzing gnats and the dusty road swirled around me and I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was the end of an era. The spectacle felt so unspectacular. A hullabaloo without much balooing.

Will I ever return to Coachella? Maybe. If they book my favorite bands next time, and if the situation calls for it. Ah, who the hell am I kidding? It’s Coachella, I’ll probably be back, but I’m not going to buy new shoes next time.

One more Okkervil River lyric for the road…

A girl In Port:

Let fall your soft and swaying skirt
Let fall your shoes, let fall your shirt
I’m not the lady-killing sort
enough to hurt a girl in port

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