Trent and I were without much narcotics. There was some coke left over, in addition to a bag we found the night before, but finding privacy and still air for lines in the desert just puts me on edge. It wasn’t my scene for coke. Violent Femmes were on at 6pm that was the one band I wanted to see.
Today would be the day we wouldn’t let the rich kids get to us.
"I hate you white people because you are rapists, child molesters and sociopaths. Look at all the serial killers. They are all white! ... and now you are taking over Coachella,” Trent said just before squeezing my knees affectionately. “No offense."
"None taken,” I said casually. “I don't consider myself white. I am a black, jazz singer trapped in a tone deaf white woman's body.”
Walking around asking strangers for drugs was hopeless the day before, with the exception of a middle-aged hippie from San Francisco.
“Do you know Molly?” Trent asked, as we pressed shoulders against each other on a hay stack.
He stopped. “I sure do. I know Lucy, too.”
“Lucy?” I asked. “Who is Lucy?”
He stepped closer to us and spoke quietly, but shrugged. “Lucy is acid.”
“Lucy in the sky, I get it,” I said, happily.
“How much do you need?” he asked.
“Just a few hits each.”
“Oh … I only deal in grams. A sheet of LSD would be around 40,” he said.
We didn’t have enough money to buy a sheet of acid when we wanted a psychedelic and MDMA or Molly or Ecstasy. We just needed a handful of party favors for the weekend. However, if my phone hadn’t died weeks later, that would have been a helpful business contact for Los Angeles. Acid is non-existent down here. We explained our position.
“I get it. I just can’t walk around with $5 bills filling up my wallet,” he said. We weren’t the big spenders. The college kids who hoarded their drugs and kept privately within their SUV campsites had a bigger spread, bought more drugs and could splurge. This guy financed parties.
The next kid we met, a spacey-Eskimo teenager stopped when we asked, “Do you have shrooms?”
“Shrooms …. Oh… I would really love to help you … but I ate them all.”
We did however find a cool young kid who sold us some good mushrooms at a decent price. I can’t recall much about the kid other than he seemed like the one person who was lucid and smart enough to sell drugs at Coachella.
On the final day at Coachella, one female security guard, the bull dyke type, felt up my bra. “Wait a minute! What’s this?” she said.
“My tits,” I said. “I know. I have big tits for my body type.”
“Hold on,” she said, calling over an equally bloated, blotchy faced, female guard with hair cut close to the skull and small earrings as if it was a last ditch effort to distinguish gender. She felt my breasts, too.
“She’s clear,” said the second guard.
“Ok,” the first guard said, motioning me through. I gave her a look of outrage and invasion. My eyes narrowed, my lips pursed and I glared. I picked up my purse with in total disgust; the same purse carefully carrying weed, a pipe, two packets of shrooms and leftover cocaine.
Inside, we stopped by a few forgettable artists when we decided to duck into a tent and offer to get someone high in exchange for a light. That was harder than it sounded. This was no Woodstock. As social of an event as camping in the desert seems like it must be, it seemed the venues and concert-goers had fine-tuned the art of isolation, despite Coachella’s conception and design. Most people were drunk and bumped into you or cut you off in line without as much as a head nod. Others just avoided you. Once in a while there was someone who was passed out or fell sick. One girl was throwing up. Trent was holding her hair back and feeding her water. We found out the four kids standing nearby were her friends. They were too absorbed in the concert to help her.
“That’s your friend, she needs your help,” Trent said. They kind of nodded, bleary-eyed, smoking a joint and turned back to the concert. “Hey!” Trent said again, grabbing their arm. “She needs help. You have to stop what you’re doing and get her out of here.” This time they were a little more awake and made the minimal effort to lift her up. Trent and I kind of chuckled about it, like the wind was knocked out of us. It didn’t matter how poor we were, what color our skin was, these people were so disassociated they didn’t even have each other.
Inside a tent, we found a volunteer who was chilling out off-duty. We asked him for a light in exchange for a bowl. He was friendly, mid-twenties, dressed comfortably with a little extra weight on him. He wasn’t over-weight, he just looked normal. He also smiled through his beard, made eye-contact and warmly regarded us. It was a bright ally in an unfriendly country.
As we sat down to pack the bowl, we spoke about our expectations and the people around us. “You know I expected something different. But whatever, they are doing here what they seem to want to. There are lots of perfect bodies. That takes a lot of discipline. They are goal-oriented and I respect that. But there is more to life than just reaching goals. Like, where is the love? I would like to see more love, more physical love, more self-love. I don’t know why it’s missing but maybe they don’t need it. Maybe it isn’t as important to them. I just come here, listen to the music and try to be kind,” the stranger said. We smoked not long before Trent yanked on my sleeve and said he had to leave.
The stranger sensed the sudden pain, like he too felt the heat of a flame and waved us goodbye without question.
Outside the tent, Trent walked quickly away, crumbling in tears. “He reminds me of Kent.” His last love. We are all haunted by loves, but until we fall in love again, the hauntings are a hassle, a chronic ache, a struggle. When a new love makes his way in, the spirit remains but is somehow friendlier. At least that is how I feel about my lost loves. The anger and resentment drains out of you, the disappointment fades, but the love remains.
Violent Femmes took the stage. We were late getting there. It was the one band I wanted to see. Initially, before the line-up for Coachella was announced, there were serious rumors that The Rolling Stones would headline. You can imagine what that did to a girl like me; I was practically foaming at the mouth. I wish I could say when the rumors were denounced, I let it go.
I never let it go. I held on to the fantasy until Saturday night. The truth was once I walked through the campground, waited in line through security to the festival grounds, I could see that it wasn’t the Stones crowd. Their music would be wasted here.
The other artist I wanted to see was Lou Reed, but he backed out the week before the festival. Last week he died. My heroes are ghosts. It would be easy to say this left me with a disenchanted life, but I have been lucky thanks to Los Angeles and a little bit of resourcefulness and ingenuity. I have seen the greats, what’s left of them.
Violent Femmes is a weird little band. My best friend in high school introduced me to them. He was two years ahead, drove a pick-up truck and had a big crush on me. He liked a lot of things I didn’t really care for like Lord of the Rings (the books), martial arts, boy stuff. We still enjoyed Kubrick films together, shared pots of ramen we didn’t bother to scoop into separate bowls and went to Germany as exchange students in the same group. He was a good friend.
His sister bought tickets to see the Violent Femmes at the county fair. She told Rob, my friend, that he could bring anyone he wanted … but me. She didn’t like me. That was my one chance to see them.
Now, twenty years later, here it was my second chance.
You could say they are “folk punk”. They are just a cool sound. Funny enough, they started in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1980 through 1987 on their first run. I was trapped in that hole of a city from 1982-1991. My sister had an album by them and I never forgot the song “Confessions”. It wasn’t until I hit puberty that I invested in my own album, a best of. I sunk into the off-beat, whiny vocals, the grating bag pipes, the angry lyrics, the dark stories. Now they were old, and fucking thrilled to be playing again for a crowd.
I was into it. I knew the words. I wanted to dance but it was an odd scene. Only a few girls were moving and Trent was off to the side, checking his watch. He wasn’t into it. It was a good show. The sun set.
Next on our to-do list was a band called Sigur Ros. I never heard of them, but I live in my little room, with my classic rock, my books and dogs. People don’t sit around and share music anymore. We settled into a group hanging out on the grass not too far from the stage. We ate our shrooms.
A couple sat behind us to the left. A white couple, fairly average in looks, the girl with medium length brown hair and a black coat, her boyfriend a little larger, also in black, held her close. She looked so unhappy. So despondent.
After a few minutes, I looked over to check on her and watched a tear fall down her cheek. Her companion tried to console her, but she elbowed him away.
“Uh oh,” I said, tapping Trent. “The drugs are kicking in for someone.”
“Where?” he turned to look and suddenly her face was covered in tears. She shrunk and buried her head into his lap.
“Yikes. That was fast,” I said.
“Music is emotional business,” Trent said. “There are 90,000 people here and we are all on drugs.”
Coachella had a theme, though it wasn’t totally evident. There was a huge snail that moved an inch every so often across the grounds. I didn’t even know it was moving at all until Trent told me. Then he pointed out the large, decorative ladybugs and a praying mantis. “We are the ants,” he said.
When Sigur Ros came on, I had no idea what to expect. The mushrooms make you sick and sleepy at first, and then your eyes are reopened. I couldn’t see them through all the heads, but white light fell over us like we were children running underneath a parachute on a summer day. The music was gentle- a piano, a bowed guitar, percussion and the sound erupted into something new. Music I never heard before.
A voice sang in Icelandic through the music. A feminine, angelic voice. Even listening to them now, as I write this, I feel chills run up from my ankles to my thigh. My heart pounds harder and my eyes tighten. What beauty. Who knew Iceland reinvented music?
The show peaked with a choir. Whether there really was a choir there or not, I cannot say for certain. I am not a journalist. I am a music lover and a drug user. I raised my hands high and felt warm tears spill down my face. The scream of the vocals weak but sharp, growing through the strings and lights. It was like a pharaoh’s voice screaming to us. It was a perfectly unique moment. And finally, I had my moment where I felt one with the selfish frat boys, the girl crying in her boyfriend’s arms, the drunk guy who bumped into me and the Eskimo who ate all his mushrooms. The music was the gel oozed between each individual and clenched us together.
When the music stopped, the lights turned off and we all blinked out of our daze, still sticky from the thumping harmony. We slowly climbed away from each other, wet, touched, awake.
I turned to the people around me. “Ok. Where are the Stones?”
“The Stones?” an older guy said, with a beard and a biker scarf over his head. “You mean, The Rolling Stones?”
“Yeah, man. The Rolling Stones.”
“They couldn’t get them, but the Stone Roses took their place,” he said.
“Eh, that’s bull shit.” I turned to Trent, “What do we do now?”
“They were great, right?”
“Phoenix is on the other stage,” he said, leading me through the crowd to more music. It didn’t have the heart, and I hung back with Sigur Ros’ toy piano plucking my brain. The light from their stage still burning bright inside me.
“You want to go back?” Trent asked.
“Sure,” I said.
We stumbled across a pile of ice someone dumped on the grass. I stopped to address it, “Hey, you make great music.”