Prelude

About a week ago I was asked to speak upon my ten years of Coachella. It proved to be a difficult thing for me to put into words. When I think about it, the festival and the following gnaws at my insides. This year I turn thirty, which means I’ve been to the battle in the desert for one third of my life. I wanted this piece to be funny, retrospective, and something that I felt gave light to some of the bizarre days and nights that I’ve lost my place and time on the Empire polo fields of Indio, California. Resplendent yet inelegant as it is, I’ve juxtaposed incredible feats of performance and music with some of the wildest trips on the carnival tilt-a-whirl to the heart of hell and back. As the Good Doctor reminds us, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” We found a home at Coachella, and while the glory of that era may be fading, its purpose remains: come for the friends, stay for the drugs and music.


Things I Learned

Bjork is adorable. Water should be free. Wearing hats is probably a good thing for everyone. Radiohead can ne’er be beat. Napping should be encouraged. Let people the fuck through. Don’t eat anything you wouldn’t mind seeing again later. A good narc is easy to find. Jeff Mangum is cool. Never invite Madonna. Don’t let anyone else hold your drugs. Help people who fall down. Try not to step on people. Snoop Dogg might actually smoke too much weed. Take a little time to walk through whatever the hell they have made up with lights. Bring whiskey, there are a thousand ways on YouTube. Wilco might not show up barring rehab. Sandwich bags save phones at the Do Lab. Always dance. Kanye West is a dick, but dammit was that show good. Go to the very end of the Port-a-Potty line, all the way back. Assemble a crew. Help someone at least once a day. Animal Collective wants to eat my brain. These bicycle rides are going to kill someone, but in the meantime…weeeeeee! Polo grass feels unbelievable on bare feet. That baby is holding a cop car. Why won’t the Cure stop playing? Stake your tent, apparently God hated us in 2012. If you want it to snow in the middle of the desert, go see Fatboy Slim. I think I’m controlling the Tesla Coils. Always tip, those people will see you at your worst. Put the fucking sign down. Swedish House Mafia can’t be trusted with money. Sleeping in a tent is better than sleeping next to your car. The fucking space man is following me. Death from Above 1979 has friend issues. Sunglasses. Hide your drugs well. Don’t get stuck holding the line of balloons. The guy from Muse probably isn’t human. Make a tunnel when your friends come through the gates. Sing along. Look funny. Try not to stare at the fourteen your olds that aren’t wearing any clothes. Don’t push when you’re leaving at the end of the night.


Stories & Poems

1. I saw the fucking Tupac hologram. On weekend 1. That is all.

2. Once in the middle of the pit, near the front of the stage, crushed against the fence I saw Tom Morello disengage his guitar cable and electrify his strings into a banshee wail.

In the campsite the night before, thirteen police cars blew dust around an enclosure of campers. They rushed in wearing riot gear. A policeman in a helmet came forward, brandishing a megaphone. “DISPERSE! BACK TO YOUR TENTS!” On the side of the enclosure we watched from afar, only to overhear the port-a-potty cleaning staff muttering to themselves, “Those drum circles get out of hand…”

3. Gram “Georgia Peach” Stenson was framed by a blond bowl cut that hung regally under his captain hat. He had a tank top with a pink flamingo on it and wore cutoff jeans and some kind of cloth shoe. When he spoke he would plump out his lips in a bizarre way, and he drooped his wrist, his other hand resting on his back.
“Well, you know, fuck the distance man, Georgia’s closer than you think.” His drawl pulled each word into two. Just then from between the cars in the grass parking lot appeared the third member of our crew, Hank Reets.
“He’s got a whole boat up there man, enough for the whole weekend,” Hank recalled.
“Well, I’ll be,” sputtered Gram, “I say we go on over and introduce ourselves, whatcha say?”
As we neared the van, open, draped, just as you would imagine it.
“Is that Frank Zappa in there, or you just a big fan?” Gram asked. His arms and legs were too thin for his body, which gave him the look of an animated character.
The figure rose, and out pushed what seemed to be a guru of types. His face stuck just a few inches beyond the drapes hung in the doorway. His right eye had a small cataract. Squinting he washed over us in his milky gaze. After a few moments he shook his head and retreated into the darkness behind the drapery. “I’m sorry,” he said, “But you’re just not hippie enough.”

4. Haiku:
mogwai darkside air,
explosions in sky,
sigur ros godspeed.

5. On the side of the Sahara tent, near the front left, there was for many years a young candy raver named Pixie. She shook her arms at the stage like cabasas, neon beads that hung just barely from her skin, the nylon stretched from overuse. She was so young, and yet deep within her eyes, there lived the emptiness of an unencumbered k hole. She always had the best acid, and she never moved. Some people just live for the Sahara tent, it’s like a cult following. Or at least it was, before the shift.

I believe her name was Sasha or something that reminded you of cats. Either way, she had a car and a good ride was hard to find. We packed up and made our way to the Sahara all the way from our refrigerated apartments in Arizona, all in hopes of finding miss Pixie and her arsenal of high quality blotter. We found her easily, she danced, as always. She was a person who couldn’t stand to be still. Even as she smiled and nodded, without any introduction, she palmed two small bags. They were red, and the paper inside had the distinct marks and color half-tone of a comic book of some kind. We analyzed it under a metal praying mantis.
“Don’t leave your foot out in the sun like that.” Sasha pulled all of her extremities into the shade of the mantis.
“You have to put it under your tongue,” I said to her. Looking both ways, she rushed to a port-a-potty. I shook my baggie like an empty bag of chips above my mouth and waited for the little plop of the paper to hit my tongue, and the subsequent chemical feeling to permeate my teeth. Out she came, her face drooping a bit, skin hung like putty, she was clearly terrified. “Do I just leave it here?” Her mouth was slightly open; she spoke with her tongue stuck firmly to the roof of her mouth. Pixie bounded into our nest under the mantis, her beads colliding, her sweat travelling with her breath in a good two-foot spray.
“Have you tried moonrocks?”
Sasha shook her head, mouth still agape.
“You can swallow it.” I told her.
“Moonrocks, man. Like, 1969 and shit.” Pixie pulled one of her braids and inspected it. “Do you know any psychics?” she giggled, “Or psychopaths or cynics?” She put her hand on Sasha’s forehead. “Cause you should stay the fuck away from them for the next six to eight hours.” She rolled off of Sasha effortlessly, spreading her arms and legs on the grass.
Sasha said, “Six to eight hours? Jesus, how long does this last?”
A few moments passed, Pixie’s laissez-faire grin sunk under the heat of the oppressive desert sun. Well, each of those pieces had twelve hits each.” She rolled back to us and the sun found the ridges and valleys of her pock-marked face. “How much did you take?”

I think Daft Punk played that year.


Denouement

Ten years is a very long time. Or maybe it isn’t, that’s very possible too. But when I think about these past Coachella experiences, my mind is a flood. To me, it seems faded, like an old t-shirt that you still wear, though the ink wears through and it tears a little more each time you put it on. We joke about our right to bitch about the long lines, the unconscionable acts (Who invited Drake?) and the fat little security guard digging his grubby little fingers into my taint. But Coachella defines what luck really is: unending possibility. Even so, this is my retirement. My final go-round. This festival is for the youth, and maybe it’s the elderly that need to bow out gracefully, and hand off this totem, the key to the desert. Once, in the Gobi tent, Sage Francis belted for all of the fucking fuckers over thirty to get the fuck out of the tent, music is for the youth, he said. But I remember ’06. And I remember when the festival shifted officially. And to once again paraphrase Doctor Thompson: less than ten years later, you can go up on a steep hill in the Coachella Valley and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark – that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

I’ve been riding that wave since ’04, but my final send off will live in infamy amongst its brother nine. I’m not admitting defeat, and I’m not walking away from the table. At least not yet. Because tomorrow is Coachella. It’s time to watch the beam of white light that you follow every day of the year, to work, to school or to responsibility, burst into a full prism of iridescent octagons for a long weekend. Ready your brains, your heart and your soul. It’s going to be one wild ride.