24 Years Ago: Lollapalooza Makes Its Debut
Daytime temperatures hit 111 degrees, Nine Inch Nails played a one-and-a-half minute set, and Jane's Addiction got into a fistfight on stage. It's July 18, 1991, and the very first Lollapalooza has turned Tempe's Compton Terrace Ampitheatre into a footnote in alternative music history.
The doors opened at noon and the venue had an 11PM curfew. That's 11 hours baking in the hot sun for 10,000 concertgoers eager to see headliners Jane's Addiction. Jane's were touring behind their third album, Ritual de lo Habitual -- home of the MTV-friendly "Been Caught Stealing" and the record that promised to destroy the band.
That's not quite fair. Without question Ritual pushed the band into the mainstream, but there were many factors at play that were pushing Jane's to the brink. Singer Perry Farrell's relationship with girlfriend and muse Casey Niccoli -- the model for the Nothing's Shocking album cover, and the classic girl of the "Classic Girl" video -- was coming to an end. Farrell and guitarist Dave Navarro were using a lot of heroin while bassist Eric Avery had cleaned up (drummer Stephen Perkins had always abstained). Farrell was so strung out that the band couldn't play their slot at the August 1990 Reading Festival. Brendan Mullen quotes the singer in his book Whores: An Oral Biography of Perry Farrell and Jane's Addiction:
I lost my voice the night before...I got too f---ed up. So I didn't make it to Reading. My voice was just shot. When you're on heroin, you can't really sing, your voice kind of clamps down.
And then there was the tour, the never-ending tour. When it finally wrapped up on Sept. 26, 1991 in Honolulu (with Farrell performing nude) the band had been on the road for 13 months. Even when they were home they weren't home. Stephen Perkins, again from Whores:
We'd come to L.A. to do shows, but wouldn't sleep here more than a week. We did three nights at the Palladium and kept touring. Came back and did four more at Universal Ampitheater. More touring. Came back and did three at Irvine for Lollapalooza. All in support of Ritual. It may have broken the band in a great way recognition-wise, but it may have also broken the band's spirit.
This is where the story gets a little squirrelly. Dave Thompson's Perry Farrell: The Saga of a Hypster lays out the version with which we're all basically familiar, though we might not know the details. The band may have wanted off the road, but neither their management company (Triad) nor their record label (Warners) did. Kids were turning out in droves for Jane's Addiction, their shows outselling their one-time L.A. rivals Guns N' Roses who, by the way, offered Jane's an opening slot on their tour that year. Eager to keep the band on the road through the summer, Triad offered Farrell "the license to do with your tour whatever you want."
The bait was too much for the singer, who approached live performance more as an event than a concert. Farrell wanted to appeal to all of the senses, not just hearing. The summer leg of the tour would be like a traveling version of a European festival, like the Reading festival that the band missed the previous summer.
When asked if his concept resembled Cult lead singer Ian Asturbury's Gathering of the Tribes the previous summer, Farrell allegedly said, "No, like a Lollapallooza ... It means someone or something special, excellent, or exceptional ... It also can mean a giant lollipop." (Incidentally, Thompson reports that Farrell "stumbled upon the word channel-surfing one night, and getting sucked into an episode of The Three Stooges.)
The alternate version of Lollapalooza's creation legend puts more emphasis on the shoulders of William Morris booking agent Marc Geiger. Ted Gardner, the band's tour manager at the time and another co-founder of the event, says in Whores:
Marc brought the idea up of why don't we invite a bunch of our friends to play on the American leg of the tour and try to create something like a Reading Festival, but take it on the road? The inspiration was a number of people, but Geiger was really the seed-planter. I thought it was a good idea and took it to Perry who watered the seed and came up with the name Lollapalooza.
Farrell acknowledges Geiger's contribution in the same book, stating that he encouraged the singer to put his creativity to work. He did, too, coming up with schemes for everything from marching bands to aromatherapy for 10,000.
He had other plans, too. Jane's was in Europe during the first Persian Gulf war, and Farrell was struck by how overseas news coverage differed from the American media outlets. Management appealed to his new found activism, suggesting that he could use Lollapalooza as a platform for social change. Paul V, who was a promotions guy at Warners at the time says in Whores:
Perry thought, "OK, if my name and my band can get 20,000 people here, maybe I can inspire a hundred of them to go vote or twenty of them to join Greenpeace or whatever is was that he believed in. He invited both gun control activists and the NRA people to come down and set up their booths.
What set Lollapalooza apart from its European counterparts was that it was a touring festival. The coordination of that many bands, booths, etc. was a tremendous undertaking, but the team pulled it off. The show that got off to a rocky start that afternoon in Tempe became the dominant venue over the next several years for alternative artists. Without Lollapalooza there may have never been an Alternative Nation, a term that Farrell coined.
Here was the bill and running order that day in Arizona. Note that the clips aren't from July 18, 1991, but they're all from the first Lollapalooza. Other bands on the 1991 bill but apparently not on the opening date include Fishbone, Violent Femmes, and EBN:
2:00: Rollins Band opens the show.
3:00: Butthole Surfers.
"[The art and politics booths] were pretty pitiful, but it would have been hard to organize something like that and get high quality. You'd have to pay some really smart person a lot of money." -- Gibby Haynes, Spin, October 1991
4:00: Body Count.
"What makes this tour important is that all of these groups have broken ground in their own areas. My show comes off the weirdest because there's something going on that you ain't ready for." -- Ice-T, Spin, October 1991
5:00: Nine Inch Nails.
“We couldn’t play because one of the power boxes had melted, and every time the low end of the PA would rumble, it would jiggle the cord and all power onstage would just shut off and turn back on. If you have a sampler, that means you’re down for a minute. And if you have a tape deck, ahem, that means it stops ..." - Trent Reznor, MTV.com
6:15: Living Colour.
"I really believe Lollapalooza was the beginning of extreme body art. Piercing started to go mainstream with that tour. Think about this: It starts with Lollapalooza and ends up with Scary Spice with a pierced tongue." -- Vernon Reid, Rolling Stone, Sept. 30, 1999
7:45: Siouxsie & The Banshees.
"Dave [Navarro] always liked older women. He had a thing about Siouxsie Sioux ..." -- Inger Lorre, Whores
9:15: Jane's Addiction.
"Toward the end of the set, Dave just snapped and threw his guitar into the audience and stormed off, knocking over stacks. Perry walked off after the song was finished and they just started wailing on each other, punching each other out....The crew reset the stuff back up and they came out again and started playing, but then Dave started body-slamming Perry while he was trying to sing. Dave knocked over his stacks again, took his guitar, and launched it into space...again." -- Chris Cuffaro, Whores
The Compton Terrace Ampitheatre was torn down in 2010, but what Perry Farrell and his partners willed to life 24 years ago is bigger than ever. Lollapalooza unfolds its tent annually now in Chicago, and editions are now held in Brazil, Chile, Buenos Aires and Berlin. Over the years the festival has been integral to breaking acts from Nine Inch Nails and Ministry to the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow.
But Lollapalooza is even bigger than that. Put any of the hundreds of festivals held each year under a microscope and you'll see Lolla's DNA. What was supposed to be Jane's Addiction's swansong (they're still going great, by the way) turned into the birth of a whole new generation of festivals.
The festival circuit, the Alternative Nation, the return of the sideshow -- we owe it all to Perry Farrell and his giant lollipop.