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An Oral History of the First Lollapalooza

Lollapaloooza 1.0 hits Stanhope, NJ on August 14, 1991 / Photo by Ebet Roberts

HANLEY: It was the launch of Rock the Vote, which had a big part in Clinton’s election in ’92. That age group wasn’t really participating and voting en masse before that.

JOBSON: We were having to educate security guys to not smash kids’ faces in. They had never experienced anything like this before, to get kids out from a barricade and seat them off to the sides and give them water.

KEVIN LYMAN: It was a new thing for these venues.

ANGELO MOORE (singer, Fishbone): I was getting the mosh pits to run in a big circle, and then stop and run the other way, and I’d go out there and jump in it.

PATRICK: There’s something about a little violence. There was a mosh-pit etiquette that we had in the ’90s: If someone falls, pick them up.

ERNIE C. (guitarist, Body Count): You had to be there at one in the afternoon to see Henry Rollins, so that shows you how much talent was on Lollapalooza.

ZELISKO: Rollins struck a very menacing figure but was a very nice guy.

HAYNES: One time I said to him, “Hey, dude, let’s do a boxing match. Three rounds.” He’s like, “Anywhere near a hospital where you like the food, man!”

JOBSON: They were all afraid of [Rollins] because they were a bunch of pussies and Henry’s tough as nails.

FARRELL: Gibby had a shotgun.

HAYNES: I don’t know who said it — it might have been Duchamp — but someone said there’s nothing more surrealistic than firing a blank gun into a crowd of people.

ROLLINS: It was full of rounds with no shot, just powder. And he would yell into the microphone, “I didn’t see you people moving when the Rollins Band played, you sons of bitches!” And he would cock the shotgun, and aim it directly into the audience and shoot it.

FISHER: I was like, “What the fuck!”

VERNON REID (guitarist, Living Colour): He would wear this really horrendous floral-print housedress.

LYMAN: That was the reaction everyone wanted to get. Everything on Lollapalooza was trying to get a bigger reaction than the other guy.

ROLLINS: After a few times, Kevin Lyman said, “That’s just not going to fly.” It was terrifying. I would never, ever do that to an audience, but it was one of those things.

PERKINS: Truly a dangerous band.

NAVARRO: There weren’t different stages to walk to. It was all pretty centrally located, and a lot of people were turned on to bands they wouldn’t have otherwise known.

REID: Siouxsie’s position in that tour, below the headliner — she was a kind of monarch, whether that was intentional or not. She was around in the earliest days of punk, so it was awesome to have her. This whole thing could’ve been completely ageist, and that didn’t happen.

GARDNER: It wasn’t like, “It’s a girl band, so put them on.” A lot of people threw that accusation around. When I was managing Tool, I rang the agent for Lilith Fair and submitted Tool, and they said, “No, it’s all women.” And I said, “Well, isn’t that sexist?”

BUDGIE (drummer, Siouxsie and the Banshees): We never thought of ourselves as female-fronted. It was just like, all of us are in the band. I think the only girls onstage were the strippers with Jane’s Addiction.

HAYNES: Kind of like a modern-dance thing. Not my shtick.

GARDNER: Perry went to this strip club in San Francisco one night and saw them dancing and asked if they wanted to come along on the road with us. College girls.

HAYNES: Everybody was fucking everybody on that tour. I think I fucked Dave Navarro but I thought it was Siouxsie Sioux. Or maybe vice versa.

NAVARRO: On some molecular level, there’s truth to that statement.

BUDGIE: I wasn’t really sure who I was supposed to be going home with. I just got married [to Sioux]. It was quite a honeymoon. It was an all-around adventure, the kind of thing where you’re sitting around with Dave Navarro at a hotel reception at two in the morning, him with a feather boa around his neck. And everybody’s thinking was, “There’s nothing around here. If we go out like this, we’re gonna get killed.” There was no uncertain sense of danger.

FISHER: There was one point in Dallas when Jane’s Addiction was about to go on and I went into their dressing room. I flung open the door and Perry was sitting in a chair, surrounded by…It was like looking at Caligula. It was like a circus in this little room. There was all this shit going on around him, and he was the king.

REID: There was a tour party hosted by the S&M girls of Dallas that lives in infamy. I’ll just say there were white manicured hands holding whips, and black exposed backs. I’ll leave it there.

PERKINS: Once you start traveling with all of these people, spreading your wings a little, there is so much to share. Music, books, clothes, girlfriends.

HAYNES: Whatever band was onstage, we would walk into their dressing room and drink their beer and try on their clothes and shit. We’d always take the Banshees’ deli tray and say that we took Siouxsie and the band’s cheese.

BUDGIE: [Butthole Surfers’] dressing room was empty apart from beer. [The tour] was pretty much partying from day one. Ice-T’s bus was a constant up and down movement.

Born in Newark, New Jersey, and raised in South Central, L.A., Ice-T was one of hip-hop’s original gangster rappers. But he reinvented himself as a thrash-metal vocalist, backed by a band of Angelenos called Body Count, on a 1992 album of the same name.

FARRELL: Body Count were fucking amazing, but in those days it wasn’t very common — it still isn’t very common — for a bunch of black kids to get together and blaze on metal.

ERNIE C: At that time, rock was defined by skeletons and skulls and the devil. We came out with guns and angry black people. It was something you could really relate to.

LYMAN: Rap was still a pretty underground sound, so I think it was the first time for white America to get to see Ice-T play. It was the first time a hip-hop artist really crossed over. Lollapalooza gave that outlet.

ERNIE C.: When Body Count first started, we had nowhere to tour. There was no niche to fit into. This was before Rage, before Limp Bizkit, before Korn. We played “Cop Killer” at Lollapalooza and nobody was offended. You heard it. Your grandfather heard it. But during that election year, it caught the attention of some people who needed a platform.

GARDNER: “Cop Killer” was getting airplay until Tipper Gore declared, “This is disgusting! This is promoting cop killing!” God, people are so stupid.

PATRICK: In North Carolina, Ice-T and Perry were doing [Sly and the Family Stone’s] “Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey,” and this scary neo-Nazi skinhead was screaming and crowd-surfing. And Perry said, “Hey, man, I’m a Jew, you wanna say something to me? This is Lollapalooza, we’re gonna let everybody talk here.” And he threw the mic out to the guy.

FARRELL: This guy didn’t understand that these are my friends, man. I’ve been butt naked with these dudes. He went on and on, and I thought, “This is great, I want to hear what this man’s got to say.”

PERKINS: To see Perry and Ice-T face off, singing those lyrics, and then at the end they would do a tango together — it was perfect. And it represents what was happening on the tour — we’re feeling each other out at first, but by the end of the tour, we were dancing together.

PATRICK: I remember thinking, “Perry’s confronting the issue, point blank. He is standing onstage calling Ice-T a nigger. How amazing is that?” They were disarming the word.

REID: It was clearly to push buttons, but I thought it was fair enough.

ERNIE C.: Ice had a funny one about Living Colour. People would look at them and say, “That’s a black band.” And they’d look at us and say, “Those are some niggers.”

REID: It was really relevant for both Body Count and Living Colour to be on that tour. Not just one of us.

PERKINS: It was interesting to see the Living Colour camp and the Body Count camp. They were so different: East Coast, West Coast, and what they were bringing to the festival was so different. There was a little rub and a little aggravation between them, but I liked it. It was healthy.