The following is a fact-based, fictionalized tale of one day’s experience at Lollapalooza ‘92.
To ensure a fully accurate portrait, all actions and appearances of bands, fans and sideshows described herein are true, taken from verified videos, articles and firsthand accounts of shows across the ‘92 tour.
Only the protagonists don’t exist (actually, they probably did…).
That time Van Halen sold their soul for Crystal Pepsi.
JUNE 17, 1992
I’m Trevor, I work the window at Al’s Beef & Buns, the only dairy-free burger joint in Stock-town Cali. My dude Laird works grill, and his girl Darcy’s step-dad drives a red Camaro with a purple hood that he calls The Hawk.
He’ll be sleeping with Darcy’s mom at the casino tonight, and that La Palooza part two is tomorrow, so we swiped the spare keys from his fake rock, and come morning time…KA-CHING!
Darcy’ll pinch the bird while I grip us tickets, she’ll pick me and Laird up at Al’s, we’ll cruise to the show and get it festive, and once I change this here keg of Crystal Pepsi, this hamburg joint is officially closed.
JUNE 18, 1992
Entering the grunge valhalla, the parking lot of ‘Palooza, a sweaty traffic cop’s radio says 30,000 tickets were sold. As we exit The Hawk, hula-hoopers in patchwork vests flash dried-out beer hops, pill jars of Pez and Ziplocs of Pop Rocks. “Got that good, got that good” they mumble. Darcy says don’t look in their eyes, they’re DEA and already know our names.
Past the narcos, crunchy body piercers yoga-sit on dusty Tunisian rugs doing three for $25’s. I get a silver ear stud, Darcy gets a nose. Laird calls us sallys and heads to the body art tent, where a Mexican tattooist grinds his teeth and blasts Body Count so loud that his “Darcy” tat comes out “Marcy.”
He doesn’t notice, gets gauzed up, and we’re off into an ocean of vendors slanging bootleg band tees, handmade hacky sacks, friendship bracelets, old flannels, shell necklaces, healing mineral geodes, hemp everything, tie-dye anything and new flannels.
Casey Kasem’s Top 40 is on a boombox at the Guatemala Treasures booth and Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” has the #1 spot. Darcy tells the female owner L7 would flip her stand over for perpetuating such misogyny. The confused South American woman directs her attention to a reversible jade-pendant Quetzal Eclipse necklace.
In the Alternative Universe thrift stand, I find a Stryken tee, the Jesus-metal band that stormed an ‘87 Mötley Crüe show wearing full body armor with a large wooden cross and parted the crowd to the front row. I’m none too religious, but my Al’s shirt reeks like the devil’s deep fryer. Fair trade, I’m putting this thing on.
At the Donna’s Wild Herbs and Essential Oils stand Laird gets some sage, to smoke. I tell him maybe don’t. He does, hacks his face off and can’t talk for 10 minutes.
Now it’s booths, booths and more booths full of fired-up people—activists and advocates Darcy calls them. ACLU, NRA, PETA, NARAL, EPA. There’s legal weed dudes, ocean lovers, farmers’ rights, voters’ rights, homeless helpers, rotary clubs, tinnitus safety. Laird speaks once again. “Did we pay for this baloney?”
Near the Greenpeace booth, a makeup’d white guy dressed like Henry the VIII with an African kufi hat and a staff made of glass is hitting on Darcy. “Get lost, creeper!” An old man with acid-eyes and a “Know the Ozone” sign approaches and tells me Al Gore is a shaman. I thank him and move on.
And here’s the “The Wheel of Safe Sex”, a Pat and Vanna-style thing, benefitting AIDS research. Prizes include Wayne’s World hats, The Bodyguard soundtrack CDs, neon-camo slap bracelets, plastic guitar keychains, special-edition condoms, and one autographed and framed Soundgarden poster. Laird is bugging out. “Kim Thayil’s skin cells are on that!”
Ten dollars less and ten prophylactics later…
It’s a classic ring-the-bell sledgehammer-slammer, featuring a 20-foot plywood sleeping George Bush with a vulture on its shoulder. The sign reads: “Wake Up, Mr. President! What About the Homeless?”
I pay $1 to smash a metal ball that dings George’s chin and his eyes shoot open. What’d I win? A carnie with three chins and a coin belt snatches their hammer back. “No winners but the homeless, Son”.
On a stage marked “Concourse of Oddities and Curiosities” is something called the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow.
First up, the amazing “Mr. Lifto” lifts weights on strings strung through his eyebrow rings. He lifts a clothes iron with a bent coat hanger going through a double piercing in his tongue. He lifts cinder blocks attached to his six nipple piercings, and rummaging in his pants, he’ll now lift what with what? No thanks, my dude.
A being named “The Slug” walks on, silent and slow, gobbling worms and maggots from a fruit bowl. Someone called “The Torture King” follows, puts on Slayer, chews up a light bulb, electrocutes himself with the empty lamp fixture, puts a meat skewer through his face and climbs up a ladder made of swords.
For a coup de grisly, “The Torture King” lays in crushed glass and asks “The Slug” to step on his head. Starting to think this ain’t my jam.
“The Duke of Puke” has no gag reflex, and just ran seven feet of plastic tubing through his nose, down his throat and into his stomach, then poured a fifth of whiskey in. Now Ringmaster Jim himself is two-hand-squeezing bottles of ketchup and Nestle syrup in, while The Slug pours Coors Light.
With the Duke’s innards filled to the brim, Jim draws it all out into a bucket with a hand-pump, suggests the crowd drink some, and may have just eyed me up. Enough! I think I hear something…
In the distance, a storm of clanging and banging leads to a painted wood sign: “This is the Rhythm Beast, a giant music gizmo that can accommodate up to 30 concertgoers. Pluck its guitar strings, pound its hubcaps, or pump its bellows.”
There, in a massive open-barn structure, crowds of fascinated strangers with drumsticks and mallets are all-out bashing a collection of old car hoods, flattened trash cans and metal scraps hanging like tin piñatas. The vibe is intense and tribal.
A lady in a plaid skirt with a half-shaved head plucks long, tuned tire tubes. Darcy stomps on big rubber bladders of PVC-tube bagpipes. Laird…is apparently somewhere else.
“It’s a junkyard percussion installation” says a proud man counting up sticks.
Uh-oh. Laird is strapped into one of those metal circles like the kids at Space Camp. The owner Bandana Sam says it’s the Multi-Axis Trainer (don’t ask me) and that it gives you the G-force.
The safety lock is released, Laird whirls three ways at once, passes out while a camera crew interviews Sam, then wakes and laugh-pukes on his flannel. (Turkish goat kebabs—Darcy warned him.) He dismounts, takes it off and throws it, opting for the flannel he’s wearing underneath.
Some shirtless frat bro named Troy walks up, laughs, and does a standing backflip.
A nearby joint called the Cyberbar sells “Super-Vitamin Smart Drinks,” blended and served by a remote-controlled robot. Darcy buys Laird a pink one called Orbit Juice. “Drink this or we’re breaking up.” He holds his nose and chugs it. His pager goes off. It’s his mom again. “She knows I party.”
Atop a grandstand labeled “Stage 2000,” a DJ in long leather shorts and shin-high Doc Martens blasts techno faster than David Bowie’s nostrils. Thousands dance. Gorgeous tan women with cascading, curly hair slather themselves with body paint and crowd-surf.
Straddling a riser above the DJ, a thin-dreaded, ripped black man in an umpire mask dry-humps a metal beam, waving a chopped and re-arranged American flag.
On a blanket beneath a neighboring oak tree, mellow skaters pass joints and laugh at the clouds. A lonely-looking guy in a Hypercolor shirt plods by juggling fire batons. Without warning, the main stage gates open and masses sprint like terrified horses.
Alright, let’s go Lush! Wait, this sounds blurry. Is there a ghost in this band? Are there bumblebees in their amps? Laird says it’s cause they’re British. The fuzz-nado builds and by the end of their set my face feels like I’m sleeping against a speeding car window. Inside an industrial vacuum. Sucking up a melting rainbow.
They finish and now everything feels quiet, except for those bells they left in my head. Darcy removes her earplugs (earplugs?) and says to be careful, music that loud can give you Ross Perot ears. “What’s pasta soap tears?” Laird must hear the bells too.
We’re front and center waiting for Cypress Hill on the side stage, and there’s weed in my lungs that I did not smoke. Ice Cube is ducking around backstage making the angry face. Now here comes the Hill, lit joints in hand, and dang, where’d B-Real get that Pantera shirt? Ten minutes in, I’m contact-high and he looks like Barney dancing.
“Who you tryin’ to get crazy with Ese…” Uh-oh, life’s about to get bumpy in 3, 2…”Insane in the Brain” jumps off, the pit erupts and Laird is down. “Bro…they ripped my new flannel!” He throws it and puts on the one tied around his waist.
Say what now? Some nervous roadie just announced Eddie missed the bus after the show last night, so Chris Cornell will take his place. Three songs in, Eddie runs out filthy and exhausted, says he hitchhiked 300 miles from Denver, sees Chris, and oh damn, it’s “Hunger Strike”!
Eddie’s in full effect for “Even Flow” and after “Jeremy” (with Mr. Lifto on backups), he climbs 30 feet up the stage scaffolding with all the motions and facial expressions of a caveman. There he swings like an oblivious child, nothing between his feet and the crowd but three stories of air.
Laird asks if all grunged singers do this. “Does the guy from Nirvarner climb buildings?”
Post-Pearl Jam, I spot a charity vendor with Crystal Pepsi. I purchase one and pound it while watching a hip, pale fellow in a black turtleneck and Lennon glasses crawl up a parking lot fence, leap from fifteen feet, land on his side, stand up, stumble in a circle and fall again. That’s an alternative way to get in.
A digital billboard above the main stage scrolls headlines: “Domino’s Pizza supports censorship…Records don’t kill, bullets do…The average weight of a Chinese man’s testicles is 19.01 grams…75% of American women wear the wrong bra size” (Don’t look at me, I didn’t write it).
Possessed suddenly by the smell of fryer oil, I buy a foot-long corndog and another Crystal Pepsi. Laird, still secondhand stoned from Cypress, orders three. Darcy scolds him. “Watch the wallet Trump, you’re taking me to see Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it comes out next week.”
The Jesus and Mary Chain
Jaded fuzz-pop, haze and drone-core, it’s all great in the dark, but not quite the same in the day. Plus I’m not sure these lads should be out in the sun. And they all look pretty bored. Laird asks if the singer knows we are here.
Darcy says: “C’mon boys, they’re Scotsmen, they kilt it.” And then, “Did you guys get it?” I don’t get it. Laird’s getting jealous. “Get what? Seriously, did someone give you something?”
Tool is on the side stage and I don’t think this Maynard person likes people. Laird says he might be special and needs to eat. “If we met I’d buy him goat kabobs, or Al’s, whichever.” D’Arcy says this music makes her feel like she can’t count. I’d agree, but I suck at math anyway.
For “Cold and Ugly,” Maynard takes a sumo stance, stares at the floor and wobbles for minutes on end. What’s going on—is he hypnotized by life? Did he ride the Multi-Axis Trainer? He straightens up and walks off. Show’s over, roadies speed-collect the gear.
The next band’s singer brings a sign on stage with Mastercard and American Express logos, reading “You are under constant surveillance.” A white math nerd in a black “Kill Bono” shirt looks it over, looks at me weird, and walks off.
After opener “Jesus Christ Pose,” Laird suggests Chris Cornell could be the resurrected Son of God, disappointed because no one recognizes him. He’s got a point, but I’ve really gotta whiz something terrible (that second Crystal Pepsi!). Before I can blink, “Face Pollution” explodes and I’m drawn into a whirlpool of shove-dancing.
Well…I mean, people piss in the pit, right? It’s cool, these Chucks are thrashed, they’re red, which covers yellow, everyone’s wearing black, if they’re not, it’ll be dark soon. While being thrown about, I center my mind, and here goes noth—
From deep within, a mystic whisper: “Trevor, this is the real Jesus. I like your shirt. Listen. You’re wearing knee-less, stonewashed 501s, Trevor. They’re brand new, they’re from Kmart, don’t urinate in them. Stonewash stains easily, think twice! Don’t do it, friend!”
Oh. My. God…I’m still so high from Cypress Hill that I forgot I had jeans on. It’s a no-go.
I turn and push through desert punks, pagan tribal mystic girls, ’80s-haired quiet chicks, goth-curious jocks and boring people…then surf drunks, art lunks, and alt-hunks named Garrett and Dillon and Hudson—start and stop—for 15 minutes.
I can hear the Chili and Ministry drummers jamming with Soundgarden’s drummer, all on the same kit. Bursting through the crowd, I knock a food cart of hot dog water on a major label A&R dude staying clean at the edge of the audience. He waves his lanyard in my face. “I’m with Universal bud, I can have you thrown out!” I offer to buy him a dog. What else can you do?