GRAY IN L.A.: COACHELLA Of My Mind

GRAY IN L.A.

No, I didn't actually go to COACHELLA, that rather pretentious yet prestigious SoCal rock fest for the badly dressed and desperately with-it-crowd. I hadn't planned to either, and would have had to be paid the same amount of money that the famous and illustrious guests dropped there for their private jets, luxury tents and hotel suites, to lure me there. And it's not because I'm gray and fear that any wild dancing and finger snipping on my part might have been filmed and put on social media with barbs like "Grandma's Last Waltz" or so. The thing is -- as any "older" music-obsessed festival goer of the past 45 years can tell you -- we've seen it all, only simpler, often much better -- and definitely cheaper. I certainly have.

We are not very popular among a lot of young people. We, that would be the original hippies and hipsters, rock 'n' rollers and concert mavens, the original inventors of festivals, cheap chic and sexual liberation (and for the ones who might say, "Yeah, so? And look what happened?" -- that's another story we can discuss).

The three-day COACHELLA Music Festival (in its 15th year) attracts more fans each year. As ever, people crave music and spectacles (and drugs I guess) -- memories of Woodstock loom large even if they have faded a bit.

Right now the early 70s are back again in the not-so-great HBO series "Vinyl" -- trying to depict an obviously unforgettable, magical and explosive era of prime rock and early punk for people who didn't live through it.

I feel nostalgic about it myself 'cause I was there when it all happened! (In Europe and New York.) Music was part of life starting in the late 60s, and somehow homogenous and natural. Bands played for fun and for us, their enthusiastic fans. For money, too, of course, but that wasn't the main thing.

It was all simple. It was announced on posters and in the newspapers and on the radio that Led Zeppelin or the Stones came to town for a concert; you were very excited, told all your friends if they didn't know it already, and then you or one of them stood in line at the box office und bought tickets. And then you all just went.

I always make fun of the dreadful designer hippie-look clones at COACHELLA and the exorbitant prices for silly duds, but it would be dishonest to pretend not to have cared back then what to wear to such an event. I was a fashion plate all my life (I could sew and I had a vintage clothes collection) -- but it neither cost any real money, nor did it take a stylist or more than an hour to get ready. Men had it even easier since it was basically about making a decision to wear a floppy hat or not, and which scarf or velvet jacket to wear. I'm not here to say that the combo of white patent leather loafers, striped pants, a ruffled paisley shirt and a leather belt with a huge brass-buckle was a good look (something Eric Clapton wore when I met him in '67).

Whenever I read now about music festivals and look at the footage I shudder. Yes, maybe I've lost touch with trends. My tastes are such that to me the Beatles are still the best, and the epitome of a modern female provocateur of superior talent is someone like Pink; that I never tire to listen to Joni and Chrissie Hynde, that I think Madonna is a sad case and Billie Holiday's voice still moves me deeply. Something that can't be said of Kanye West and the Chauvinist Club, or the faceless female stars that dance through cosmetic commercials. Janis didn't use "Clearasil", did she?

Does it sound phony or cynical to use the words "purity" and "integrity"? If there is something I miss the most today, it's that. I don't know whether audiences get only what they want or deserve. Maybe there simply aren't that many individual visions by artists left. It's all about product placement, fashion magazine covers and such crass commercialism, that even a gut-wrenching riff and a perfectly mesmerizing song pales next to Cover Girl's relentless Lip Gloss marketing with rock stars like Katy Perry. In America, it all ends up in marketing anything creative to death. Killed by commerce.

I was lucky, I've seen most of the 60s and 70s icons: The Beatles, the Kinks, Chuck Berry, Led Zeppelin, The Bee Gees, the Who, Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, Frank Zappa, Bob Marley, even T.Rex; and attended legendary concerts like the Stones in London's Hyde Park, Bob Dylan on the Isle of White, and so on.

There are very good new musical talents emerging every year and I don't doubt that the 20- to 40-year-old crowd is as crazy about music as I was when I entered the famed "Star-Club" in my hometown of Hamburg where I saw a not yet mega-famous Jimi Hendrix play for two nights in 1967. But they will never experience the excitement and joy of discovering a sound you have absolutely never ever heard before. This feeling of luck and pure bliss has never totally left me.

"OK, we got it. What's the point?" youngsters may say. "Times have changed, you are old people, have-beens and have-seen-it-alls. It's us now; we're deciding how the music is played and who to follow."

It's a generational thing, I know. I do believe there's mutual envy of the most natural kind. They wish that they could for once have a slice of inexpensive ecstasy (and hear Jimi play), and we wish we could still be 24 once in a great while. In my case only to be really really glad not to have to show up at COACHELLA and be exhausted to death.

Admittedly, it was all pretty male-centric back then; the few famous female icons I truly missed out on were Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell.

So for me, the really exciting change in music of the last decades is that female artists finally pushed their way by sheer talent, strength and cleverness into the limelight and blew the boy's club to pieces. I don't think they'll ever play second banana again. And just for that fact -- I'm delighted and cheer the new world of rock. Hold on to your mike, find your real voice -- and leave the lip gloss at home, Girls!

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