Last year, to celebrate turning 35, I went down to the California desert to party with America’s Youth. I flew my pale, exceedingly out-of-touch carcass down to Palm Springs and out to my first Coachella experience.
I wanted to see all the great live music but, more than that, I wanted to see if I was still cool – if I still belonged. I did not belong.
But it was still awesome, and I noticed some things that only experience and entropy will allow you to see, and I’d like to share my findings with you.
I Did It For Science
Attending Coachella at such a disgustingly advanced age was an experiment. Like the greats before me, who summited Everest or discovered Antarctica or whatever, I did it so the rest of you could be inspired and learn from the endeavor.
I also did it because there was promise of food trucks and women wearing the bejesus out of mom-jorts; those high-riding, skin-tight denim shorts that hide the unspeakable shame of the bare female navel, while allowing the bottom portion of the ass to hang out, like tastefully muted Fourth Of July fireworks.
So it’s been a year. I took that time to look back with some perspective and let my thoughts marinate in the sun; let’em dehydrate and overheat; hallucinate on bad pills, pass out and then get revived by a couple of volunteer EMT’s –figuratively, I mean.
Below is what I discovered, and I hope it’ll be good food for thought for you, should you find yourselves at Coachella or any other music festival this summer.
Why Is “30-something” Even Significant?
Good question. 35 is not that old, obviously. But, crucially, it’s old enough to fall outside of the festival’s – and marketers’- sweet 18-34 target demographic; where the money is. You begin to notice that advertisers are no longer trying to appeal to you with their messaging. Past 35, they give up on trying to convince you to drop, say, $300 on headphones because that guy from N.W.A. tells you they’re cool. The most that marketers can expect from me at this point is a bulk purchase of chinos every Summer Olympics.
Point being, 35 is pretty fucking old. Not as old as it would’ve been 200 years ago, where I would’ve been a granddad, fought in wars and, with any luck, staved off countless old-timey illnesses, but still old. Certainly, my 35-year-old self was staring down the barrel of irrelevance in the context of the media and popular culture. That did not sit well, as a grown man without children and, therefore, no compelling reason for being (quoting my parents here). I still wanted to belong to youth culture; to be relevant. But that’s obviously a losing battle, a fool’s errand and, above all else, pathetic.
But Coachella proved it can still be fun as hell to go down swinging – just as long as you’re not wearing a flat-brimmed baseball cap. Yeah, there’s your first takeaway: don’t be 35 and wear a flat-brimmed baseball cap. Don’t do that.
With that said, the under-35’s have nothing to fear, and I’ll address you young’uns here:
Hey u guys, go ahead and ignore what I’m writing here because we all know 35 really is super-old – way older than you can comprehend without the help of your Calculator, if you have that app on your phone.
You will never be this old; you will stay 23, or 15 or whatever you are forever. Just pass this article on to someone who’s closer to my age, because they’ll appreciate it, but then obviously get the hell away from them because oldness is contagious and it will fuck your shit up so bad – so bad, in fact, that you can’t even.
Alright, good talk.
So here are some random observations about Coachella from me, your resident older guy. I hope they’ll be of some use.
A Quick Primer
Coachella, or “‘Chella” as I heard some festival regulars call it – regulars who should’ve been bullied more in their formative years – is the world’s biggest music festival that happens in a desert. It’s three days of live rock, hip-hop, EDM, people-watching, swollen knees, heat stroke, flower wreaths, whack-a-mole porta-john colonies, sandstorms, food trucks, and things called “bass drops”.
The weekend sees 100,000 mostly white, mostly educated, mostly upper-middle-class youngsters pass through the turnstiles, all doing their best to dress and behave in a shockingly lower-upper-middle-class manner. It’s maybe a little unfair to paint the whole crowd with such a broad brush, because there obviously is diversity in the crowd, with peoples’ Ray Ban frames coming in all colors of the rainbow, and that really is beautiful.
When you’re in your 20’s, attending Coachella is probably amazing. Really, any summer music festival in your 20’s is amazing. It’s a rite of passage; an opportunity for cutting loose, communing and confirming – confirming that your fashion and music sense is consistent with that of your peers; for being outdoors and hooking up, and for doing soft- to medium-hard drugs and for sometimes, when the temperature is just right and the breeze subsides, sweating your balls off. You embrace all of it as part of the experience.
In your 30’s, things are of course a little different. Music festivals become less a rite of passage and more that aforementioned pathetic last grasp at your youth and relevance. The music seems louder (too loud!); the sun seems hotter (oh my god, so fucking hot!); the kids around you are seemingly more devoid of manners (you assholes were raised by civet cats!). Also when you’re 35, evidently no one has the decency to tell you that you sunburnt your face – like, real bad.
On the plus-side, because you’re older, you’ve cultivated a more discerning taste in music and you appreciate the cool new stuff that much more. You also have a bit more money to spend on survival accoutrements like water, or sun hats, or extra taco meat.
You’re also that much more familiar with your own tolerance to drugs and alcohol, and are thus less likely to pass out naked in the sun and/or lose bowel control in the mosh pit. So that is all good.
Back again on the negative side, your hearing is slightly worse and you’re less down with mixing it up in the mosh pit – or YOLO puddle, or whatever it’s called now – trying to get closer to the action. You’re more likely to complain about the price of beer because you remember when it only cost a nickel.
You’re also more likely to complain about the lack of acts who play musical instruments instead of their MacBooks and DJ consoles. For the record, I like DJ consoles. Anyway such complaining is dismissible as endearingly curmudgeonly, but not if you’re the lead singer of, say, Arcade Fire (I say this because the lead singer of Arcade Fire did, in fact, whine about it while he was on stage. It was very lame.). In that case you’re not an endearing curmudgeon; you’re a self-important knob with a stupid haircut.
But on the plus side again, you learn that the kids are still cranking out awesome music. It’s amazing how much you miss if you stop paying attention for a couple of years. There are whole new genres I didn’t even know existed – Trap, Future Bass, Neo-Soul, Bukkake, whatever – and that makes you feel old, but also relieved that the artform of pop music is progressing in such interesting directions. Also, again, those mom-jorts.
I also learned that Toms shoes are still a popular fashion accessory. Advertising one’s social consciousness and “do-gooder-ness” still seems to go hand-in-hand with music festivals. Whether it was protesting the Vietnam war in the 60’s, freeing Tibet in the 90’s, or helping the needy today, the kids have always believed in making a difference – or at least believed in talking about making a difference.
Fact #1: When you purchase the Toms brand of slip-on casual shoes, an additional pair is sent to a child in need, often in Central America. It’s a very thoughtful and socially conscious gesture.
Fact #2: Wearing your Toms shoes suggests to people that you are a good soul – an altruist who likes fashionably functional, minimalist footwear, and you like to help others in need.
Fact #3: Wearing your Toms shoes while #partying and doing bumps of cocaine in a dark corner of a Coachella VIP lounge does not tell people you’re a good soul, or that you remotely care about impoverished families in Central America. In that instance, you are simply an asshole in cheap espadrilles.
Please Stop Curating
I’m going to tread lightly here because this has been discussed everywhere else on the internet, but it remains a fact that people curate too much these days. They spend too much time photographing, videoing, documenting and posting things, and so they aren’t actually experiencing anything. People hold up their phones to record whole concerts, and miss out on the actual concert. The kicker is, of course, there is no hard evidence that any of these countless amateur videographers have ever gone back to actually view their own footage – and who could blame them, because their footage is terrible.
But that’s their problem. My problem is when they use one of those horrid selfie sticks. Heaps of folks were using those last year at Coachella, and it’s obviously a huge nuisance to the folks behind you. But the latest news is most festivals and outdoor events have wised up and are banning selfie sticks, which is great.
For what it’s worth, I do remember striking up a conversation with one guy holding up his selfie stick in front of me. I’m pretty chickenshit, so I didn’t want to pick a fight with the guy, I just wanted to understand his train of thought. He jokingly admitted that he rarely watches anything he records, but he just likes filming stuff. He also confided to me that after 10 years of attending Coachella, this is his first one all alone, because all of his friends are married with kids. But it was pretty obvious his friends had their babies just to avoid having to go to Coachella with this guy again. There are far worse reasons to start a family.
Courtship Is Different Now
That quote I have up in the title? I actually overheard that nugget when a young woman was walking by me with her friends, when she accidentally nudged a passing young man’s cup full of lemonade, sending him into that mock tirade and declaration of beverage ownership. I couldn’t believe that he’d said what he said. I’m no Victorian gentleman but Jesus, man, how does anyone talk to strangers like that? Crazier still, rather than be repulsed and at least slap the guy, all the girls whipped around and started flirting with him. Shortly thereafter, the guy and his new lady-friends went off together somewhere else – I didn’t follow them around but I’m assuming they went and had an orgy with lots of swears. Courtship has changed dramatically for the under-35 set.
It’s Called Trap
The Bass-heavy, EDM-tinged rap music the kids are listening to today is called “trap”. It sounds like the crazy, apocalyptic future. It sounds like a 10-storey tall robot beatboxing. This music is everywhere now. Even the names of the trap artists (“Waka Flocka Flame”, “Flosstradamus”) sound like villains from a Mad Max movie, but it’s also mainstream now to the point I think I even heard it in a TV ad for a Toyota Camry. Trap is exactly the kind of music that makes you feel old, but also good; it makes you want to go apeshit and stick it to The Man. This is complicated because at 35, your are The Man, so when I first heard trap at Coachella, it was the sonic equivalent of a snake eating its own tail, if the snake was sunburnt really badly.
Choose Your Robot Wisely
A good tip I learned is when you arrange to meet someone at a landmark, make sure it’s a stationary landmark. Here’s an example of a good place to meet; “Hey Jan, what do you say we meet at the northwest corner of the Eiffel Tower?”
Here’s a bad example: “Hey Jan; what do you say I meet you beside this restless pitbull with no leash, in like 20 minutes.” That’s a bad meeting place, because the dog will move. He will also potentially maul you and you might die.
That didn’t happen to me, but my friend with me at Coachella told me to meet her at the foot of a giant robot statue at noon. Coachella is full of gigantic statues of robots, dragons, leprechauns, misshapen human heads; what-have-you. They’re all super whimsical and people like to stare at art installations at music festivals, because it makes them feel like cultured humans and not at all like herded cattle, viscerally responding to random noises and the promise of a vacant porta-john or free taco. I digress.
The problem was the robot was on wheels so that it could move around, so that it could delight people at all corners of the fairgrounds. But it did not delight me and my friend, because we couldn’t find it again, nor each other. Art has a way of bringing people together, but this roller-skated robo-sculpture made me want to cut ties with my friend forever, for her suggesting that we meet at a moving robot. Stupid.
The Kids These Days.….
So where does this leave us? I’m bitching a lot because I don’t like that I’m getting older, but that’s my problem; these were obviously all just little snippets of what was, overall, an awesome experience for this Old Salt at Coachella. Like I said, the music was awesome, the whole sensory overload of the desert setting, giant art installations, endless food trucks and great people-watching was all excellent. I felt old, but I had fun. And the kids, despite their idiosyncracies, are no better or worse than they’ve always been.
…Are Actually Alright. Actually, the kids – maybe not the ones at Coachella, but in general -are indeed better than they’ve ever been. It hit me on my flight home from Palm Springs. I ended up sitting next to two 5th graders from Guadalajara, Mexico, who were flying to Vancouver for a student exchange, and they were fucking awesome.
Aside from their disappointment that my Spanish and futbol knowledge was limited to “Beckham tiene mucha tattoos!” and “Maradonna es ahora muy gordo,” we had a good chat. They were super bright and ambitious little dudes, talking about wanting to go into medicine, wanting to see the world and learn lots of languages, and knowing more about my native Canada than anyone not from Canada should have any business knowing. I was impressed. I thought they may have been child-spies, but I wasn’t sure if that was actually a thing.
Anyhow, those kids were rad. I thought about them in the context of Coachella, with young people running amok in their Ray Bans and Toms uniforms, and funny mating rituals, and their crazy future-music. Coachella kids aren’t the best and brightest, necessarily, but neither am I, so who cares.
So, you should go to Coachella – or any other music festival – regardless of your age, and just have fun, and keep an open mind and, please, put some goddamn sunblock on your face once in a while.