By Nick Dilonardo
I spent the last weekend in the sands of Indio covering Coachella. I had a press pass and a mission: cover the experience, and bring something back. Along with our photojournalist shooting the bands from the pit, I looked out at the crowd in those moments trying to bring some kind of cogent analysis to the scene.
As it stands now, I think I failed.
Coachella is an expansive event, with music for each and every type of person and junkie. It is an event that cannot be covered without discussing the omnipresence of drugs of each and every form.
I tried to make sense of the scene. Looking into the yolk-like eyes of a girl who stumbled into our camp, clearly in another world, interrupting me briefly, complimenting me profusely and then skipping off, I felt like I’d hit the nail on the head. I mean, I felt like this may be Coachella in a nutshell. Trying to write about Coachella is like trying to make sense of that strange scene, one more than just about the music.
Coachella is a place where people are free to be strange, where watching music itself becomes some kind of cross between exhibtionism and an endurance contest. It becomes a battle of who can manage whatever combined cocktail of drugs they’ve chosen to do, all under the unforgiving burn of the sun. Drugs, for the record, are not allowed within the festival grounds. So when a PA announcer made this statement, I assume he had no sense of its subtext:
“And now, here are two girls who haven’t slept since Coachella began – let’s give them a round of applause!”
How is that even possible?
One way, one word: Adderall.
The prescription attention-deficit drug and commonly abused stimulant has become nearly as ubiquitous as marijuana use at the event. This prescription pill, the fuel behind the two and three in the morning after-parties, was on the tip of almost everyone’s tongue.
The drugs are “illegal.” There are pat downs as everyone enters the festival. Yet, everyone is doing it. Yet, it’s impossible to watch a set without someone lighting up next to you. To be clear, I am not complaining. The problem for me is the seeming hypocrisy. To sum it up, it’s about as silly as “don’t ask, don’t tell,” and it works just about the same way.
Coachella speaks to the impossibility of regulating a prohibition on drugs, and the biases revealed when we try and do so. These prescribed drugs are difficult to control when even grandmas can become sources, through their medicine cabinets. Medicine for some is a high for others.
It brings me to Socrates’s idea of Pharmakon, the idea of a medicine that is also poison. It speaks to the duality of things, the opposite of everything. For me, Coachella was like Pharmakon – it cleanses and breaks you down at the same time. It’s purifying to stand in the desert air, sweating everything out, lost in the music, in the crowd, in the show. It’s punishing to spend three and a half days living like cavemen when most of us spend more time waiting in line at Chipotle in one trip then we do ever even thinking of the steps involved in setting up a campsite.
What did I take away? Like coming home from studying abroad, putting Coachella into words is harder than you think.Where I normally would have analysis, I have scenes and colors. As myself shrank, as I become more and more part of the crowd, unable to move, bodies all around me, pulsing, I could do little more than simply observe. And despite the grunge, the sunburn and the back pain from standing, it’s something to be seen, not told.
Hunter Thompson came back from the desert having failed to cover the Mint 400 Race that found its way into the story that became “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” I think any attempt to bring back truth from Coachella is failed from the start. But I will say this: Coachella stays with you. When you’ve spent days wandering alone, perhaps, navigating through a maze of half naked suburban wannabe hippies and drug addled music groupies, simply walking by yourself to have a beer at a bar isn’t the biggest thing. Coachella can be a huge step outside of a comfort zone. I’m finding being outside of that zone is the place to be.