I like the Coachella Festival. For two weekends a year, it drains Los Angeles of a few cars, shortens lines in stores and teaches thousands of young people that dehydration is no joke.
The idea of the festival is pretty insane. Drive hours into a very hot part of California and spend three days trying to avoid having your skin destroyed by the sun as you enjoy some of the most popular bands of your lifetime. Looking at many of the photos from the festival, it seems that it’s as much a mecca for fashion and photo ops as it is for anything else. I guess that’s part of the “you can take people out of L.A. ...” thing.
In a far more low-tech, this-might-go-south-fast setting, for two straight years, I went to Mali and made my way to Timbuktu for the Desert Music Festival and got some meaningful lessons in how mighty our species isn’t.
In the Sahara Desert, the sun is a predator and all living things are its prey. By noon, it’s above 100 degrees. If you’re smart, you’ll be cowering underneath something to block the sun. I spent the hours of the sun’s most lethal glare underneath a slab of camel skin.
If you must leave such shelter, it’s best not to have a single square inch of your skin exposed, lest the sun’s rays find it. I noticed the local Tuareg men were almost completely covered in multiple layers of cloth, their heads wrapped like cool mummies. There was no mercy for their camels, who, fully exposed, just toughed it out yet seemed indifferent.
By the second day, I had met a fair portion of the few thousand adventurous Malian jam-session enthusiasts. We found camaraderie in the beautiful and deadly environment we were in.
There is no way you can do a weekend at Coachella and return to the city and not have learned something about yourself. Both times, after I got back from the Desert Festival to the Radisson Blu in Bamako (the same hotel where armed attackers killed 19 last November), I was a wiser person.
Music festivals are the right thing to do. May they never end.
While the young and photogenic were at Coachella, I was in L.A. On the festival’s first Saturday, I was driving west on Hollywood Boulevard, about to make a right onto Laurel Canyon, when a mob of red and blue lights materialized seemingly out of nowhere.
It was a large motorcade. Police motorcycles cut off my access to Laurel and allowed the SUVs and other vehicles to haul ass past. One SUV had its windows down and in each passenger-side seat was a man with what looked like an AR15. Whoever it was had some serious backup.
Of course, as this straight-out-of-a-movie entourage tried to power by, it went right into the almost perpetual snail’s pace of the single lane. It was funny to see all those lights and firepower have to slow down to jogging speed. People driving the other direction were laughing. They ran the red light at the Canyon Market and I lost them.
I found out later that it was Secretary Clinton, apparently on her way to a fundraiser being put on by George Clooney. A day later, Mr. Clooney described the amount of money he had raised for Ms. Clinton’s campaign as “obscene.”
Too bad the presidential hopeful can’t reimburse we the taxpayers, who no doubt paid a hefty sum for that particular joyride. Grim as it looked, it wasn’t cheap.
Several minutes later, I was in a coffee place, notebook out, tunes on, inhaling the odor of a homeless gentleman who smelled as if he had come into contact with several cans of bug spray. The effect was odd and overwhelming. As I sat there, getting off on the fumes, I thought about how much money is spent on things like driving a politician to someone’s house for dinner.
The tail has been wagging the dog for a long time. I think the dog is us and now, the tail wags everything else, too — truth, information, how it gets disseminated and how we get it. This election cycle has been thousands of hours of viewing, with none of the candidates rolling out their plans in any great detail. One of them will get it, but so far it’s been a lot of semi-hollow talk.
I look forward to any of these candidates tossing their scripts and digging in on the big issues, which are all incredibly complex. Shouting won’t help.
I listen to everyone’s speeches whenever I can. I want to hear what they have to say. I am amazed at how low-calorie all of them are, even from the candidates I like. They all resemble Ms. Clinton’s motorcade — just a visual, no substance. Opaque promise, accusation, insult. I am de-energized by it all.
We, the American people, are to blame. We let the standards dip, and they really have. Journalists like Walter Cronkite would be disgusted at what’s currently passing for election cycle coverage.
Why does a campaign need “obscene” amounts of money, raised by A-list actors, the agenda-driven uber-wealthy and the thinnest air–breathing elite? Why does a candidate seek to outspend another thinking that it’s the money that wins and not the intellectual content the candidate seeks to espouse? Because it often is indeed the money spent that makes the difference in a political system that seems more concerned with corporations than citizens.
I know this happens in all elections. But has it ever been to this degree? I think we have allowed this vital function of government to become about almost everything but ideas.
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What does it cost to get Ms. Clinton to Mr. Clooney’s house? You’re not making that much money this year. Obscene.