Little mascara

Since its inception, Lollapalooza has relied on clashing genres: Perry Farrell and Ice-T pairing on Sly and the Family Stone's "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey"; Courtney Love and Sinead O'Connor bonding over diapers backstage; or Ice Cube getting 20,000 rednecks to like him.

Few stories, however, illustrate the dichotomy of this year's Lollapalooza better than the afternoon in West Palm Beach, Florida, a few weeks ago, when a girl came up to Rancid's Tim Armstrong and begged him to get her backstage. Scantily clothed, she pleaded her case: "Please, Tim, I've got to go there," she insisted. "The drummer from Metallica said he'd do a line on my tits!"

Tim, who shaved his mohawk a few weeks before but spent 10 years in hard-core heaven, responded, "Do a line? You mean, he's going to a draw a picture on your tits?" Armstrong's words sound impossibly naive--unless you consider just how low-key bands have become in the past five years; Guns N' Roses-style antics are over.

Or are they? This is the question that animates Lollapalooza 1996--the same one that has seemingly kept audiences across the country at bay. On one side, the indie heroes in Rancid--straight-edge DIY punk rockers; on the other, Metallica--champion of humorless heavy metal complete with thudding bass lines and high-neck guitar solos, naked babes and pyrotechnics. In theory, a tour that joins these populist elements should create a mighty metal synergy, but in practice the two have turned out to be more antithetical than gangsta rap and Euro-disco.

Punk and metal--antithetical? Get outta here! It seems the least daring mixture ever: Second stagers The Melvins have been welding the Dead Kennedys to Black Sabbath since Kurt Cobain was knee-high to Dee Dee Ramone. Initially, thinking was that a Lollapalooza featuring Metallica and Soundgarden--both with No. 1 albums this year--would be far too popular to cram into undersized amphitheaters. But to audiences in the heartland the combo proved scarier than an Ice-T/Butthole Surfers double bill; ticket sales--although similar to other years--were about half what was expected.

How come? "I don't have any idea," shrugs tour manager Stuart Ross. "One theory says that Metallica audiences are waiting for Metallica to do their big production in an arena and don't want to come wade through eight hours of alternative music. Theory two is that the alternative audience has been turned off by the fact that Metallica's on the bill. Third is the fact that we raised the ticket price. Then there's the issue that we're in fields; some of our audiences are too young to drive, and their parents may have been hesitant to take them to a venue they don't already know as a nice, safe environment. Lastly, it's a slim music summer. I hear that no show except for KISS is doing well."

Newport, Tennessee, had an attendance of 19,000. The week before the New Orleans show, only 10,000 tickets for it had been sold. (That number rose to 18,500 by showtime.) In Ferris, 50 miles south of Dallas--a huge Metallica market--attendance was approximately 20,000.

The irony is that the festival was nine hours of hard rock as eclectic as it comes: punk, metal, new wave, glam, grunge, and goof-rock. Critics have charged that by excluding more so-called "alternative" acts--including the token female and rap acts of previous tours--Lollapalooza retreated to the safety of the old white-male mainstream; what it really returned to was sheer entertainment. Tour T-shirts proclaimed a "summer of noise," and for such a season you couldn't assemble a more disparate--or appealing--group. There was no ultra-hip indie act this year, no Pavement or Guided by Voices, but there was great nonstop rock.

"What I like about these acts is that there aren't trendy flash-in-the-pan acts like Bush," says 20-year-old Mark Weinberg, guitarist for third-stage band Crumb. "They all have really deep roots...My favorite bands are Sebadoh and Pavement, but for Tennessee, Rage, Metallica, and Rancid are so much more appropriate a definition of alternative."

Joey Ramone agrees: "Everyone I've met here so far is pretty cool and kinda like grass-rooted, you know what I mean? Soundgarden, Rancid...It's a rock 'n' roll show. Alternative? I don't know. Half those bands, like the Presidents of the United States [of America]--I don't know what the fuck to make of them, you know? But this is a cool bill. It's kind of a real sobering bill--bands that are unique and rooted and grounded. They're not bullshit. I'm happy about being on this bill."

Forks in the River Speedway in Newport, Tennessee, is an hour and a half from Knoxville, but only a few miles from Locust Ridge, the childhood home of Dolly Parton in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains. Tourists pack Dollywood for the legendary "dinner stampedes," but the speedway is another spectacle altogether: Lollapalachia.

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Gina Arnold