“The world is like a ride in an amusement park and when you choose to go on it you think it's real because that's how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and around and around and it has thrills and chills and it's very brightly coloured and it's very loud. And it's fun - for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they begin to question; is this real? Or is this just a ride? And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, and they say, "Hey, don't worry, don't be afraid, ever, because... this is just a ride.””
–Bill Hicks, comedian
Saturday July 8, 2006
Exactly seven hundred and ten years, to the day, after the Stone of Destiny was supposedly plundered from Scotland and escorted to England, destiny brought a stone-faced traveller from London to Edinburgh after fourteen hours in a bus seat. This stony face belonged to me.
Right from the moment Rob had called me up in London and told me that he had a spare ticket to this year’s T in the Park, I should have realized that such good fortune rarely comes without a price. I had been spending the last two weeks sleeping around in London’s train-stations and airports, waking up with the city everyday and discovering its hidden corners. A Sub of the day and a beer of the night were the only two luxuries I bestowed on myself daily during that fortnight and was as such pretty glum. Rob’s call poured the hot sauce of the unexpected yet suddenly near future in my ears; future being that realm of time where our dreams prosper, our friends loyal and happiness guaranteed.
I had never been to a festival before and never been to Scotland as well. So when I walked out of the bus at nine in the morning, I was half expecting Bagpipes, kilts, Loch Ness monsters and smack-heads to bump into me but in the absence of it all, I simply walked into that most omnipresent entity - Tesco. Major supermarkets are like a balm to a lone traveller in a new city because they argue that no matter how much local history and landscape seems to bully you, in every corner there is a little haven of national monotony where you could feel at home. Once in home, I got myself a sandwich, two crates of beer and three litres of vodka. Let’s just say that what I saw in the eyes of the checkout-lady certainly wasn’t compassion.
Getting a shuttle bus to Kinross where the festival was being held was quite a mission and a financial submission. That twenty quid note had been like a brother to me, our accord lasting for more than a week. Perhaps Shakespeare was having a brief spell of Ageusia when he said, ‘parting is such sweet sorrow’, for there is nothing sweet about the affair.
Half an hour in the shuttle and I was dropped like a hot coal at the festival campsite. Rob met me by the gates with the tickets and we walked to our humble tent after going through the security check. A funny thought I had had while the probing was going on was the child of the previous evening: the seventh of July. The preceding evening when I had been walking around in Victoria station, I was searched under section 26 of the Terrorism act, possibly due to my stubble that quite resembled an untidy lawn and the rucksack I was carrying. I had been ushered into a corner by three policemen who made the gross but simple error of taking me at face value (literally) to be the sort of person who walks around with explosives. Imagine their surprise when all they found in my bags were about twenty novels that I had purchased earlier in the day at a book-exchange in Notting Hill. I held nothing against them, what with it being the anniversary of the London bombings, they were right to be suspicious. Hell, sometimes when I look at the mirror myself, I get urges to call the police.
But religion, wars and God be Goddamned; it was the eight of July and I was in Scotland and I was at a festival and I couldn’t care less about anything the world said I should care more about. The beer cans were popped and stupor flowed in little U.K. units of 1.5. Soon the pipers who had lured us through radio and television transmissions were going to be performing in the flesh and I wanted to be lured just fine.
Standing by the tent, all you could see for miles were tents, all of them blue and the alcohol in me chuckled that a colour-blind person would have a rat of a time. Rob informed me that the bands were starting in ten minutes and that we had better scurry the drinking so we could get a good place in the chaos. He also educated me on the main venue being a no-no for anything other than water bottles but I, being broke as a joke, poured neat vodka into the empty Evian and walked through the security barriers armed with a devout expression that I have learnt to register in times when the ball is not in my court.
Rob couldn’t believe that we were let through and I couldn’t believe how drunk I already was. By now, everything in me was already singing and jumping for that extra volume, for that ‘bird of like rarest-spun heaven metal’ of which Alex the Anti-clockwork spoke of. And this bird indeed did flow in when Wolfmother performed their debut album. These Aussies are all the rage you expect from a dormant volcano and are resonant of Led Zeppelin in their prime. Mark my words; they are going to be big and not big via you-are-beautiful-no-matter-what-they-say but big via it’s-been-a-long-time-since-I-rock-and-rolled. When they ended with ‘Dimension’, I was thanking the Heavens for providing me with the simple extravagance of ears. If 70s hard guitar driven madness is your thing then you can’t really ask for more.
After Wolfmother we ran between the seventy-five thousand strong hordes to get ourselves near Kula Shaker, who were performing a re-union gig after ten years. I was once quite keen on them but the beer from the morning was making me kind of slow and in the end I could only sing along to their hits, replicating the rest like they were school-anthems or carols. You could see a lot of hippies around the tent; aging fans who in the 90s were my age. This made me see a glimpse of the eminent future, one where the fresh Arctic Monkeys are eventually going to star in television commercials for kitchenware and Best-of albums. And behind this television is going to be me, pushing buttons, only remembering that once a yesteryear…. (I assaulted the bottle, no H2O there only V4me, and stopped that train of thought before it went to unmapped stations)…and suddenly I was back in the tent again; listening to music in my own time, committing no crime.
Everyone around me seemed genuinely happy to be there, to share that same ground beneath their feet. And with a twang something hit me between the eyes; a feeling. A feeling that whispered that age is only a number, July the same as December and that if the sky was only as downcast as the tent canopy then perhaps people could feel the warmth of each other and hear each other out. And perhaps they would understand that this whole Good/Evil, God/Devil thing is too tacky now; it’s a bloody Street Fighter game that has been going on for a thousand bloody years and don’t they see that choosing a side won’t solve anything because the end has no end. Slaughter, slaughter everywhere, not a spot to think. The only answer is to change the game or better yet, just find a spot like a festival because once the music and mood hits you, you feel no pain. The set was over and I wanted to smoke like I had never before so I walked out into the open air and after taking in a good chunk of fresh air, lit my lungs on fire. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it. And anyway, it’s not like they have fire alarms down there.
We strolled some more, bouncing from one tent to the next, listening to different artists of varied genres. I think that’s what makes festivals so special. One moment you’re listening to The Kooks and their love jingles and the next you are staring at a death metal band complaining that there is not enough carnage in the world. All the tents are like different planets floating in the system of the fête. So much to discover that a rational person can do nothing but smile and gape at all that lies on the other side of his door. This results in every one smiling like Cheshire cats and getting along to the point when you think there’s some sort of a Feel-Good plague on the loose. The only downside was the refreshments bit and how you have to wait for ages to get served. Fortunately, the magic potion in my bottle was still there.
Rob and I parted because he wanted to see Paul Weller perform while I opted for Franz Ferdinand and the Red hot chili peppers. This parting turned out to be grave later but there and then I was anticipating a very good performance from both bands, what with Ferdinand being local and the Chili peppers being amazingly vocal. I slyly carried my frame through the crowd like I was stepping on landmines. Soon I was standing not too far from the main stage, so close in fact that I could tell apart between the nylon and steel strings on the guitars. I was extremely glad to get that close and was sure nothing could ruin this moment for me. And then it rained. But no matter for the crowds loved it and gave Franz Ferdinand a huge welcome. It was magic to be swaying back and forth with the crowd whilst dripping from head to toe. People didn’t care about the weather, they had a hundred and forty quid’s worth of entertainment to be had, but a tourist like me was bound to suspect that maybe there was a secret army of idiots somewhere doing the rain dance. The Ferdinand set was perfectly delivered, ranging from the several hits they’ve had over the years to the lesser known gems.
The rain was getting so deep under my skin that I might as well have been in a swimming pool. Never mind. When the Chili peppers came on, all the dampness in me seemed to evaporate and the crowd was overwhelmed at seeing the headlining act come on stage after more than eight hours of bastardized zeal. They broke into ‘Can’t stop’, much to the delight of everyone. Then it was assault after assault of the funky numbers and wizardry that made them one of the best bands in the observable universe in the first place. Seeing the audience soaking in the heavy Scotch mist and relishing it all, the band gave a longer performance than listed in the programme. The encore alone was about half an hour long and the sea of faces all around me singing along to ‘Under the bridge’ made every little inhibition I’ve ever had seem pointless and Spartan. Flea, the bass player, famously remarked, ‘What’s the difference between me and a blade of grass? Nothing! What’s the difference between a little mouse and the planet Jupiter? Nothing!’ Quite philosophical though I shudder to think what the people on LSD and amphetamines would have made of the expansive remark (the words that launched a thousand trips!) The band brought the set to a close with their classic ‘Give it away’ and set the audience to their tents and the food stalls.
The night would have been perfectly sound had not my drunken, baser, self decided to get one more drink to celebrate the lack of queues at the bar stalls. That one extra drink, after the two litres of vodka I’d had through the day, launched me on a spiral course in the fields of Kinross. I had a blackout, well, actually a solar-eclipse of senses, which saw me wandering around like a zombie till 3 a.m. in the morning, trying to locate the beloved tent. It had not yet stopped raining and I must have cut a sorry figure to anyone observing me as I tottered around like a moth; incoherently asking for directions to a place I didn’t know. These stages of drunkenness are not reachable by John Q Public and hence the likes of me take it upon themselves to make, I suppose, examples of the malice in this wonderland. I staggered into party tent where I don’t know what happened. I recollect strobe lights, throbbing dance music that was a stench in my ears and smoking cigarettes. I knew I was acting like an idiot but I could do nothing to help it. The last thing I remember of the night is remembering that I wouldn’t remember anything in the morning…
Sunday July 9, 2006
Thousands of years ago, God supposedly said, ‘Let there be light.’
Thousands of years later, a Godly voice in my ear really said, ‘lighter?’
I opened my eyes.
‘Hey man, do you have a lighter?’
‘I think so. Do you have a spare cigarette?’
And it was good.
This ‘God’ turned out to be just another festival-goer who had found me lying behind a sandwich caravan and decided to wake me up. And with good reason. When I came around, I noticed two things. One: I was not wearing my shirt, it was someone else’s. Two: this strange shirt of a stranger’s was doused in mud. And then I remembered what had happened the night before. Somewhat. I had vague recollections of been asked to leave somewhere for being quite pissed. And then I think while I had been searching for Rob’s tent again, this group of like five people asked me to take off my wet shirt and they gave me a dry one. I don’t recall thanking them.
It was about nine in the morning now and the weather seemed to get better. At least it was not raining. In the light, it wasn’t too hard to find Rob’s tent. He was taken aback by seeing me in such a state and gave me some of his dry clothes. He had some food and I changed up. The toilets were like little shuttles and I half expected them to launch into space or something. I was still glad to have my head around after the calamity of the previous night. So far so good.
Throughout the day, Rob couldn’t believe that I had spent my first festival night out in the open. Neither could I so to make us believe it, we had a couple of cans. Then we went back into the venue in the same fashion as before but this time with even more resources. Today boasted a better overall line-up and I wanted the whole 4 dimensional experience again, hopefully, with accommodation sorted.
The Magic numbers was the first band we saw and they were really pleasant. Their brand of music had sixties inflections and was quite easy on the ear. The crowd loved them and it was a quite remarkable co-incidence that there uplifting songs of peace and sunny days, once done, actually cleared the skies. The dull pigeon clouds of yesterday were abruptly gone, as if the goddess Hemera had brought out her Hoover and the sun came back shyly like it had only gone on a toilet break. We sipped the vodka and clapped to welcome Hard-Fi on the stage. They were not high on my list of favourites but I loved their song ‘Cash machine’ which is about a guy who goes to a cash machine to get some money out, only to be told that he is broke. The last chorus is highly addictive, with repetition of the line, ‘There’s a hole in my pocket, my pocket, my pocket.’ When one hears thirty thousand people sing that line, one realizes that you are not the only broke one on the planet. I wondered if there was a hole in my pocket or a pocket in my hole.
The Arctic monkeys. Taking Britain and then the world by storm, these twenty-something lads had a lot to prove. When they came on, even people who were in other tents came up closer to see what the fuss had been all about. My earlier vision of their future and my own, now only crossed my mind as minor and as irrelevant as the chicken crossing the road. For now, I was glad to be part of history and surrendered my head to their tunes. ‘I bet you look good on the dance floor’ was received well and made everyone in my radius jump for joy and festival satisfaction.
I was drunk again and wanted to eat something but the crowd didn’t leave me the option of going and returning back. Providence had thoughtfully implanted hunger as an instinct in us so as to tackle the labour problem and not feeling up for the laborious task of getting fed; I chose to overlook the hush grumbles of my tummy for the vociferous New York call of The Strokes. They had a good place on my list and their riffs left me with an open mouth like as if I intended to digest the sound. They played all my personals favourites, including, ‘Last nite’, ‘You only live once’, ’12:51’, ‘Reptilia’ and ‘Someday’. After their set there was an hour’s stage-break that I utilized by staying put and smoking.
And who do you think came next? Of course, it was The Who. The Gods of the Mods, the kings of their g-g-generation and the pinball wizards who are the eternal alumni of the rock n’ roll academy. Performing live after ten years (though I had seen them live only a week back in London) and taking the festival to the end, the crowd knew they were in for a wild ride. Townshend used his guitar much like a snake charmer uses his pipe and has been known to raise hairs as he ‘pipes the world to the simple fabric’ till ‘nothing but snakes is visible’. I looked around me and saw that there was not a soul around who didn’t feel the power of their music as it had trailed for nearly half a century. You could see teenage Goths, pop princesses, the rock crew, the drum n bass monkeys and, of course, the hippies and aged fans all give themselves away to the ancient riffs of 1960s. After playing such classics as ‘I can’t explain’, ‘Substitute’, ‘Baba O’Rilley’ and ‘Behind blue eyes’ for one and half hours, the band walked away. When they returned for the encore, the crowd made so much noise that I feared for Townshend’s other ear. They played ‘Pinball wizard’, Tommy’ and ‘Won’t be fooled again’ before launching into ‘My generation’. If one hasn’t yet heard this insanely excellent tune than now would be a right time to leave the planet. When they played the song and people wildly sang the lines, ‘this is my generation, my generation, baby!’ I imagined the band as a collective Noah urging these species of every race, sex, nationality and generation to come aboard their Ark of music and identity. Never before had I seen much a celebration of generation and was glad to be in the Ark. Me in the Ark at T in the park.
Well, the bands all finished and saving their melody for another day; the crowd moved away from the main stage and queued up for food and drinks. I was a little dazed and confused from the whole experience, partly from the musical flicker and partly due to the liquor. We got a curry and rice each before going back to the tent alongside seventy-five thousand people. Now that the festival was done and there was nothing to look forward tomorrow, we got ragingly drunk and talked about the whole thing. I told Rob of my London days and all that I had seen. He laughed about the whole trip and said that I was mad. I took it as a compliment.
After drinking more and not getting drunk enough, we walked into a huge tent that was supposed to be on and selling drinks till late. My jig-saw puzzle of a memory was speculating whether this was the same tent from which I was ushered out last night. I couldn’t be sure. Paul Kantner of the Jefferson Airplane once said, ‘If you can remember the sixties, then you weren’t there.’ Using the same logic but in reverse, I came to the conclusion that if I remembered nothing of the tent from last night, then I probably was here. I got a drink and hoped it wouldn’t prove lethal. It didn’t. So I had some more.
After sometime, we grew tired of the droning drill of the dance music in the tent. It has always been my notion that dance music is made by monkeys, for monkeys. There is no lyrical quality and no instrumental talent. Some people say that dance music is the future; these people are the same who watch Big Brother and buy robotic dogs. You expect a cuckoo bird to come bursting out of their heads but it never happens. They hide it rather well.
Rob pointed out to the amusement rides that were still running. You had to get a ticket for each of them at three quid a go. I said no. I only had a tenner left and all the amusement I usually depend on is served in glasses with ice. However, I noticed that there was no ticket checker at one of the rides and urged Rob to follow me as we slyly got around the ticket-booth and up into the ride’s platform. We made it and found an empty seat. The ride was a Jump and Smile. No sooner had we started smiling at out luck than a Bosnian employee came and pushed the safety bar down on us. He asked us to give the ‘token’. We looked at each other and slightly panicked. We pretended to have lost it as he looked at us with a look on which you could have skied. I flicked through a book that I have written and published solely in my head (and which is a best-seller in here) called: Behaving the Face in Times of Disgrace.
Wow, quite a list. I would have thrown in a tear or two but the alcohol had left me dehydrated. The man looked at my forlorn face and moved to the next pod. The Book never fails.
As the ride started whirling around and gravity tugged at me like a rabid dog, I was a schoolboy again and felt like a fresh orange in a blender. In the twists and turns of the free amusement, for the tiniest of moments it seemed, even to my atheistic and nihilistic mind, that perhaps a higher force had indeed symbolically placed me on this free ride.
For a second, the infinite universe seemed like nothing but a huge blender and all of us nothing but fruits in it. I wondered if this is what they meant by ‘blending in’. All the time, time seems to be thirsty and is constantly making drinks out of us. It throws in hate, pain, loneliness, religion and war when it wants a bitter glass of juice and throws in the sugars of love, peace, smiles, music and celebration when it has a sweet tooth. It takes time for time’s lips to reach us but eventually we all end up down its neck and in some deeper, darker sphere. The universe will perhaps end when the electricity for this blender runs out and time is too broke to get a new connection. This broke my trance as I realized that I was broke and although I didn’t have to look after the universe, there was the pressing matter of getting to Cardiff in Wales on a budget of ten pounds. It would require some blagging, I suspected with a sigh. The ride stopped and I came out of the pull of motion to the push of emotion.
I was going to miss this festival, the Scottish nights of wonder and days of thunder. And I was going to miss the free ride because I hadn’t been on one for many years. Maybe that triggered the blender splendour I was growing nostalgic before the feeling is officially and linguistically allowed to set in. We walked away from the ride and towards the tent. That night Rob snored and I lay asleep in the tent, smoking a cigarette and knitting my tomorrows.
The festival had given me a lot of understanding and soaked up all my hate. I was very aware that in the real world, outside the campsite I would require a small reservoir of hate to operate but I couldn’t bring myself in terms with the useless emotion. I wondered if that day was the first day of the rest of my life and I wondered if it was going to get any better from there on. I had my doubts. You see, I’m one of those twisted, tortured people you see on the streets talking to themselves. The only reason why I don’t talk to myself is because half the time, you already know what you’re going to say next. And as for the other half, that’s the half I want to keep alive in me. That’s the half that will do the talking in my ears when ultimately a day comes when there will be no one around to do the talking; when the phones won’t ring and the doorbell won’t sing. Until then, I’ll stay just another freak in the freak kingdom, putting all my energy in answering these ringing phones and singing doorbells; hoping that something will come out of it all.