“Oh my god! There’s the dude from Fall Out Boy—the bass player—he’s standing right there typing on his two-way.”
“Who? Flout Boy?”
“Fall Out Boy! I’m not into them but they’re kind of a big deal.”
We were backstage for Wilco at Lollapalooza this weekend, and I had just spotted Chicago native Peter Wentz (then known to me as the dude who does all the talking when Fall Out Boy are on MTV). Forgiving my companion, my college buddy Drew—a jazz pianist who spent last year in Africa—for his ignorance of the obnoxiously infectious “Sugar We’re Going Down,” I still say that someone who has sold over a million records constitutes a “big deal.” But in this microcosm of the whole rock ’n’ roll universe, it’s not always so easy to draw those lines.
In some ways, the world of Lollapalooza 2006 was like a cage match of big deal-ness (Perry Farrell vs. Anthony Keidis: go!). Using an elaborate system of color-coded wristbands and restrictive laminates, the organizers had strictly segregated the populace. In other ways, it was a wonderful lesson in the ever-shifting lines of fame and access. I was able to forgo my lowly media pass thanks to the help of my backstage tour guide, Matt Rowland from local favorite Ghostfinger—or, as he operated in this world, keyboardist Mr. Jimmy with Living Things, a rock band from St. Louis heavy on bravado and tight black pants who were playing the festival.
Rowland left Murfreesboro a simple soul in docksiders and denim cut-offs, and arrived at Lollapalooza in a tailored wool Hugo Boss suit and snakeskin boots. The band were also being tailed throughout the morning by a film crew shooting a documentary on the festival—directed by Dig!’s Ondi Timoner. There is perhaps nothing that makes people seem or feel like a big deal more than having their every inane action captured on film. (Just ask Trichelle from Real World.)
As they sound-checked on the main stage, picked out designer threads for a Spin photo shoot and hung out in an air-conditioned trailer, I was privy to a small window into the potential this rock ’n’ roll dream holds. No wonder so many people attempt it. But my favorite moment was far simpler: Mr. Jimmy and I spied Be Your Own Pet enjoying some pre-show breakfast Saturday morning in the catering tent. They eyed us, we eyed them—the Nashville connection was made.
In my mind, Be Your Own Pet are a big deal. They’ve graced magazine covers, hung out with Thurston Moore and spent their summer playing major festivals around the world. Yet just last weekend I saw drummer Jamin Orrall play in a basement at a house party in Sylvan Park for about 10 people with his side project, JEFF, whose MySpace page claims: “We will play anywheres, just email us.” We chatted about Brendan Benson, who, during the previous night’s set, claimed Nashville as home when he announced, “We’re The Raconteurs, from Nashville, Tennessee!” BYOP casually mentioned they were planning on doing some dates with The Raconteurs in Europe.
Temporary Nashvillians Oh No! Oh My! personify the inherent contradictions of being an indie-rock band on the cusp. They drew a good crowd to a side stage at Lollapalooza, including some hardcore fans in homemade T-shirts. Then on Sunday, they headed back to Nashville to play The End. Drummer Joel Calvin intimated the band would open for quirky, confetti-spewing darlings The Flaming Lips on a few dates in September.
That’s rock ’n’ roll, folks. Playing to 10 people one minute, 100,000 the next. Begging for shows one weekend and opening for Jack White’s new band the next. I guess in today’s music industry the most you can hope for—unless you’re the Arctic Monkeys—is an increasing number of special nights and delightful we’ve-made-it-moments.
Ol’ Pete Wentz didn’t actually get backstage until late in Wilco’s set. A friend told me they’d overheard him earlier complaining about it. “This is a clusterfuck, I can’t even get up there,” he’d said. “I got up there for Kanye!” It was my very own I’ve-made-it moment, and as soon as I had it, I wanted more. Hell, I’ll admit it: I, lowly Scene editorial assistant, fell pray to the dark power of my black “Artist” wristband, often finding myself transfixed by the way the bright August sun bounced off its little metallic guitars.