Lana Del Rey / Courtney Love. Red Rocks. 05.12.15
Santo & Johnny were a musical duo from Brooklyn who had a #1 hit with an instrumental song titled “Sleep Walk”. That was back in 1959. Highlights from the Red Rocks season that year included Ricky Nelson and Harry Belfonte. Elizabeth Woolridge Grant wouldn’t be born for another 26 years. She wouldn’t arrive at Red Rocks for another two decades. The first time the young singer-songwriter gazed upon the stage in Morrison, she made herself a promise – one day she would perform on that stage. If I were with her on that day, I would have encouraged the 19-year-old Lizzy Grant, but I wouldn’t have bet on her. Not until I’d seen her shed her skin and become someone else entirely would I have believed she was capable of packing every seat with hysterical, screaming fans. Some will argue that Grant never actually achieved her goal. They will say that the girl who played acoustic guitar and sang coffeeshop love songs had to die in order for someone else to be born. That’s not entirely true though. Lizzy Grant is still very much alive. No matter how self-destructive Lana Del Rey might seem, she is only a character that Grant plays on stage. Living fast, dying young, and leaving a beautiful corpse isn’t a new concept, but it’s also not one Grant lives by.
Lana Del Rey is the one who thinks she lives in Brooklyn in the ’60s. She is the one who takes the stage to Santo & Johnny as if they are generational peers. She’s in the little blue dress and designer pumps. She smokes cigarettes and sings songs about sex, drugs and booze. She glamorizes dying young and leaving that beautiful face forever unchanged. Lana Del Rey does all of this so Lizzy Grant can achieve her goals. She does all of this so Lizzy Grant can make a living. Lana Del Rey sacrifices herself so Lizzy Grant can live a long, comfortable life, free from all those tragic things Lana Del Rey sings about. Lana Del Rey is the reason Lizzy has been able to sell out two consecutive shows at Red Rocks.
I just hope the thousands of young girls with flowered headbands understand this truth about Lana Del Rey. I hope they understand that the persona is pure entertainment and marketing genius. I hope they understand that she is not a role model. Luckily, my daughter does understand this. That’s why I don’t mind her listening to Lana Del Rey albums and going to Lana Del Rey concerts. But I would be lying if I said it didn’t make me a little nervous to be surrounded by teenage girls last night…each one screaming the following lyrics with such joy…
“I got your bible and your gun,
And you love to party and have fun.
And I love your women and all of your heroin,
And I’m so happy now that you’re gone.”
My nerves calmed down a bit when I thought back to the opening act. Sometime between Santo & Johnny and Lana Del Rey there was a time called the ’90s. And in that time there was a girl named Courtney Love. Courtney had a band called Hole and a boyfriend named Kurt Cobain. They were of my generation. Hole was also capable of packing every seat with hysterical, screaming girls. And I remember those teenagers screaming the following lyrics with the same joy I witnessed for Lana last night…
“I want to be the girl with the most cake
He only loves those things because he loves to see them break
I fake it so real I am beyond fake
And someday you will ache like I ache.”
There are too many differences between Courtney Love and Lana Del Rey to list here, but the biggest difference is that Courtney Love was/is a real person, which makes her much more frightening than Lana Del Rey. Lana acts out the tragedy that Lizzy safely paints on paper with a pen, while Courtney used to paint her tragedy with needles and blood. Lana Del Rey sings about heroin like it’s something sexy, while Courtney admits to having done it while pregnant with her daughter. Lana sings about being born to die, while Love’s late husband ate a shotgun at 27 years old.
I’m not sure who decided to book Love as the opening act for the Endless Summer Tour, but it was a genius move. No matter how many short movies are produced to add a visual element to Lana’s songs, her performances lack any real danger. Having an angry, antagonistic relic from the ’90s take the stage to spit condescending things at all the “little bitches in flower headbands” was equal parts entertainment and warning. She represented the harsh realities of what being born to die really means. I’m not sure the “little fetuses” really got the message, as many of them spent the opening set taking selfies and chatting among themselves, or even more disturbing, yelling out “I love you Courtney, you’re a queen!”, but at least she was there to entertain us old folks in the crowd. She reminded me that even at a young age I was able to separate myself from the artists I loved and it gave me hope for the young blood around me.
The rain threatened the evening while we were lined up to get into the venue, but after much delay opening the gates, we were treated a a dry evening under the stars from the 18th row. Courtney Love took the stage (45 minutes late) at 8:15pm. She might be 50 years old, but her personality hadn’t changed a bit since I last saw her at Lollapalooza in ’95. She kicked things off with “Plump” and “Miss World”. Her voice didn’t sound great, but I think that can be blamed on her mic going in and out, because she sounded a lot better by the time she got to “Violet”. Never the shy type, Love had quite a bit to say to the Millennials that made up the majority of the crowd. “I’m going to take you back to the ’90s, before you were born!” “I had to get two steroid shots to play for you tonight!” Regarding the living fast, dying young stuff, she had this to say, “I’m still here bitch! Fuck you deathpool.com! You didn’t get it right. All it took was a little carrot juice.”
She did show some respect to her surroundings and her host though. “You all scream for her like she’s NSYNC! I love her too!” She also wore a flower headband of her own during songs like “Malibu” and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Take This Longing”. “Lana does a Leonard Cohen cover, so we are doing one as well.” Admitting she was never able to play Red Rocks during her Hole days, she blessed the venue as “so fucking epic!” The sound was hit-and-miss, she was crass as hell, and the girls we were with got bored with her after a handful of songs, but the fact that Courtney Love is still alive and able to play an hour of almost all Hole material in 2015 is something of a miracle in itself. Having recently watched Montage of Heck, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of Love as a human being, but I always liked Hole and it was a lot of fun to hear those old songs again. Before “Doll Parts” she refused a request to show hers, “I’m 50 years old, I don’t show my doll parts anymore. Maybe Lana will show you hers. No, she doesn’t do that. She might show you her bare feet though.“ Hearing that song made me feel young again for a minute. But then she walked off stage after “Northern Lights” and as I sat down I realized I was still an old man surrounded by kids.
Before I get into the details of Lana’s performance last night, I want to repeat a few things I said when I reviewed her show last year…
“When Lana first posted “Video Games”on youtube in 2011, I was immediately blown away. The song, the old footage, and the strikingly unique beauty of the girl singing made me believe she was something special. I still think it was one of the best things to happen that year. She affected so many people, so fast, that most artists in her place would have suffocated on the pressure. But the excess love was the least of her worries. Along with the adoration came extreme hatred. Never in the history of the internet has someone been assaulted so severely for a single song. The internet has always been overrun by trolls, but once Lana Del Rey had been outted as Lizzy Grant (and even worse, that she had taken measures to try to erase Lizzy Grant’s digital footprint) the haters wanted blood. Her botched SNL performance did nothing to keep them at bay. It was during this time that you could not escape the name Lana Del Rey.
I saw her perform at Amoeba Records in San Francisco a month after the SNL disaster. This was in early-2012 and she was shy, nervous and extremely grateful for those of us who supported her. She literally looked like she was going to burst into tears as she sang a few songs for the handful of hipsters gathered in the store. Her performance was noteworthy because she hadn’t let them break her, but it wasn’t exactly breathtaking. When I met up with some friends at Zam Zam’s after the show, I told them that Lana Del Rey wouldn’t last another year. I was wrong.”
“The internet treated Lana Del Rey (and the real person behind her) as the second coming. Those with messianic expectations were only drown out by those demanding crucifixion. But Lana/Lizzy wasn’t as fragile as I first thought. In fact, I don’t think anyone really knew who she was. I wonder if she was already aware, when she was singing in that record store on Haight Street, that she was going to leave those critical people behind. Why wallow in the depths of judgmental people? Why waste time on those who are going to raise you up like some golden idol, only to throw you on the fire like a sacrificial lamb at the first hint of imperfection? She knew that she wasn’t on the road to Red Rocks, so she (or her people) started marketing to those who really matter – the youth of America.
The average age of the 1,500 people at the Amoeba Records show was probably 27 years old — mostly male – with a lot of horn-rimmed glasses and flannel. The event was free.
The average age of the 9,450 people at Red Rocks was probably 17 years old — mostly female – with a lot of flowered headbands and exposed skin. The event was $40 a ticket.
“Because the Internet” became “Screw the Internet, Because the Kids.”
The lines protruded from every entrance into every parking lot hours before the gates opened. Sunflowers had been strung together and tied around the kid’s heads, while sundresses and crop tops seemed to be the standard uniform for the night — although some went as far as full Indian headdress, as Lana did in the video for “Ride”. I really can’t remember the last time that I’ve been to a show where the fans dress up as the artist. It was just another sign of the influence she has over the kids — an influence that would have been impossible if she would have continued to cater toward the Pitchfork/Stereogum crowd.”
I wrote all of that last year and it all applies to last night’s show. The average age might have jumped up to 19 years old and the ticket prices increased by 10-20%, but other than that it was the same experience.
One thing I had forgot about the last show was the screaming girls. Never in my life had I heard girls scream at a concert like they did for Lana Del Rey. When those shrill memories came back to me last night, I started accusations in my mind — the group of selfie-happy CU students next to me, the preteen girls behind me, the ones with the sign in front of me — as it turned out, most of the girls around us were pretty well behaved, but the collective squeal was almost too much to take. Just like last time, I don’t think they even knew what they were screaming for. Once again, it wasn’t just cheering. It wasn’t just singing-along. It was life-threatening. They were screaming because she smoked a cigarette. They were screaming because she drank something out of a cup. They were screaming because she took some time to sign some autographs. They were screaming because she said “thank you”. They were screaming because Lana Del Rey was occupying space in their vicinity. I can’t say I understand it, but once again, I have to give Lizzy Grant and her people props for creating this hysteria. Her stage persona is too muted and soulless for my taste, but to each their own.
Just like last time, Lana was backed by a full band and a large screen that projected tragic images that aligned with each song. At one point she dismissed the band and the screen went black as she sat down in a folding chair to smoke a cigarette and cover Leonard Cohen’s song about Janis Joplin in the Chelsea Hotel. When she got done, she stood up and said “I love that song“…so the screaming started again. The set was heavier on Ultraviolence material (the album came out a month after her last Red Rocks show), but I think the crowd still preferred the older material. The “Chelsea Hotel No. 2″ cover was actually pretty great…she nailed that song…but “Blue Jeans” ended up being her best original of the night. I think even the most die-hard Lana fans will admit she doesn’t always hit every note; she can be hit-or-miss outside the studio. But last night she really earned her applause with “Blue Jeans”.
The kids in our care hit their wall during “Brooklyn Baby”, so we made our way to the exit during “Shades of Cool”. I was personally a little disappointed to miss “Why Don’t You Do Right” (I actually saw Who Framed Roger Rabbit multiple times in the theater when it came out), but I wasn’t going to argue with two 12-year-old girls who had been at Red Rocks (and survived Courtney Love) for six hours on a school night. We could hear the whisper of “Video Games” echo off the rocks on our way out and I couldn’t help but think of all the ways things could have gone different for that 19-year-old singer-songwriter who promised herself Red Rocks. I’m not sure creating a seemingly soulless character who glamorizes self-destruction is the route I would have taken, but it seems to have worked out for her. If fame was the goal, I can think of worse ways to achieve it…just ask Courtney Love.
“Singing in the old bars
Swinging with the old stars
Living for the fame”
– Lana Del Rey, 2011
“She obliterated everything she kissed
Now she’s fading
Somewhere in Hollywood”
– Courtney Love, 1998
Skinny Little Bitch
Take This Longing
Gold Dust Woman
99 Problems (partial)
Asking for It
Lana Del Rey:
Us Against The World
Born to Die
Chelsea Hotel No. 2
Shades of Cool
Why Don’t You Do Right
Off to the Races