You can argue how great an impact Lollapalooza has ultimately had on rock ‘n’ roll since the festival began in 1991. One thing that’s inarguable: its effect on the English language.
Probably no suffix has gained traction in the last quarter-century quite like “-palooza.” Tracking the origins of the word and its outgrowth and myriad variations since Perry Farrell popularized it in 1991 makes for a real… etymology-palooza. (Sorry.)
Lollapalooza takes place this weekend in Chicago, having been reborn in 2009 as a geographically sedentary festival, as opposed to its original traveling circus format. One thing that hasn’t changed over the last 25 years is the delight with which people let the L-word trip off their tongues.. .or mash other words into it.
But the name didn’t seem like a great idea to everyone at the time. Marc Geiger, Farrell’s business partner in the festival, recalled his reaction upon first hearing it. In December 1990, Farrell “called my house at 1 in the morning and said ‘Geiger, I got the name!’ ‘OK!’ [With] Perry, you never know what he’s gonna come up with, and it was always exciting,” Geiger recalled a few years ago. “He goes ‘Lollapalooza.’ I remember just thinking: Nooooooo!” But he tried not to be a negative nellie about the idea. “I lived with it and I thought, OK, people are gonna remember that name the minute they hear it.”
Not just remember, but appropriate. By 1996, there’d been a “Homerpalooza” episode of The Simpsons. By 1998, Nickelodeon was dubbing a Sid & Marty Krofft marathon “Puf-a-Palooza.” Type just about any halfway-common noun into Google with “-palooza” attached—like, say, “bacon”—and odds are you’ll get thousands of hits.
For a while, the copycatting prompted enough threats from the fest’s legal team that Lollapalooza started to get an image behind the scenes as Litigi-palooza. But Farrell saw the light and put an end to that.
“I did have a happy thought in my heart to know that it has become part of the American vernacular, with all these funny paloozas,” the festival founder and Jane’s Addiction frontman said recently. “I’ll share a funny story with you. Early on, as people started to kind of use the palooza aspect of it, typical to lawyers, I was getting calls all day long from a lawyer: ‘Somebody’s calling themselves ‘Clamapalooza’ and they’re doing clams and oysters. Somebody’s doing Waterpalooza; they want to make a bottle out of it. We’ve gotta stop ’em!’ And I was at first really taken aback and I was put on my heels about it. But they were calling me all day long and I stopped and I thought about it. I said: These guys are probably making so much money trying to shut these ‘palooza’ people down. Better I should let ’em do it. Because I don’t intend on paying these lawyers all this money, No. 1. And No. 2, it’s actually advertisement for Lollapalooza. So I said, ‘You know what? Don’t bother ’em. Unless they’re calling it Lollapalooza, leave ’em alone and don’t call me.’ And you know, it really did work out.”
Of course, though he did trademark it, Farrell didn’t come up with the word. It dates back to the ’90s—the 1890s, that is—according to Merriam-Webster, although there’ve been variant spellings along the way. (In the very early 1900s, it was “lallapalootza,” per the Oxford English Dictionary‘s research, and in the early ’50s, the New Yorker ran it as “lollapaloosa.”)
Where’d Farrell come across it? Well, he’s got a story about that, though part of it appears to be apocryphal.
“Back in the day, people had paper dictionaries,” Farrell explained in a 20th anniversary video. “As a songwriter, I used to read the dictionary a lot… If I was hard up for a word, I would start thumbing through and sometimes it would trigger an idea for a song or a lyric. And laying on my back reading the dictionary, I came across ‘lollapalooza,’ which said ‘something or something great and/or wonderful.’ Then the second definition of it was ‘a giant swirling lollipop.’ And I thought about all the amazing, wonderful people I would bring together—not just the artists but the people themselves, the patrons, the people that listen to it, the punk rockers or post-punk rockers, and the rappers and all these wild people—Gibby Haynes and Ice T and Henry Rollins, man, smashing them all together. I thought, ‘This is the perfect name.’ Now, I had heard the expression once before. I don’t know what Three Stooges episode it was, but I did hear Moe say, ‘That’s a lollapalooza!‘”
No, he didn’t. Well, at least according to every Three Stooges expert, he didn’t. Apparently, every short the Stooges ever made has been thoroughly combed through and no one has ever been able to find the utterance so frequently cited by Farrell (and repeated by Geiger and others). It’s not necessarily a fib-apalooza. As Michael Ray of Encyclopedia Britannica laughingly told the Chicago Tribune, “In Perry’s mind, it could have happened… [But] a good amount of time has been spent looking into whether anyone can come up with the actual episode. To the best of my knowledge, no one has actually come up with a [Stooges-related] source.”
The “Moe” part may not be the only fanciful element of Farrell’s explanation. Good luck finding Farrell’s “giant lollipop” in any current dictionary under “lollapalooza.” But it certainly set the trend for rock festivals. As the Encyclopedia Britannica editor said, “Whether it’s Sasquatch or Bonnaroo, you see people trying to set their festival apart with their own nonsense word.” Maybe that’s why HORDE, another big mid-’90s traveling fest, didn’t survive: Acronyms just don’t inspire the same cuddly loyalty.
For a while, Lollapalooza looked to be as DOA as HORDE. It went MIA after the 1997 tour and disappeared from the scene until being revived in 2003 as a strictly-Chicago (and occasionally overseas) affair. Some blame its original demise on the death of grunge, and/or the fall of alt-rock, even though it was conceived as a diverse gathering.
“We started in ’91, and by ’96 underground music was over,” Geiger told Spin. “Third Eye Blind was a cool band. Matchbox Twenty was the [expletive] next Radiohead.” When Metallica was drafted as the headliner in ’96, it was touted as a blow for inclusiveness, but a lot of non-metal-loving fans took it as time to bail. Farrell eventually realized that’d been a mistake, telling Rolling Stone, “I have nothing against Metallica, other than the fact that they were a different beast, they’re not an alternative rock group.” But they were the straw that broke the original model’s back.
At a certain point, there was no other choice, he contended. “The first five or seven years, we would have the headliner be a fresh, new artist that could draw 20,000 people or so. Now we have to go back in time, further and further—we’ve got Paul McCartney playing Coachella, for crying out loud—because there aren’t breaking groups.”
The headliners of the first few years still inspire nostalgia. In 1991, they had not just Jane’s but Nine Inch Nails, Siouxsie & the Banshees, Fishbone, the Violent Femmes, and Ice T’s Body Count. A year later, in the wake of the success of Nirvana (who never played Lollapalooza, though they were booked and canceled in ’94), you had Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Jesus & Mary Chain, Ice Cube, Temple of the Dog, and Ministry. In ’93, Rage Against the Machine, Primus, Arrested Development, and Alice in Chains were among those joining the fold, while ’94 brought about the Beastie Boys, A Tribe Called Quest, George Clinton’s P-Funk, Smashing Pumpkins, Nick Cave, the Flaming Lips, and the Breeders, among others. The last “good” year, 1995, had Pavement, Hole, Sonic Youth, Beck, Moby, Cypress Hill, and Sinead O’Connor.
It’s hard to remember just how radical it seemed at the time for some of these acts to be playing to 20,000 people. All day. As Dave Navarro recalled to Spin: “In the originalTexas Chainsaw Massacre, towards the end, Leatherface is [filmed] in broad daylight, almost as if you’re watching a documentary, and that makes it that much more terrifying. Just like Nine Inch Nails, seeing them in the daylight.”
This weekend’s lineup in Chicago’s Grant Park is no collective slouch… as 2016 lineups go, anyway. The Chili Peppers, those veterans of 1992, are back, joined by Radiohead, Lana Del Rey, LCD Soundsystem, and Disclosure. Does this year’s lineup feel as relevant to you as Lolla’s national glory days, or are you happy to stick with your own personal nostalgia-palooza?