Recommended Reading: Coachella, UFOs, and Fox News


Modern online media is all about the signal boost, so every Friday here at Flavorwire, we take a moment to spotlight some of the best stuff we’ve read online this week. Today, a look at how Coachella began, the story of a music promoter/flim-flam man, what we can learn from the people who’ve lost loved ones to Fox News, and a peek at the still-thriving subculture of UFO conspiracy theorists.

Randy Lewis and Randall Roberts on the first Coachella.

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival kicks off tonight, launching two weekends of music and fun with the likes of Childish Gambino, Janelle Monáe, Wiz Khalifa, and Ariana Grande. It’s undoubtedly the biggest festival on the music scene, but it certainly didn’t start out that way. At the Los Angeles Times, Lewis and Roberts look back at the very first Coachella Festival, twenty years ago – a sparsely-attended financial disaster that barely called for an encore:

A number of factors appeared to stack the deck against future success, not the least being the triple-digit desert heat during October in Indio. “It was super hot, it was far away,” [Rage Against the Machine’s Tom] Morello recalled recently, “and it was a financial disaster. At the end of the weekend, they asked us to give half the money back. And we did. “We should have asked for a piece of the pie,” he added with a laugh. The timing, however, was right, as musicians across a trio of genres — rock, hip-hop and electronic dance music — started connecting dots and blurring lines. Headliner Beck was mixing rock and rap, but not like Rage Against the Machine was. The Chemical Brothers were borrowing ideas from rave and rock culture. Tool was twisting metal and progressive rock into weird new configurations. Mitch Schneider, whose public relations company represented Coachella across the festival’s first decade, saw that shuffle-play interaction happen in real time as he watched “a sizable chunk of the audience” moving away from one rock act’s set “because they wanted to check out the Chemical Brothers, who were on another stage,” he said. “It really underlined the growing popularity of electronic music, and it really galvanized the movement.”

Christian McPhate on the heavy metal grifter.

Once upon a time, Gabe Reed had dreams of fame – so much so that he appears as one of the metal up-and-comers in Penelope Spheeris’s Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, insisting, “I’m going to be a famous rock star.” Instead, he became a promoter for metal stars of the past, putting together all-star packages for South American and European tours, and leaving millions of dollars in unpaid bills, stolen deposits, and broken promises in his wake. At Rolling Stone, McPhate dives into the deceptions of Mr. Reed, who is currently serving a 57-month prison term:

Shadows Fall bassist Matt Blanchard was supposed to receive $17,000 after he finished playing the tour, according to a series of emails from Reed, who agreed to pay Blanchard with interest every day he was late. Reed never paid Blanchard a dime. Blanchard now works at a minimum-wage retail job and blames Reed for his current predicament and the debt he says he still can’t afford to pay. “He was giving excuses, saying, ‘Don’t worry’ and using stalling tactics,” Blanchard says. Reed blamed promoters who he says were slow to pay and claims he may have had issues paying artists in a timely manner, but, he says, it’s just the way the music business sometimes works. “It’s a weird lesson I learned from Gene: Everyone is going to say bad shit about me,” he says. “[It’s like] Donald Trump. He’s like the excess. To his credit, he’s trying to make stuff happen … It’s like me in a weird way. I’m just doing business.”

Anna Merlan on UFO conspiracy theorists.

Merlan, who works the Special Projects Desk for Gizmodo Media Group, is one of the sharpest reporter/commentators in the game, so we’re plenty excited about the release next week of her book Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power. And lucky for us, Longreads put up an excerpt, in which she notes that while UFO study “has been eclipsed in the general culture by fresher, shinier conspiratorial ideas,” the notion of government cover-up of extraterrestrial contact was, in many ways, born there – specifically, in Roswell, New Mexico, and in what we found out when:

In 1994, a genuine conspiracy came to light: An Air Force report commissioned by the federal General Accounting Office revealed that the downed balloon was probably debris from a top secret surveillance program known as Project MOGUL, which sought to record audio evidence of Soviet atomic tests. And in 1997, a second report found a possible explanation for the witnesses who reported seeing alien bodies pulled from the wreckage: The crash-test dummies routinely dropped during other military test operations involving high-altitude balloons. Most mainstream news sources presented the reports as evidence that there were definitively no UFOs. “No bodies. No bulbous heads,” wrote William J. Broad of the New York Times News Service in 1997. “No secret autopsies. No spaceship. No crash. No extraterrestrials or alien artifacts of any sort. And most emphatically of all, no Government cover-up.” But the 1994 report did provide proof that the Air Force had lied about a top secret program, which fed certainty among UFO researchers that there were other cover-ups yet to be discovered. The history of UFOs is a perfect illustration of the way in which genuine government secrecy feeds citizen paranoia. The disclosure of hidden Air Force programs made just about anything seem possible, and over the next few decades, it was joined by wave after wave of revelations, some of them real and some imagined, until the field of ufology became a morass of competing claims and high suspicion that everyone is a government agent and no one is to be trusted.

Luke O’Neil on Fox News widows.

“It was somewhere around the 100th response that my brain turned to mush,” writes O’Neil, of his experience putting together a newsletter piece of stories from people “who, like me, had close relationships that had been strained or ruined by family members who’d become obsessed with Fox News.” At New York, O’Neil details the common themes of those stories, and what they taught him about what Fox does:

As some critics of the piece pointed out, it seems a bit silly, if not stupid, to scapegoat a cable-news network for our family members’ interpersonal shortcomings. I get that. I don’t have an empirical way to assign blame or figure out causality. Maybe Fox News causes some people to turn toward hard-right conservatism; maybe it’s merely a precipitating factor; maybe it’s neither, and for most people, change in political attitudes came from elsewhere. In requesting stories about family members and Fox News, I wasn’t undertaking a scientific experiment — merely seeking to see if there are other people who had the same experiences I had, and felt the same way I did. What I learned is that there are. Whatever the actual direction of causality, there are many, many Americans who blame Fox News for changes in their loved ones, and many people out there who feel as though their friends and family members have been lost to a 24/7 stream of right-wing propaganda. Dozens who responded to my piece talked about the sad lonely twilight of their parents’ or grandparents’ lives, having been spurned by, or having disowned much of their families over political disagreements. Older people, recent studies have shown, are much more likely to share misleading information online, but the anecdotes I was hearing seemed to indicate this behavior wasn’t limited to the internet. Young parents wrote that they don’t want to bring their children to visit aging Fox-brainers. “The worst is when my children go to spend time with their grandparents and come home with Fox News talking points coming out of their mouths,” one told me. “I have to decontaminate them every time.”