It was Sunday night, April 23rd (that's right) at around 11:00 that my cell phone rang with a shrill ring-tone indicating that it was a restricted call. Although nine out of ten times this meant that Camella was on the other end, this time it was her husband Adam. "What are you doing?" he asked a bit impatiently. "Sleeping like a baby" was my reply. "Well, you should wake up because I just bought you some beer. Come up to the house and watch the new Sopranos. I TiVo'd it. There's also a new Family Guy." "Okay, but I've only seen one episode of the Sopranos... the first episode of the season", I reminded him. "That's okay, I'll bring you up to speed. Just come up."
In that we're neighbors, I actually beat AJ up to his house, but within minutes he arrived with an armful of Coronas, Heinekens, and Tecates. After giving me a brief synopsis of the last two episodes, he, Camella, Diablo and I settled on the couch to watch the latest going-ons of Tony Soprano and his New Joisey mobsters in silence (Camella's rule, or was it Diablo's?) Because the episode was about the plight of a struggling restaurateur friend of Tony's, he and his pseudo-Italian speaking goombas were eating throughout - if not veal, then gabagoo. If not gabagoo, then veal. So, when it was over, I had this idea: For next Sunday's Sopranos, let's get thematic over here. "I'll make spaghetti, and we'll get some Italian red wine... maybe some Chianti... and even some fucking schfoglidel for dessert. Capiche?" "Yeah, that would be great!", Adam agreed. "You make the spaghetti, and I know a really good place to get some garlic bread." I think we even volunteered Carmela - oops - I mean Camella to make antipasti. Bada Bing! "Wait, I can't do it." Adam said, seemingly bummed out judging by his darkened expression. "How come?" I asked. "Because we have a show that night." "Where?" "Next Sunday is Coachella." "Oh yeah... well, cancel it!"
Because he and the band had been rehearsing for nearly a week on various sound stages in Burbank, because he'd forgotten about the festival (which meant performing before some 60,000 people), but mainly because he seemed genuinely disappointed at missing the Sopranos-Spaghetti night, almost immediately we both started laughing. Although it might seem crazy that a 'little thing' like this temporarily slipped his mind, actually it was quite understandable. It had been several years since the band last toured and he, like the others, had gotten into, shall we say, a different routine. But in that instant, reality had finally set in - the reality that things were going to be a lot different now that he'd be touring for the next two years. But even with this said, little did I realize at the time that other forces were at work here. In a most subtle manner, it seemed that someone, or SOMETHING (something that even Tony Soprano and his goons in three-piece suits couldn't rub out) might have actually been attempting to prevent the band from taking the stage next Sunday night. For while we were planning our own Nuovo Vesuvio Ristorante, at the same time, in the dimly-lit Tool studio/loft, the one known as Frater Xaphan was in the process of meticulously painting with linear exactitude a particular sigilized 'word of power' on a wooden board that was filled with other occult symbols. And it was upon its completion that the whole CoacHELLa affair, for me, at least, began to take a strange twist.
It might have been at Tool's storied loft, or at a dark booth in the Coach & Horses pub, but several days before the band's scheduled performance at Coachella, an old buddy from Danny's K.C. band days (we'll call him Brian) volunteered to deliver to the main stage the object which some call a pantacle (not pentacle) and others a talisman, and still others a devil board, but what I call an 'advertisement' (more about this later) designed by Frater Xaphan which, at the time, wasn't yet finished, and consequently, didn't make it onto the truck along with the rest of the group's equipment when it left for Thursday's sound check. According to one witness, another friend of Danny's from his Kansas band days (we'll him Kent), the Tool drummer had asked Brian to drive it to the gig, and once he was there, to call him on his cell phone, and he'd come grab it. Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? Let's hear that again, this time trying to imagine Danny's voice: Yeah, just bring it out, and then give a ring, and I'll come grab it. As I've already said, I wasn't there when his buddy made this friendly gesture, but I'm fairly certain that at that precise moment, while calmly sipping a glass of Stella at the Fox & Hounds, a shudder ran down my spine.
The ordeal, for that is what it latter became known as, began around noon on the Sunday of Tool's show in the desert at Indio, California. When I arrived with Kent and his wife at the loft in order to help load the "witchy-looking" board into the bed of Danny's old pickup truck - the one without air-conditioning, the moment I laid eyes on it, I recognized in a certain sigil (line drawing of a distinctive nature) the 'word of power' that I had secretly written down for the good Frater nearly a year ago. In a footnote in the revised second edition of my collection of occult prose-poems entitled "Ijynx", I explained that, although I had originally used this word, its Sanskrit root-word 'arka', when combined with 'ch' had proven both dangerous and illegal, magickally speaking, and therefore for the second printing I had changed it to a more common "decorative convention."
A moment ago I used the word "advertisement" in describing the mystical board of Frater Xaphan. This might seem like a strange choice of words, but what is not commonly known (although for years there have been rumors) is that not too long after getting together, to ensure that gold didn't turn into coal (and after all, there was no baptismal chrism to remove), the members of the band signed a pact or contract (professio Expressa) with a gentleman known as "the magisterulus" (little master). As you can well imagine, this formalized written agreement, which was signed in blood drawn from each member's left hand in looking-glass letters (although with conventional Latin contractions), had certain stipulations - one being that for every performance there should be an apparatus of goetic theurgy on the stage, and that it should be clearly visible to the audience for a specified duration of time (in our space-time continuum, that is) as a kind of advertisement (not unlike the Coca-Cola, Viagra, Tide, and Budweiser patches that Xian Nascar drivers display on Sunday race days) for the Tempter or Adversary (if that's what you think of 'him') to entice others to strike up a deal with vows of service in exchange for a certain something (including any other valid annual tribute such as black-colored gifts which, as any demonologist can tell you, are usually reserved for unreliable types). Satanic backmasking - what a joke!
In the past, such as with the "Lateralus" tour, things were just find and dandy as far as 'devil boards' went (even so, there was more than Bertie Bott's Jelly Belly's in that offeratory bowl), but now, with this latest design that includes the ensigiled 'word of power' already discussed, it was plainly evident to me that the magisterulus was not going to be a happy camper. In fact, as I saw it, this constituted a breech of contract (an agreement of reciprocal obligations which, of course, the devil was not required to sign, even with the ink of a ballpoint stylus). For this board, among other things, contained the secret of the Residuum of Paradise - the Arcadian treasure which offers the key to freedom from this 'gross' physical level of existence which, of course, is the little master's illusory turf, and where one pays $8.00 for a flat watered down cup of Heineken inside the VIP tent on the dusty polo grounds (hell, I'm just glad it was only an illusion!)
On the drive through the mesquite-covered desert, with the 'devil board' covered by a dirty U-Haul blanket inside Danny's pickup, strange things began to happen inside Kent's rental car (which he owns). That mobile frigidarium known as Silver was filled with 'traveler' cans of generic "Club" margaritas and Coronas, but, even in the desert heat, no one wanted one as we cruised down Interstate 10 east. And then, inexplicably, Kent's supermodel wife started devouring beef-jerky and Slim-Jims as her husband attempted to stop for junkyard dogs from the nearest AM-PM (without even any sauce piquante!) A few strange things happened when we pulled into Banning for gas, but I'm not going to count it, because it was Banning. Undaunted, we continued to our 90-plus degrees destination.
After checking into our room at the Hyatt grand Champions in nearby Indian Wells (reserved by Tool's management), Brian made the first of numerous calls to Danny. As it turns out, having just watched the Laker's defeat the Suns on a Kobe buzzer-beater, Dan was comfortably asleep in his room at the La Quinta resort (... Yeah, just bring it out, and then give a ring, and I'll come grab it...) Fast forward to the parking lot of a supermarket near our hotel. Instead of the epicurean lunch I envisioned at the Hyatt, I savagely ripped a piece of flesh off a breast of greasy fried chicken and stuffed it inside a hunk of baguette, washing it and a handful of Fritos down in the blinding sunlight with a 'traveler' can of margarita that had a black goo-like substance on the top, either the slime of his infernal Majesty or the viscid residue of some previously spilled Pepsi. Frazzled by the heat and, more importantly, anticipating the sheer chaos that some of us knew awaited us as we attempted to get the 'devil board' to the main stage. Kent and the supermodel began talking about aborting the mission to lay around the hotel's turquoise pool with tropical cocktails. Kent even began calling what is probably the most efficacious 'devil board' to date simply "the sign", blatantly mocking it with statements like "We must get the sign to Danny" and "it's all about the sign", evidently quite unaware of any diabolical pacts or cursed covenants in exchange for the purse of Fortunatus.
A half an hour later, Danny was still incommunicado, but we were given instructions by someone at management to head to a gate designated on our paperwork as 'A'. After gobbling a few last Fritos and downing another cold marg, I came up with a game plan as well as a back up... a contingency plan I believe they call it in the rock & roll business. Since I was the only one in the group with any credentials (an all-access pass and green artist parking permit) I climbed into Danny's truck with K. C. Brian who had but a pink VIP wristband - fine if you wanted to buy a $8.00 cup of stagnant Heineken, but utterly useless if you're trying to get a stage talisman to the festival's headliners. After consulting our map, we headed to the access point.
There, along with a few other chumps, we were quickly denied entrance by a female security guard and one of Indio's finest who fed us some cockamamie story about the blocked off dirt road being the entrance to a private residential district that was light years away from the venue. I personally believe that we were the victims of a hypnotic suggestion by a master of physical tergiversation (remember, "he who wears a thousand crowns and wields a thousand scepters is known by a thousand names.") as neither of us put up any fight, or even tried to explain our situation with the "devil board' but simply obeyed their command and turned around, heading to where we were directed - an absolute clusterfuck of an avenue with ordinary people heading to the festival with ordinary things in their vehicles (but mainly downloaded copies of 10,000 Days). Snapping out of whatever trance I was in, we made a u-turn (flipped a bitch I believe Brian called it) over the medium and charged back to the access point where I planned to get ignorant with the security personnel. However, before doing so, I grabbed my now faded green artist parking permit which was hanging from the rearview mirror in Kent's rental (which he owns) and put it on the rearview mirror of the more important truck.
When we finally reached the access point for the second time, there was a different set of guards waiting for us. This time, in a slightly abrasive tone, I explained our situation and why we needed to get not one but both vehicles into the artist parking lot. When I then told the old-timer that I knew that a UFO had just crashed in the neighborhood, miraculously, the guy waved us through, making an odd expression as if he really didn't give a shit who got past his line of orange cones. Once safely inside, instead of turning into the artist parking, we attempted to make a right through the gate with the quixotic hope of getting into the backstage area. Here, we were immediately stopped by the heightened level of security and told in no uncertain terms to go to the artist parking - a large field across the street that was filled with cars and buses. Getting more frustrated by the minute, Brian put in another call to management (or was it Danny's lady friend?) explaining our predicament. This time we were told that someone would come get the damn thing, but the details were rather vague - nay unbelievable, so we proceeded into the lot. Predictably, the evil specters wouldn't let both vehicles in, but after discussing it for several minutes in a wonderfully abrasive tone, we drove into artist parking. As we continued down the aisle between rows of million dollar tour coaches glinting in the late afternoon sun, I heard someone shouting at us.
Thinking it was another guard coming to deny us access, I told Brian to speed up. However, as it turned out, the elderly guard chasing after us in the 90-plus degree heat informed us that he had been contacted by someone high up and instructed to escort us into the main stage area. Quickly, several more security people appeared on the scene to clear a path for us. It appeared that our ordeal was finally over.
Parking in a shady area next to dozens of identical-looking white vans close to the entrance to the VIP tents with the $8.00 flat Heineken's - a pretty good deal if you ask me, we debated what to do next. We still needed to get the mighty talisman to the main stage, but it was a quite a ways off (at least in the golden rays of the exoteric luminary.) Despite any dark evocations, no one came to assist us, and to make matters even worse, another contingent of security personnel informed us that we couldn't park in the shady area because t it was reserved only for those identical-looking white vans. After a brief verbal quibble, we got back in the pickup and moved on.
If you've read this far, you're probably as pissed off as I was (and that's precisely my reason for writing about it. If I had to go through it, then so do you, albeit somewhat vicariously. Fuck, just look at the photos! But, if you want to know how that 'devil board' got onto the stage, then...) "Golly gumballs, Brian uttered, probably wondering who I was cursing at. I was just about to resign from my honored position as a TA permanent council member when I glanced up at a sticker affixed above the dashboard in Danny's pickup. It depicted a stick figure with a martini and cigar, with a message reading: FUCK WORK. Turning to my trusty sidekick, Silver, I decided at that moment that together we could defeat this thing, and deliver the object in our charge. Grabbing the last can of margarita from the Coleman (which just might be the best cooler in the world!), I downed it in a single gulp and told Brian to drive that glorious, most magnificent truck over to the fence next to the main stage. Seeing my new-found enthusiasm, he cranked up the engine and drove me straight to the entrance. With my all-access wristband I walked past the security people unmolested and headed directly to the back of the stage where some shitty band was playing (at the front of the stage). And you know what I did next?.. Well, nothing really. I still wasn't sure what to to. But then I explained the situation to some guy who listened patiently (probably on drugs) and then pointed to a guy wearing a wide-brimmed hat (possibly to shade his face from the sun). This, he said, was THE MAN.
Walking over to him with the acidic margaritas burning a hole in my stomach, I asked if he, indeed, was the man, and then proceeded to tell him my story. With an impatient, disgusted sneer on his face - a face as yellow as the wax of old candles - he asked me where I had just come from? Not quite sure what to make of this seeming non sequitor, I pointed towards the shady area with the identical-looking white vans. "Yeah, I heard about you. Pull your truck up, unload, and then go away." I thought about sharing the highlights of my three-hour ordeal with him - how, with all the proper credentials, I just negotiated a pitch-and-brimstone labyrinth while doing a favor for the headlining band that most of these people came to see just so he could parade around in that ridiculous hat of his (possibly to shade his head from the sun).
However, I decided against it. Why, you ask? (those of you who aren't just looking at the photos.) Because that's when I noticed that, though, himself a shadow, he cast no shadow. And that's not all. Before he walked away, in a Pazuzuesque, preternatural baritone, I heard him say: "Yeah, just bring it out, and then give a ring, and I'll come grab it." This was followed by a demonic skirl, the likes of which I've never heard before (outside of Scotland, at least). So it was he that ruled over the minions of robotic security people with no grey areas but with an infinity of cones as orange as the quenchless flames of hell. Despite the fact that he was devoid of the usual diabolical traits as portrayed in Xian iconography, here in the middle of the dusty polo grounds, looking for all the world like a garden-variety stage manager (?), stood none other than the devil incarnate. For when he walked away in that pea-green outfit, by limping ever so slightly (yes, from the fall, silly), he might just as well been wearing a scarlet waist-coat and tights, and sporting a beard of flaming red. If only I had mustard stains on my pants, he probably would have revealed his genuine form, this polymorphous chap would have.
After we drove the pickup to the back of the stage, THE MAN with the cadaverously pale countenance appeared again. "So, what have we got here?" Pulling back the blanket, I said: "What we have here... is a top-notch devil board. The band isn't shit without it. In fact, they'd have trouble making it to the chorus of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water." "Let my people unload it," he vociferated... "Put it with Tool's other stuff and then you, my friend, can be on your merry way... back to artist parking!" He then summoned a few workers over to lift the board with all its mystic symbols from some exceedingly obscure enchiridion from the bed of the rusty old black pickup truck with its unregistered (most likely) Kansas plates. But I'll be damned if it wasn't stuck there. With all their tattooed muscles and Red Bull-induced bravado, they couldn't budge it.
Soon, more stagehands arrived and attempted lift it, but still to no avail. Finally, with a triumphant smile they managed to pry it loose, chipping some of Frater Xaphan's florescent handiwork in the struggle. In doing so, old scratch himself received a rather sharp splinter from the rim, you guessed it, right by the sigilized 'word of power' we've spoken of before. In that instant, a little black mouse with eyes like sparkling red-hot coals scurried away, yet another of the devil's many metamorphoses. At least that's what I saw. Others such as, say, the guy in parti-colored velvet might have seen a "serpent with golden wings which twisted round the Tree of Knowledge, its azure coils formed of light and love."
With 'my' mission accomplished, I thought about methypnox and misted myself with Seaplasma and wandered into the VIP area to get one of those sublime Heinekens, passing by delirious, sun-stroked festival goers babbling some incoherent nonsense about Madonna, of all people, playing here at CoacHELLa (get a wide-brimmed hat or something!) At dusk I watched the "Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs" without going "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah." Afterwards I ran into my actor friend Angelo and 3-11 guitarist Tim Mahoney. For the next hour or so we sat in the artist parking lot, constructing drinks from the supplies Silver was keeping silver Coleman cold (in case you've been living in a cave for the last five years, it keeps ice for three days, leading me at times to look for the plug).
Walking back to the VIP tent, we received a phone call from Danny who told us that he was coming to meet us there in order to get us up on the side of the stage. Ah, more credentials that might or might not work.
As it turned out, the sticky patch the band's tour manager slapped on my desert camo jacket did allow one access up onto the side of the stage. Unfortunately, those of us with them weren't able to escort any one else up there. And it was while standing there just prior to the band's scheduled time to begin, looking out at the sea of mano cornutas from Tool fans screaming in anticipation, that it became obvious that there were some last minute technical problems. I believe this had to do with a lighting truss, but whatever it was that had stage hands scrambling around and climbing precarious ladders, it certainly didn't help to alleviate any anxiety that the members of the band might be experiencing as a result of not having toured in several years (let alone playing their first show in front of such a large crowd).
Seeing the 'devil board' hanging there next to Danny's massive drum kit, I couldn't help but wonder if the magisterulus still had a few tricks up his sleeve? However, within minutes, Adam's shrill feedback had the crowd erupting into cheers as the band launched into "Stinkfist." The thundering applause that followed made me think about something I once read: "to be effective in the work of temptation, a demon might be expected to approach his intended victim in the most fascinating form he could command." Even so, I wondered about the sigilized word of power with the root-word 'arka' combined with 'ch' and its relation to the nearly inaccessible Agarthi (or at least café de Bon-Bon)? I also wondered just how many grasped to reality behind the magical legends of efficacious grimoires being preserved and buried in the possessor's own grave. Finally, in thinking about those who had sold their shadows called souls in a perilous bargain (goof for 24 years), I laughed uproariously. The 'devil board' with its abstruse symbolism (protective device or not) was there all right, but strangely enough, only for a few songs until it was replaced with Danny's gong. Ah, the oils and water of it all...
I don't remember much after the CoacHELLa performance - things were pretty uneventful save for the chilled champagne, the backstage catering of lobster capellaci and the Victoria's Secret models that were skinny-dipping in the pool next to Danny's room at the La Quinta resort. Even the cauda pavonis couldn't compare to that...
As it turned out, the archdeceiver did have one last trick up his sleeve (pea-green or otherwise), and this Bon-Bonist was there to see it. Obviously we were at CoacHELLa when the next episode of The Sopranos aired (the one in which we were going to make spaghetti [pie?], prosciatto and more - with Adam getting the garlic bread), but thanks to TiVo, or a repeat, I was able to watch it with Camella a few days later. At the time, AJ was in Seattle for a small venue show, and the hotel he was staying at didn't have HBO (I told you the magisterulus would be pissed!).
But had he seen it, he might have smiled in noticing the shots of a Tool poster in Tony Soprano's son AJ's room as the boy fetched the knife that he was going to use to kill a senile uncle (?) who shot his mobster dad. Seeing this might have made the other AJ's night, even more so than the Chianti and fucking schfoglidel.
Photos by Camella Grace