Posts Tagged ‘memories’

Despite three previous visits to the USA as a tween and teenager, I had yet to experience the West Coast of the country. California had a sort-of magical quality for me growing up, as the home of Hollywood and a perfect climate, and I knew that at some point in my life I would visit there, but I just needed a reason to.

 

 San Francisco 2013 - USA & California Flags

 

Although Coachella provided that reason, I know that I owe a great deal of the success of my trip to being able to stay with friends and connections whilst I was in the States. Almost immediately after purchasing my festival ticket, I got in touch with a good South African friend based in San Francisco who’d also got a Coachella ticket, and fortunately, for the same weekend. Not long after, it was confirmed that I could crash on his couch for however long it was necessary, as well as join him and his friends on an epic road-trip to the festival, where the five of us would camp together. It was a fairytale beginning to the trip, and set the tone for my first overseas odyssey as an adult.

I arrived in San Francisco a couple of days before the festival weekend, and oddly enough, a day after the terrible Boston Marathon bombings. Emerging from the 18-hour cocoon of international flight to customs in Washington, D.C., it was quite a shock to see the first piece of news on an airport TV being a CNN headline of “BOSTON TERROR ATTACK”. Knowing that I was to be in some major cities over the following month gave me a twinge of anxiety, but whilst the tragedy dominated the news cycles, my fears were fortunately unfounded.

The Coachella weekend divided my time in San Fran in two, and the first few days allowed for some sightseeing of the city and catching up with my friend, who’d recently emigrated from South Africa for an amazing job opportunity at Facebook. His apartment was in Lower Haight Street, just east of the famous Haight-Ashbury district, known as the birthplace of the hippie subculture and the bohemian musical and social revolution known as the ‘Summer of Love’. San Fran feels small for a major city, and even with taking into account its hills, I still found it relatively easy to traverse on foot, in combination with its excellent, but at times conflicting, public transport system (the main service is affectionately called “The Muni”). Haight Street is also walking distance from a lot of cosy bars, so evening sojourns to places like The Page (on my first night there, jetlagged to oblivion) and Smuggler’s Cove (a shrine to rum) are safely navigable after a few drinks.

 

 

I was left to my own devices most days, and although at first I got caught up with some tech admin for my new phone and SIM card, there were still opportunities to leave the apartment and wander, with a vague notion of where to go, and what to do. Taking the self-reliant, touristy approach, I tried to see as much of the surrounding streets and neighbourhoods on foot as possible, which saved me money and facilitated interaction with medicinal marjiuana shop owners, bike rental employees, music store patrons, homeless street preachers, and local jam bands in the park, to name a few. The city is incredibly friendly, laid-back and inviting, offering an eclectic mix of cultures and expression, and as a Cape Townian, I felt very much at home in the environment.

 

 

My second afternoon highlighted this spirit in action, as I headed west along Haight Street to the aforementioned Haight-Ashbury for some lunch. The array of colourful shops could’ve kept me there the whole day, but I had made up my mind that I needed to see the landmark Golden Gate Bridge up close. A helpful bike rental employee gleefully handed me a map of the city, pointing out tourist landmarks along the way, suggesting transport options back home, as well as giving me a brief rundown on life as a San Franciscan – not once suggesting that I should hire a bike. Dumbfounded and grateful, I followed her route through San Francisco National Park, soaking in the gorgeous expanse of green. At one point, I made a pit stop by a local jam band, semi-acoustically strumming away some tunes for a gathered crowd on the grass.

 

 

“Sorry friends, I need to be off. Gotta go stare at a big red bridge” were my parting words to a few of the local listeners I’d sat with, and vaguely heading north out of the park, I eventually made it to the entrance of Golden Gate National Park (San Francisco is just full of them). With rolling hills, countless trees, and many strategic lookout points (one of which gave a view of what I suddenly realised was Alcatraz Island, site of the former maximum security prison), it was a nature-lover’s paradise. Weirdly enough, the park is also part of the Presidio, a former military base. I was still not entirely sure in which direction to go, but thankfully a local hiker pointed me towards nearby Baker Beach (on the western, Pacific Ocean side of the park), and instructed me to follow the coastal trail till I found that big red bridge. Passing through old concrete beachfront batteries, feeling sand itching in my socks, watching the sun drop into the Pacific Ocean; this was not how I had envisioned my afternoon to be, and I loved every serendipitious twist of it.

 

 

The Coachella road-trip began on Thursday afternoon and our crew returned late on Monday afternoon, thoroughly exhausted from the long weekend. Proof of this came after Red Hot Chili Peppers closed off the festival on Sunday night, and the hours and hours I spent on my feet in the baking sun finally took its toll on me. I made my way back to our campsite, collapsed inside my tent, and began faintly weeping. The friend that I was sharing the tent with was concerned, and asked me if I was okay. Half-laughing, I requested a double-foot amputation, as it seemed to be the only solution in my sunstroked mind!  The trip was 15 hours there and back, and the return leg was mostly during the day, allowing me to appreciate the transition from the hazy desert views of Palm Springs and its otherworldly collection of wind turbines, to the leafy suburbs of Palo Alto and Mountain View along the way. Our crew was really international: two South Africans, one Australian, one German, and a lone American!

The Bay Area in Northern California is home to a sizeable eagle population, and when planning my trip, I knew that I had to take the opportunity to see a Golden Eagle up close, as they are not found in the Southern Hemisphere. A few phone calls and emails led me to the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek, across the bay from San Francisco (one of the oldest wildlife rehab centers in the USA). The volunteers there reassured me that I’d be able to see a bird in rehabilitation at one of their twice-weekly shows. Fortunately, I had some time after the festival to pay a visit to the centre, and tied it up with a lunch meeting with the US Branch chairman of my high school’s alumni society, who conveniently lives in Walnut Creek.

In its own way, getting to see Topaz (a 19-year-old female Golden Eagle) was a rather emotional experience, and one that fulfilled a burning desire of mine to witness the majesty of these birds first-hand. Although it wasn’t a full-on meltdown (a la Kristen Bell and a sloth), I’d be lying if I said that there wasn’t a tear or two in my eye when the presentation began, and Topaz rested on her trainer’s arm about five to six metres away from me. It was surreal to watch her movements and interactions with him right up close, and I was desperate to at least be able to pet her, but unfortunately she was very skittish and nervous that day, and it would’ve been unsafe for strangers to get any closer than we did. A compromise was made for a photo opportunity though: she was to be fed and bathed in a see-through enclosure in the middle of the museum hall, and her trainer would be able to bring her right up to the glass. I gladly accepted, and The Eagle finally got to meet an actual Golden Eagle

 

It’s been almost six weeks since I arrived back on South African shores, and yet the memories from my American adventure have not faded in the slightest.

 

The Eagle himself, standing on the hallowed ground of Coachella

The Eagle himself, standing on the hallowed ground of Coachella

 

For those who followed my trip on Facebook and Twitter, you were fortunate enough to be kept up-to-date on my comings and goings across the United States, and although I’ve updated other parts of the site (such as Portfolio and Coachella) with my professional output, I’ve yet to do a personal blog post on this wondrous journey that I embarked on.

 

As a music journalist, I believe you have to be objective yet passionate about what you’re reporting on, and I guess that attending the 2013 Coachella Music Festival under the circumstances I did was a true test of whether I was going to be able to mix business and pleasure. When you’ve thrown everything you have into pursuing a dream – time, effort, money, sanity – and it finally comes true, you’re usually ready to carry that weight of responsibility. It’s sort of like how pregnant mothers are physically prepared for childbirth, their bodies slowly readying themselves over the trimesters. Back on that Tuesday night in late January, when through a click of a button, I became the holder of a ticket to a massive festival on the other side of the world, I had next to no idea how I was going to follow through with this bizarre plan. Fast-forward almost three months later, and I found myself on that Californian field of dreams, watching some of my favourite artists playing right in front of me. Although I had the time of my life over the weekend of the 19th to the 21st of April, I never forgot why I was really there, and what my duty was as a journalist and as a South African one.

 

I actually found that I appreciated the experience of the festival probably a lot more as a reporter than if I had attended just as a fan. It’s in my nature to swim in the intimate details, to analyse and dissect the moment, and through taking comprehensive handwritten notes and capturing hundreds of photos, I solidified my memories of Coachella better than any other music event I’ve been to. Yes, I had put a lot into the trip, and knew that I had to make the most of it, but that synthesis of evidence continues to fulfil me personally, as well as make my job of reporting back on the festival a hell of a lot easier.

 

Upon my return to South Africa roughly three weeks after the festival, I began sorting through all the photos from my trip (which included many other stops along the way – more info to follow in another post) and making sense of these furiously scribbled notes. I had made sure to take down every set list and leave enough lyrical clues to work out the missing pieces, which proved to be a quite a wild goose chase, especially for some of the artists whom I had never listened to before! It was a lot of fun transporting back to that weekend through those anecdotes, trying to remember the sound-bites that I’d picked up onstage (FYI: the Palma Violets bassist really loves to exchange banter with the crowd). After doing some background research, I realized that there is a dearth of information relating to Weekend 2 of Coachella this year, with most articles and reviews focusing on Weekend 1’s antics. This makes the anecdotes found in these pages all the more useful and special. With there being no official live video feed of Weekend 2 , it is up to people like me who were there to inform readers about what went down in the desert.

 

These handwritten notes really helped the writing process of my reports on the festival

These handwritten notes really helped the writing process of my reports on the festival

 

Although I wasn’t able to put an entirely full-time effort into writing over the past few weeks (on the account of me starting to help out with the family business), I steadily finished each festival day’s report, and last Friday, wrapped up my five-article series with a final summary of the Coachella experience. All these articles are now on this site, and any further coverage that I’ll be receiving for my trip can be found on the Coverage page (which will be updated as it comes in). Part of this coverage offered up a new experience for me: radio interviews. Dylan Culhane and Ace Swart, hosts of the Rock ‘n Rollercoaster Show on Assembly Radio, invited me onto their show once before my trip (8th April), and once after my return (10th June), and I was incredibly grateful to be exposed to the world of radio in just a small way. I’ve received copies of those appearances, so if you didn’t catch it all live, they’ve been posted on that page to be enjoyed in your own time. I’ve also made my Coachella photos publically available on my Facebook page here, here, and here.

 

Moving forward from an experience like this is probably going to be as bewildering as going into it. The Eagle’s Flight To Coachella was such an important milestone in my life, and proved to me that if you work smart, you can also play hard. I’ve learnt a lot from the planning and organization of this trip, and know how to approach things for future festivals and events. It can be done, and by a relative small-fry too.

 

I’ll delve into the rest of my trip in a later post, which included some musical pilgrimages, meeting an actual Golden Eagle, and visits to big American cities. But for now, The Eagle has returned to normal life, forever changed by his American adventure.

 

Onwards and upwards to the next one,

 

Kurt
 

(This article is taken from the old Eagle’s Nest site, originally published on the 18th of May 2011. As the site was a part-time blog back then, this article was not necessarily written for professional purposes)

 

I recently decided to update all my Michael Jackson albums. I had nearly all of them from 1978’s Off The Wall onwards, but most were of a sub-standard quality; an excuse I gave for not taking the time to listen to his lesser-known works. This update awoke the feelings I had when he passed away, and helped me revisit them.

 

All Hail The King Of Pop

All Hail The King Of Pop

 

I remember the 25th of June 2009 so clearly, and the mish-mash of emotions I felt. I remember staying at my family home during my university’s winter vacation. I remember emerging from my bedroom, bleary-eyed, around 8:30 in the morning, to make some breakfast; just like any other day before it. And I remember my mother coming up to me and saying something like ‘Michael Jackson died last night of a heart attack’. I remember the cocktail of sadness, grief and loss I suddenly felt, made worse by the fact that in the preceding months, faced with the prospect of losing the fleeting yet special childhood memories I had of him, I had just started to truly get into his music. It wasn’t the kind of sadness you’d feel if a close family member or friend died. That’s a more tangible sadness, where there’ll be a hugely personal rift in your day-to-day life from then onwards. It was a collective sadness, a communal sadness that you know millions of other people were feeling, and it multiplied within us all. Our brightest star had burnt out. But mixed with that, I had an oddly intense joy. I opened up my laptop and immediately started playing his hits, loudly and proudly, revelling in the fact that, although he was gone, his beautiful and inspiring music was not. And since he put his entire heart and soul into his music, there he shall remain. His body, a well-known ‘monstrosity’, ceased to be alive, but his music: always alive, as sure as the sun rises in the morning. I cried, a soothing salve for my sadness, but the moment soon produced tears of triumph. Our domestic servant Princess was working that day, and was quite baffled and concerned about what was going on. My mother explained the situation, saying who had died. When she said that, I remember thinking , “Not the Michael Jackson I’m thinking of”. Fast forward to this past Tuesday, as I’m walking on my way to work on a misty May morning, earphones in, listening to The Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back’. Through the tiny speakers, 10-year-old Michael’s voice rang out with a style and force unbecoming of his tender years.

 

Michael Jackson as a child - The Jackson Five

 

Then it hit me: Michael Jackson was humanity’s sacrifice to music. How many other young child stars like him continued to produce music right through their lifetime, and reach the level he did, musically and culturally? I can barely think of any off the top of my head, perhaps only the genius of Stevie Wonder. In return for the hyperbolic fame and fortune, he was robbed of a normal childhood, which in later life, brought about horrific emotional problems for him that few of us could ever imagine. The intense media scrutiny around every aspect of his being drove this sensitive and childlike man to breaking point. And coupled with this was the diagnosis of the skin disease Vitiligo: the cause of his ever-whitening skin, and for someone who was constantly in the public eye, an everyday nightmare. It was a truly unique set of circumstances for a truly unique, trail-blazing individual. To moonwalk his way to the title ‘King of Pop’, he gave his life, his whole life, from just the age of 5. Humanity offered up a vessel, filled to the brim with an amount of musical talent unheard of in a human being. Music accepted the offer, and the rest……is history. I don’t think there could’ve been any other way about it.

 

Michael, I hope that in death, you may rest the peace you were always searching for.

Michael, I hope that in death, you may rest the peace you were always searching for.