What can I tell you about The Big Chill? If you’ve been to festivals you know what I am talking about. If not, how can I paint a picture that does the experience justice? Wandering in the pouring rain from act to act, sweating under a poncho made from bin bags, queuing for hours for the loos, paying outrageous prices for warm and beer and cold hot dogs, watching the grounds turn from green meadows to muddy fields littered with rubbish and noz cans, dealing with totally shitfaced punters convinced that your tent is theirs, unable to make them even understand that they are on the completely wrong campground?
Yes, all that is part of it, and even if it may be hard to understand, those aren’t the bad parts. The bad parts are finding out you’ve missed an act you were desperate to catch because they rescheduled it, or being disappointed by one you waited to get in for over an hour. The bad parts are finding your tent slashed and your stuff stolen. (No, I didn’t do either, this time, nor did they happen to me. Huey had both his camera and a stash of weed nicked, though. And our camp ground neighbours had their tents demolished by some arseholes.) The bad parts are being roughed up by fist happy security blokes, or losing Dewey in a field of 5,000 MDMA-dazed dancers, and spending a panicked half an hour before finding her just in time to get her away from some dodgy bloke who is about to sell her little red pills.
But then there were those utterly perfect moments that you do it all for: Hearing Martha Wainwright rising to the challenge left by her dead brother, being in a water balloon fight with totally chilled out security blokes, kicking Huey’s arse at the table football tournament in the Disco Shed, laughing yourself silly at Eddie Izzard’s voice acting during a kid’s screening of The Five Children and It, winning the three-legged rave contest together with Dewey and cheering her on at the organic egg & spoon race, having a damn fine cup of coffee all alone over at the Sunrise area while everybody is still asleep, forgetting everything while you and Dewey lose yourself in the rhythm together with 5,000 MDMA-dazed dancers, or just drifting through the crowd at 3 o’clock in the morning and watching a bloke twirl a glowing baton in the darkness while all around you peeps are singing along to the Commodore’s “Easy like a Sunday Morning.”
Huey and Dewey were always fun to have around. They both appreciated that I was pretty free with Frank’s money, getting food and drinks for everyone. (I didn’t touch the Queen Mum Charity Fund for Student Travels to the UK, though. I had stashed all of that money in a zip lock bag under a root in the woods around Eastnor castle.) I even eventually told them the story of how I had made Frank pay for the very ticket he sold me and all the grub they were now enjoying with me. They both thought it a very funny story, but I made sure not to let Louie in on the joke. I noticed that apparently Huey and Dewey didn’t either.
Louie I didn’t really get. She was damn smart, and she saw and understood a lot. She read me a lot better than most peeps I’ve met. And she mostly wasn’t afraid to speak the truth, in fact, it seemed to me she enjoyed speaking it as unvarnished as she could without compromising it, using it like a kosh. Hell, even her ellipses usually spoke louder than other people’s sermons. Poor Huey often got a good pummelling of such truths, sometimes looking dazed and confused trying to keep up with her.
Of course every now and then, like, twice or three times a day, she’d go to far, and Huey would turn on her like a rearing snake, and they’d be off on another of these ear-blistering quarrels that had caused Dewey to almost step in front of a 4x4. Louie usually won the arguments, though, and afterwards wore smugness like an armour, while Huey did his best to swallow his anger and slip back into his well worn joviality or finding solace in Dewey’s company. Sometimes it seemed rather as if Louie was mum to both of them, and Huey just the wayward older teen son, who got all the scoldings. Still, it was sort of fun to be part of a family for a change where the rents fought and the kids stuck together.
That meant that I had little to do with Louie during most of the festival. Either I was looking after Dewey, and Louie and Huey were off together or apart, or I did something together with Dewey and Huey, with Louie off on her own, or one of them had Dewey, and I did my own thing.
The only act we all attended together was The Mighty Boosh. Dewey had been telling me all Friday and most of Saturday how totally funny they were, and the crowd seemed to think the same. Many seemed to expect that show to be the highlight of the entire festival. Huey was also massively excited, and even Louie was obviously looking forward to it.
Well, paint me square and call me a German, but I utterly failed to see the humour in a bloke in a bad robot costume with an extensible dick or a bunch of zentais jumping up and down and singing off-key and off-rhythm “bouncy, bouncy, everybody”. Still, I was the utter minority, they had everybody else in stitches, and after a while the general hilarity was sort of infectious.
And then Sunday evening rolled around. I had spend the day enjoying Orchestra Baobab doing alternately hauntingly bluesy rumba and intoxicating African pop that made you forget the deep hanging clouds, and later Imagined Village totally rocking a rain-soaked audience with a drum and bass supported, violin flagellating rendering of “Tam Lyn”. Everything promised to be gloriously concluded by the only act both Louie and I wanted to see at all costs: Leonard Cohen live! Dewey was totally partied out from the preceding two days and even though she pretended to protest and sulk when Louie decreed that she would go to bed early, it seemed to me she was secretly relieved. Huey said he’d keep an eye on her.
“You two pansies go listen to that old crooner. I’m too young at heart for stuff like that, I’ll keep Dewey company and twiddle my thumbs.” And he held up his PSP.
So we went. We got in and even found a really good spot. And then the man got onto the stage. Hey, he may be in his eighth decade on this planet, but he sure has more generosity, humanity, and humbly sincere, subtle, sophisticated sex appeal than any other you are ever going to see. He was a dark and soulful saint. In fact he was so bloody good that I asked Louie if we shouldn’t get Huey or at least Dewey to have a taste, too.
Louie looked at me as if waking from a trance. I repeated my question.
“I’m not going to leave.”
“It’s okay, I’ll dash over to the camp ground and fetch them.”
I weaved out of the densely packed crowd to the skipping tune of “So Long, Marianne” and raced off. I got to the Volkswagen camper and tent in record time, running mostly on exhilaration and pure joy.
At the camp things were quiet and dark. I was about to run my fingernails over the tent’s nylon skin and call out “knock-knock” to see if Dewey was approachable, when I noticed the quiet groaning from the T3. Without thinking much I peered inside.
Huey was standing inside, hunched over and leaning heavily with one arm against the head rest of the back seats, the other hand between his legs. My first thought was that he’s having a wank, and I thought about how to call attention to myself without embarrassing him. But then – since I really thought he was pretty hot looking, and anyway, he must have known the risk of doing something like that in such a public place – I risked going to my tip toes and catching a glimpse of his dick. And that is when I see the small head with the long blond hair between his legs, when I catch his murmured, crooning words: “That’s it baby, that’s it. You make daddy feel so good.”
I wandered away, unable to form a coherent thought. Night had fallen. In the darkness a bloke mocked me. He was wearing a black suit adorned with glowing lines of neon, turning him into a living stick man. At the push of some button he toggled the set of blue-white lines that gave him a smiley face and a halo on his head to a set of fiery red ones that had him poke a tongue at me and wear devil’s horns instead. I stared at him, unable to make sense of it, when he toggled back to the white-blue, empty smile and strolled off.
I couldn’t be certain it hadn’t been just any slender, blond girl, of which there must have been hundreds attending the festival. Hey, I’ve had blokes getting off on calling themselves daddy during sex with me, that didn’t have to mean shit. Huey certainly had reasons enough to seek out some fun on the side, and who was I to judge infidelity? I never checked the tent, maybe Dewey was lying there deep asleep. I wanted to believe that, I didn’t want to find out anything different. Maybe I should have told Louie.
“Dance me to the children who are asking to be born.” Cohen’s gravelly, searing voice drifted across the lake. “Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn.”
It was only rain running coldly down my face. I didn’t feel anything.
“Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn,” he sang, as I disappeared in the night. “Dance me to the end of love.”