Banysshed is doctryne, we wander in derknes
Throughe all the worlde: our selfe we wyll not knowe
Wysdome is exyled, alas blynde folysshenes
Mysgydeth the mynds of people hye and lowe
~ Sebastian Brant ”Ship of Fools”
My distaste for Coachella is well-established. In 2011 I wrote an article critical of the festival’s duplication of its lineup over two weeks, and then was interviewed about Coachella’s cultural relevancy by Fast Company, noting that it was probably the result of pressure from its German corporate conglomerate parent Anschutz Entertainment Group. Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in. Coachella, that is.
As soon as I heard about the Coachella Cruise, or the S.S. Coachella, my mind turned rather rapidly to the Western civilization allegory known as the Ship of Fools. The original Ship of Fools has its roots in a satire of the Catholic church written by Sebastian Brant. (Read it in e-book form over at The Gutenberg Project, but beware the Middle English translation.) It was later popularized in Hieronymus Bosch’s painting of the same name.
The book’s English translater, Alexander Barclay, in his introduction to Brant’s “Ship of Fools,” writes that “If popularity be taken as the measure of success in literary effort, Sebastian Brandt’s ‘Ship of Fools’ must be considered one of the most successful books recorded in the whole history of literature.” One of Brant’s primary objectives was to lampoon the Church’s ills in much the same way that a court jester humbles a monarch.
Not surprisingly, Coachella as an enterprise resembles no less than the Catholic Church: a vast lie spread across the land, disciples drawn from the ranks of the masses. Its parishioners make an annual pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Assembled in the desert, like the Abrahamic religions before it, Coachella is a gigantic cult that is begging for ridicule. And like the Catholic Church it exists to filch the wallets and purses of its parishioners with the promise of a transcendent event. Instead of the resurrection, the reunion. Instead of the Virgin Mary, Madonna gyrating on stage.
With the S.S. Coachella, it’s almost as if Goldenvoice’s planners—in suitably religious grandiosity—dared to see if a Ship of Fools could not in fact be literally transmogrified from fiction to reality. For that they must be applauded. Their sense of spectacle is unmatched. It’s like St. Peter, Jesus’ closest disciple, passing off the fiction of Jesus as fact to certain of the Jews who were waiting for something, anything.
But what becomes of Brant’s allegorical Ship of Fools, and what can be gleaned from the S.S. Coachella trip?
Well, the ship being assembled in Basel, Switzerland, and loaded with a bunch of fools, set sail for the Paradise of Fools called Narragonia. Various episodes unfold in satirical form across 112 chapters, with each chapter addressing a type of fool or social ill. Ham-fisted satire? Yes, but the world did not yet have its Thomas Pynchon (who later utilized the Ship of Fools allegory to surreal effect in “Gravity’s Rainbow”).
Here is a sample of what one gets in reading Brant’s book.
Aparayle is apayred. Al sadness is decayede
The garmentes are gone that longed to honestye
And in newe sortes new Foles [Fools] ar arayede
Brant also had something to say about gluttons and drunkards, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m not hear to deliver a book report to you, dear readers. Read “Ship of Fools” yourselves and draw what parallels you will.
Like Brant’s Ship of Fools, where the passengers are heading to the paradise of Narragonia, Coachella’s Ship of Fools is heading toward their own paradise, nebulous as it is. Let the Captain steer that ship straight for the Bermuda Triangle.
Coachella is a brand, and no good brand should go to waste. Why limit a revenue stream to first one day, then two days, three days, two identical weekends, when one can set sail for the high seas en route to Jamaica? Straight on to Antarctica for a music festival, I say! Extract John Lennon and George Harrison’s DNA, clone them, and see if they’d be down for a Beatles reunion. Paul and Ringo love their money—they’d be up for it.
Don’t stop there, Coachella. There are plenty of bands to bribe into reunion shows, and plenty more avenues for revenue. A line of toys. A Sandals-like resort. Build a submarine and hold a festival at the mid-Atlantic rift. Commandeer the glacier that just broke off of Greenland to raise awareness for global warming.
So much to do—so little time.