I’ll get this out of the way: I’m not a fan of Frank Ocean, nor am I really familiar with his music. Ocean’s return to the stage wasn’t some long-awaited moment for me as it was for many festival-goers on the final night of Coachella’s first weekend. But that didn’t matter one bit as I dived into Jeff Weiss’ fantastic dispatch from the desert, in which he transports the reader to the festival as the crowd waits for the singer’s headlining performance. Ocean puts on a shaky, underwhelming, and chaotic show, which Weiss masterfully describes. But what makes this piece so good is the perfect encapsulation of the collective experience that is Coachella, and — for someone like me, who experienced its earliest iterations in 1999 and the early 2000s — it’s an insightful read not just on this specific performance, but a look at how the festival has evolved over the years, and a deep, thoughtful critique on the music industry, performance and artistry, and our culture today.
But this is all slightly hyperbolic. It’s reductive to describe it as a complete failure. There is something inherently compelling about watching a preternaturally talented artist struggle to stitch his vastly disparate ideas together. It may make for poor entertainment, but it’s fascinating as a document of unmet ambition. He appears trapped in something that we can’t understand, hounded by demons we can’t see. What most in the crowd are responding to is the death of something that Ocean cannot control. The outsized expectations that had made him infallible, a timeless avatar of their vanished youth, the dark reality that what comes unglued cannot always be repaired. For Frank Ocean to no longer be the same Frank Ocean who held them emotionally hostage for a decade meant that they would realize what Andre had told the previous generation: Heroes eventually die, horoscopes often lie.