Have you ever been in a stadium filled with eighteen thousand people, where you had the unquestionable certainty that you were by far the oldest person in the room? That was me, when I recently attended a Honda Center concert in Anaheim, starring the Jonas Brothers. Had the Honda Center been an elementary school playground, I might easily have been picked up for questioning for predatory behavior.
"What are you doing around all these little girls?"
What was I doing there? Am I a closet admirer of the spirited music of three energetic brothers, generally favored by females under the age of twelve? Yes, that's me exactly. (Highlight the previous four words, and press Control: S for sarcasm.)
"I love those boys! Whoo-hoo!"
Here's the real explanation. After working for two years in a fashionable boutique, desperate for anybody to walk in if only to get change for the parking meter, my brave and creative daughter, Anna, now an assistant to the Jonas Brothers' wardrobe stylist, has traded the mind-numbing agony of retail for a stadium packed to the rafters with screaming pre-teen (and older) girls.
Perhaps I need to stop and explain who the Jonas Brothers are. Things are different now. Everyone knew Elvis. Everyone knew the Beatles and the Stones. Everyone knew Dylan. But then something changed.
The audience became permanently fragmented. Now, every musical genre has its own panoply of superstars. And by "panoply", I mean a bunch of them.
(When I was in High School, our English Grammar class included the study of a slim textbook entitled, Words Are Important. Every week, we'd be introduced to twenty less than familiar words, with the hope that they would seep into our everyday conversation. This may be the first time the word "panoply" has fit anything I was talking about.)
Who are the Jonas Brothers? They're The Monkees. They're The New Kids on the Block. They're the Spice Girls. They're the Backstreet Boys. They're Hanson. They're Hannah Montana, but boys.
And they're huge.
The time had come for me to check them out in person. Anna wanted me to see them. (It was like "Parents' Night" at school, and she wanted me to see her artwork, except instead of being thumb-tacked to a bulletin board, the Jonas Brothers were wearing it.)
I was excited to see them in action. I'd already experienced the TV movie Camp Rock, (which I'd enjoyed but, being me, I had thought of a couple of ways to make the story better). Anna had also guided me through the Special Edition of People magazine devoted exclusively to the Brothers, stopping at selected photographs to identify her contribution - a sports jacket piping suggestion here, a selection of vest material there.
Am I proud of the girl? She's my daughter. But the memory the hundred and forty grand for four years at Sarah Lawrence College is not easily forgotten. There may be some connection between an incredible liberal arts education and picking wardrobe for a phenomenally successful Boy Band, but I'll have to dig deeper to find out what it is.
Dr. M was not available. Game and ready Rachel to the rescue. I've mentioned my driving limitations elsewhere. I'll simply repeat that if I were inclined to bumper stickers, mine would, not inaccurately, read: "I Brake For Shadows." Rachel drove. I passenged.
We got to Anaheim - an hour and a half's drive - about an hour before the concert. We looked for someplace nearby to eat. The closest place was Hooters.
Dinner at Hooters with my stepdaughter and a rock concert for children. It would definitely be an evening of firsts.
Big smiles greet you at the door. "Welcome to Hooters!" You look around. Teams of attractive young women, serving food till they're invited on a calendar, attired in a wardrobe no mother would let their daughter wear out of the house. The vibe was like (my impression of) one of those Nevada brothel places, only the only satisfaction you'll be getting at Hooters is the satisfaction of surviving the limited selection of fried food on the menu.
Our waitress, Jodi, sat down at our table to take our order. I have a naturally playful demeanor with waitresses, and the outfits were making my silly.
"Will you be eating with us?" I inquired.
"What?" she replied, in a tone reflecting barely hidden irritation. Jody seemed annoyed by the entire operation. It was like, "They make me wear this, and I have to endure jokes from an aging idiot who thinks he's got moves? NO!"
Enough of Hooters. Except to say that I'm not a big fan of "tease." They get my money, and I end up with gas from the chicken wings.
We park at the Honda Center and head to "Will Call" for our tickets. I overhear fragments:
(AN OVERLY MADE-UP MOTHER WITH ELABORATE HAIR) "We'll pick you up when it's over." Which I immediately translate into, "Enjoy the show. I'm going to have sex with my boyfriend at a nearby hotel." (This was no fantasy on my part. The guy, standing nearby, was already drooling.)
At the "Will Call" window next to ours:
"My daughter won the 'Meet and Greet.'" I check out the daughter's face. It's how my face would look if I had won a private dinner with "Magic" Johnson.
We get our tickets, and we go inside. We're sitting in the sixth row. The tickets were free. My daughter has done well.
Fifteen minutes till show time and the din is beginning to build. Fortunately, Dr. M has supplied a bottle of earplugs. I offer some to nearby mothers. One accepts. One says no, with an explanation:
"I'm used to the noise. This is our fifth Jonas Brothers concert." I immediately do the math. Seventy-five dollars a ticket. Five concerts. Mother and child. That's seven hundred and fifty bucks. And the glow-in-the-dark wands are extra.
And then it started. Demi Lovato, a fifteen year-old with stage presence to burn, opened the concert. She'd been a star for about a month. The crowd was buying her, though you could sense some impatience. They were there to see the boys!
I have to report one disconcerting moment when Lovato turned to the audience and asked,
"How many of you out there have had your hearts broken?'
But they didn't act ten. There were looks of longing and excitement as they bounced and screamed. And those feelings exploded when the Jonas Brothers took the stage.
There are three things I'm not crazy about at concerts. Noise, jumping (those balconies may not have been tested for pre-teen hysteria) and fire. This concert had all three.
I won't talk about the Jonas Brothers' music; it wasn't meant for me. The production was First Class, and what the brothers do, they execute with skillfulness, charm, precision and flare. Though I enjoyed the show, I spent the bulk of the concert watching the audience.
I wanted to plug in to their experience, but I fear my interlopings came very close to voyeurism. It was like reading somebody's diary, an emotional trespassing I wasn't sure I could justify.
"Research for my blog, Your Honor."
"Yeah, well, now, you can research this prison sentence, you pervert!"
What did I notice? Little girls in love. Unguarded ardor on innocent faces. Not all of them, of course. Sitting beside me, I notice two slightly older girls acting too cool to care. I look back, and suddenly, they're into it too, bouncing and screaming with all the rest. Later, they recover their composure and make fun of it all, including themselves. It was fascinating. Two girls, on both sides of the fence.
And it wasn't just the kids who were into it. Self-conscious mothers, masking their mouths with their hands, are singing along too. The mothers know all the words! To a song that's been out for three weeks.
"This is real, this is me,
I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be..."
"No more hiding who I want to be,
This is me!"
It's a young girls' (and nostalgic Moms') anthem. Everyone's singing. Together. But separately too. Eighteen thousand females, acting like they're alone with the Jonas Brothers.
(Maybe Moms can handle seeing their daughters lost in ecstatic fervor. With Dads, it's different. Once, when I took Anna to an outdoor concert, she said at the entrance, "You can't come in with me, Dad." (I'd promised her mother I would.) I felt so incredibly grateful. I went to a movie and met her after the show.)
Are you sensing any condescension in this report? That would hardly be appropriate. Not when, at a similar age, you've shut yourself in your room, put on a record, and gone all fervent and teary-eyed, belting out
"I'm the greatest star
I am by far
But no one knows it..."
then sat down and wrote a confessional fan letter (my only one ever) to Barbra Streisand ("From one gifted Jew to another.")
I knew what was going on there. I just wasn't sure I was meant to witness it.
Later, Anna joined us, bringing two much-appreciated bottles of water, and we watched the show together. Suddenly, her eyes misted over. "I'm so happy you're here." I wanted to say, "Where else should I be?" I'm hoping my tears said it for me.
Still, I'm not sure I belonged there. As we left, I stopped at the Men's Room before the long drive home. The place was empty, except for two other guys. I think that was the entire number of men in the audience.
Earl Pomerantz's blog can be reached at earlpomerantz.blogspot.com