A lot of people backstage at the Hole/Marilyn Manson show were wearing leather pants. I don't have anything against leather pants per se; on the right guy, leather pants give me the vapors. But leather pants are difficult to pull off, which makes them a fashion-don't for most people. And most people backstage at KeyArena definitely fell into the leather-pants-fashion-don't category.
When she ran onstage, Courtney Love was wearing leather pants. Courtney, of course, falls into the leather-pants-fashion-do category, by virtue of her celeb status. The glitter in her hair and the droopy sheer black shift she was wearing over her pants, however, made her look like a young Stevie Nicks--at least that's what John Roderick of Western State Hurricanes told me. John was backstage, standing off to the side with me watching Hole, and to his credit, John was not wearing leather pants. Since I'm not sure exactly who Stevie Nicks is or was, I had to take John's word for whether Courtney looked like a young Miss Nicks.
I don't know much about rock and roll. Before Everett True talked me into seeing Hole live at the KeyArena, I'd somehow managed to avoid witnessing an entire live performance of that rock and roll music you kids today--like kids for the last 40 years--seem to like so much. Living in Seattle in the '90s I occasionally stumbled into bars or clubs where a band happened to be playing, but I would stumble right back out as soon as the music started. A million years ago, I was at the Crocodile when that band-that-would-be-world-famous-and-whose-lead-singer-would-later-blow-his-brains-out-making-a-widow-of-Courtney-Love got up and played. I got up and left.
I've never paid much attention to the music that shaped and defined my generation's adolescence and young adulthood. When I listen to music, I listen to KIXI, or to my small collection of Broadway show tunes. I know, I know: I'm the world's biggest cliché, the fag musical theater queen, but what can I do? I like the original cast recording of Gypsy. I find Ethel Merman's voice soothing. When I've had a crap day, Stephen Sondheim lyrics makes me feel better.
I think a lot of kids get into rock music the same way they get into cigarettes and coffee: they feign an interest. Wanting to seem older and more interesting, youngsters force themselves to consume coffee or cigarettes or rock music. They do it to fit in. After a while, they acquire a taste for black coffee or black lung or Black Sabbath. Aware that I was a hopeless geek who would never fit in, I stayed at home. I drank tea, didn't learn to smoke, and listened to show tunes. I never came to appreciate coffee, cigarettes, or rock and roll.
Something I do appreciate, however, is showmanship. The two things I enjoy most about Broadway musicals are the spectacle of the shows and the joy musical comedy performers clearly derive from their work. When you watch pre-Murder She Wrote Angela Lansbury play Mrs. Lovit in Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd, she looks like she's having fun, even when she's being thrown into an oven.
The same can't be said of rock and roll performers, judging from what I've seen flipping past MTV, and from what I saw at the Hole concert. Courtney and her band looked alternately indifferent and annoyed at having to perform. I didn't know quite what to expect from Hole, but I expected them to do more than just stand there and play. The only real performers at KeyArena were the lights, which jumped and turned and spun, and Courtney Love's personal assistant/flying monkey, a cute boy with long hair who ran on whenever Courtney needed a new guitar or a mic adjustment.
I stood by the side of the stage for her set, sometimes watching Courtney sing, but mostly checking out the cute boys being passed over the heads of the crowd. And even then I was bored. Who knew a rock and roll concert could be so dull? Why go to all the trouble of building a set (a couple of drops, one of a red curtain, the other of a garden with a fountain), and throwing all that light around if the performers are just going to stand there, doing nothing? I'll take a couple of comedic secondary characters and a cheesy kick-line over Ms. Love, her bandmates, and their unhummable "music" any day of the week.
Courtney did work the crowd like a Vegas pro, though. "We like Seattle," Courtney told us, and when someone tossed a flannel shirt onstage, she picked it up and put it on. "You guys, come on!" said Courtney, standing there in leather and flannel. "It's 1999, we can't do flannel anymore!" Very Wayne Newton.
Even the crowd's conspicuous displays of rebelliousness were lifeless, heavily controlled and choreographed. And the control was made possible by the cooperation of the "rebellious" crowd. A line of what looked like Marines stood along the front of the stage, separated from the crowd by four-foot-high metal barricades. Whenever the crowd tossed a fellow audience member over the barricades, the Marines would stand the person up, turn them around, and point them to the door. The audience member would then dutifully march out.
A few people did get hurt, and halfway through Courtney's set, I wandered back into the first aid area. Seven kids suffering from broken noses, jammed fingers, overdoses, and concussions were all laid out on couches. As I chatted with a paramedic, a girl was carried in by a couple of Marines: she'd been raped in the crush of the crowd. How often is someone raped at the 5th Ave or the Paramount? I wandered back out to the show, where cannons had shot brightly colored confetti all over the crowd.
Besides being bored out of my showtune-loving gourd, I looked and felt out of place at KeyArena. I wasn't dressed for Hole or Marilyn Manson, so imagine my surprise when a sweaty, shirtless boy in the crowd leaned over the barrier and asked me--in my tennis shoes, unfashionable blue jeans, and Gap-fag T-shirt--if I was "with Marilyn Manson." This boy had a message for someone named "Twiggy," and wanted to know if I could deliver it. Twiggy would be in Manson's dressing room, he told me. Not knowing who Twiggy was, and knowing I'd have an easier time getting into the Navy Seals than getting past Manson's security detail, I told the nice young man--blue hair, black lips, and pierced nipples--that I wasn't "with" Manson. I was "with" Courtney.
"Fuck her!" he screamed at me, giving me the finger. "Fuck Courtney Love! Fuck her! You tell her I said, 'Fuck you!'" (Hey, Courtney: The blue-haired boy with pierced tits in the audience said, "Fuck you!")
Courtney seems to have that effect on young misogynists. On our way into the concert, we spotted a few straight-boy picketers outside KeyArena handing out Courtney killed you-know-who fliers. During the show, someone threw a shoe at Courtney. In a rare unscripted moment, she picked up the shoe and asked how its former owner was going to get home in the rain with one shoe on.
Eventually I positioned myself at the exit from the mosh pit cattle shoot, where all the boys tossed over the barricades had to pass to get back into KeyArena's seating area. The stink of teen B.O. was heady (all that Mountain Dew and pizza passing through their pores), but the highlight of my evening was getting to meet Matt Cameron, the drummer from the late Soundgarden. I'd seen some pictures of Soundgarden around the office, and always thought the drummer was really cute.