February 1985. Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas.
The stadium is filled to capacity. Stage hands swarm behind a curtain, preparing for the show; a huge Jumbotron hangs over the stage, screen black. Individual bodies are hard to make out with the lights so low… but you can hear them — a sea of small voices engaged in busy chatter, finding seats, excited but hushed conversations among the tiny groups about the totally-awesome-ness that is about to come.
With each second the anticipation builds; the air is thick with it. You can almost reach out and touch it.
The lights flicker, a sign that the show’s about to start. In that quick flash a glance around the stadium will reveal thousands of fresh faces, most of them young girls ages 11-17 in groups of two or six or ten, eyes bright with anxious expectation.
Somewhere in the first mezzanine section, one groups sits united. Six 7th grade girls. A cluster of bangs, pink jackets and puffy heart earrings. They’ve been linked since their time together in elementary, when the leader of the pack started a fan club that was destined to live on in the hearts of its members forever.
Much drama has ensued since its inception – memberships revoked and reinstated, feelings hurt, tears shed. But tonight’s not the night for drama, at least not in that sense. Tonight is THE REASON for all of it.
And so, here I sit. Alongside my compadres. Past transgressions forgiven, old scores settled. We chatter excitedly, animated, voices piling on top of one another, not really saying ANYTHING but somehow expressing EVERYTHING.
We are all on the same page.
The lights go down again and with them the chattering voices ebb.
The first few notes of a song play from behind the curtain. Within milliseconds the crowd has risen to its feet. A peek down our row now reveals nothing more than a line of empty seats, save for the six discarded pink jackets holding our places.
And this is when the screams start. An entire auditorium FILLED with screams. A cacophony so great it drowns out its very reason for being.
I hear nothing but my own screams and the screams around me. The curtain pulls open slowly – more screams!! The Jumbotron flickers to life. I scream some more! We all scream MORE!
Two women sit in front of us – we’ve guessed that they’re in their 40s but they’re probably only 28 or 29. To a group of 13-year-olds, they seem ANCIENT — like our moms or something. They cover their ears and shoot annoyed looks back at us when the screams begin. I’m the only one who notices, and I feel bad about it for a moment. Then I wonder. What did they expect?
The old women are immediately forgotten, though, as the screaming suddenly intensifies — the boys, OUR BOYS, are making their way onstage. The all-knowing Jumbotron offers proof.
OHMYGOD IT’S REALLY THEM THEY’RE REALLY HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!
They’re really here!
Between screams I wonder if one of them will look out into the crowd and see me. I WILL it to happen. I imagine myself locking eyes with HIM, showing HIM with nothing more than my intensely devoted gaze just how much HE means to me. Even though I have my favorite (we all do) it doesn’t really matter which one. I love them all.
I know I’m just a blip in the crowd, far out in mezzanine (not even orchestra, thanks to Lisa’s mom who FAILED US when she bought the tickets). I know they can’t see me, and even if they could I would just look like any other 13-year-old fan in this ocean of waving arms and swaying bodies.
But still, I hope.
And they play this song, and I know that I will love them forever.
I look back on it now and I see how manufactured it all was. The lyrics made no sense. The tickets were too expensive. The boys onstage had bigger hair and wore more makeup than any of us tweens in the crowd.
But despite the imperfections, pure love oozed from my pores that night. My friends and I were forever bonded in our devotion to these five strangers. We were all in Bliss.
I knew then that I would never forget it, and I never have.
So thank you for that, John Nick Simon Roger Andy.
(But Simon especially. Because Simon was especially mine.)
From one of the waves in the sea — thank you for all of it.