I should begin this article with a confession. Sometimes, when my reading list subjects me to the dense texts of Marx's Capital or Weber's Economy and Society: Part One, I turn to the culture of the American teenage youth for salvation and sanity. Always trying to maintain a modicum of intellectual decorum among the stoic philosophes of Lamont or Hilles, within the leaves of these difficult volumes, I am forced to hide the waxy, radioactively luminous pages of the contemporary social journal otherwise known as Teen Beat. I shamefully indulge in evaluating the subtleties of e-mails sent between Britney Spears and Prince William, absorbing every tidbit of insight regarding potential lovebirds Joey and Pacey, and critiquing Christina Aguilera's newest 'do (yup, she is still ugly). Like sneaking crack cocaine across the border, I must adeptly shroud the zine behind the German intellectual tradition so that the library checker or a curious student does not catch a glimpse of my sinful adolescent delight.
Magazines like Teen Beat have not changed much over the ages. Where the visages of Kurt Cameron, Debbie Gibson and Jordan Knight once stood now stand James "Cut Your Hair" Van Der Beek, Jessica Simpson and, um, Jordan Knight. But one aspect that has changed significantly in the past few years is the coverage of music. Traditionally obsessed with teen pop sensations, Teen Beat, J-14 and other teen trash journals have assimilated the world of alternative rock into its corpus of cool kids.
Two bands that have recently received extensive coverage from these zines are No Doubt and Korn. Eight years ago, neither could ever imagine being elevated to such a lofty status. No Doubt was still skankin' it up in Orange County, Calif., intimately tied to the punk-rock-ska-reggae stylings of Long Beachers Bradley Nowell and Sublime. If No Doubt was recognized at all, it was for their collaborations with Sublime on "Total Hate" and "Saw Red," certainly not for their first self-titled release. Gwen Stefani was hardly a sex icon, but rather trapped within a wardrobe that borrowed from the worst parts of new wave and grunge. She was just a girl, whether or not she'd rather not be.
The status of hardcore ringmaster Korn was even more precarious. The explosion of grunge sent dark, disturbing, angry metal back into the goth-loving, cape-wearing, motorcycle riding, Dungeons and Dragons playing pit from whence it came. An early release by Kid Rock (you thought Devil Without a Cause was his first album?) got hammered by the angstful, flanneled, head-banging juggernaut that was "Here we are now, entertain us." But Mr. Hick-Hop was not the only rocker that suffered. Metallica was temporarily uncool and Megadeth was mega-dead. Meanwhile, Korn was chillin' on the West Coast in Bakersfield, Calif., gathering up rage motivated by not having dates to awkward high school formals, jealousy towards big jock bullies and their hot cheerleader girlfriends, and tolerating parents that would not let them smoke dope and swear. Their question: when would hate-rock rule again?
The mid-'90s were good to both No Doubt and Korn. The glorification of alternative rock assisted by a fatal self-inflicted bullet wound to Kurt Cobain sent record companies, radio stations, and teenagers into an alterna-frenzy. Perfect timing landed both bands with a series of chart-topping singles. No Doubt titillated the lighter souls with "Just a Girl," "Spider Web" and "Don't Speak," while Korn captured the darker souls with "Blind," "Shoots and Ladders," and "Clown." Gwen Stefani excited, Jonathan Davis incited and new modern rock heroes were born.
And now, half a decade later, No Doubt and Korn are still on top of their games. No Doubt continued to feed off of the success of Tragic Kingdom, releasing nominally successful singles like "Excuse Me Mister" and "Sunday Morning." Who knew that a little red dress and some fruit could go so far? The recently released Return of Saturn boasts two wildly successful singles already, namely "New" and "Ex-Girlfriend." The prolific nay-sayer Korn has released three albums since their self-titled debut, with the recent Issues topping charts with the single "Falling Away from Me."
But this time, things are different. The culture of the teeny-bopper to dominance in full-force, wielding enough market power to induce every radio station, record company, and teen magazine to cater to their every need. And what they want, in addition to cottom candy pop and boy bands are No Doubt and Korn. Page after page of Teen Beat and J-14 oogle at the pink-haired princess Stefani and her hunky (ex?)boyfriend, Bush leader singer Gavin Rossdale or the sultry darkness and misogynistic masculinity of Korn and fellow bad-asses Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock.
Could millennial teeny boppers be truly obsessed with mid-'90s alterna-icons? Are they only interested in the radio hits, the popular albums, or does their love run deeper? Only by going to a live concert and experiencing a band face-to-face can an individual show true devotion, admiration and understanding of the music and the artist? In other words, are these teens willing to get in the pit and try to love someone? Over Spring Break 2000, this was the question I intended to answer. Two days, two shows, one reporter: No Doubt, Korn, the teens and me.
NO DOUBT ABOUT IT
The evening of Wednesday, March 29, was cold. Too many evenings of freezing my ass off in long lines in front of Avalon waiting for Avaland made me none too quick to arrive much earlier than doors at seven. The event was general admission, and as all seasoned concertgoers know, unless you want the very front row at a small club, there is no reason why early arrival is imperative. But I had forgotten that the show was all-ages, and most of those present were under 18. The line in front of Avalon horizontally stretched back to Jillian's by seven, but vertically stretched rarely above 5'8". Herded behind a rope fence to infinity, the menagerie of miniature mods impatiently waited for the doors to open and the doubting to end.
Two girls, no older than 14, stood in front of me at the back of the line. "It is so cold," said one to the other. Of course it is, honey. You are barely over five feet, barely over rattles and Gerber, and you are wearing nothing but a tiara, neon pink flowing genie pants, a pale pink almost see-through top, and a pimply, large-panted freshman boyfriend. Of course, the boyfriend responded to the statement spoken to the girls friend as an invitation for action. "Don't worry, baby. I'll keep you warm," followed by a sloppy kiss and a scrawny arm around her body. Smooth move, Barry White.
Behind me were two more high school girls, these a little older, a little less glam, and a little more awkward. "We don't have tickets," they say to me. "Do you have any extras?" I told them that I did not, and I thought the show was sold out. "Yes, we know, but her Mom (points to friend) said we might be able to get some from a scalper." Your mom? Are you serious? I told her that if there were any scalper, they would hit the front of the line or the corner of Landsdowne and Yawkey. "Yeah, but we don't want to lose our space in line." Did they already forget that they didn't have tickets? Was there mom Gwen Stefani or something?
Finally, the doors open and the crowd spilled into the posh offerings of Boston's finest in dance and sparkle. A head or so taller than most other concertgoers, I had a good view of the scene. But there was not much to see. The crowd was almost entirely female sixteen and under. Two middle-schoolers clung to one another as they sifted through the crowd, proudly sporting matching No Doubt T-shirt and tight black pant outfits. At this moment, a horrible thought crossed my mind. What if No Doubt doesn't play instruments anymore? What if they just sit on stools, wear matching costumes (adorned with some individualizing accessory, of course) and sing love medleys? I was afraid this cotton candy crowd would scream the entire in a deafening tone, as though being stabbed.
I had seen No Doubt only four short years ago in a small club in Providence, and the crowd was nothing like this one. They were bigger, older, rougher, more ska-core and punk. The floor then was not violent by Rage Against the Machine standards, catering more to the more gentle colliding of a skank pit. At that time, the opening band was Goldfinger, a light-hearted, prankish, oft-nude precursor to Blink-182. This time, the openers were not nearly as friendly. But the presence of the Suicide Machines did not scare off any of the teenage girls. Rather, the presence of the teenage girls lulled the Suicide Machines into a half-hearted set, ripping through their songs without many notorious onstage antics, preferring the pleasures of post-show backstage to the distracted interest of a crowd simply waiting for Gwen. But the members of the faceless minor crowd were not the only ones at the concert in love with Gwen. At a table towards the back of Avalon, Rossdale inconspicuously and his large Asian friend had a few drinks, noticed only by a perceptive Crimson Arts writer and the bartenders.
With Kurt Loder and MTV cameras at their backs, No Doubt strolled on stage. Sans cosmetic braces, Stefani coyly flirted with the first few notes of "New" before surging into the quick paced skank-adelic pop. Instead of bumping and moving, the little ravers were content with singing along to every word. Stefani pranced around the stage to all the hits, spinning her "Spider Web" and tell us "Don't Speak." Her attempts at flirting and posing for the crowd were uncharacteristically unsuccessful, as the mostly female crowd was more interested in bassist and Stefani ex-boyfriend Tony Kanal, the actual subject of the new single "Ex-Girlfriend." When the crowd did start jumping for "Excuse Me Mister", the bouncers helped numerous smaller girls exit the sweaty madness, a series of altruistic actions that were first in my concert history. In a similar vein, the bouncers broke up even the smallest mosh pits, a sure sign that Avalon and No Doubt wanted the show to be family fun, a musical Make-a-Wish foundation set to ska-punk-pop. No Doubt rocked, but the crowd hardly moved.
CARE FOR A KORN, DOG?
This innocence and harmlessness was not to be found on Thursday night. With the tinted windows of my Mercury Sable and a crude tape of Nine Inch Nails's Further Down the Spiral, the next destination was the Centrum in the beautiful metropolis of Ye Olde Worcester. With the luxury an intimate small venue gone, I was forced to tolerate stadium seating and a snack bar at the rock concert. But the event, lovingly called the "Sick and Twisted" tour, was more a spectacle than a concert. At an outrageously early 6:30pm, Mindless Self Indulgence mounted the stage to rile up the pit. They did not have to do much. Sporting some of the largest, strongest, angriest, most steroid-filled men and women in New England, the pit was the most violent this side of the Running of the Bulls. Filling the entire rink floor, the predominantly shirtless Centrum patrons ripped into one another, forcing EMTs to rush to the aid of injured pit fighters within the first half hour. Springfield locals Staind shook some more red in front of the bulls, who were then calmed down by the following showing of "Spike and Mike's Animation Festival."
During this intermission, I had a chance to put down my defenses and survey the crowd. Most of the arena was filled with twentysomething males, some accompanied by barely-dressed girlfriends. Despite the presence of the fairer sex, these guy were here for some misogynistic, testosterone fun, and they were not going to let chivalry get in the way. I ask a guy next to me how he felt about seeing Korn. "Dude, they are the fucking best every time I see them." How many times have you seen them? "Every time they have been in New England." "Every time? Like last night in Providence and tomorrow again here? "Hells fucking yeah! Where else can I kick some ass and not get arrested for it? Oh, and then there is the stripshow!" Stripshow?
I had absorbed enough random nudity at Woodstock '99, but I was not prepared for what happened next. In between the animation and Korn, the cameras were turned on the crowd, focusing on the more attractive girls in the crowd. The moment the camera would focus, the girl (regardless of age, from 14 to 40) immediately flashed the entire crowd, to the catcalls and cheers of all. Two girls, riding on the shoulders of a few men in the pit, began making out and groping each other for the delight of all the shirtless males in the place. For 20 minutes, a constant stream of (hardly) consenting women revealed their bodies to a crowd of meatheads. Entertainment has reached a new level of something, though I do not know what.
But the show must go on, and at nine the light went down and first six notes of "Falling Away From Me" were lost in an explosion of sound. Huge hairy men and small mascara-abusing girls screamed with estatic anticipation. Without wasting a moment of dialogue with the crowd, Korn blitzed through the set. Lasers, lights, an inflated rag doll, three video screen, and gigantic speakers pulsed through the crowd, throwing everyone into a bass beat thrashing. Bodies flew through the air in the pit, while Korn-dogs in the stands forced their way past guards onto the floor. Pandemonium ensued to the tune of "Got the Life," "A.D.I.D.A.S.," "Faget" and "Freak on a Leash." After two encores, Korn finally closed with a supercharged version of "Blind," eliciting more thrashing and tearing when one though the crowd must be out of energy. Four hours after in started, the war in the pit of the Worcester Centrum was over. The survivors smelt victory, the losers smelt the emergency room of the local hospitals. Count me in with the first group.
So, the moral of the story? Despite the fact that Teen Beat and J-14 have embraced Korn's image, the readers cannot keep up with the live lifestyle. Unfortunately, No Doubt has fallen prey to the monster of mainstream appeal and teenybopper crowds. On the way out of the Centrum after Korn, I saw a small boy, barely eight, staring down at the emptying pit. "Did you like the show?" I asked the catatonic child. His father replied "It was his first concert." Oh, that hurts. Should have picked No Doubt, my boy. Things may never be the same after Korn.