I Heart Wang
this was written for an anthology abotu great concert experiences. Its a rewrite of a story i have in Hornito and also perform as a monologue. It wont appear in the anthology because i guess it was technically previously printed. Its a 37 year old, probably overwritten version.
It was the fall of 1986 -- an unfortunate year in pop culture: ratted hair and Reagan-Bush, Family Ties, Swatch watches, Motown revivalism, Crocodile Dundee, and the ever-presence of short, wailing Danny Devito, who, along with Arnold Schwarzenegger, were regarded as critically acclaimed, funny and talented.
Pop music was flaccid, uncreative, and lazily cashing in on the sharpness of the decade’s earlier new wave and electric funk. By then, MTV had become a rotted log full of terrible payola bands and even worse videos, including a tuneless unnecessary cover of Dancing in the Streets sung by David Bowie and Mick Jagger. The pair mouthed the lyrics around city scenes, dancing smugly as if they had never been gay.
The grainy DIY quality of music video had been replaced with studio lighting that was always crisp, wet, and faintly blue. Most bands were styled with ratty, stand-on-end hair, wearing brocaded vests, brooches, and pearls as bracelets. Everything seemed to be drowning in decorative curlicue. I’m sure this filigree signified the aesthetic root of something interesting happening in New York or London, but we had no reference point. By the time it had been washed through the American cultural slop trough and reached my high school in Northern Virginia, any passionate expression had just became neon socks and Wham!
We were a mostly-white suburban American high school of the late 80s. We were locked into cliques from which we knew no escape, ruled by the modern American form of populocracy that kept doughy, loud heterosexual men in power, insulated in our late-on-the-trend New Wave billowing rayon, graphic prints, and Mellencamp mullets. We unquestioningly accepted our boring suburban identities as middle class apolitical consumer youth.
We were trapped inside a 1986 snowglobe of wind machines and power chords, and acted accordingly. We over-gelled our hair into gloppy shells or into tiger-like jungle nests, believed our country was all-powerfully good, and thought that Michael J Fox was a fine actor.
Until a concert that changed all of us -- that one definitive, twisted hour.
The only popular form of artistic expression in our school happened at halftimes. The Drill Team – thirty of the sexiest girls of the school who would perform complicated synchronized dance routines to Howard Jones and Madonna. They had tight smiles and hair, never made missteps or mistakes, and ended every show by jumping high into the air, opening their legs into splits, and slamming their tight, muscular vaginas into the basketball court. Everyone would go wild with applause.
Of course, even more typically, I was a part of an alternative scene. We defiantly listened to our Patti Smiths and The Smiths; put up their photos in our lockers. (I was actually more into folk-rock like 10,000 Maniacs, psychedelic LA Garage bands like The Three O’Clock, and Cowpunk bands like Lone Justice.) We tried our best -- getting assymetrical haircuts, peroxiding our hair, cutting up our clothes. But still we felt trapped. Everything special was drowned out by the drone of Phil Collins. Our attempts at searching for something more meaningful was no match for the militaristic non-culture of 1986.
Transcendence was rare, and only one transcendent person existed in our school. He was blond, of course. His name was Jason Lumus. (Actually it wasn’t Jason Lumus, but it was similar to that. It had that kind of ring to it. Like Kyle Raimer or Eric Light or Matt Testa -- names that morphemically and phonemically comprise the sounds and syllables of popularity.) He wore his hair dirty blond and spiked -- not wet and abused with mousse, but dry and tall so it moved like wheat in a country field. He had the respect of all the loud straight jock-leaders in our school because he was the most beautiful and dated a Drill Team member. He also had the respect of the artsy punky new wave crowd that I was vaguely a part of (we all hung out together because it was a small school) because he listened to U2 and more obscure bands like the Woodentops or Prefab Sprout. Even his style was unforced yet edgy. He wore simple shirts with the collars up and it never looked forced like it did on me. It was as if the fibers of cloth were defying physical laws just for him.
You would see Jason Lumus in the halls and an unexplainable cataractic swell would immobilize you. Like all deities, you believed you actually had a chance with him. I would privately write poems about him
There is only one kind of eye
and it looks
that I must swim in.
and fantasize about him the way I would later, in the 90s, fantasize about River Phoenix and Jeff Buckley, as if he had a special soul and I was the only one who could help him. Jason Lumus was like them – not dead, but equally as elusive.
The year before, I had befriended a burnout girl named Tammy. By our tenth grade, burnout girls had become perceptive, wise women. They had names like Adriana, Tanya and Lynette – names that seem to come with a wink. Burnout girls had seen it all and were already over it and they were only sixteen. Where I spent my teen years fearfully tucked in my bedroom, reading comic books and designing how I could hide my gay desires to survive, burnout girls had gone out in halter tops, sped through the streets in the souped up cars of older men. On the weekends, you could hear their Camaros skidding into gear at intersections, far off.
Tammy was worldly to me. We became friends because by junior year, she was sickened by her lifestyle and wanted a future beyond hanging out at McDonald’s parking lots and being sexually abused by guys who went to the community college. In essence, she didn’t want to burn out.
I may be wrong, but I think I first met Tammy four years previously, when I was painfully unpopular, and a band geek. I’d walk home with all my books and my trombone case and sometimes people would spit on it. One time I was walking with my friend Terry Sparrow (who was unpopular because his name was a girl’s and a bird’s) and I was telling him how this hole in my jeans made my knee sweat and this “burn-out” girl heard me. She had blond hair in wings with brown roots, black mascara, and a Rolling Stones baseball shirt, over which she had placed a long white carpetbag sweater with big pockets at the hips, and her jeans were tucked into brown knee boots. She was smoking. “Knee sweats? Huh, only fags knees sweat,” she said sneering at me.
I was excited to hang out and go to parties with Tammy because she knew everyone. We would go to John Socker’s kegger or Denise Boutwell’s movie night, and I would hope that Jason Lumus would show up, but he never did, probably attending much cooler VIP parties. I could have waited forever for him, but Tammy, so much more mature, would always want to leave at a very cool early hour. We would go back to her car and listen to the Bangles (the first album) or Suzanne Vega (the first album) and drive around in the wet humid Virginian air.
In our junior year, three students got in a drunk driving accident – their car skidded off a dangerous back road in the rain and wrapped around a tree. Two of them died and one of them was hospitalized. They socialized in the burnout circle. Tammy knew them, and was upset about it. I remember her shaking her head with resignation, exhaling a Salem Menthol, as if she had been waiting for tragedy to strike that crowd for a long time.
That very same week Q107, the top 40 station, announced a contest that whatever school could turn in the most postcards to the station would win a free concert in their school by Wang Chung. If you, reader, are of a certain age range you immediately know this band. But if you are over five years older or younger, then you need to understand that this was a pop band that was peaking on MTV at the time with a number of hits and two lead singers who exuded a low level of magnetism so you could convince yourself they had a kind of permanence worth your time like so many bands before then, and alas yet to come.
I can’t remember exactly how it happened, the idea suddenly generated that we should enter the contest as a statement of support for the students in the accident. Our entire school bonded together. Between classes, and at ten minute break and lunch, an organizer would approach me with the breathless energy of someone working on a presidential campaign, hand me a stack of index cards and demand I sit down and write as many postcards as possible.
It was risky, because we were competing with larger magnet schools with twice our class size in wealthier districts, but we worked hard, and we won. Somehow we convinced ourselves that by winning the contest and having fun we were doing an important thing for our dead and injured fellow students.
That Friday, the day of the concert, big trucks were parked behind the school, unloading equipment. The gym was off-limits, and we walked by it slowly with curiosity. Tammy thought it was idiotic. “Who are the fans of this band? Who actually likes them? They are so lame!” I agreed with her. But I was dying to go because of the possibility Jason Lumus would be there.
We went home that day to get ready. At seven thirty, Tammy came to pick me up, and we drove two miles to the school, sliding into the crowded parking lot with all the other kids whose parents give them cars. Tammy and I walked into the gym, and gasped. In one day a group of crackerjack technicians had transformed our bright gym into a late-80’s rock arena, complete with a smoke machine, complicated light grid and curtains. The National News was there to report a heartwarming story about how one school that turned a tragedy into a free Wang Chung concert.
Quickly, the gym filled. Scott Holiday came on from Q107, his incongruently slick DJ voice coming out of a stocky body. He told us how psyched he was to be there, and introduced the band. The lights dimmed, and spotlights speared brightness across the crowd. An electric guitar strummed, a drummer sprayed us with beats. Then the lights flashed on, revealing the band in drapey overcoats. They instantly sprang into their big hit: “Everybody Have fun Tonight, Everybody Wang Chung tonight.”
Everyone cheered like they were in front of Nelson Mandela. Tammy and I looked around, confused. Could everyone else really be seriously excited about this band? I saw members of the burnout crowd, somber and suddenly respectable having experienced loss, hooting like they were watching the Grateful Dead. And the more hardcore punky kids, wearing army jackets with safety pinned anarchy patches on the sleeves and shoulders, pogo-ing as if they were in front of the Dead Kennedys. Members of the Drill Team cleanly coiffed lifted up their arms and squealing as if for The Police.
Tammy and I started giggling nervously. In front of us was a load of money and promotion desperately orchestrated for us by the 1986 crap-making machinery, and around us was the mindless frenzy it fed upon to survive. Two students had died and this somehow was its outcome. Oh, the well produced falseness of everything.
Then I saw Matt Hazer, one of the more jovial loud heterosexual popular guys wearing a shirt that said “I Wang.”
We were all cheering with a schizophrenic, joyous disgust for a forgettable band we were forced to care about. It was comforting to know that everyone was as grossed out as I was. We made a media event happen with a tragedy and a bunch of postcards. It wasn’t edifying, or right, or even good. The joyous unified anger felt a bit like how I feel at protests and parades now: anti-war, gay pride, pro-choice, anti-violence.
They sang about five or six songs, inclduing To live and Die in LA, Dance Hall Days, and their current hit climbing the charts: “Let’s Go!” with the lyrics: “Let’s Go, Baby, Let’s Go Baby Come on!” I don’t think Jason Lumus ever came.