Sunday, May 10, 2015

Rebirth of a Groupie?

When I hit my teens, I discovered music.

Music was the one way a super nerdy girl could connect in any way with her peers.  I was especially attracted to the New Wave music of the 80s.  It was the best style for someone who never felt in step with the rest of the world.  Plus most of the popular New Wave bands were English and Irish, which made me feel as if I were reaching out to something more global.  I felt like I was part of something big.

I was outgrowing celebrity crushes at that stage.  I was just beginning to feel that real boys might be on my radar.  I wasn't looking to fall in love with a celebrity.  I didn't want to be living in a fantasy world thinking of things that can never happen or have unrealistic ideas of what a celebrity might be like in real life.   I wasn't like my New Wave-loving friends who seemed to believe that love could bloom between them and members of Duran Duran.  I liked Duran Duran's music, but I couldn't conjure any attraction to them. They were too weird and extreme with them with their strangely-dyed hair, eyeliner, and exaggerated costumes.  That wasn't my type at all.

Then one day I was stuck at home (as I usually was in those days) watching music videos when the video for Spandau Ballet's Gold came on.  I had never heard the name of the band before.  I had never seen them.  I was mesmerized by that video.  I loved the song.  I was also very drawn to the singer.  He was so handsome I couldn't stop staring at the TV and exclaiming how handsome he was.  I would learn soon after they were the band that sang True, a song I already loved.  I had to find out more.

I acquired their album (by borrowing it from a friend and keeping it so long she finally just let me have it) and then immediately acquiring the new one when it was released (a wise birthday gift from the same friend).  I listened to them obsessively.  The music spoke to me.  I'm not sure why, since lyrically the songs  often seemed nonsensical. (WHAT THE HECK ARE "SEASIDE ARMS?)

I can't say my crush on Tony Hadley was super serious.  I harbored no fantasies and no unrealistic expectations.  I was initially disappointed when I found out he was married, but I accepted it pretty quickly.  I was allowed to be attracted to a married man.  Still the new obsession with the band awoke something in me.  Maybe it was because it was a band I had become attached to on my own.  I didn't need friends to tell me to listen to them.  I didn't share crushes with others.  Spandau was mine.

My desire for more Spandau Ballet connected me to so much more.  I read more music magazines.  I watched more MTV (back in the good old days of music videos).  I listened to alternative radio more often.  I felt that connection to a wider world.  It was around that same time that I went to Europe for the first time.  One of my most prized possessions was a Spandau Ballet photo book I got in a newsstand in Rome.   I was listening to a band they made a book about in Italy!  (I swore I'd translate the text in that book, but never did.)

I never did get to see them live. I'm not sure when and where they played in New York during those years.  I wouldn't have known where to find out.  I felt the universe owed me a Spandau Ballet concert.  I was such a devoted fan who deserved it.  Then they were scheduled to tour as the opening act for The Power Station and some of my friends had tickets.  They gleefully told me the show was sold out, but I was comforted by the fact that Spandau backed out of the tour due to Steve Norman's broken knee.

Around that same time I heard they were coming out with a new album, but that they were looking for a new record label.  I never saw that album.  It seems it was only released in the UK.  Spandau's glory began to fade in the US. I had friends who had time and money to go to NYC and search import record stores, but I had no idea where to look.  I was also too busy with my horses and pursuing other hobbies.  I wasn't up to finding ways to keep following Spandau Ballet.  If it were 30 years later I could have just followed them on the Internet and bought their albums on Amazon.  This wasn't possible in the 80s.  I still loved them, but I couldn't keep up.

One day I was looking through a book that documented Live Aid through stories and photos.  I found a picture in it of Spandau Ballet backstage.  Tony Hadley was smoking a cigarette in it.  I was not naive.  I knew people in the entertainment business - particularly musicians - were likely to be smokers.  It shouldn't have been any surprise, but I let it bother me anyway.  I declared myself over Spandau Ballet and Tony Hadley.  I don't think it was really about the cigarette as much as it was about giving myself permission to let go of the obsession.  The band wasn't accessible to me anymore and I didn't know how to pursue continued fandom, so I would just decide I was over them.

Did I ever get over them?  It's hard to say.  I still would swoon whenever I heard True.  I would talk wistfully of the days when Spandau Ballet was my favorite band.  I never stopped liking the music I knew.  I even made sure that True was played as one of the slow songs at my wedding.  I just stopped trying to find out what else was out there.

The Internet did start reigniting my curiosity.  When I joined MySpace years ago I decided to see if Tony Hadley had a page.  He was working at a solo artist then.  Unfortunately his albums were only available in the UK.  I didn't know the story of the breakup of the band.  I figured they had played together for years and just went their separate ways as bands do.  I may have been disappointed to find out Tony was married when I was 13, but as an adult I was impressed that he was still married to the same woman so many years later.  It confirmed for me he must be a stand up guy.

It wouldn't be until this year that I would start the obsession over again.  It happened accidentally.  One of my favorite 21st century bands, The Decemberists, was playing the Beacon Theater and I had hoped to buy tickets.  Unfortunately, the show sold out very quickly.  While lingering the the theater's website I saw something that caught my eye.  Spandau Ballet was playing in February.  Spandau Ballet?  Really?  They were together and touring again?  Did I want tickets?

I didn't buy tickets right away.  I wasn't sure if I still loved them the way I did.  Then I thought about how I had never seen them back in the days when my obsession was fresh and strong.  Didn't I owe it to my teenaged self to say that I had seen the band live?  Once I decided to buy the tickets, I grew more excited.  There were tickets that included a meet-and-greet with the band before the show.  I imagined how cool it would be to have my picture taken with Tony Hadley.  Maybe I could ask him if he was still and equestrian (because I'm not sure what else I would talk to him about?)  By the time I made up my mind to buy the tickets, the meet-and-greet was sold out, but I bought the best tickets available (10th row orchestra) and began researching everything I didn't know about the band since I stopped following them.

I studied up.  I learned a bit more about their breakup (but I didn't buy the documentary DVD).  I found Tony Hadley's personal website and learned a bit more about him.  He doesn't appear to be an equestrian anymore and he is also not married to the same woman he was married to in the 80s.  I found things I didn't like as well.  For one thing I learned he's a Thatcher-loving, poverty-shaming, Tory!  That was a huge turn off, but it didn't deter me from wanting to see this concert.

The time for the concert drew near.  My excitement levels were through the roof when I arrived at the theater.  I remember many of my fellow concert-goers had drinks from the bar.  I was tempted to have a glass of wine, but then I realized I didn't want one.  Wine would bring me down.  I didn't want anything to kill my buzz.  I wanted that excited rush I felt in my body to stay at a high level.  As the lights began to go down it really hit me that I was about to see Spandau Ballet - live and in front of me - in just a few moments.  How would it feel when I would first lay eyes on Tony?  I really wanted to know what that moment would be like.

As the band members came onstage, the woman sitting directly in front of me 3 rows down suddenly stood up.  She blocked my sight line.  I did not see Tony come onstage and take his place at the mike.  I was disappointed that I didn't get to see Tony exactly when he appeared in front of me.  Soon everyone was standing.  I had to stand and position myself for the view.  I had my view.  There he was.  The music played immediately with no introduction.  I heard him sing.  I was mesmerized by his voice the way I had always been.  He looked great too.  There was no guessing why I had developed such a crush on him 30 years ago.

I heard the songs I knew.  I heard old songs I kind of knew.  I heard new songs I didn't know.  I danced the whole night long.  I never came down off that high I felt. I couldn't understand why the lovers of "serious" music had made fun of them when I was younger.  They were an excellent group of musicians with a tight sound.  Tony Hadley's voice soared above it.  One could never tell that they had had an acrimonious breakup in the past.  They acted like the best of friends.  There was a true camaraderie on that stage.  Tony didn't do much stand-up, but what he did was funny, goofy, and perfectly charming.  He had a few drinks onstage and I think that lubricated the act a bit.  He was definitely becoming tipsy and even forgot the lyrics to the first verse of Lifeline ("At least you know it's live," he joked). 

They were wise to leave the show on a high note.  They only performed two encores: Through the Barricades and Gold.  The audience shouted for more, but I'm glad they left us wanting more and didn't drag out the torture of ending the concert.  I longed to be in the first row where I could have received a handshake, drumsticks, or the set list.  Amidst the cheers, Tony resumed the mike and began jokingly singing, "Start spreading the news...I'm leaving - in a few seconds...to a bar...that's not very far."

I wanted to know where that bar was so I could follow him.

Then reality hit me.  I was not the only major Spandau groupie in the room.  Imagine if I knew the bar he was going to.  If I were able to get through to him despite the band's entourage and all the other fans, what would I do?  Would we argue politics while he blew smoke in my face?  Wouldn't it be better to retain the facade and the fantasy for a while longer?

Leaving the concert I felt that sense of being let down.  I said to Kevin, "Now what?  What do I do with my life now?"  The question was rather dramatic, but in the context of the evening it made perfect sense.  I had waited 30 years to see Spandau Ballet and I received the magical evening I had hoped for.  Would I ever have a band like that to look forward to again?  What did I expect from seeing a concert - now and in the past - other than a night of some enjoyable music and some eye candy?

My only way to move forward is to retain my groupiedom, but in an adult fashion.  I have the Internet now.  There are several ways I can follow the band online.  I purchased their most recent compilation album.  The concert introduced me to both new material  and pre-True songs that I either didn't know very well, or hadn't heard before.  I am a little more well-versed in their music now.  I'm a better fan for it.  I will continue to follow them.  I hope I can see them onstage again.

So now I will just wish Tony and his second wife well, as they raise their Conservative children together.

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