Michael Jordon. Brett Favre. Sugar Ray Leonard. Roger Clemens.
Sometimes it is hard for the great ones to walk away. They think they are ready to retire and yet the thrill of competition calls them back for more.
I am no different.
Last year, after attending the NKOTBSB concert in Buffalo, I announced my retirement from the New Kids on the Block (NKOTB) specifically and the boy band game generally. I’d done all I could do; I’d seen the big 3 (NKOTB, Backstreet Boys (BSB) and N’Sync) live. I’d adequately relived the nostalgia of my childhood. I thought I’d reached the end of the road.
I, like most girls my age, was a really big NKOTB fan back in the day. At 12 years old, my bedroom had been literally wallpapered with posters of the group. I don’t think there was an inch of space that wasn’t covered. I even had posters on the ceiling. God bless my parents and their belief in freedom of expression – most of my friends were not given that much leeway in their decorating choices. I spent enough money on teeny bopper magazines, buttons, books, tapes, t-shirt, pillowcases and videos to perhaps finance a down payment on a house. I used to argue with my father over the TV – he would want to put on the evening news, but I’d want to see the end of MTV’s Total Request Live (TRL) to see if NKOTB had the number one video again. For about three years, they were the most important thing in the world to me. I dreamed of someday becoming Mrs. Joey McIntyre, though I knew that would never really happen. I was a pre-teen girl, not crazy. But I was pretty sure if I could just somehow meet Joe, I could die happy.
And then one day I didn’t care anymore. I don’t really remember when exactly I stopped listening to their music or when the posters came down. I assume I didn’t just wake up one day totally over the phenomena; I’m sure it was a gradual evolution as they fell out of favor and my musical tastes changed with age. Eventually you put away your childish things and move on. By the time I entered high school, I was far more interested in grunge music than boy bands. We used to laugh at the girls who didn’t get the memo that the era of NKOTB was over and who continued to obsess over them. It was time to grow up.
That didn’t mean I completely forgot about NKOTB; I may have started listening to Metallica and Pearl Jam, but if I somehow heard “Hangin’ Tough” I would smile and think about how nuts we had been over them. They were fond memories. One of my sorority sisters, “S,” had also been a big fan of the group and our mutual former admiration of them became a running joke between us; if we somehow stumbled upon some (cheap) NKOTB merchandise, we’d buy it for the other person as a gag gift. We joked that if NKOTB ever reunited that we’d go to the concert together and relive the glory days.
Toward the end of college, N’Sync and Backstreet Boys were becoming popular. Their songs were catchy and it was perfectly acceptable to admit liking their music as a guilty pleasure. But obviously it wasn’t the same as NKOTB had been; while the next generation of girls were screaming their heads off and wallpapering their bedroom walls, I barely knew the names of the members of either group. I was the same age or older than most of the guys; they were no longer some dreamy older boys, but contemporaries. Some of my friends and I went to see N’Sync in concert, partially as a goof and partially because we did enjoy some of their songs and I remember wishing that I had brought ear plugs to drown out all the tween screaming and being very upset that I couldn’t buy a beer to help get me through the experience. It was a good window into what my peers and I had been like during the NKOTB heyday and it was eardrum shattering.
When NKOTB eventually reunited three years ago and went back out on tour, I kept my word and went to see them with S. When she asked if I wanted to see NKOTBSB (the merging of New Kids and the Backstreet Boys), I was willing to go because I’d never seen BSB live and I figured I might as well round out the major boy band trilogy. I was pretty adamant that this was my last time; even though I always had fun, it was more because of the company than the show. Seeing NKOTB live was beginning to have diminishing returns. I’d relived the glory days, but I was ready to close the chapter. The concerts were getting a little repetitive as their discography is fairly limited; even with a new album, you tend to hear the same songs at each show. We had great seats for that show in Buffalo and I got lots of great pictures, which I thought was a good note to end my boy band career on.
So when S asked if I wanted to go to Hershey, PA to see NKOTBSB, I did consider turning her down. I wasn’t sure I wanted to travel that far to see NKOTB for a fifth time. But I don’t get to see S very often nowadays and the prospect of hanging out with her for a weekend was very tempting. What ultimately sold me was that NKOTBSB were not going to be the only acts performing; I’d be able to see other artists that I like but probably would never go see on their own or who I would have limited opportunity to go see in the future. I was ready to come out of my yearlong retirement for one last show. When 98 degrees, another boy band from the BSB/N’Sync years, announced that they would be reuniting for one night at the festival, it was just the icing on the cake. Now I would have really seen everything.
What I hadn’t anticipated was our tickets for the Mixtape Festival also entitled us to a meet and greet with New Kids on the Block. 23 years later, my childhood dream was going to come true. For about five minutes after S told me this news, I was transported back to being 12 years old. I called the only person who would really get the significance of this moment – my mom, who had endured more NKOTB than she probably ever wanted to. She was suitably impressed.
NKOTB performed both nights and they were entertaining as usual. The only real downside of the festival, beyond the obvious mismanagement, was dealing with the NKOTB fans. While S and I have a firm grasp on reality and go to these shows to briefly relive our pasts, a lot of these women are straight up nuts. They never got beyond that youthful obsession and it honestly makes me uncomfortable to be around them for any length of time. These women follow NKOTB around like the Grateful Dead – they go to multiple concerts a year and go on the NKOTB cruise every year. They seem to think that they know the guys in the band and I overheard plenty of conversations that I wish I could unhear. It’s like they are twelve year olds trapped in grown women’s bodies. It’s all just really embarrassing. I joked with S that all NKOTB shows should also have a mental health tent. I’m all for fandom and having a good time, but there reaches a point when you should realize you are making a fool of yourself. I generally am more comfortable hanging out with men than women to begin with, but some of these women were just really exhausting. Because our tickets were part of the ultimate VIP package, we definitely ran into the fans at the crazier end of the spectrum. One woman said that she could have bought a car for the money she spent on tickets, transportation and lodging for this concert. We met some nice people, but there were a lot of wackos too.
Because of the issues on Friday, we greatly lowered our expectations for the meet and greet Saturday morning. Unlike most of the people there, we’d never done this before. We waited another 2 ½ hours in line before it was our group’s turn to go in and “meet” Joe, Jordan, Jon, Donnie and Danny; I say “meet” because the whole experience was over in about a minute. You got the chance to hug all the members and then your group of 10 people would get your picture taken, 2 fans to each New Kid. While you were waiting in line, the fans were expected to put themselves into groups of 10 and to work out who would stand with what New Kid. Believe me, this was much more complicated than it sounds, as certain members (Joe, Donnie and Jordan) are more popular than others (Jonathan and Danny). So finding people willing to stand next to the latter group proved to be a challenge; one of the jokes that came out of the weekend was that instead of saying “I’m taking one for the team” we now say “I’m standing next to Danny.” Same meaning. S and I managed to align ourselves with 8 other people and worked out who was standing next to whom. We were ready to meet and greet NKOTB.
So, of course, there had to be a complication.
Apparently some of the people ahead of us had not been able to get themselves into groups of an even 10 people, so when we were on the on deck circle there were suddenly two extra people in our group who had been bumped from the previous group. This totally threw off our perfectly planned out fan/New Kid alignment. By the time we realized what was happening, it was our time to meet the New Kids. I managed to quickly trade with someone so I still got Joe, but the rest of our group wasn’t so lucky. When one of the strangers in our group realized that she wasn’t going to be next to Donnie, she apparently said “This is my dream” and shoved poor S out of the way to get to him first. S really had no interest in standing next to Donnie – she was supposed to be next to Jordan before the shift and was simply going to the next available member. Like I said – crazy. Donnie would up apologizing for S for what happened.
As for me, I didn’t necessarily get to fully soak in my few seconds with Joe before the picture as I was watching the chaos unfold behind me. I hugged him and did talk to him for a few seconds – I think I told him that this made my inner child very happy – he put his arm around me for the photo, and then it was over. It wasn’t life changing and I didn’t get chills or anything, but it was strangely fulfilling. Now I could retire. There was nothing left for me to accomplish. I’d lived my dream, even though I knew it wouldn’t mean that much to me in my 30s as it would have in my teens. It was still a cool experience, and I’ll admit to being anxious to see the photo when it is finally posted so I have some tangible proof of the moment. It was all over so quickly.
And I learned a valuable lesson – when you say “now I can die happy” you probably need to be more specific; a little over 24 hours after meeting Joe, I was almost run off the highway by a tractor trailer on my way home. The guy apparently couldn’t see me and merged into my lane while I was alongside him. I managed to speed up and drive on the shoulder to avoid getting hit, but I frankly didn’t expect to be facing my mortality that quickly after the meet and greet.
So now I am really retired and this time it should stick. It’s been a fun ride, but I’m done. At the rate I’m going, I should finally get to meet Brad Pitt sometime in my 50s.