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Style & Culture | L.A. Centric / Mary McNamara

Our secret code word is Wham

November 26, 2002|Mary McNamara

Last Monday night, the marquee of the Wiltern Theatre announced the L.A. stop of a five-city Blondie tour. It might as well have read "Welcome Back, Class of 1981."

The line went around the block as early as 7 for a show that started at 8 because the Wiltern now has general admission tickets, which includes limited seating, and this was a crowd that appreciates the importance of good seating. By 7:30, the doors were open and a bunch of thirtysomethings nursed cocktails in plastic cups, no doubt mentally calculating baby-sitting fees while waiting patiently for the opening band.

There was no rowdy behavior, no one actively looking to score. There was no passing of bottles or bongs or bindles, only business cards.

"Where is the steam-

table buffet?" my brother asked as we quickly claimed seats.

It didn't help much that the newly redone Wiltern, at least when the lights are up, looks like a bar at an airport Hilton, a bar with a name like "Whispers" or "Moonshadows." Several levels of soothingly mauve carpet dotted with elevated cafe tables lead to "the Pit" -- a dance area with a shining wood floor right out of Pottery Barn.

On this evening, the crowd in the Pit smiled and chatted and looked more like dutiful participants in an office holiday party than the semi-glam rockers we all presumably aspired to be in our youth. "And here come Fran and Elise from Human Resources," said my brother, as two women with painfully sensible haircuts and nice leather backpacks got their hands stamped and joined the polite murmur of the Pit.

"I remember at my first Blondie concert there were Frisbees flying around with joints taped to them," he said wistfully, surveying the dinner menu. "Now we can have salmon and tiramisu. Now we can have rice and steamed veggies. Broc on."

It is a slender demographic, Blondie fans, figuratively, if no longer literally, made up mostly of those born at the tail end of the baby boom and just before what became known as Gen X. Culturally, it is the true Lost Generation -- we are neither Ken Kesey nor Douglas Coup-

land, we are certainly not Dave Eggers. "How '70s of you," said one 50-ish friend on hearing of my Blondie plans. "No, no," I said, "how '80s of me," and that is pretty much the problem in a nutshell.

Boomers now control the retro world as well and they seem to have forgotten that anyone other than Bruce Springsteen and Van Morrison made music between 1975 and the emergence of Snoop Dogg. One rock critic threw up his hands, threw up his hands, when I said I thought Blondie's music was still great. But that's the trouble with middle-aged men these days; they're so busy trying to convince the world that they really do like Eminem that they have forgotten several decades of their past.

Or maybe they just blocked it -- all that Duran Duran and Stray Cats, all that early Madonna -- because so much of it was pretty awful and because, good or bad, it's the music of our youth that makes the strongest imprint.


In-between generation

So Bob Dylan still gets more ink than most contemporary artists when he goes on tour, critics inevitably noting with sheepish self-adoration the balding pates and spreading waistlines of the audience. The Rolling Stones recently hit the road with a crepey, creepy Keith Richards as their media front man. Even Paul McCartney has been hoisted out of semi-retirement, looking ghastly and surrounded by ghosts, despite his newly wedded bliss.

For those of us too young for Botox, too old for a tongue stud, this is the story of our lives. Not all of us were brave enough to appreciate Patti Smith and most of us were too old to go clubbing by the time Kurt Cobain had his way. So a Blondie concert is a rare and wonderful refuge, a chance to spend time in the company of our own kind -- people who read Interview instead of Rolling Stone, who remember when the Pyramid Club was still cool and Amstel Light the height of beer-swilling sophistication.

Which explains why, by the time the band took the stage at 9:15, the place was absolutely packed. Still polite, even subdued, but packed. And, surprisingly, not everyone was over 30 and under 50. Youngsters in wraparounds and flannel jackets, in seamed stockings and bowling shoes mingled with their elders. A trio of young women tricked out in East Village circa 1986 huddled near the front. Their names were Heather, Cameron and Paige and they love Blondie.

"We've been fans all our lives, since we were, like, 5," said Heather, whose parents introduced her to the group.

She wore a mini-kilt slung with studded black leather belts, black fishnets and a tank top that exposed her spectacularly tattooed arms. Her hair was aubergine, her lip pierced, her eyebrows plucked within an inch of their lives and she looked just fabulous.

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