i am sam (jessie nelson, 2001)

live pink

In January of 1981, a friend and I played hooky from work on Reagan's first Inauguration Day to attend a Punk Inaugural Ball at the Mabuhay, headlined by a drag band called Sluts-a-Go-Go. It's been more than twenty years, but one thing from that night still sticks with me, when the Sluts sang "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" while incense burned. There I was, in a punk club at the dawn of the Reagan Era, listening to men in drag sing a Broadway version of hippiedom, and I'm not much for irony, for that matter ... in any event, I felt one with the band and the crowd, I wasn't alienated from America in that moment, I was as close to Hippie Community as I'd ever been in the actual hippie days, and I started to cry at the ridiculous wonder of it all.

Last night, Pink sang the words you can read down below from "Just Like a Pill," while a gazillion screaming 14-year-old girls sang along at the tops of their lungs, and on one level, I belonged there about as much as I'd belonged at the Mabuhay so many years ago, which is to say, not at all. In 1981 I was neither a drag queen or, if I'm honest, a punk ... I was a factory worker with a wife and two kids. In 2002, I'm not 14 years old, I'm not a girl ... I'm a Lecturer at a prestigious university, my kids are both enough older than Pink that they weren't interested in attending the concert. But I started singing along, too, and got more than one tear in my eye as we all sang:

I'll think I'll get out of here
Where I can run just as fast as I can
To the middle of nowhere
To the middle of my frustrated fears

The opening act, an all-woman thrash band named Candy Ass, wasn't much, but they set the tone for the night when the lead singer asked the kids in the crowd if they'd like to be up onstage with the band. The kids all screamed yes, and the singer said "well, a couple of months ago, we were like you ... we were in the crowd. We played a show in L.A. with about 20 people in the audience, and they all hated us, but Pink was at that show, and afterwards she came up to us and asked if we'd like our dreams to come true, and when we said yes, she invited us to come on tour with her. So Pink, thanks for helping make our dreams come true."

She sure seemed to be speaking for most of the people in the audience with that last sentence.

As for the star herself, like the Sluts-a-Go-Go, she had a sixties fixation going that was hard to fathom. Where did it come from? She sang a medley of songs made famous by one of her greatest influences, Janis Joplin, and it made sense ... Pink would be an excellent choice to play Janis if that movie gets made in the next five years ... but you had to wonder, how did Janis, who died more than a decade before Pink was even born, become an influence on Pink?

The show had many highlights ... the funnest one came during "Respect," when Pink had the girls in the audience screaming "yeah!" every time she said "ladies" or "sistas" (she said she didn't want to leave the guys out, so she was going to offer us the chance to have the thrill of a lifetime for 3 minutes 20, the chance to be female ... we could scream, too) ... the oddest one for me came with the final song of the night, "Don't Let Me Get Me." This was the anthem all the girls had been waiting for, and seeing and hearing them sing along to this complex song was bizarre. What does it mean when a bunch of kids happily shout out "I wanna be somebody else"? The closest thing I can think of is when the audience would sing along with Johnny Rotten's "No Future!" ... as if in the act of proclaiming our nihilism, we were expressing our love of life. Except I don't ever remember wanting to be Johnny Rotten, while I think a lot of people in that audience would have been happy if the "somebody else" they got to be was in fact the woman who introduced those words to us in the first place: Pink.


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