ROCK DEAD, MALL EMPTY 


It used to seem so easy in the '80s: jelly bracelets and gelatinous roles, mall-life transcendence, tribal androgyny and the whiplash of the double-pretend-double-negative of your George Michael and O'Dowd looking gay, but certainly not being gay Ã? and then ultimately rising gay, alas. It was the beginning of the end of the world. And it was perfect.

But that was then, and this is Orlando.

Fast-forward some 20 cynicism-soaked years later, and the clouds of naiveté rest somewhere between Clear Channel's knees, leaving only dirty clarity for the dirty imagination. Rock is dead, and the mall is empty.

"Are you going to the Psychedelic Furs concert tonight?" frosts an '80s ally from her raised-hair salon chair, flips of foil creating the ultimate in temporary Mad-Max rebellion.

"Duh," I duh. "Of course I am."

And so it goes: the momentary high of a short trip down memory lane following a long trip down I-4 to reach nostalgia island – the fountain of youth – also known as the House of Blues. This is all we can do these days, and by some accounts, I guess we're lucky we can even do it. Some fortress of exhaustive DVD collections, handpicked mood-shows and the casual blur of booze, designed to make everything "now" just go away.

Only it doesn't. Rustling up a couple of past-living friends, I pile myself into the back of a pickup for another of these shots in the dark. There's hope that this one might take, though, because the Psychedelic Furs are (were?) really, really good.

"There's no new album to promote!" I bliss.

"Yay! None of that pesky artistic redirection to deal with!" comes the response.

In fact, no direction at all (outside of a certain radius, that is). I've caught wind that ankle model Jim Faherty is to be convening at Wolfgang Puck's for some pre-Furs martini throat burning, so we mark it down on our itinerary. They have sushi there. And nothing makes my shoulder pads sturdier than a California roll soaked in vodka. Joan Collins be damned.

A few melony concoctions atop room-temperature fishy things later, and everything has turned into a DeLorean with cocaine on the dashboard. The experiment is a remarkable success, even if there is a glaring old lady with a roll-around oxygen tank squeezed up against our adjoining table. Block it out, I think to myself. We'll be young forever, er, forever young. Especially if Faherty never shows up.

The will-call hostess at the HOB issues the knowing glance of a nurse at a methadone clinic before issuing my tix and loge passes without even asking my name. I slap the inside of my elbow in kind. This is the kind of exchange I've become accustomed to; just one more hit and I'll be fine. Tell that to the Psychedelic Furs.

By the time of entry, I'm full-on, Square-Peg Sarah Jessica gazing with an awkward smile across the flotsam of 30somethings washing up towards the stage.

"It's just like the '80s, except with bald spots!" I type into my imaginary laptop.

We situate ourselves in the loge thoroughfare at the most ideal of locales, proud of our superiority (in seat height, only) and ready for a good 30something sit-down show. And then it happens. The specter of my past life walks by like a reminder of all who used to try to be heterosexual. Jamie, a waitress at the House, breezes by with informed smirk on her face, the same smirk she's had since eighth grade.

One night a couple of years ago, having just gotten stoned with Herbie "Rock-it" Hancock backstage, Jamie breezed by in a similar manner and mouthed (from what I could make out from beneath the cannabis), "Billy Manes ... I never forget a face." Since then, she's popped up at all of my House of Blues declines, including the Aimee Mann one where I fell on my own face. She's never changed and I'm never sober.

Slapping me out of my reverie, another staff member gives me some bad news.

"We got the perfect seats!" I flub.

"I know. That's why I'm here," she wet rags. "These seats are reserved for a large party."

Large party? Guess who. Goddamn Jim Faherty.

We achieve similar seating arrangements on the opposite side just before the show begins. We quickly start making jokes about a pink scarf and the odd woman wearing it just in front of the stage. Throughout the show, she'll sway mildly to and fro, apparently waiting for her "Pretty in Pink" moment, and looking genuinely distilled ... just like most everybody here.

Everybody but the crazy Asian girl at the center of the loge, all wrapped up in GHB splendor and slamming her hair to the Mötley Crüe concert inside her head.

My friends and I switch to the topic always at hand, naturally, as they start trying to convince me that head Fur Richard Butler is gay. Sure, he's preening around like a Mary on fire, but my old defense mechanisms take over, squelching the obvious with an ambivalent, "No, he is NOT!" Foiled again.

By the time "Heartbreak Beat" oozes from the amps, I'm breaking my feet to make it down to the floor for some dumb-ass pogo camaraderie with my gal-pals.

"It feels just like '85!" effuses another personality standing outside my circle jump.

"Totally!"

And I wish it was. But it isn't. Just to make sure we know that, my Mary crew and I make way for a perfunctory visit to the theme-park version of homosexuality, Mannequins at Pleasure Island. A Mary-go-round it is too, its rotating dance floor re-creating the most embarrassing moments of roller-rink entry, that is if too many gay drinks count as wheels on your feet.

It only sobers and stings, reminding me how much more fun it was when gay was a secret, and mall trash was mall treasure. The ghost in you, she don't fade away.

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