This is a story about the kick-ass time QXZ and I had at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards last night. No, this is not a joke. We were actually there, in the audience. I can email you a scan of the ticket stub if you want.
Now I can hear you saying, "But Walter!" I can hear you saying it even as I type this, before you’ve even read it. You’re saying, "But Walter! Aren’t you and QXZ hardcore anti-corporate activists who dodged tear gas grenades in Quebec City and only listen to jam bands? What interest could you possibly have in a cavalcade of bubblegum pop and crap rock like that?"
Foolish human! Never underestimate the power of Britney!
I was still at work around 6:00 last night, and I’d planned on staying till about 8:00. I had to get a ton of stuff ready that was going out in the morning. Out of nowhere, a guy I work with walks up to me and hands me two big blue tickets with moonmen on them. "You wanna go to this?"
I’d just finished lugging some damn heavy stuff, and I was feeling pretty psychically vulnerable. Coming from anybody else, I’d question this, but I know this guy went to the MTV Movie Awards back in June. (I later found out his wife is a bigwig at MTV—she gets a thank you in the program booklet). Despite his excellent deadpan and my awareness of my own gullibility, I believe him when he says "Destroy these tickets or use them, but do NOT give them to anyone you don’t know."
The only thing I even knew about the show was that Britney was going to perform, because I’d read about PETA being upset about the way she was treating the cheetahs in her act. This meant that my other ticket had to go to QXZ, who just recently was able to tone down his Britney obsession to "perfectly healthy". Though at 6:30 he’d just got home in Brooklyn, I get him on the phone and he heads out the door and hops back on the F Train. I figure I can come in an hour early to finish up my work and I take off too.
I won’t bore you with the details of coordinating via cell phone around Columbus Circle. We just happen to pass a couple of other guys from work (these tickets had been handed out like Halloween candy, apparently, around my office) as we’re going through the barricade. Past the cops, past the crowds, past the photographers, past the big MTV News platform by the stage, and into the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center.
Our two seats are in the nosebleed section—"Family Circle", smack in the middle of the top balcony. (I knew I shouldn’t have made that crack about how my wife-at-MTV co-worker’s baby has a really large head while he was within earshot. Well, he DOES.) This "doors close at 7:30" mandate has got to be bullpuckey, because it’s after 7:30 now and the place is barely a quarter full. It actually filled up damn fast by 8.
Everyone around us is dressed several notches more formal than we. I’ve got a steady uniform of cargo pants and T-shirts that I wouldn’t have changed even if I’d had time to, but most of the women are at your New York barhopping I’ve-got-money-to-blow-on-leather-boots-by-designers-I-can’t-pronounce level. A lot of the guys are just dressed GAP preppy, which is still a long way away from QXZ and I. Add in our stubble and silly grins, and we’re way out of place. But whatever.
On the rail in front of us there is a small message board screen about the same size as the one on a Speak and Spell. It says:
WELCOME TO THE 2001 VIDEO MUSIC AWARDS
To the right of the screen is a small red button. I press it. The screen now says:
CHINA CLIPPER CALLING ALAMEDA
WTF? What does that MEAN? Is that going to be explained? Is it a reference to tonight’s event or something the Opera House always says? And what the hell is an Alameda?
Every commercial break this thing lit up with a new trivia question, either annoyingly hard ("How many years did Arsenio Hall host the VMAs?" "Four"—Gee, that’s sad) or pointlessly easy ("Who performed in a wedding dress at the 1984 VMAs?"). We continued to press the button. It continued to taunt us with the enigmatic
CHINA CLIPPER CALLING ALAMEDA
I wondered if someone was in danger, somewhere. Then I realized there’s probably always someone in danger, somewhere.
At some point, we made some paper airplanes to toss down at anyone who sucks. But then we realized we didn’t want to get thrown out before Britney went on, and that was gonna happen last. We started using the commercial breaks to call everyone we could think of, not really to brag, but just because it was so absurd to tell them what all that noise in the background was. QXZ got his mom on the line in Salt Lake City and she was already watching. How cool is that?
See, this is what’s wrong with New Yorkers. If something bad happens to them, they’ll whine about it for hours, but random good things they have to pretend are no big deal so as to appear cool. I’ve lived here five years and I still look up when I’m in midtown. Anyway, this belongs in another node.
So, you probably want to hear about the opening dance routine with J-Lo. She had a hat on for half of it, and we were so far away that if it had been anyone but her you wouldn’t have been able to tell it was her, if you know what I mean. But this, along with all the other dance routines that night (even, I must say, N’Sync’s) was just really great to watch. When I’m watching TV, I really don’t give a shit about dance. But this was just so elaborate and high-energy to a degree the cameras weren’t even attempting to catch, preferring to zazz the show up with hyper editing. I was blown away by how much I got off on that fascistic display of manic conformity. (I mean that mostly in the literal bundle-of-sticks way, but also a tiny bit in the creepy Triumph of the Will way.)
In general, QXZ and I cheered our asses off for all the geeks and dorks in the house, like Walken and Tenacious D, and for the Weezer and Gorillaz nominations. Let me just sum up what I remember of all the various acts:
Staind and Linkin Park: Oh Jebus. The torturous, torturous pain. Couldn’t have sucked more with an electrified sucking machine (which some call an Electrolux). The badass thing these days is to spell your name wrong, just like 5 years ago it was to put a number in it. Sorry, Sum 41, you’re wasting your time.
Surprise appearance by Michael Jackson: YES! Thriller was my first album, and Moonwalker was my favorite movie when I was ten. I don’t care about the pedophilia, I don’t care about the surgery; when you see this guy dance, you applaud. Hard.
Alicia Keys: I could see her hands the whole time, and this girl can PLAY. She’ll stick around, so jump on the bandwagon now.
Missy Elliott: Meh.
U2: Ladies and gentlemen: Just kidding! I don’t have any idea why they weren’t on stage, but I bet somebody got fired.
Sting: They announced he was gonna show up and he never did. Maybe U2 was busy stuffing his strangled body in a dumpster because he sucks so much.
And last, and NEVER least: The industrious Miss Spears. Sigh. There were cages. There was Me-Jane costumery. There was a very symbolic python. She sang the world premiere of "Slave 4 U". What more could you ask for, except to be one of the lucky ones in the pit by her ankles?
After her performance, Kid Rock took the stage and QXZ promptly let his paper airplane fly. He was sorely disappointed when it plummeted to the floor before leaving the balcony. I followed suit. Mine went about two feet and crashed into the face of the girl one row down. I said I was sorry, but I think she could tell I didn’t mean it. (That girl had been singing along to Pop.) An usher glared at me, but they didn’t try to remove us or anything.
QXZ: You suck.
Walter: I know.
As we were getting up to go, I saw one of the co-workers I’d seen previously. He said he was heading down to the green room and asked us if we had passes. We didn’t. Ignoring my shyness, I was determined to concoct a way to get in there, scrappy duds and all. Luckily, on the way I bumped into quite a few more folks from work, one of whom let us borrow his. So the two of us breezed in there with just the one pass, and soon discovered what we already knew: The famous people hang out there BEFORE they go on, not after. Dammit.
So we took off. Waiting for the A train, we talked to a glitter girl who had to be thirty, who was babbling ecstatically about how great the show was. She’d finagled a ticket that was far from free. Man. I enjoyed myself tremendously, but I certainly wouldn’t call it good. Either way, I wore my green room pass all the way home.