Yo! Kids! What up?
Jami Bittner of West Philadelphia is 16 and a half. She hasn’t had an easy life.
“My father died when I was 12,” Bittner smiles weakly through her heavily made-up face. A single strand of brown hair falls over her left eye. “I didn’t really have anyone to talk to. But then they came along. They served as an emotional crutch—they were there for me.”
“They” are NKOTB, aka New Kids on the Block, Our Towne’s multimillion-selling, teen-heartbreaking, hotel-wrecking, merchandise-hawking vocal quintet. On this Good Friday, the Fab Five are hitting the road with hopes of resurrecting the female teen spirit that led them to sell 80 million albums, singles, and videos, and foist $500 million worth of T-shirts and souvenirs on a willing public. In six hours they go on stage in Philadelphia for their first show since 1992. Right now, 500 girls and 3 boys await their appearance at the Wall record store in the King of Prussia mall.
Bittner is first in line. To obtain this honor, she got up at 4:30 a.m. and took a $45 cab ride. After buying roses for the boys, she reached the Wall at 7 a.m.
“A few years ago, I met their parents at J. C. Penney and I was crying so hard that they wanted to call an ambulance,” says Bittner. “This time I forgot my asthma inhaler. I swear I’m going to take my shirt off in front of them.”
Whereas an in-store appearance four years ago might have attracted 5,000 fans, the 500 present are the NKOTB cult acolytes, not swayed by flagging record sales or ridicule from their peers. Imagine the hardy Spartans who defended Thermopylae from swarms of Persian invaders.
There they aaare!!! Donnnee!!!!! Joooeey! I luuuv you!
You remember the faces if not their individual names: Danny Wood, 24, dark, mysterious, and always slightly bemused about the whole affair. Donnie Wahlberg, 24, the goateed de facto chairman of the kids and undefeated champ of scraps coast to coast. Minister’s son, Jordan Knight, 23, serene as he fiddles with a video cam. Joey McIntyre, 21, the youngest, a sleepy grin on his matinee idol face. Jonathan Knight, 25, the oldest and the Zeppo Marx of the fivesome, is absent, a purported victim of an equestrian mishap.
Jami Bittner almost falls to her knees. Tears pour down her face as she moves toward the group. Fortunately, she’s too messed up to take off her shirt. After she stops shuddering, she tries to speak.
“I love you all so much, I—God—I … think you’re all, well—God—great.”
Jordan gives her a beatific grin, and Jami goes away weepy and happy, the small fortune she spent well worth the 17 seconds of joy.
Two wise guys in grunge clothing smirk through the line and lavish the band with false praise. For a second, Donnie looks as though he’s going to pop one of them. But this is the kinder and gentler New Kids; he gives his best “fuck you” smile and turns toward Nora.
Nora is a well-endowed big girl in overalls. She wants Donnie’s autograph. On her right breast. Donnie obliges.
Joey gets thirsty and requests a beverage. Cokes and water are available. But Joey’s got a craving.
“Can you get me a root beer?” Joey says to no one in particular. “Not in a can. One with ice. Thanks, man—I love you.”
As Joey waits for his beverage—they’ll bring him two just to be on the safe side—he looks at the screeching devotees impatiently holding memorabilia to be signed. He sighs, “Here we go again.”