Yo! Kids! What up?

No use complaining when you are playing New York on a Saturday night. While it may be only the grubby Academy Theater and not the Garden, a whiff of New Kidmania remains. By nightfall, about a thousand fans mill about West 43rd Street across from the New York Times building. The young ladies and the paper of record engage in a bit of a culture clash when Times delivery trucks try to get the early Sunday editions out to its erudite readers. The fans, not many concerned about the latest shenanigans in Bosnia, yield no ground.

From an upstairs perch, I open a window and look down. For three seconds I’m a teen idol. First screeching, then yowls of anger. “Get us Jordan! Pleeese!!”

Danny Wood smiles. He’s seen it so many times, it doesn’t faze him at all.

“I like our fans a lot,” Wood says. “Most of them are really polite when they come to my house. It’s the ones who don’t have a life outside of us that concern me.”

Wood, who still lives with his parents in Dorchester, has declared one aspect of his life off-limits: his son. While the fact is not widely publicized, two New Kids, Wood and Wahlberg, have kids of their own. They remain single.

“That’s none of your business,” Wood says. “If someone asks me about that, I don’t answer them. I just look straight ahead. I don’t want him to be involved with all of this. I’ll let him decide when he’s old enough.”

Pretty mature words from a teen pinup. Talking with other band members, one finds a mixture of young adults mature beyond their years and also evidence that growing up a rich New Kid created a parallel universe.

“When I first got started, all I really wanted to do was make a few dollars, get laid, and have a few people recognize me,” Wahlberg says with a grin. He scratches his goatee and tugs at his University of Michigan basketball jersey while he awaits the beginning of the New York sound check. When asked how fame and wealth have affected him, Wahlberg turns philosophical.

“I’d like to raise my kids just like my dad did; I just don’t want to drive a truck. I’ve learned to accept things the way they are. Sure, I could go out and buy 10 Ferraris tomorrow. But when I get home and see my Range Rover, I say to myself, ‘I love my Range Rover. What do I need 10 Ferraris for?'”

Wahlberg departs into the chaotic backstage of the Academy. Rumors abound that the Gloved One might attend. MTV VJ John Norris cools his heels in the basement bemoaning the lack of substance on his network. MTV isn’t playing NKOTB. Norris will wait for over an hour. Upstairs, members of Diva Soul, a girl group that Wood manages, demand to see their boss. To top it off, the guy supposed to iron Joey’s shirt went to get a haircut.

Jordan and Donnie finally come down the stairs to chat with Norris. When he asks why six-year-olds aren’t coming to their shows anymore, Knight cracks, “Now they have Barney.”

“Ten minutes to showtime,” shouts a handler. Danny borrows a pen and signs contracts. Downstairs, Donnie is finishing up with Norris when little brother Marky Mark appears. Mark, looking very James Deanish, is fully clothed and barely awake. He’s been night-shooting The Basketball Diaries with Leonardo DiCaprio. When Donnie hugs him, he winces. Donnie clasps his hand on Marky’s shoulder in an older-brother way, affectionately head-butts him, and says, “It’s gonna be funky.” Marky looks confused.

After the show, the main topic is not funkiness.
First, there is the girl almost crushed to death. As she lies waiting for an ambulance, Danny comes out to see how she’s doing. The girl screams at Danny, telling him it’s his fault for dancing so suggestively. Upstairs, the band towel themselves off and ask like the excited children they used to be, “Did you see him? He was here.” Yes, Michael Jackson had made a cameo appearance, disguised with a long beard and surrounded by a gaggle of hefty security men. No, he doesn’t wander backstage to give advice about how to make the transition from kid performer to cultural icon. Perhaps, considering Jackson’s recent problems, this is for the best.

But even Jackson’s appearance pales before the big news of the night: Jordan said the F-word on stage for the first time!

The next day, Easter Sunday, the NKOTB tour bus snakes its way out of New York. Jordan and his brother Chris watch Martin Lawrence on videotape. After a while, Jordan sits down with some Chicken McNuggets and a Quarter Pounder, and talks about last night’s cussing.

“I used to think if I said fuck on stage, I’d lose everything.” He speaks in a soft voice and a thoughtful manner. A valiant attempt at sideburns doesn’t hide his altar boy face. “We were in such a fishbowl it was hard for any of us to be ourselves. That was a part of the problem for us; I don’t think you can be happy unless you’re being yourself.”

It is not clear whether Knight realizes that not being themselves made the New Kids very rich
. He does know it may prevent NKOTB from ever being taken seriously as adult performers by the hip crowd.

“My brother Chris [who is black, adopted by Knight’s parents] told me, ‘Your show is good but because of who you are, I wouldn’t go.’ Sure, that bothers me, but I’m not going to complain. I could complain about our songs not getting played on the radio, but hey, here I am on tour with a great band, I have a great family, I’m having a great time. I have nothing to complain about.”

In fact, Jordan and the rest of NKOTB seem more concerned about the mean streets of Boston they roamed a decade ago than about record sales. As they describe the current state of urban affairs, they come across as the oldest twentysomethings you’d ever meet.

“Back when I was 14 or 15, if someone said something to you, you’d get in a fight. Now, they pull a gun on you,” Wahlberg says. “I guess I had a nose for trouble. People started trying to test me … saying our music sucked. I thought I was a wuss if I walked away. Now I know the test is if I can keep passing by and not start something.”

If Wahlberg sounds like a reformed sinner, Jordan Knight is auditioning for an internship with Mother Theresa.

“Kids today, they seem so lost. They don’t have any real strong leaders telling them the right way. A lot of them don’t have fathers. They need a lot of education to deal with the problems of living in the city. I need to learn more but I think we need to open community centers.”

What message would Jordan send out to the children?

“I’d tell them, ‘You’re great.’ I’d raise their self-esteem. Try and give them hope. The young guys need to be nurtured and taught that it takes a stronger man to say sorry than pull a gun. It takes a stronger man to show their [sic] vulnerability.”

Meet the New Kids. Not the same as the Old Kids.