Ever watch someone disappear right before your eyes? I have. In fact, last Saturday (Jan. 28) I witnessed a larger-than-life someone in the process of receding into the alternate universe that is fame. The scene was the cavernous "backstage" area at the Bank Atlantic Center (fka Office Depot Center) in Fort Lauderdale, after my lovely wife and I had seen an arena-sized Juanes concert. The show itself was exactly what we expected, as it was essentially the same set we saw a few times in 2005, albeit somewhat more expansive. While those dates were in midsized theaters (like Hard Rock Live), thanks to the quadruple-platinum status of Mi Sangre, this leg of the tour is running through arenas.
There was nothing too weird about the show. Juanes' expressive and accessible rock & roll easily fills up an arena. You don't sell 4 million records in the U.S. by being impenetrable. And though his amazing band has made a few of the songs darker in texture, the music maintained the celebratory joy that has connected Juanes with audiences around the world. No, what was striking to me was what happened after the concert.
Let me say this first: I'm not big on backstage visits. I've never understood the point of being "introduced" to an artist, although I understand why some fans enjoy it. But this is a guy who I interviewed over two days of rehearsals in West Palm Beach and who took my wife and me out to Acme Oyster House in New Orleans for a post-jazz fest dinner. I thought it would be nice to say hello. I'm not accustomed to what's normal for after-show meet-and-greets, but I do know it's not normal for half of the concert crowd to be walking around the show wearing laminates and backstage passes.
Along with the other 200 to 300 hundred people crammed into the hallway, we waited. We saw the creepy crystal guy that we ran into at Langerado stealing posters and bottled water. We saw two (!) Miss Latina USA's striding purposefully down the corridor. We met producer/engineer/Latin Grammy nominee/Full Sail alumnus Sebastian Krys (who was nice enough to give us a ride back to our hotel when he saw us wandering aimlessly around the parking lot later).
We saw a few other folks milling around looking important, and we saw everyone else jammed up against Juanes' dressing room door like it was the last train of the night out of Grand Central. It was absolute insanity, and we were in the middle of it. When we finally got in the room (with plenty of angry eyes boring holes in our backs), we were confronted by a bizarre blend of frantic activity, claustrophobic immobility and body odor. Entire extended families had been in and out; friends, acquaintances, contest winners, label reps and various other people had received their 10 seconds with the rock star … oh yeah, the rock star.
Standing there, in the middle of the room, hidden by the crush of people, was a blank-eyed, radio-friendly, unit-shifting entity, obligingly allowing his picture to be taken, his hand shaken and his ear bent. Early in 2005, I met an amiable, gregarious rock-star-in-waiting, someone who, despite being torn in multiple directions by the expectations being laid upon Mi Sangre, was comfortable with himself and the swirl of activity around him. Now, after nearly a year of worldwide touring, prestigious awards and enough album sales to displace cocaine as his country's biggest export, that Juanes appears to be disappearing. The gentle smile is still there, but a new sense of detachment was palpable. Hell, I guess you'd have to be somewhat detached to act nice to that many strangers, night after night. Naturally, he was unfailingly polite and sweet; he remembered my wife and me and at least appeared to be interested in the story I told him. (He probably wasn't, though I know I wouldn't be.) We said our goodbyes and left. In with the next two fans.
The encounter was phenomenally depressing, and I don't know why. It's not like I feel sorry for the multiplatinum rock star or, God forbid, think he's turning into some shallow asshole. Nothing could be further from the truth. But the image of this small, soft-spoken guy stuck standing for hours on the dirty carpet of an arena dressing room shaking hands and feigning interest in strangers was the image of a real person being subsumed by the fame that he had once surely desired.
(Of course, by the time we got in there, the cheese tray was wiped out, so maybe that's why I was thinking dark thoughts.)
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
Quite a few people including the VP of publicity at Sirius took a moment out of their day to let me know that the Howard Stern Show does, indeed, have replays. But there are only two: one at 9 p.m. on Sirius 100 and a "West Coast feed" at 9 a.m. on Sirius 101. Still, Opie and Anthony (on XM) is the better firstname.lastname@example.org