I loved New Kids on the Block!
The Internet has been recently abuzz — an appropriate modifier, given the female-fantasy nature of the subject, but anyway — abuzz with gossip that the New Kids on the Block might be reuniting for a tour. Yeah, the actual New Kids on the Block. I feel that’s an important distinction to make, because when I was in junior high, my sixth-grade teacher announced that a ”Kids on the Block” performance was scheduled at our school. This caused a minor riot and may have single-handedly triggered the onset of puberty in several Chicago-area tweens. But then we filed into the gymnasium and discovered that ”The Kids on the Block” was an educational puppet show. (Perhaps the same could be said about an actual NKOTB performance, but that irony was lost on us.)
I myself identify as a recovering Blockhead. You’d be surprised how many twenty- and thirtysomething hipster chicks have the NKOTB skeleton in their closet, albeit artfully concealed by stacks of Ksubi skinny jeans and ironic Judas Priest T-shirts. (Hey, Girl-Who-Works-at-Urban-Outfitters: You can pretend to love the Arcade Fire and Panda Bear, but a glance at your iTunes reveals that ”You Got It (The Right Stuff)” has been played 307 times. Since October.) My very first concert was the New Kids at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wis. It was a three-hour Coke-sponsored extravaganza that featured, among other treats, Donnie Wahlberg ”singing” reggae while swinging from an aerial harness. My mother still describes that concert as if recalling a stint in a POW camp: ”It was so loud. It was horrible. So much screaming.”
If you were a female or a gay male between the ages of 4 and 15 in 1989, chances are either you or your best friend was obsessed with Danny, Donnie, Jordan, Joe, or Jon. And even if you were a conscientious objector, the stench of Kids inevitably fogged your social bubble. The merch was ubiquitous. The pillowcases. The dolls. The cheap Saturday-morning cartoon that made Hammerman look like Fantasia by comparison. You couldn’t cruise past a Spencer Gifts without being assaulted by that logo with the giant, elliptical O in ”Block.” At 12, that O symbolized my social life: a gaping, mocking void.
In the movie Mallrats, Ben Affleck famously (rhetorically?) asks, ”Who’s your favorite New Kid?” while atop a schoolgirl. This surprisingly profound question begs the inevitable Beatles analogy. If you liked Donnie — the ”bad” one — you were probably the type of girl who’d have pined for John Lennon in 1964. (You might also have nursed a crush on AJ McLean of the late-’90s Backstreet Boys.) Jonathan Knight was the ”quiet Kid,” a soulful Harrison in billowy silk shirts. Doe-eyed Jordan Knight was the charismatic Paul of the group; his epic six-inch rattail could be likened to Paul’s Wings mullet. And Danny Wood, like Ringo, was frequently overlooked but defended by a small cabal of devoted fans; arguably, the song ”Hold On” was Danny’s ”Octopus’s Garden.”
Which leaves us with Joe McIntyre, who defies classification by virtue of his utter awesomeness. (I was a Joey girl, in case you haven’t guessed.) At the height of my New Kids obsession, I bought a giant poster of Joe and taped it to my closet door. Then — get ready to laugh and/or cry, ladies and gentlemen — I dabbed some men’s aftershave on ”Joe’s” neck and shoulders so he would smell like a real guy when I kissed him goodnight. Tragic. Unfortunately, the Drakkar Noir interacted unfavorably with the laminate on the poster, and Joey’s beautiful flesh turned zombie green. I didn’t care. Joey was so beautiful. His hair was shaped like the explosion on Bikini Atoll and his eyes were as blue as those of his idol, Frank Sinatra. (Though nearly two decades have passed, I’ve managed to retain a lot of random facts about Joe McIntyre. His favorite food is Mexican, his middle name is Mulrey, and he’s one of nine kids. Interestingly, I remember more about Joe than I do about actual guys I dated. Maybe it’s because they didn’t have their own Topps trading cards.)
Naturally, when I heard NKOTB might reunite, a flock of exotic butterflies took wing in my lower torso. So many questions! Would the original five all be accounted for? Would Jordan wear bib overalls without a shirt? Would Donnie still fit in the harness? Unfortunately, Danny Wood has dismissed the tour rumors on his blog, crushing the dreams of so many women who still remember that the Kids’ bodyguard was named ”Bizcut” and that Jon’s dog was a shar-pei.
But don’t lose hope, ladies — Wood also teased, ”Never say never.” I choose to take that to heart. No matter what happens, no matter how poorly those NKOTB albums have aged (which is to say, very poorly), I remain a fan. If the Kids taught us anything with songs like ”I’ll Be Loving You (Forever)” and ”Please Don’t Go Girl,” it’s loyalty. Bubblegum may lose its flavor, but it can stick with you for life.