The Spice of Life

As I was trying to keep my head above the torrent of hormones that was flooding Fiddler's Green during the August 5 Spice Girls concert, I found myself wondering what had brought me to this extraordinarily strange place. And then the answer came to me: sperm. Had I simply rolled over and gone to sleep that night nearly six years ago, my five-year-old twin daughters, Lora and Ellie, would not have been beside me on the amphitheater lawn, hollering like brainwashed extras from Invasion of the Booty Shakers. Instead, I would have been at the Beastie Boys show across town shaking a little booty of my own and perhaps snickering at the thought of those thousands of parents whose spawn had forced them to pay a visit to Spice World. Life's full of repercussions, isn't it?

Don't get me wrong: I love my daughters, and their older brother, Nick, with every cell of my being, and I can't imagine life without them--nor do I want to. But that doesn't mean that either my wife, Deb, or I am enchanted by our daughters' sudden interest in all things Spicy. After all, we have invested much of our child-rearing time since the day they emerged from the womb trying our best not to engage in gender-typing. They have dolls to play with, sure, but they also have airplanes and dump trucks. Moreover, no trip to the toy department is complete without my recitation of a simple but important lesson: "Barbie is evil." And yet, over the course of the past year or two, we've watched our girls being slowly seduced by the pink side of the Force. After each session of daycare, at a facility that's safe, clean and well-stocked with pint-sized fluff queens, they'd come home with a new appreciation for frilly dresses, color-coordinated headbands (Lora won't leave the house without one now) and stick-on earrings. Extracurricular activities have been just as fraught with peril. At one birthday party they attended, their lovely parting gifts weren't the traditional goody bags filled with candy and trinkets but (gulp) brunette Barbies that did everything but purr, "Hey, sailor."

I was cheered when Lora and Ellie didn't play with their Barbies much. But this victory turned out to be illusory, in large part because one of their best friends had just developed a taste for Spice. Soon, my little princesses were spending hours at a time role-playing Spice Girls. "I'm Baby!" one of them would announce. "I'm Sporty!" the other would counter before prancing around our house with her pelvis swiveling like a sprinkler head. Neither of them was terribly clear on the particulars of the group: They seemed to think that Victoria and Posh were two different women, when in fact they are the same person, and they chattered on about "ABC Spice," which is either a nickname for one of the original five that I've never heard or a creation of their own. Likewise, they knew nothing whatsoever about the combo's music. The first time I played the Spice World CD for them, they displayed absolutely zero interest in it until I told them who was singing. Then they told me that it was great.

After that, the Girls' hits began to imprint themselves on my daughters' minds. This in itself didn't bother me much: As a guy who has a jukebox in which Petula Clark's "Downtown" and "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" by Looking Glass coexist alongside Eric B. & Rakim's "Follow the Leader" and Public Enemy's "Don't Believe the Hype," I'm someone with an appreciation for catchy but disposable pop of the sort that the Spice Girls peddle. Neither was I bothered by the flirty/sexual nature of their material--at least not until my progeny started to mouth it. I'm hardly a prudish person, but I must confess that the first time Ellie came into the living room, put her hand on her cocked hip, pointed her finger at my face and sang, "If you wannabe my lover," I had to be restrained from dialing information to ask for the number to the nearest convent.

When the Spice Girls' Denver concert date was announced, however, I decided to face my fears, not run away from them. So rather than accepting the one review ticket I was offered by the show's promoter, Universal Concerts, I bargained for two on the lawn, then purchased two more for Lora and Ellie. Only afterward did I realize that the Beastie Boys were set to drop by McNichols Arena on the very same night. Missing the Boys, whose appearance was among the big summer extravaganzas to which I was most looking forward, turned my Spice Girls expedition into a genuine sacrifice--and the dozen or so co-workers who came up to me in the days before August 5 and innocently asked, "Are you going to see the Beastie Boys?" only made matters worse. By contrast, my daughters, who had never before gone to a big concert, were disturbingly excited by the prospect of seeing the Spice Girls in person, even though Ginger Spice, who split on the cusp of the collective's U.S. tour, would not be present. ("She and Scary got into a fight!" Ellie explained to me.) These feelings were exacerbated on the Wednesday in question when Deb took them to buy new shoes for school. The reason? The store was jammed with pre-teens purchasing footwear that would match the outfits they planned to wear to the Spice Girls concert.

As we stepped from our car in a Fiddler's parking lot that evening, the first people I saw were a man in his thirties and two skinny, blond ten-year-old girls holding his hands. With their matching red dresses (skin-tight, hemlines across their upper thighs), loads of makeup and a Christmas tree's worth of hair baubles, the pre-teens reminded me of Jodi Foster's youthful prostitute in Taxi Driver--and they weren't the only ones who did so. The massive line that led to the lawn seating area was not homogeneous, thanks to the presence of the occasional club kid or young couple, but the vast majority of those present were moms or dads with fifteen-and-under femmes, many of whom looked ready for a visit to a singles' bar. Everywhere in sight were girls with bare midriffs and high heels trying to show off cleavage they didn't have. Looking at them, I realized how appropriate it was that television viewers across the city would be watching the U.S. broadcast premiere of the documentary JonBenet's America within the next hour or so. Hell, Fiddler's Green was JonBenet's America that night. I'm guessing that any child molesters present had to walk carefully to avoid stepping on their tongues.

Compared to the most elaborately costumed attendees, Lora and Ellie were plain Janes: Lora's only flourishes were a couple of Baby Spice ponytails, while Ellie made do with a pair of leopard-print pants. While they helped Deb spread out a blanket on a grassy hill to the center-left of the stage, I hunted for a water fountain--and the conversations I overheard while filling the plastic bottle we'd brought along let me know how far removed from the average show I review this one was. I may be wrong, but I'm pretty sure I never heard anyone say, "Hurry up and go potty, girls," at a Van Halen concert.

Soon after I returned to our plot of grass, music began emanating from the stage--a Broadway-ready overture of Spice Girls melodies that the collected masses met with a shriek that resembled an air-raid siren. (If any World War II veterans still shell-shocked from recent screenings of Saving Private Ryan were on hand, they probably hit the deck and started looking for their rifles.) That was followed by what sounded like the voice of William Shatner intoning, "Spice--the final frontier." Seconds later, the band (a Vegas-ready ensemble if there ever was one) hit its marks, followed in short order by Scary, Posh, Sporty and Baby. The quartet wore spangly duds that matched those worn by the fashion dolls made in their likenesses--which was precisely the point, I suppose--and they sang "If U Can't Dance" about as well as they do on their CD, which probably means that part or all of their vocals were on tape. But such distinctions didn't matter to Lora and Ellie, who took turns sitting on my shoulders and gaping at the spectacle. Most of the girls around us in their age group did the same thing: They didn't seem to have the slightest idea what they were supposed to do, but instead of mimicking the behavior of their older peers, who were dancing and celebrating with abandon, they stood motionless and slack-jawed, apparently in the hope that they would eventually figure out how to process this sensory overload.

A lot of them never did--but Lora and Ellie were not among them. Ellie, who had always seemed more interested in the Spice Girls than her sister, certainly had fun, alternately dancing or tackling the rest of us. But Lora, to our surprise, came completely unhinged. She shook and shuddered like a one-girl episode of The Grind, but even that wasn't enough to expend all of the energy bubbling up inside her. "I've got to dance to the BEAT!" she squealed at one point, and on another occasion, she howled with delight for a good ten seconds. She was also the first of our girls to clue in to crowd-participation behavior, waving her arms or clapping at the appropriate moments. When Scary Spice announced that it was time to take off their clothes and get naked prior to one mildly ribald number, she was ready to do that, too. Fortunately, we were able to convince her that Scary was only joking.

Some of the other onstage banter also confused my daughters; when Scary, Sporty and Posh said goodbye to Baby in advance of Baby's solo bit, a weak rendition of the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go," Ellie, her voice panicky, asked, "Is Baby Spice leaving the Spice Girls, too?" But the show in general was rudimentary enough for girls even that young to understand. In essence, songs such as "Wannabe," "Stop" and "Too Much" sounded little different from the TV commercials they hear on a regular basis--and the Spice Girls' irony-free rendition of "Generation Next," their Pepsi ad, further underlined the similarities. On top of that, there was a thirty-minute intermission during which a loop of actual television spots played; Revlon lipstick, Ponds zit strips, women's Gillette shavers and the new Drew Barrymore flick, Ever After: A Cinderella Story, were among the products pushed on this particular Spice channel. And that's not to mention the oodles of merchandise stands where fanatics could purchase posters, buttons, teddy bears identical to the ones Baby Spice occasionally totes and T-shirts both with and without Ginger. She's no longer a Spice Girl in a physical sense, but her image is still part of the team.

By the time intermission was over, Lora and Ellie were pretty much exhausted, but they didn't want to admit it to themselves. Lora went into a frenzy during "Spice Up Your Life," which is actually a pretty decent tune, but as soon as it was over, she crumpled to the ground and nearly fell asleep. And although she was hit by another jolt of adrenaline during the encore, the results were problematic; she danced so hard that she wound up tumbling backward down the hill and bumping her head. It wasn't much of an injury--at first, she laughed at it. An instant later, though, she started to scream, and this time it wasn't for joy. Feeling left out, Ellie then walked into my elbow and began to cry as well.

After helping our daughters get themselves under control again, Deb and I suggested that we leave and were pleasantly surprised when they didn't protest. We were almost back to our car, flanked by other parents who looked as relieved as we were to be escaping a few minutes early, when we happened across two teenagers in punk-rock regalia. The first of them, a boy with a buzz cut, held two homemade signs: "Anti-Spice" and "Save the Planet: Kill a Spice Girl." But Lora and Ellie were oblivious to them. They were asleep as soon as they hit the backseat, no doubt dreaming of sugar--and Spice.


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