The brief Backstreet vacation hides a terrible truth

(from left): Kevin, Howie, Brian, A.J. and Nick. (And, yes, I know all their names. So?)
(from left): Kevin, Howie, Brian, A.J. and Nick. (And, yes, I know all their names. So?)

Last night my daughter Casey and I attended the Backstreet Boys concert in Las Vegas.

That was actually an odd sentence to type, because I’m (at 46) too old for the Backstreet Boys and Casey (at 15) is too young for the Backstreet Boys. Yet there we were, belatedly celebrating the kid’s birthday by watching five guys (whose faces are far more familiar than their names) sing a solid catalogue of genuinely catchy, genuinely joyful songs. And yeah, they were definitely relying on some significant pre-recorded backup tracking. And yeah, I’m fairly certain the five men teamed to write exactly, oh, zero of the lyrics emerging from their mouths.

But, bottom line, it was magical. We swayed, we sang, we danced, we laughed. It was deep-as-a-dime entertainment at its best; well worth the four-hour trek and the price for tickets.

Yet as the tunes were being played, my mind tended to drift to the horrific act of earlier than day, when 11 people were shot and killed in a Pittsburgh synagogue. And my mind tended to drift to the bombs being planted in the mailboxes of various political and entertainment figures. And my mind tended to drift (just a bit) to Donald Trump’s awful handling of all things sensitive and important.

I looked around—at the women to my left. At the women behind us. At the man and his wife two rows up. Some wore Backstreet Ts. Some were dressed for Halloween. I’m sure many were conservative and many were liberal; I’m sure many voted for Trump and many voted for Hillary. And here we all were—7,000 or so strong—bonding over the Vegas residency of a band that spoke nary a word of politics or tragedy; of a band that was there purely to give us a moment’s joy. We were together for a surface reason, yet we were together.

But here’s the thing. Here’s the detour …

I’m tired of the conclusion of blog posts and articles that begin as this one has. I’m no longer inspired by pieces about Americans coming together over shared history, or the spirit of Christmas, or “This is Us” marathons or Backstreet Boys concerts. Why? Because the shit we come together over is all so fucking surface. It’s always entertainment. Laughing at a comic’s jokes. Crying over Bradley Cooper’s hanging in “A Star is Born.” None of it is real. None of it is concrete.

Hell, 11 of my fellow Jews are slaughtered in a house of worship … and I need to hear conservatives say we need more guns in churches and synagogues? The guy who sends off the bombs is captured … and I need to digest that it’s just some big liberal hoax? I can go on and on and on here—and I will. The New York Times does incredible reporting on Donald Trump’s conman financial past … and (as exhaustive and sourced as the work is) it’s all just #fakenews? One scientist after another says we face certain doom if we don’t tackle the climate crisis now … but, no, it’s just bullshit, and we need more coal?

I’m sorry.

I’m really sorry.

I know I should be happy that the Backstreet Boys allowed folks from all over the map to sing “Quit Playing Games with My Heart” as one. And, in the moment, I briefly was. But can we please, please, please, please get serious here? Can we please figure out a way to cut the nonsense, cut the cult-like adherence to liars and frauds and just do what’s right?


Truth be told, behind the image the Backstreet Boys are five men with families, kids, lives, problems. Last night was a mirage. The screaming for Kevin—a guy who contributed to no more than, oh, seven percent of the show. The vocal runs of A.J.—whose voice, eh, um … yeah. Nick—brought to the world via the boy band incubator. We don’t know them. They don’t know us. The flashy outfits, the background dancers, the choreographed moves. Truth be told, they aren’t boys from the backstreet, so much as a processed slab of (wonderfully packaged) collective meat.

They are an illusion.

This is real.

Howie sings in a hat he probably doesn't need.
Howie sings in a hat he probably doesn’t need.