On Seeing Adam Ant in Concert

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The author dressed as Adam Ant, circa 1983.

I lived parallel lives when I was young. I had an imitation life, a false life. In this life I was a painfully shy, slightly chubby pre-teen going through the motions of algebra classes, study hall and–horror-of-horrors– gym class. My real life was elsewhere. It began when I closed the door to my bedroom, fired up the turntable and escaped into the pages of Bop Magazine. My real peers were not the preppy pre-teens in their Gloria Vanderbilt jeans or the pimply, skinny boys who bullied me. My true peers were the friends I saw in the videos on the brand-new music television network. It is a well-kept secret that MTV was created just for me.

The greatest rock star of them all was Adam Ant. Clad in war paint and pirate gear, Adam yodeled, war whooped and pounded his way into my consciousness. Adam exuded sex appeal and a sense of freedom. His songs were a crashing mixture of electric guitars, tribal drums and yodels. He swashbuckled through his music videos as the consummate 80s hero—a suave Valentino with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek.

He posed and preened and looked down at me from every inch of my bedroom wall. When I ran out of space there, the posters expanded like vines onto the slanted surfaces that led to the ceiling. Then I rearranged the furniture to expose more wall for Adam images.

The pretty boys of Duran Duran were too polished, too fashionable, too tame. Adam had emerged from the underworld of punk music. There was something about him– something complicated, strong yet vulnerable. I sensed he was wounded, and I knew what he had overcome to get where he was.
I understood Adam Ant. He had been underestimated and under-appreciated like me and now he was living a dream– my dream. I had to go to school and be ordinary and ignored but he had created his own world. He was a pirate sailing the seas, an Indian chief, whatever he wanted to be. Adam Ant gave me hope that I could do it too.

Somewhere out there– in the fake world that others called real– was a musician who had been born Stuart Goddard. He looked very much like the man in my posters, but this Adam Ant was no more real to me than a unicorn in Brigadoon. The real Adam Ant was the one I imagined– the one my true self lived with inside MTV. So I waited, planned my escape, and kept my secret.

But predictably, I grew up, moved on, and the posters came down. I never upgraded my Adam Ant LPs to CD. The dusty records sat unplayed as I devoted my attention to my own ambitions.

For my 44th birthday my mother (who attended my first Adam Ant concert with me when I was 13) gave me a pair of tickets to go see Adam Ant perform at the beautiful Majestic Theater in downtown Detroit.

I remember quite clearly when I was a young teen that I believed my tastes would never change.  I wasn’t going to be like those boring sell-outs who stopped listening to rock music and all the obviously good things.

My tastes did change. The obviously good things for me now include Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, sociology and theology texts and classical ballet.  All of this would have sounded very dry and dull to 13-year-old me.

I was curious about the concert though. Adam Ant would not get the same unconditional devotion he would have received from my 13-year-old self. He would have to win me over.

I won’t keep you in suspense: He did.

Things have changed since 1983. The audience, for example, was made up of people my parents age.  Did I need reminding? I am, in fact, the exact same age my mother was when she took me to my first Adam Ant concert in Cleveland, Ohio.

I had twisted my ankle that day.  If you must know how, I jumped in the air to imitate a popular Toyota commercial and I came down wrong. That is the kind of thing I don’t do much of these days. When the lights went down on the crowd thirty years ago, the squealing girls and a few guys rushed forward, closer to the stage. I was not about to lose my place, and I ran too.  I remember myself standing, on a bum ankle, holding onto a bar so that I could keep my spot right up against the stage.

In all honesty, I may be melding the memory of a couple of Adam Ant concerts here.  At the first Adam Ant concert I saw, Adam tore some ligaments in his knee, and came back with it bandaged.  I don’t think I was also standing on a bum ankle for that one, but the experience of staking my claim and holding that spot on the edge of the Adam Ant stage is what I remember most vividly.

Flash forward and I am at the Jack White Theater (so named because singer Jack White bailed out the Masonic) in row 14.  Not bad.  The band is on stage, the music is swelling in preparation for Adam Ant’s grand entrance. Everyone is standing. I am hoping they will not stand through the whole show, because I just got back from tour and I am tired.

I’m tall, and before iphones I had a height advantage at concerts.  Now the woman in seat 13 H has her smartphone in the air above her head, right at my eye level. She wants to record this moment for posterity instead of living it now. I see Adam’s entrance through the phone’s screen.

Adam Ant no doubt has been sent his complimentary copies of the AARP Magazine. In a couple of years he’ll be 60.  He is a bit thicker in the waist, his movements are a bit more stiff, and when he enters in his hussar jacket and Napoleon hat– fetchingly paired with horn rimmed glasses, I might add–my first thought is that it is all a bit ridiculous for a man his age.

Adam, I will forgive you for getting older if you will forgive me.

Why is it, anyway, that drawing attention to yourself seems less and less acceptable as we age?  “When I am an old woman I shall wear Prince Charming Stripes.”

“Ridicule is nothing to be scared of.”

Go on then, Adam, rock the Napoleon hat.

1983 and 2013 seemed to fold in on each other.  I saw my younger self, clinging to the stage, breathing the rock star in, willing to brave permanent ankle damage to be close to him. (My ankle swelled up to twice its size the next day and it still bothers me sometimes when it is humid.)  Am I the same person I was then? Do I want the same things?

Modern Adam performs a seamless set, rarely stopping to talk to the audience or catch his breath. One song melts into another, and the number of familiar songs, hits, favorites is quite staggering.  As my eyes get accustomed to the new version of him, he seems to slim before my eyes.  He becomes younger. Maybe I do too.

I am surprised by the power the anthem “Kings of the Wild Frontier” still holds over me. It is not nostalgia, it is something else.  I respond to a call to create a different world with  community of Ant followers.  “Ant people are the warriors!  Ant music is our banner!”

Back in the day, he was the embodiment of my ID.  He was voicing something primal that I wanted to release, if only my youth didn’t stand in the way.  If only I could be allowed out of the prison of school, out into the world instead of having to wait.

Now I stood thinking, if only I were younger.  If only I had the energy and the freedom I had then.  The freedom, perhaps, not to worry about looking ridiculous.  (Where is my Napoleon hat?)

Was there a moment in the middle I missed?

My favorite Adam and the Ants song was “Beat My Guest.” If my parents worried about the S&M lyrics of songs like that and “Whip in My Valise,” they never said anything to me about it. (My father did balk at the idea of my wearing an Adam Ant t-shirt with the words “pure sex” on it.)  The songs weren’t really about bondage to me, I just liked their energy. My friend Jenny and I made up parody lyrics to “Beat My Guest.”  I don’t remember them, except for the line “fish that fly” which I found myself wanting to shout out at the concert.

I notice something about Adam’s signature costume that never occurred to me before.  That combination of colonial military jacket and native American garb is a bit weird when you think about it. The colonizer and the colonized in one persona.

“Oh no, no the ants invasion.”

Did you know that there were European settlers who admired the Native communities so much that they tried to defect?  Hernando de Soto had to post guards to keep his people from fleeing to Native villages. Pilgrims passed laws to prevent their men from copying Native fashions.  They made it illegal for men to wear their hair long. Benjamin Franklin once said, “No European who has tasted Savage Life can afterwards bear to live in our societies.”

The fairly unconventional definition of “savage” as “irresistible” begs the question: What was it about Native life that was so appealing that Europeans felt they had to enact laws to maintain their social hold?

“I feel beneath the white there is a red skin suffering from centuries of taming.”

Maybe the defectors looked something like Adam Ant.

Just read this today: “A great example of low theory can be found in Peter Linebaugh’s and Marcus Redliker’s monumental account of the history of opposition to capitalism in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, The Many-Headed Hydra… Their book traces what they call ‘the struggles for alternative ways of life’…In stories about piracy…they detail the modes of colonial and national violence that brutally stamped out all challenges to middle-class power and that cast proletarian rebellion as disorganized, random and apolitical.”

“A new royal family a wild nobility. We are the family.”

Perhaps a sociologist would read more into a working class boy’s appropriation of the colonial officer’s regalia than I care to. I just liked it. The Ant costume pushed a lot of subconscious buttons.

Did you know you can buy a “Lady Adam Ant” costume on Ebay for $105? I put mine together from thrift store cast offs.

I saw an interview where Adam Ant said he realized he had arrived when he met The Queen. “Adam, I did not recognize you without your makeup,” said Her Majesty.  The son of a house cleaner, and the Queen knew his name.

Pinned up against that stage, I remember dreaming. If I could only lose 40 pounds, I thought, I could be worthy of someone like him.

I skipped lunch, put my lunch money in a box, and saved up for records and pieces of clothing to imitate the Adam Ant look. I choreographed an aerobic dance routine to “Ant Music.” It was an insanely fast piece of music for an aerobic dance routine. I lost 40 pounds, but I never felt Adam Ant worthy.

If only I’d appreciated how beautiful I was when I was young. In my twenties, I was as physically attractive as I would ever be, and yet I never experienced that moment of feeling Adam Ant worthy.

Then again, Adam-Ant-worthy is not how I measure my attractiveness or status these days.

So this was my experience of the concert. It was hardly a review, more about me than about Adam. Totally unfair to him after he went to all the trouble of sweating it out for two hours.  The thing is, reporting on what happened on the stage would not capture the experience.  I couldn’t share the moment with you, even if I’d filmed it all with my iphone and uploaded it to Youtube.

I can tell you something about that awkward 13 year-old girl though. She wanted so much from life.  The music of Adam Ant sparked her imagination because she was a dreamer.  She longed for deep human connection, but her shy temperament drove her off on her own to read, to reflect and to imagine, to create other worlds in her mind.

I have not changed.

Thanks, Adam.

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10 comments

  1. In case anyone is curious, I found an old cassette of our parody version of Beat My Guest. It was called “Fleet Me.” It had a naval theme: “Well coming up what kind of river is this, fleet me, fleet me. Well there’s a tank in my household brig…” Other stand out lyrics were the aforementioned “fish that fly” and “I like everything to do with the sea” which didn’t quite have the right meter. I would like to think that my skills as a parodist have improved in the intervening three decades.

    1. Great story. I also went to that ’83 Adam tour. I wore my “pure sex” tshirt to junior high school (7th grade) the the next day. I was forced to remove it and wear my gym shirt the whole rest of the the day… I remember that shirt…and that day, vividly.

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