Ricky Martin's solo debut in Phoenix a sellout in more ways than one

One crew's assignment was simply to get footage of Ricky fans screaming his name. This was easy. Another crew would arrange bouquets of Ricky fans, then entice them to form a chorus line, wiggle their asses and sing in unison the chorus to Ricky's new MTV hit "Shake Your Bon-Bon," which goes like this: "Shake your Bon-Bon!/Shake your Bon-Bon!"

Gradually, as I people-watched, I broke the Valley's ticket-buying Ricky Martin fans into five categories:

• Prepubescent Anglo girls with their fathers in tow.

Ricky shakes his moneymaker.
Paolo Vescia
Ricky shakes his moneymaker.
Pre-show Martin mania outside America West Arena.
Paolo Vescia
Pre-show Martin mania outside America West Arena.

• Prepubescent Anglo girls with their mothers in tow.

• Gay men, Hispanic and Anglo, trying to look as much as possible like Ricky Martin, and, in some cases, succeeding remarkably. This contingent made its presence known during the pre-show, upcoming-concerts announcements, when news of Bette Midler's December show received more cheers than the Eagles and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden put together.

• Small groups of middle-aged Anglo women who I'm guessing work together and go to a lot of male stripper shows together after work. Both guesses are based on overheard conversation that alternated between sniping about other women in the office, gushing over Ricky Martin's butt and plotting their next outing to a U.S. Male show.

• Hispanic teenagers and twentysomethings, mostly young women but some couples, who comprise a plurality of his local fan base. As I viewed Ricky through their eager eyes, I caught the event's one saving grace: a bilingual pop star and sex symbol who's currently the hottest ticket on the planet.

If America teaches its youth any common lesson, it's that money and fame equal power and respect, and these fans must feel, right or wrong, that Ricky Martin has earned their culture a huge, fresh dose of both. I can intuit his appeal in this regard, but never, I suspect, on a personal level, and therefore never truly at all.

This suspicion was confirmed just over an hour into Ricky's concert, when he went into a self-serving lament of his superstardom. "You guys are like the sun, how much energy you're giving me, but the fame, the euphoria, the adrenaline, it's addicting. So lethal, so (dramatic pause, slight sigh) deadly in a way." Ah, such pressure to heap upon the shoulders of so sensitive and romantic a soul.

I decided to save my sanity, beat the traffic and leave the concert early. Outside the arena, a guy with a tenor sax and a hand board -- "Homeless musician, need tips" -- squawked the chorus of "Livin' la Vida Loca."

As I passed the Suns merchandise shop, shills for yet another Ricky Martin tour sponsor offered me yet another product sample. This one, though, was hilariously appropriate, given Martin's nebulous sexuality, yet wholesome image (leaving the arena, I heard him switching subjects to discuss his personal relationship with God).

"Would you like to sample a fruit square?" I was asked.

"Thanks," I said. "Just had one."

Contact David Holthouse at his online address: david.holthouse@newtimes.com

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