By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"Fear is your greatest salesman" was once the rallying cry of insurance vendors the world over. But in the case of this anti-cataclysmic New Year's, fear seemed more like a broken promise. Fear wasn't the reason ticket sales for everything from Phoenix Celebration 2000 to the Judds reunion concert to even flights out of town were way below expectations. No, if people are generally convinced that something approximating widespread Armageddon was going to happen, they'd certainly leave the safe harbor of their homes to check it out. Whenever Americans feel threatened of losing precious personal freedoms to the Fates, the elements or some crazed lunatic fringe, that's when we take to the streets. How else do you explain our cousins in the heartland, who insist on running toward twisters with a camcorder to look them square in the eye?
Quite simply, people sat out this New Year's because they were convinced that nothing would happen, catastrophically, philosophically, metaphysically or artistically. Not even filling the bathtub with water before leaving the house seemed a worthwhile precaution. Those who did venture out this New Year's had to psych themselves up like Tony, Bernardo and Maria from West Side Story by singing "Something's Coming" in the shower, as if some divine reckoning between the Sharks and the Jets of this world was in order. But tonight, tonight would be just any night, and like the guy who goes to the doctor and undergoes a battery of expensive tests only to come away with a clean bill of health, relief inevitably gives way to resentment. That's a lot of responsibility to lay on one little ol' computer glitch, no?
New Year's Eve 1999 won't be making musical history, either -- this is confirmed by one glance at the itinerary of nostalgia merchants on hand, hawking their wares and worn faces. Sadly, if we remember this best-forgotten last week of rock at all, it will be because some Liverpool loony believed "the Beatles are witches" and tried to carve a piece of history into George Harrison's chest. Danger is awaiting us all behind that locked door, and no place was our human rage to live better demonstrated than in that sleepy village of Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, where the "quiet" Beatle and his wife, Olivia, both Krishna devotees, kicked a would-be assassin's ass across three bloodied rooms by hitting him over the head with a lamp. Vegetarian or not, when push comes to stab, it releases the carnivore in us all.
It's six days into the new millennium, and nothing good or bad has happened that can compete with a Hare-cidal maniac. And every newspaper is still stuck in rewind, if only to figure out where New Year's Eve didn't go wrong.
Date: Friday, December 31, 1999
Time: 9 something or other p.m.
Drive into Phoenix. Happen to catch National Public Radio playing that blasted Kenny G "millennium mix" of "Auld Lang Syne," which contains 20th-century sound bites of everything from Edison's first recording to FDR's "fear itself" speech all the way up to Clinton's greatest hit, "I Did Not Have Sexual Relations With That Woman." This monstrosity currently sits at No. 7 on the Billboard single charts. How odd to hear the ecstatic newsreel screams of Elvis and Beatle fans become unwitting participants in this listless, boring Kenny G whiz. You feel like warning those disembodied squealers to just rush the cliffs and die young because it's all going to end here, listening to some snake charmer playing Guy Lombardo. Why has no one ever mistaken Kenny G for a witch? Certainly his Muzak inspires evil in me, a peace-loving guy by all outward appearances. Alas, my silent wish to hear a new and improved "millennium mix" of "Auld Lang Syne," culminating with a new historical sound bite -- "Kenny G died today of a heroin overdose" -- goes unheeded.
Time: Half or a quarter past 10 p.m.
Arrive at Patriots Square Park. Those entering the gated VIP section are greeted by the only bad-vibe vendor of the night, a megaphoned man who assures even people with laminated passes that they will have all access to hell's flames unless they give their hearts over to Jesus. "Jesus loves you -- we don't know what will happen in the next couple of hours," he blurts out, a good restraining order's distance from where tickets for Phoenix Celebration 2000 are still being sold at greatly reduced prices. Given that only 10,000 tickets were unloaded ahead of time, it's possible that the Celebration 2000 organizers have actually hired Mr. Microphone to drum up some last-minute fear.
Not too far from the Gin Blossoms' stage, people are parked on a curb behind an elevated platform where Channel 3 newscasters are commentating away. Staring at their backsides intently, it's as if the curb couch potatoes are fulfilling a secret desire to simulate watching TV from inside of the set. Occasionally, they make an effort to watch the four giant screens spitting out the Gin Blossoms' every move as it happens, for anyone who wants to feel remotely in attendance. Thank goodness the party organizers ran out of money before they could procure a "Blimpcam." Though the crowd is plentiful, it's not enough to warrant this much intensive camerawork. Access to the front of the stage wouldn't be a problem if you didn't have to dodge the imposing mechanical camera crane that hovers overhead like a giant cyborg with robotic limbs, terrorizing a mosh pit where everyone is too polite to speak up.