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For Jim Louvau, the 22-year-old lead singer for glam rock quintet Victims in Ecstacy, the transformation from civilian to superstar is a daylong event. Shunning standard rock 'n' roll duds -- "wife-beaters, backward baseball caps and wallet chains" -- Louvau is committed to a rigorous dress code.
It's just before 10 a.m. in an upper-west-side beauty salon, and Louvau is having his eyebrows waxed. In just 14 hours, he will perform before dozens of rabid fans and the look must be flawless.
Louvau sprawls out in a white vinyl recliner and closes his eyes. Anyone entering the small sterile room might mistake him for a rock 'n' roll casualty. Hyacinth strands of well-gelled hair frame his pale face. Silver stars shimmer against his faded black leather trousers, offset by a crimson shirt and thick, silver beads that form a choker around his neck.
A young woman enters the room and arranges a pot of greenish paste on a Formica countertop. She carefully dabs the substance onto Louvau's brow, pats down a strip of cloth, then -- r-i-i-i-i-i-p-p-p-p-p! -- leaves a pink, puffy mound where the hairs have been yanked out. Louvau doesn't flinch.
"I'm pretty immune to the pain," he says. "My nose is pierced, my ears are stretched and I've got tattoos."
Pain and self-sacrifice are nothing new to Louvau, whose lust for success has kept him from leading an ordinary life. He lives with his bandmates in a flat the size of a bread box and toils days in a record store to keep up with rent and rehearsal-studio payments.
"We work shit jobs and we live shitty so we can be in a band," Louvau says forcefully, hinting at his burning ambition. "We'll do whatever it takes to get there."
Just this morning, Louvau drove bleary-eyed in his father's Ford Festiva to a used-record store to peddle some favorites from his disc collection. The car died, but he earned enough cash to cover the salon appointment.
"I hated to see Pat Benetar go," he murmurs sadly.
The sacrifice doesn't end there. Girlfriends are taboo, at least serious ones. "Every time I sit down with a girl for the first time, I say, 'This is going to sound really bad, but you will never ever be as important as my band,'" says Louvau. "Everyone gets the same speech."
The technician tweezes several remaining hairs from the bridge of Louvau's nose, then motions him toward a full-length mirror. Louvau sits upright, casts a long, deep look into the glass, then continues. "I am gonna up and leave here someday, and you're not gonna come with me. I'm sorry it sucks, but that's the way it is."
Devout fans of Guns n' Roses, the four teens found inspiration in the Sunset Boulevard bad-boy bravado of Appetite for Destruction. "We wanted to be rock stars since we were 3 years old," says Louvau. "We were all sitting around going, 'Whoa, Axl Rose is the coolest man on the planet. He can be the biggest cocksucker he wants to be and he'll sell a million records and he gets a lot of girls.' That was the idea that brought us together."
It was 1996, Louvau's senior year, and though he'd never picked up a microphone, the quartet of friends started a heavy-metal band called Verify 21. "It was a yelling thing," remembers Louvau.
Taking his cues from Michael Patton (Mr. Bungle, Faith No More) and Rose, Louvau fumbled his way through the first year of his musical career. It was destiny, he claims, not hours of lessons, that served as a guiding light. "I always knew I was going to be some kind of performer," says Louvau, recalling the time at age 7 when he lip-synched and air-strummed a version of Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" in a karaoke studio at Metrocenter. "I had this guitar and I went into the studio and acted like I was playing. They played it over the big screen in the mall and I literally had a crowd of 50 people watching. I walked out of the studio and all these people were like, 'Wow, this kid is going to be a star!'"
The road to stardom, he would find out, is riddled with potholes. The first came when Louvau was expelled from Verify 21.
"I got kicked out of the band 'cause I was a rock star," he recalls. "I was a dick. But then they realized that without me they weren't so rock 'n' roll." Verify 21 broke up just a year after getting started.
After graduating from Ironwood, the former members regrouped and added bassist Jared Bakin, an Ironwood alum who'd handled lighting chores for Verify 21. They changed the name of the band to Victims in Ecstacy and began playing what Louvau calls "a hint of '80s new-wave music put together with guitar-driven rock."
The androgynous crew also upped the visual ante, taking the stage in lavish dresses and makeup. It was the turn toward the outrageous and eye-catching look -- arguably more than the music -- that helped the band earn an immediate and devoted fan base. "We were put into a situation where we had a following pretty much instantly and we were really bad," says Louvau. Their devotees, to this day, are an obsessive and physical bunch. Mostly young girls, their sometimes overzealous behavior makes convicted stalkers seem like harmless puppies.