Monday, June 18, 2007

Auction of Boy Band Guru's Possessions Feels Like Justice

Carson Daly: Amazing. Now how many of those bands are you still managing?
Lou Pearlstein: None. Not one. Not one band…he-e-ere’s the thing – I take’em to the big time, I break’em in, and then they leave me.
Carson Daly: That’s not cool. What’s up with that?
Lou Pearlstein: I uhh…like to wet the beak, I like to give a taste, I like to double dip.
Carson Daly: I…don’t understand.
Lou Pearlstein: I embezzle. I take their money.
Carson Daly: Oh, I see.
Lou Pearlstein: And then these kids, they got parents, lawyers, and…err…police, and child endangerment laws and judges and he-e-ere’s a tip. If you delete something from your hard drive, it’s not gone! It’s not! The FBI can still find it!!
- Jon Stewart as Lou Pearlstein and Jimmy Fallon as Carson Daly in a sketch on the March 9, 2002 episode of "Saturday Night Live"

I read a news item last week that brought a big smile to my face (so you know it had nothing to do with anything going on in Washington, D.C.). A Yahoo!/AP article described an auction of the possessions of Lou Pearlman, the mastermind behind the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync. Creditors liquidated Pearlman's estate after he disappeared, leaving hundreds of millions of dollars in debts and approximately 1,000 investors he allegedly defrauded.

Why would this news make me happy? Because since the mid-1990s rise to fame of boy bands (and their close relatives, the solo teen pop singers), I have become convinced that they are the cause of all evil in the music industry. I would also blame them for all the ills on the planet, if only I could find the elusive missing link from Nick Lachey to bird flu, Michael Bay movies, and Karl Rove.

The masses picking through Pearlman's possessions seemed like a fitting punishment for the man who infected the music industry with the mindless, soulless, heartless, edgeless crap for the tween masses that polluted the airwaves for too many years, and then apparently stole money from, well, everyone. It also felt like the last step in the crumbling of the teen pop empire, which has been in full swing over the last few years. Like the boy band world's beheading of Marie Antoinette or knocking down of the Berlin Wall. Other than Justin Timberlake (who is still just a lowly boy-bander to me), not a single boy band alum is currently enjoying any kind of career in the music industry. Instead, teen pop refugees have provided a reservoir of "talent" for reality shows, regional musical theater and rehab facilities.

The girls have fared a bit better, with Christina Aguilera now an established artist and Mandy Moore working her way up to the A list for actresses. But more have followed their male counterparts into oblivion, with Britney Spears now known more for her freaky behavior than for her singing, and Jessica Simpson thought of as "the reality TV idiot who thought Chicken of the Sea tuna was made of chicken." I know I am not the only person who didn't recognize that it was Simpson in a DirecTV commercial where she plays a waitress stomping on a rude bar patron while acting, here's a stretch, dumb.

As I wrote in a March 15 article in this space, rock music has been on a downturn since the rise of the group of bands (like Pearl Jam and Green Day) that emerged after the success of Nirvana in the early 1990s. What pushed rock aside at the end of that era? Yes, boy bands. So, am I blaming boy bands for killing rock music? I'd like to, but it wouldn't be fair. As the March 15 article argues, it was the record companies, flush with teen pop money, who forgot how to nurture artists and, as a result, have to take the ultimate responsibility. But the soullessness, mindlessness and lack of originality of boy bands makes them antithetical to everything that is good about popular music.

So, you will forgive me if I smiled reading about people invading Pearlman's former home and buying his gold records, photos and mementos, like his key to the City of Orlando, which for a while, thanks to Pearlman, was the crap music capital of the world. I smiled as I read that he is under investigation by the FBI and IRS, as well as state authorities. I smiled at the news that his $8.5 million home was the next thing to be sold out from under him. And, I smiled at the legal setbacks he has already faced. It felt like the ultimate vindication that the man I viewed as a criminal for ruining popular music was an actual criminal.

I remember enjoying the "Saturday Night Live" sketch quoted at the top of this piece when it first aired. Now, I can really enjoy the real-life demise of the czar of the boy band empire. Pearlman's demise won't fix the carnage he has already perpetuated on the music world, but it did give me a bit of joy that he won't live happily ever after in his House That 12-Year-Old Girls Built. In fact, in his honor, I'll have to buy a couple of good rock CDs by bands from anywhere but Orlando.