‘Kids’ reminder of times gone by

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ columnist

It just took five words. It killed a conversation, showed our differences and outlined our dependence on the superficial.

But a few months ago, those five words started a conversation, showed our similarities and outlined our dependence on the superficial.

“I don’t have a television,” she said, starting the conversation, “so I need a favor.”

The favor, she said, was for me to record the Today show later that week. I don’t get up early enough to watch any morning show most times, so this was quite a favor to ask of me. I still agreed, but wanted to know why a self-professed TV avoider needed a copy of a TV program.

“The New Kids on the Block are getting back together,” she said with creepy giddiness, “and they’re singing on Today.”

And so it has followed, from her to friends with television sets. Friends in my age level have this unexplained enthusiasm for one of the original boy bands, which on Tuesday releases its first studio album in 14 years.

Oddly, most of my fanatic friends don’t know the name of the album (“The Block”) or any of the songs on it. And when the New Kids go on tour, no sane person would expect a concert that doesn’t include early-’90s hits like “Hangin’ Tough” or “The Right Stuff” mixed in with the new.

I guess I should have seen it coming in college, when I haphazardly made a New Kids joke in front of a friend. She dragged me into her dorm room and talked to me for 20 minutes about all of the New Kids stuff she owned like she was a kindergartner in show and tell: Jordan Knight buttons, books about Joey McIntyre, pictures of Donnie Wahlberg. Mind you, she left her parents house with these things and said to herself, “I’m going to need these for college.”

It’s something about that one musical group that drives people crazy, and it’s not necessarily the New Kids. It could have been the Beatles, or the Grateful Dead, or Pearl Jam (which has produced so many live albums their fans feel like scavenger hunters).

But still, the question is why. Why is a group with no recognizable sound, and no big hits in decades, instantly popular again as a matter of trust?

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s best answered not by looking back at who New Kids on the Block were, but back to who we were during that time. There was nothing better in the world than having New Kids playing on your Sony Walkman. And you had it on tape, because nobody liked that spoiled kid who had “compact discs” years before anyone else.

It was a time you didn’t have to worry about your power bill, or the health insurance, or if any candidate could actually make you safer against the threat of terrorism. The biggest threat in your life was if NBC canceled “Saved by the Bell.”

The factors change depending on who the favorite group is, because the era changes, but it’s universal. That’s why tribute bands are so popular, and that’s why original bands can continue to make money touring — ironically enough, sometimes as a tribute band to themselves.

So friends of my age will buy “The Block,” they’ll download it to their iPod and they’ll never bother to remember a single song on the album.

But they’ll be happy, because the New Kids don’t have to have “The Right Stuff” to be relevant. They just have to have stuff, and the ability to make us think we can be carefree again.

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Freedom New Mexico. He can be contacted at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by e-mail: kevin_wilson@link.freedom.com