Girls are crazy about the band
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Date: Nov 10, 2099
Screaming has almost always been contagious when hot acts visit
By Susan Whitall / The Detroit News
John Lennon, who could turn a snappy phrase for most things, had a name for it. "Sexual hysteria" is the way the Beatle described the outpouring of girlish emotion, the intense following and buying and obsessing over the musical object of one's affection.
Hysterical fandom has been on display in all its giddy glory this week as the Palace of Auburn Hills hosted Ricky Martin on Monday, and is prepared for the Backstreet Boys Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights.
Even the Pistons' game Friday will be overrun by Backstreet Boys fans, as their idols are set to sing the national anthem before the hoop action starts.
At the Martin show on Monday, hours before the singer took the stage, there were spontaneous outbreaks of screams from fans as the preshow excitement grew. Nothing in particular prompted the "woo eruptions" -- nothing except, perhaps, the alignment of the planets, random electrical impulses or a synaptic glitch in the brain.
Or maybe all three.
Village Voice music writer Richard Riegel has been an observer of musical fandom since Beatlemania days.
"It happens deep within. ... There's some real deep, primordial need for that release of screaming," he says. "And it must be contagious somehow. A friend of mine went to see the Beatles with a girlfriend and her mother. She and her girlfriend screamed all through the concert, then they just kept screaming during the drive home. Her mother finally told them that they were going to have to stop it."
Frank Sinatra was the first act to cause mass hysteria in the modern era.
They called them bobby-soxers because of the white, rolled socks they favored, and the teen-agers defied curfews, skipped school and took several changes of buses to get to Detroit to see their idol at the Downtown Theater in 1946. Some 66,000 attended Sinatra's weeklong engagement. The crooner kept the bobby-soxers' affections until newer idols such as Johnnie Ray came along.
Years of swooning over solo male singers followed, until the Beatles took fandom to a whole new level.
In 1964, Detroit News reporter Jay Carr reported that there were more Detroit police assigned to the British group as they came to town to play Olympia Stadium than there was for an almost simultaneous visit by President Lyndon Johnson.
Getting the Fab Four from their suite at the Whittier Hotel to Olympia, home of the Red Wings, required more than 400 "combat-ready" police.
Anxious fans bombarded the Whittier with letters, telegrams, toys, cakes, candy and flowers. Then there were the concerts, a matinee and an evening show.
"The scene was a hellscape," wrote Carr. "It looked like every fourth of July since 1776 and sounded like every air raid siren in the world gone mad."
A few years later, it was the Monkees who inspired a shriekfest in Detroit.
Bill Holdship, now music editor for the Los Angeles New Times, was on hand for the bedlam when the pre-Fab Four played Olympia Stadium in the late '60s.
"I think it's sort of a bonding ritual -- one screams and the rest of them join in," Holdship says. His mother, who'd driven him all the way down from Bad Axe, didn't agree. "Mom took us to see the Monkees, and she said, 'This is mass hysteria, this is what happened when Hitler took over Germany!' "
Is it really that ominous, or is just about that face, that voice, that ... charisma?
Claire Anderson of Ann Arbor is among the Backstreet Boys' most fervent fans. The 13-year-old listens to their Millenium CD five times a day, has a ticket to Saturday's show and has no trouble analyzing their appeal: "I love the way they sing, they're good-looking, and they can dance."
Like most Backstreet fans, Claire isn't just happy listening, she'd of course like to meet A.J., Brian, Nick, Howie and Kevin -- especially Kevin. But what would she do if she met them, scream?
"I have no idea," she says at first. "I'd be in awe." Then: "Well I do have a couple questions I'd want to ask them. What do certain songs mean, because I don't understand the lyrics, and stuff about their popularity."
But OK, first she'd probably scream. Especially if it was Kevin.
Amy Cox, marketing director for Birmingham's Townsend Hotel, is used to dealing with fans -- most top acts that play the Palace stay at the Townsend, although the hotel doesn't disclose who's staying there at the moment, so don't even ask about the Backstreet Boys.
Indeed, nonguests who try to infiltrate the Townsend in search of their heroes will be dealt with firmly. The hotel is keen about protecting its high profile guests.
"Our guests know that here they're fairly safe, and they can even walk around Birmingham. If it's an act that attracts the young girls, though, they will generally go in the back door," says Cox. Different groups pull in different sorts of fans, she observes.
"I would think fans would be chasing Paul McCartney," she notes, "but his fans act differently, more mature. With the younger groups, the Backstreet Boys, their fans will go crazy."
There's yet another sort of fan, though.
"Tom Petty personally has more security than any of these other acts, but then he draws a more serious groupie type, not the young fans," says Cox.
Cox does understand the over-excited fan, although her professional interest is in keeping them out. She laughs. "Hey, when someone like Paul McCartney comes to stay, you can't help but think, 'Hey, he's such a nice guy ... Linda's gone ... maybe I have a chance!' "
50 years of cheers
* May 1946: Frank Sinatra plays a week at Detroit's Downtown Theater, drawing 66,000 fans -- most of them bobby-soxers .
* September 1964: The Beatles invade Detroit for two shows at Olympia. At least one 14-year-old girl is trampled inside Olympia just after the first show, and 30 teens are treated for fainting and "hysteria."
* August 1966: The Beatles return for another round. Some 30,800 enthusiasts pay $5.50, $4.50 and $3.50 for the privilege of screaming so loudly they can't hear their idols.
* January 1967: The Monkees play Olympia, and 16,000 teens and preteens scream until the tears come to their parent-chaperones' eyes. The show is so successful the Monkees book a July '67 show at Olympia -- but it is postponed because of the riots.
* October 1979: The Knack, led by Oak Park's Doug Fieger, plays Masonic Auditorium and girls scream and thrust fists into their mouths, '64 style.
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