Adam Lambert, framed in a spotlight, rises, as if levitating, onto a platform at the rear of the stage. He wears a feathered top hat, fringed jacket, black pants, boots. His sequins and glitter sparkle. I stand in front of the stage, three deep, but not close enough. The handicapped section, to my immediate left, presents the possibility of an elevated view: I jam my foot between the spokes of the wheelchair beside me. For balance, since I obviously can’t grip the hair of the elderly lady in the chair, I gently lean against the shoulder of the young guy wedged on my right, whom I befriended, waiting for the concert to start. The lady in the wheelchair, who earlier poked and jabbed me, trying to shove me aside, now doesn’t even notice me dangling from her chair.
In Adam’s presence we are cloaked in a black-magic trance, a malarial fever, an outbreak of frenzied worship. Adam is quinine or, no, he is the fever spiking behind our foreheads. With one smile at the audience, Adam slowly struts down the steps of the platform. That smile is as seductive as an occluded star at twilight when you know, if you wait long enough, clouds will part. Steam rises as if from a mystical bayou—or rises from Adam himself—or rises from me, from all of us. As Adam sings, a viscous blue light descends as if from a voodoo moon.
It’s ten o’clock at night but worth the wait.
Earlier, we fans wait hours outside the Royal Oak Theater here in suburban Detroit, since only general admission tickets are sold. There are no assigned seats. In order to be close to the stage, to Adam, I arrive at 4:30 p.m., even though the doors don’t open until eight. The line streams around the block on the scorching sidewalk jammed with tween girls, middle-aged women, gay guys, and straight men with dates. Many are dressed for this Glam Nation Tour. One little girl wears a frilly black-and-white polka-dot dress with a pink sash, dangling pink earrings, a pink boa, and tennis shoes designed to look like combat boots. Middle-aged women wear newly purchased red or silvery rhinestone tops, tight black pants, and five-inch heels. Six-inch heels. One carries a purse laminated with Adam’s photograph. In the hour after hour of heat, all the hyped makeup, which Adam would surely appreciate if he could see it, which he won’t, seemingly melts onto the sidewalk.
Two girls on line in front of me display handmade signs: “Adam I ♥ you.”
I ♥ Adam, too, but I wear practical shorts, a cotton shirt, sensible shoes. On my head is a red-and-white striped cap to protect me from sunstroke… Adam-stroke. But I ♥ him enough to stand on the sidewalk for three and a half hours, ♥ him enough to make a beeline into the mosh-pit area once the doors open. ♥ him enough to stake a claim to my tiny piece of real estate, secure my spot, here in the third row of packed bodies.
“I’m not even going to clap for Allison or Orianthi.” The young guy, standing beside me, refers to the two opening acts; the one, Allison Iraheta, is a former American Idol contestant, like Adam. “I don’t want to mess up my hair.”
“It looks very nice.” I motion toward his hair sleek with product, streaked with red, a streak Adam will ♥ if he sees it, which he won’t.
“Thank you,” he says, relieved, patting the strands to ensure they remain in place.
This is the point in the evening, before the concert begins, when the eighty-year-old woman in the wheelchair—a crone escaped from a Grimm’s Fairy tale—pokes and pinches my arm. She tries to run over my foot and ram me out of her way—though I’m not exactly in her way—since I stand beside her, not in front of her. She wants a better view of the stage, which before the show is deserted save for a drum set and two guitars, upright, in stands. I refuse to budge an inch or cut her any slack. I glare at her: don’t mess with me. Besides, I’ve already been standing for six straight hours, the backs of my knees weak and sweaty. I’ve only eaten a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich for dinner. But she is either desperately ♥-ing Adam, or just desperate, so her claw-like fingers snag my arm, shoving me. I tell her to stop, threatening who-knows-what if she ever, ever touches me again. I’m willing to take her down rather than relinquish my spot, wheelchair notwithstanding, undaunted by her handicapped status.
Sympathy for anyone trying to get between me and Adam Lambert? I don’t think so. This, despite the fact that Adam sings about love and tolerance. Perhaps I will ♥ the woman… after the show.
In a Fox TV video interview, posted on Adam Lambert’s website, he says his concerts reflect a New Orleans voodoo tribal psychedelic rock extravaganza “inspired by…mystique, fortune tellers, black magic, feathers. It’s…done with a smile and a wink to the audience, and it’s witchy.”
The Fox TV reporter tells Adam that the crowd for his New York City concert arrived the night before to claim their spaces in line, that one woman traveled from Auckland, New Zealand, and that people are adorned with Glam Nation makeup and platform shoes.
“As it should be.” Adam smiles and waves his hands, Goth with black nail polish. His new haircut, he says, is Duran Duran meets Edward Scissorhands. His eyeliner is “Smolder,” his cologne Dior’s Homme scented of ginger, cedar, and sandalwood. The tattoo on his wrist is the Eye of Horus, protecting light and energy, the energy flowing from Adam to his fans, from his fans back to Adam.
Now, the spotlight follows Adam toward the front of the stage as he sings “Voodoo,” then “Down the Rabbit Hole”… and I follow him down down down. The guy beside me grabs my hand. I squeeze back. We grin at each other. The love on his face toward Adam is heartbreaking. He styled his hair, preparing for Adam, as if for a date. Earlier, I learned he lives in Livonia, another Detroit suburb, and I imagine his life devoid of glamour and color until Adam, Adam, Adam. We both proclaim our love for Adam. Who ♥’s him more? “I drove over three hours to get here,” I say.
“You must be very devoted,” he replies.
Devoted? Or released from a smudge of mid-life, from a sleepless sleep, awakening, startled, as if I’m still (or never stopped?) listening to my teenaged rock ‘n’ roll while cruising gritty Route 17 in New Jersey, in a steely finned gold Plymouth Savoy. Has nothing, no music, seduced me since? Now, all grown up, I listen to Adam’s CD For Your Entertainment nonstop whenever I drive around in my yuppie Toyota RAV4. Watch the leather, I tell my partner, whenever he gets in the car. It’s a joke. Sort of.
I bought the RAV in the first place because, shrinking into middle age, I had trouble seeing over the dashboard of my previous car. It felt low to the ground; I feel low to the ground, succumbing to invisibility. Besides, driving my previous car, with standard transmission, I found it difficult to shift gears given the touch of arthritis in my knee.
As if Adam is an amulet protecting me from ancient, evil women in wheelchairs (a state I myself refuse, ever, to enter), now that he’s on stage, I know she won’t attack me again. From my wobbly perch on the spoke of her wheelchair, I gain an additional two inches in height to better see over the heads in front of me. Red and green lasers spear the air like flaming arrows. I am adrift, senses surging from the cement floor up to the ceiling of the theater—domed like a temple or a cathedral—yet higher still, rocketing in space. I am rising above my body, awash in billions of molecules of more than 1,700 screaming, swooning fans all inhaling Adam Lambert.
Adam is delicious, translucent, wet… a strutter with kohl deepening blue-blue eyes dazzling as stained-glass crystal. His voice is naked as water, holy as prayer, a ghost-y growl, perfume, incense, scotch… sacred and porous as animal bone, slow as beach clouds, sacrificial.
His voice soars across night on shooting stars that pierce your heart with heat, with ice, with darkness, with light. Each note seeps around panes of winter windows warming frost that shivers the cusp of midnight. Hearing Adam Lambert sing is like New Year’s Eve on Saturn with all the rings and moons on neon-red alert.
Look: I don’t know what all these words mean, either. Adam is way past vocabulary, grammar, and punctuation. We’re talking fan here, as in fanatic.
When Adam sings “Whole Lotta Love,” I am jolted by crushed mint, the taste of light. He stares straight into my eyes. Really, I’m not kidding, he does!
The first time I saw Adam on television, on American Idol, past and present collided, as if psychedelic clothes, gnawed by moths, are suddenly rewoven, resurrected. Watching him now, it’s as if I’m his age again—neon bright, no longer shadowy—hippie-ing my way once again into love beads, dangly earrings, tie-dye, and mini-skirts before they were ironic or retro. In short, he embodies the sexual, political, androgynous cultural explosion of the 1970s. Adam wears the costumes we used to wear. He decorates himself just as I once did. With Adam, I believe I won’t ever have to roll out my own wheelchair and descend into crone-dom. Right? Maybe I don’t have to be one wheelchair ride away from middle age to grim dotage.
And for the teeny-bopper girls in the audience, girls too young to drive: don’t they also love his sequins, and costumes, and makeup? Don’t little girls, after all, love to play dress up, too?
For women, whether middle-aged or tweens, since he is gay, Adam is a safe dangerous man. He raises an eyebrow and dares you to do whatever he asks… or whatever you ask of yourself. I first heard Adam sing the hard-rocking “Whole Lotta Love” on American Idol. When it ended, his innocent grin acknowledged the applause: still a boy in search of love—even in a silver-studded jacket. From boy to man to gay to flamboyance to androgyny to whip-smart entertainer, to pure honesty when he says, in an interview:
I want to bring people together and get them to dance and smile and feel sexy and celebrate our similarities, not our differences… It’s a really, really cool thing to be able to show people that you can be yourself and you should be proud of yourself and you should own who you are and what you’re about and never make apologies for it.
How wise when he asserts the need for both inclusivity and individuality; how tenderly naive when he uses the phrase “really, really cool.” (Although, if someone else were to say that, I’d roll my eyes.) Maybe his 1970s ideal—urging us all to love one another, to embrace all sides of ourselves—is hokey… but he sings it so well.
Right before he (I’m still not kidding) stared straight into my eyes, I stepped off the spoke of the wheelchair. Now, his gaze on mine causes me to make one small gesture. So far, I’ve not waved my arms, sung aloud with the audience, or shouted his name. Perhaps I still feel as if middle age requires decorum. Or maybe I’m too entranced by Adam even to breathe. Almost unaware, I now, however, touch the bill of my cap with my forefinger. To acknowledge him? Acknowledge a connection—this longing—which he might appreciate if he recognizes it. Which he won’t. It’s not a baseball cap; rather, it’s reminiscent of the peaked caps once worn by the Beatles. I haven’t worn it in years. Why tonight? Before leaving home, I hadn’t planned my wardrobe, only thought I’d need protection from the sun. I have dozens of hats. This one, a red-and-white candy-striped number is a kind of tribute to adolescence, youth.
I don’t recall when I bought this cap. I doubt I wore it—or even one similar to it—when I once attended a Beatles concert at DC Stadium. Why bother? I sat a million miles away from them in the bleachers. They would never notice me or a cap. I couldn’t really hear or see them, either. I don’t remember what they looked like in person, or which songs they sang. That concert, like the past itself, is distant.
Or, no, not distant.
I hear Adam sing as if I’m still in high school rock-and-rolling in teenage hangouts, cruising Route 17 in that V-8 Plymouth, a car Adam would surely love if only he could have driven in it with me. His voice, after all, is like fiery blasts of Jersey… the urgent thwang of metal ricocheting off metal, cigarette smoke seductively webbing neon, when I was, was, was a girl who loved those teenaged boys, their sleek black hair slicked like Adam’s hair now… jukebox evenings as powerful as Adam’s voice, years before he was born.
I wonder: Did I arrive from the freedom of that gold-finned Plymouth (back when I sweated through summer on white-hot vinyl car seats and didn’t have to worry about leather) to the RAV4, only to end up next to a wheelchair? Surely there’s more. Surely I’ll find it here. For a moment I feel suspended between the age of that old woman and Adam’s youth. Which is stronger? I glance at the woman. Even in the exploding music, she’s drifted asleep.
Adam’s gaze glides away from me. But I want to believe—I do believe—I hold onto his timelessness, his never-ending now. I must stand in the same equatorial coordinates as Adam even for a moment. Or forever.
In short, pre-Adam, I slumped into middle age. But now… now he and his music jumpstart my heart better than any defibrillator. I won’t, won’t, won’t end up a rageful woman dozing in a wheelchair.
Next, he appears on stage wearing a leather vest. His shoulders are bare. Freckles, small and tender, seemingly alarmed, float on pale skin amidst dark heat and glitter.
All this… and a voice that propels you, yes, you, from tender freckles to campy hype to underground sexuality to entranced beatitude. He’s the boy-next-door-black-leather-rocker who isn’t afraid of lace. He sings of pain and joy and loneliness and peace and love and sexuality and freedom.
My feelings toward him aren’t particularly sexual. They are deeper. I want to evanesce inside his body, zip myself up in his skin, in his veins, in his incense, in his smoke, in order to absorb his vibrations against every cell in my body. He fills his own body with a masculine primitive raw and tender heart. I want the power of that heart, too.
Of course women love him. Unlike most (straight) guys, he’s in touch with his feelings—and don’t you dare question my pop-psych analysis. He sings of self-empowerment; offers relationship advice between songs; makeup advice in interviews (“if your eyeliner doesn’t go on right, smooth it out with a finger”). Don’t all of us middle-aged women in the audience feel as if we suppress some of who we are in order to live in a world still run by straight men? If so, are we women (and maybe even straight men) in the audience all going gay for Adam Lambert? Do we all release our gay other/inner selves to join anima with animus? Yin with yang? Polka dot dresses with combat boots?
Can we even subvert middle age for youth?
Everyone in the audience thinks they have a personal relationship with Adam. The woman in the wheelchair (when she awakes). The tweens screaming behind me. The guy who smoothes his hair over and over. “I’m going to wait outside by his bus after the concert,” he whispered to me earlier.
At midnight, I find myself outside on a wet, puddled sidewalk. During the concert a storm gusted through, knocking small branches off trees—a storm we never heard inside the thundering theater. The audience, admiring their newly purchased CDs and concert t-shirts, whooshes past me. Adam’s tour bus hums in the parking lot waiting to rumble to the next gig.
I stand beneath the dark marquee, the sign not yet changed for the next concert, still announcing, “Adam Lambert, Fri., 8.” Always announcing “Adam Lambert.”
I clutch the t-shirt I purchased. Adam appears bold and silver against a black background. His topaz eyes, edged with black, stare fierce and blue between his fingers, spread wide across his face. Each fingernail is black, the fingers themselves studded with silver-chained jewelry. Below, in pink script, are the words For Your Entertainment.
I follow a trail of drenched sequins to my RAV where I’ll sit on the leather seat and listen to For Your Entertainment, following Adam’s voice, his glitter, into the future, into the past…
Shortly after graduating college, a few decades before Adam Lambert, I visited the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, one quick stop on my visitor’s “to do” list. Upon entering, however, my hurried tourist’s feet slowed. For a moment I couldn’t move. My eyelids, my palms, my bare shoulders flushed from the rose stained-glass windows. On the brochure, I read a 1323 quote from Jean de Jandun: “the cathedral shines out like the sun among stars.”
I lowered myself onto a pew. At first, I felt the weight of the Gothic towers, the lateral vaults, the large cross separating the choir from the nave. The bells. The organs. The weight of religion itself, the stained-glass windows depicting saints, martyrs, virgins, angels… and the Savior, stars shining on the wounds on his hands, temple lamps lit around him.
Down the pew from me sat an elderly woman, a black shawl covering her head, her neck bent, her palms pressed together in prayer.
I had no prayers. I didn’t know any. But I couldn’t leave.
And yet I left…
While I sat there, it was as if I levitated from my body—my soul rising straight out of my skin—soaring beyond the flying buttresses to become one with an ethereal existence. I felt as if I entered the stained-glass windows, my soul awash in the greens, blues, whites, reds, gold of the Flight to Egypt, the Annunciation, the Descent into Hell, the Temptation of Eve, of Eve and Adam, oh, Adam… me, the thinnest crease of light, smaller, yet larger, than I’d ever been before. So as I lifted my self away from myself, away from the wood pew, I mystically became more of my self, or felt a deeper sense of myself—yes, an everlasting forever me—a feeling I’d never had before or since until…
Yes, I know, I know: Comparing the Adam Lambert concert to a religious experience in the Cathedral of Notre Dame is too much. Comparing his voice to the power of a 395 cubic-inch Plymouth engine is too much. To imagine Adam as a sun among stars, or a moon among suns is too much. To imagine the freckles on his shoulders like pinpricks of stained-glass light is too much. Comparing him to the roar and growl of that Plymouth and a religious hallucination—all in one fell swoop, at one and the same time—is definitely too much.
Earlier, at the concert, I touched the peaked bill of my cap; the young man beside me stroked his hair; the old woman in Notre Dame pressed her palms together in prayer: such small gestures for such enormous needs.
Rumpus original art by Elizabeth Schmuhl.