Friday, October 10, 2008

New Kids on the Block

While it's true that you can never really recapture the innocence of youth, last week I discovered that for $38, plus service fees, you can at least rent it for about 2 hours and 15 minutes. On October 2 I bore witness to the bizarre time capsule of a spectacle that was the New Kids on the Block reunion concert.

I will get right to the point. My expectations were very low. But in the end, I was genuinely, giddily, happily entertained.

Like a lot of girls my age, when I was 9 years old I was stupid over NKOTB (as we called them then, even at age 9 I had a love of acronyms). Unlike most girls, I remained a New Kids fan well after it was socially acceptable to do so. I think somewhere between the summer and fall of 1990, they went from being the hottest thing in the world to being elementary school pariahs. The fall was swift and merciless, and little 9-year-old Robyn's undying affection for Jordan Knight (and sometimes Joe McIntyre) just could not be renounced at the whims of Richboro Elementary's social code. I hung on for about two more years, guarding my forbidden love with absolute devotion, until I went gaga over Leonardo DiCaprio on Growing Pains, and that was the end of that.

But before it was all over, I did manage to attend one concert. I remember the date: December 9, 1990. I remember screaming my bloody head off in the upper reaches of the Philadelphia Spectrum. I remember my dad sitting in his seat, possibly comparing the ordeals he endured in his 20 years of military service to the task of sitting through an entire New Kids concert. I remember it as being the best night of my life at the time.

So when they announced a reunion tour 18 years later, my head said no, but my heart -- well, honestly my heart was like, "Seriously?" And then when we saw the ticket prices, my spleen decided to chime in and said "You must be joking." And when I saw slightly reduced prices, my descending colon was all "Whatever, dude." So my like-minded friend Lisa and I forked over the cash and eagerly began a five-month wait for the show. After buying the tickets, we caught NKOTB's big comeback appearance on the Today show. It was dreadful. Lisa and I began to have serious doubts about what we had done.

But we decided to have good amount of girlie cocktails, and at least have a laugh at it. It might be painful. It might be embarassing. But we would be drunk. So it would be fine. Bring the pain.

It turned out not to be painful at all, really. The Verizon Center was not quite sold out, but shockingly full. I saw one guy the whole evening, and most of the women were our age, many sporting the same T-shirts and massive buttons they had held on to for the better part of two decades. While everyone was in a jolly mood, these women were not being ironic or cynical about any of this. They came to hang tough, dammit, and so would we.

And the show was honestly really good, and a lot of fun. The guys apparently got their shit together since the Today show, and they sounded good, they (mostly) nailed their little dance routines, and seemed bemused but geniunely pleased that an arena full of crazy-ass women would materialize to see dudes in their late 30s singing about cover girls. I was shocked at how all of the lyrics came back to me, so it was like a huge singalong all night. Granted, these are NKOTB songs, and you can't polish a terd and call it a diamond, but they worked the hell out of the material they had. And, yes, they looked good. They've aged very well, thank you, and I'm almost certain Jordan's abs are better now than they were 20 years ago.

Of course there were a few weird moments. There was a Rod Stewart-esque number of costume changes, and one bizarre interlude where they had a montage of random celebrities who have died over the past 15 years since NKOTB were on the scene, like what they have during award shows. I'm sure Kurt Cobain, Frank Sinatra, and Tupac appreciate the recognition, but I'm not sure this was the venue for it. But even the wack parts were endearing. Like the piano that appeared on stage for no other reason than to have a lady in tight pants dance on top of it. Or the guitar that Donnie slung around his neck at the beginning of "Cover Girl," and then never touched again. Hey, at least they were actually singing. Overall, it was a great evening, and I was weirdly proud of my little crushes of yesteryear for pulling off something that by all rights should have been a train wreck. Well played, lads. Well played.


Monday, October 6, 2008

A Good Day at Work

Most of the time I spare you guys a lot of work-talk on the blog. But I just got back from a business trip to NYC where we took part in something fairly cool, so I thought I'd share.

For those who don't know, my job involves working with the media to promote my organization's issues, which include microcredit, foreign aid reform, domestic poverty and healthcare, global education, and a special campaign devoted to raising awareness and resources for fighting tuberculosis. Still with me? Fabulous. Anyway, you can imagine that a lot of the time this involves a lot of calls to journalists who would love to cover our stories, but golly gee, just can't get their editors on board. Especially in a down market. It's kind of like getting turned down for the prom over and over.

Which isn't to say we can't turn it out when we have to. Every now and again we get the odd New York Times piece or editorial, or they run an op-ed we wrote. But recently we got to take part in something a bit more special than that.

Each year, a bunch of smarty-pants entrepreneurs, artists, and other assorted luminaries get together for something called the TED conference, and they award a prize to three individuals of $100,000 to "make a wish to change the world." Last year, one of the winners was a renowned war photographer named James Nachtwey, and his wish was to use the winnings to travel the world and document an underreported health story. Wouldn't you know it, he chose extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis.

A bit of background: A lot of folks think TB was wiped out 100 years ago, but it's still a major problem. 1.7 million people die from it every year, and 9 million people are infected. It's particularly bad for people with HIV/AIDS, and is actually the leading killer of people with AIDS. It's totally curable, often for as little as $20 if you catch it early, but because there's been so little investment, patients in the world's poorest countries often don't receive proper treatment, and their TB mutates into more drug-resistant forms. Extremely drug-resistant TB (or XDR-TB) is the worst kind of all. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat, often involving surgery, and can kill the patient before they're diagnosed, but not before they've passed it on. So for people in poor countries, it's a virtual death sentence. Scary stuff.

So the nice people at TED told us about this, and they had grand plans to project James' pictures in huge displays on the sides of buildings in all seven continents (seriously, they worked something out with a science base in Antarctica. It's nice to have a budget). But, darn the luck, they needed someone to help them with the wonky aspects of the presentation, and to give people something to do if they wanted to take action after seeing the pictures. Naturally, we were delighted to help.

So we've been working with these folks for a few weeks to get media attention, and to fact-check the presentations. There was a big unveiling in NYC on Friday night with a gala reception featuring people like Paul Simon and Anthony Edwards (the bald doctor from ER, or, as he's known in our household, Goose from Top Gun). For the curious, I did not get to meet Mr. Simon, though I stood next to him, and he is alarmingly Robyn-sized. I did meet Goose, and got his autograph, and can affirm that he is wicked chill. I'm very pro-Goose at the moment.

But from a professional standpoint, it was awesome, and kind of surreal, to see a cocktail party full of the NYC society types discussing the talking points of an issue you've been working pretty hard on for the better part of a year. We had a table set up for people to sign letters to Obama and McCain asking them to annouce a presidential TB initiative, and got a lot of signatures (including Mr. Simon and Mr. Edwards). Obama and McCain also each e-mailed our staff statements supporting the campaign in general. The pictures, and slides that we helped wordsmith, were broadcast on the Reuters screen in Times Square just before the reception, so I hoofed it 20 blocks up and back (in heels, thanks), to take pictures. There were actually some photography nerds there waiting for the presentation, because they saw the press release. I almost kissed them. And I'll tell you what, if you haven't seen something you helped write broadcast a couple of stories high at the crossroads of the world, I highly recommend it. Does wonders for morale.

So our obscure little health issue had a hell of a day last week. You can see the slideshow at, and I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you to check out our site for info on the issue. We also got news hits on USA Today, AFP, and Time magazine. It's pretty heavy duty stuff, but hopefully we've helped get the word out about it a little bit. Here are some pictures from the events:

Paul Simon signs our letter:

Anthony Edwards with my boss, Joanne:

Hello! Wanna sign our letter?

In Times Square:

We helped write the text

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