VIP at Depeche Mode, part one

listening to: Depeche Mode, Skream, Spoon

Got a text from Sam yesterday afternoon, saying he had VIP passes to the outdoor Depeche Mode concert to be held on Hollywood Blvd and would I be interested. You have to ask? He warned me that traffic would be madness. The concert — part of which would double as the band’s appearance on a late-night talk show to promote their new album — was free, and about 15,000 people were expected to flood the neighborhood streets. The VIP pass, which was quickly messengered to me, ensured easy parking, a spot near the stage, and access to the pre- and post-parties.

Searching out the parking lot, naturally I turned left instead of right and spent a solid half hour fighting my way back around the block. Inching through the gridlock of traffic gave me plenty of opportunity to reflect on the disparity between the romanticized image of Hollywood and seedy, run-down reality. While you still catch glimpses of old-school grandeur in some of the elaborate, art-deco architecture, you also see the crumbling buildings, the dirt and smog, graffiti and garbage. You see the people who’ve been thrown out– or have thrown themselves out — to live on the fringes, the so-called freaks and homeless and drug dealers and rough trade. They become part of a different kind of mythos, to wonder at and spin stories about before climbing on your tour bus and heading back to your hotel. We say we live in LA, a friend remarked to me last week, but you and I live in a very small part of it. Hollywood is not that part. Still, it’s always kind of a thrill to look up and find the Hollywood sign, massive letters marching off the hillside, suspended in sunlight or fog.

Since all I had was was the address of the parking lot, once I left my car I didn’t know where to go. I found a crowd to follow — rock’n’roll hipster types mingling with black-clad photographers carrying bulky equipment, one of them slamming down a skateboard and hopping neatly on it — and by the time Sam had texted me enough info for me to figure out that I was not where I was supposed to be, I’d already reached various gates and booths manned by security guards and people holding clipboards. The hipsters and photographers would stop and I would stop along with them, until somebody noticed the red VIP pass that I’d forgotten was hanging around my neck: “Hey, you can go through.” I didn’t have to talk to anyone or see if my name was on a list or get scanned for weapons. I didn’t even have to ask for directions; when a (very cute) guy in a uniform noticed me wandering past one of the fenced-off areas — like huge holding pens — in which people had already been gathering for hours, he checked my pass and escorted me to the (much smaller) pen off to the side of the stage. Which is when I remembered I was supposed to be at the preparty. That took a few more minutes to find — it was in the lobby of the new W building down the street at the corner — and as soon as I stepped through the doors I texted Sam to say I am here just as he was texting me to say I’ve gone out to look for you .

A bunch of people hanging out, drinking wine and mingling. The food was good, but there wasn’t enough of it. I watched one server come out of the kitchen carrying a tray of shrimp appetizers. People swarmed like piranhas, and she had taken maybe five steps before the tray was picked clean and she rolled her eyes and turned back to the kitchen. It’s impossible to talk to Sam at these things because he’s constantly being approached, surrounded by people. So I talked to the people talking to him, and one of them gave me two wristbands — strips of green paper printed with happy faces — that, he said, would give us access to the central area in front of the stage. When I went to the bar to drop off empty wine glasses, people saw the strips of green in my hand and were suddenly descending on me: “Where did you get those wristbands?” To which I would shrug and give the less-than-illuminating answer, “Some guy.”

Then another guy called us all to attention, explaining that the show would soon begin. “When you leave through those doors,” he said, “you will see lots of people streaming down the sidewalks toward the concert area. Do not follow those people for they are…” He pretended to wring his hands. “…the unwashed masses, and where they are going is not where you are going.”

As we moved to the doors, I exchanged a few words with another person who’d been talking to Sam, the model Josie Maran. She was with a young, dark-eyed man almost as good-looking as she is*. They were en route to another event — something about the Chloe clothing line — that was on the heels of this event, and trying to figure out the timeline involved in navigating their red-carpet responsibilities at both. “So many red carpets,” I said, “so little time,” and Josie at least pretended to find that amusing.

* I’ve had brief, passing encounters with other high-ranking models or supermodels and I always notice the same thing. It’s not like they immediately bowl you over with paranormal beauty. Sure, they’re really attractive, but so are lots of people in these rooms, this city. What they do have that sets them apart is an uncanny symmetry and harmony to their features, so that once you start looking at them it becomes difficult to stop. Your gaze continues to be drawn in. You can see why the eye of the camera doesn’t get tired of them.

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