Strange Bedfellows



BB King’s Blues Club and Grill on 42nd St, 10036

Neighborhood: Times Square

Time really is the great leveler. The other night I went to BB King’s Blues Club and Grill to hear the Psychedelic Furs of all things. Or a better way to put it, in my case, would be that I went to hear the Furs at BB King’s of all places. Either way, you get the point. BB King’s, it seems, isn’t just a blues club, but a kind of agreed-on repository for famous, if faded, musical acts. It’s on 42nd Street not far from Penn Station, two flights below sunlight–or neon, as the case may be.

If it weren’t for the telltale guitar-printed carpeting, the lounge might pass for something on a cruise ship: raised daises and brass rails and long tables spaced around the stage. There’s a standing-room-only section in front of the bar, but if you come a little early, as I did, they’ll seat you at a big table with whomever else happens to be there.

I sat with Brent and Cindy–an old-time Furs fan and a Furs novice, respectively. We chatted a bit as we waited for the opening act, Roman Candle, to come on. (They never did.) Assorted 80s tunes that would never have been caught dead together (“Villiers Terrace” by Echo and the Bunnymen alongside “Xanadu” by Olivia Newton-John) played from an iPod in the control booth ahead.

Brent and Cindy both worked on Wall Street. I asked more questions than I answered, mentioning that I was from Canada, that I used to work in publishing, but was now, well, doing other things. Cindy, a slight brunette in her late twenties, told me she’d been in banking since graduation. A glance told me the earrings were diamond, the sweater cashmere. Back at my apartment, jeans and a black cotton top seemed good enough for a post-punk concert, but here in this eclectic crowd, it was difficult to determine just who was under–or over–dressed.

Brent leaned across the table, “So what do you do now, Nora?” He was about forty–my age. The kind of polo-shirted student council type I rarely crossed orbits with in high school, since grown up to be a leather-pant-wearing power-player with a brokerage firm.

But I didn’t have to answer. A hush fell over the room as the house darkened. The stage lights went up and the band came on.

“Sister Europe” was the way it started. A looser and grittier sound than the 1980 recording. Richard Butler’s voice somehow both languid and rasping. Short hair now. Glasses. Black-suited. Arms mapping out a lazy semaphore.

“Love My Way,” “Into You Like a Train,” “Mr. Jones.” The Furs played them all. But among the crowd, a groundswell was rising: “Pretty in Pink!”

“Pretty in Pink!” hollered Brent.

“Pretty in Pink!” said Cindy, though not very loudly. The song that John Hughes named the movie after. The one song the Brents and Cindys I knew in high school would always know.

What I was waiting for was “India.” It had been some 25 years since its whisper-quiet opening first stopped me in my tracks. I was standing barefoot on the wood floor at my high school friend Fiona’s. She’d been showing me how to tease up my hair with hairspray. “Not too much, though. That’s for posers.” With enough black eyeliner, I’d look like Siouxsie Sioux.

“The Ghost in You.” The first set ended, leaving our table silent. I fiddled with the red swizzle stick in my bourbon as Cindy sipped her wine.

Brent leaned over to me again across the polyester tablecloth: “So, Nora–you never told us what you do.”

All right. For me, anyway, this kind of thing takes practice. “I’m a writer.”

“For a newspaper?” Cindy asked.

“No–I’m working on a novel.”

“Oh,” said Cindy. “Mystery or romance?” And then, “When’s it coming out?”

The questions. The question. But before I could start to answer, Brent looked at me with something like understanding. In a single stroke, he steered things northward: “I go to Canada a lot for the skiing. Whistler, Banff, Blue Mountain, I’ve done them all.”

Blue Mountain? I knew that place and wanted to ask how he did. But I decided to leave it–the house lights were already dimming for the second set.

“Pretty in Pink.” Richard Butler kept his cool, but the crowd went crazy. A man in a killer whale t-shirt shouted something incomprehensible. A woman with a platinum ‘do like Debbie Harry stood up on a tufted chair. Brent was singing along, and so was Cindy. Waving their tanned arms and bobbing their heads.

It was the kind of scene I’ve always made a point of avoiding. The kind of scene I would have taken great exception to in 1982.

But it’s 2007, I’m at BB King’s, and the Furs are playing. I think Brent and Cindy are kind of sweet.

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