By Ashley Zimmerman
By Dana Krangel
By John Hood
By Ashley Zimmerman
By David Von Bader
By Sayre Berman
By Steve Brennan
By Ashley Zimmerman
"I hate playing in front of an audience," he said from his Manhattan apartment a few weeks ago. "I just hate it. I'm very uncomfortable under spotlights. I'm not looking forward to [appearing as part of the festival] particularly; in fact I dread the thought of it. Touring for a whole month doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun."
Self-fulfilling prophecy or not, Merritt got his wish Monday, July 2, when Neil Tennant (head Pet Shop Boy and organizer of Wotapalava) issued a statement saying that the 18-city tour would be postponed until next summer. Citing Sinéad O'Connor's withdrawal from the festival as the reason for pulling the plug, Tennant said he made the decision with "the greatest of reluctance."
However, the logic in pulling the plug is painfully obvious. Reports from all over the country indicate that someone involved in planning Wotapalava was suicidally overoptimistic. For instance, tickets for the first date of the tour (at Miami's sizable AT&T Amphitheater) have been available since June 2.
"They had thought they might have 20,000 [in attendance]," said Leslie Rosenberg, media director of Fantasma Productions, the show's local promoter. With disbelief, she added that, as of Friday, June 29, only 658 seats had been sold. The story was similar all over the country. "Scary, huh?" adds Rosenberg. "It's sad."
Even with O'Connor and all 23 albums she sells biannually, it's clear that Wotapalava never had the capacity to be a gay Lollapalooza filling massive outdoor arenas. Besides, at press time, O'Connor is engaged -- to a man. No one from Pet Shop Boys or Soft Cell had any reason to expect huge crowds this summer, Rufus Wainwright's positive press clippings don't sell arena seats, and though Magnetic Fields certainly should have crowds of 20,000 at every show, we're left asking: What were they thinking? Tennant released a statement admitting, "Even though our original idea was to put together a bill of gay artists, what we wanted to do was put all these artists together so people can see how very little they have in common."
To this end Grace Jones was recruited to fill Sinéad's slot, but the entire tour seemed woefully underpromoted and frightfully overextended. And although the performers may be homosexual (Merritt's publishing company is called Gay and Loud), that's no guarantee that every gay man and woman in South Florida would be interested in such an obscure lineup. Want to fill an arena with gay South Florida yuppies? Book Ani DiFranco, Melissa Etheridge, or Madonna, for crying out loud. On Wotapalava's message board, disappointed ticket holders put forth Erasure, Jimmy Somerville, k.d. lang, and Le Tigre as other "gay-friendly" acts the festival could add to improve its cachet.
Still, Merritt is probably ecstatic that he has at least a year's reprieve. Instead of schlepping around the country's sheds and brand-name concrete auditoriums with drummer Claudia Gonson, guitarist John Woo, and cellist Sam Davol, he can stay home with his Chihuahua, Irving, and commute to his Brooklyn studio, where he's working on concurrent records from two of his other bands, the Gothic Archies and Future Bible Heroes.
Merritt's exquisite pop music has always been the product of cross-pollination: experimental and bubble-gum music, he used to say, and nothing in between. But somewhere down the line he became known as the Cole Porter of his generation, though Merritt would argue he idolizes John Foxx, the austere synthesizer pioneer and former Ultravox singer who married the minimalist appeal of Kraftwerk with the psychological sci-fi of J.G. Ballard. Although there's a big dose of technopop on 69 Love Songs (1999's three-disc epic on which the Magnetic Fields could retire, if year-end best-of lists assured financial security), there's also French chanson, Brel-styled cabaret, C&W mushiness, and much more. But now South Florida's chances of seeing any of the soixante-neuf tunes performed live appears nil.
See, Merritt doesn't have to leave his air-conditioned apartment now, which makes him pretty happy: "I can't stand heat," he murmured in his soft, sonorous baritone.
If you're one of the 658 folks who bought tickets for Wotapalava, they're refundable through Ticketmaster.