I‘m going to jump him. I swear to God!” announces a barely legal girl in a Breeders T-shirt as she and her friend rush the stage at New York’s CBGB. They’re hanging from the walls tonight, these young women, risking life and limb in the hope that Gavin Rossdale of Bush will just once flutter his delicate eyelids their way. Rossdale is quite the genetically engineered mid-’90s pop star, from his casually disaffected pose to his grainy, yearning voice to his enviable cheekbones and matted locks. “Gavin,” notes Bush manager Dave Dorrell, “is a musician cursed with a model’s face — if that’s a curse.”
Bush hit the stage with an instant reminder of the other reason the band’s debut album, Sixteen Stone, has soared to triple-platinum status and spawned a string of five MTV-friendly singles. From the vertiginous opening riff of “Machinehead,” the band hammers home an arsenal of heavy, Seattle-inspired hooks with a kind of fearsome precision usually witnessed in venues 10 times this size. Roch critics have covered the band with a level of opprobrium not seen since the Stone Temple Pilots were made the whipping boys of the alternative nation some seasons back. There are, however, few discouraging words at CBGB as Bush bask in the adoration of a few hundred fans grateful to be witnessing an arena-level band in so intimate a setting. By the time the band lashes into its cover of the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant,” the show has turned into a full-tilt bacchanal. There’s something subtly wrong, though, about this reading of the punk anthem: The carefully replicated groove is a little too comfortable, and where Johnny Rotten railed against the world through splintered teeth, Rossdale’s sullen tones speak of privilege both social and musical; the world accepts him. Rossdale, you might think, has as much right to be singing “Pretty Vacant” as he does to be singing it here at the birthplace of punk rock. Then again, he sure is pretty.
The Saturday Night Live after-show parties of today may not compare with the classic throw-downs of the 70s, but a certain giddiness attends this evening’s bash at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York. There’s a feeling among the revelers that SNL is recovering from the doldrums of recent years. As evidence of Saturday Night Live‘s new teeth, take tonight’s sketch in which cast member Molly Shannon delivered a vicious, accurate impression of an off-the-rails Courtney Love. The imitation was even ballsier given that Love’s name has been frequently linked with the lead singer of this evening’s SNL musical guests, Bush.
Shannon was at Bush’s afternoon rehearsal earlier today, giggling over Rossdale with SNL booker Marci Klein (the daughter of designer Calvin Klein). The comedian is also at this after-show party, checking out Rossdale from a discreet distance, when in walks Courtney Love herself. The first lady of pain is accompanied by a spaced-out-looking Evan Dando, who instantly takes to the near-empty dance floor and executes several perfect cartwheels to the tune of “Flashdance … What a Feeling.”
Dando and Love end up at Rossdale’s table, where they proceed to stand on chairs, throw outrageous poses and generally make spectacles of themselves. The black-haired, gothically attired Love seems to be suffering from a cold, as she later appears drowsy, occasionally raising a nasal inhaler to her nose. As the evening wears on, Dando goes outside and broods alone on MoMA’s balcony in the freezing cold, while Love and Rossdale huddle together in deep conversation.
Since they’re completely visible from the dance floor, the fair pair are the party’s main attraction. When Rossdale momentarily steps away, SNL‘s Shannon approaches Love, perhaps to apologize for ridiculing her. (Shannon needn’t have bothered; Love didn’t arrive until the skit was over.)
Rossdale will later insist that their relationship is strictly platonic, that the Hole leader is one of several close female friends. “With my Mum leaving [Gavin’s parents divorced when he was 11, and his father assumed custody], I tend to have very strong friendships with women,” he says. “I always think they’re gonna leave. Not that I whine or go to a fucking therapist, but it has a distinct effect on the way I operate, a distinct effect on the way I am.
“Courtney is one of the last stars, a consummate superstar,” Rossdale continues. “She’s one of my favorite people, completely brilliant. I have to be around people I can feed off, have a rapport with, go somewhere with. It’s impossible not to relate to someone that creative, that tuned in, that vulnerable. Her knowledge of music is incredible — you have to be smart, you have to be in accelerated gear just to hang.”
In the face of the already circulating rumors about himself and Love, Rossdale affects nonchalance. “I don’t care about that stuff, I just get on with it,” he says. “If you think of someone as your friend, why would you be swayed by someone sitting behind a laptop?”
These laptop drivers have given Rossdale more to worry about than just gossip, almost unanimously portraying him and his band as a bunch of lightweight Anglo arrivistes feeding off a scene with decade-deep underground roots. According to this view, R.E.M., Sonic Youth and the Pixies did not slog around the ’80s college circuit in unheated vans to make the world safe for a bunch of MTV confections like Bush (or, for that matter, Candlebox, Better Than Ezra, Collective Soul, Sponge and Silverchair).