And then there’s Donnie. While, through the years, he’s often been obscured by his own younger brother named Marky Mark, out here, Donnie is the star of stars, and he lets you know it. Everyone else is wearing black loafers, so Donnie wears sparkly high-tops with spikes on them. Everyone else dances in strict adherence to the choreography, so Donnie does a little freelance spin move. Everyone else sings during the chorus, so Donnie doesn’t. Everyone else keeps their shirt on like crazy people, so Donnie tears his off and refuses to put it back on for the last third of the show.
But hey, he deserves it -- at this point, he’s the only one who’s “cool”. While all these other guys have been raising boring families, and making solo albums that aren’t even on iTunes, and judging American Idol spinoffs starring seven-year-olds, Donnie’s been doing work. Acting in Blue Bloods, Band of Brothers, and at least 300 Saw movies. Executive producing cop reality shows. Winning Teen Choice Awards. It’s very difficult to win a Teen Choice Award if you weren’t in Twilight.
The last time I was at Mohegan Sun was three years ago, for Donnie’s 40th birthday party. No, I have no idea why I was invited. The scene was a touch bizarre: him in the casino’s club, up on a 10ft tower, alternately dancing carefully in the limited space he was allotted and chiming in over songs that weren’t even his. The crowd wasn’t the crowd in the arena tonight -- the nostalgia-junkies. It was 14-year-old girls who somehow got in, and somehow knew who he was, and were more than ready to scream when he instructed them to. Donnie’s the only one of the bunch who continues to be “someone” to NEW people.
Later that night, after kicking open no less than two doors I probably wasn’t supposed to kick open in an ill-lit hallway with lots of exposed wires, I came to the suite I was told to go to for Donnie’s after-party. I narrowly avoid absorbing a faceful of Southie hospitality when I walked in unannounced. “Whoa! Guys! I swear to god, I’m totally supposed to be here, just let me talk to Donnie for a second!” The goons seem like they haven’t beat anybody up in a whole hour. One of them points to a kingly chair at the far end of a long table. I talk fast. “Hey Donnie it’s me the guy from this morning with the funny questions about you slow-dancing with Wally the Green Monsterrrr.” “Ahhh! What’s up, man! I seriously needed that interview after being on The View. Come on in, let’s hang out. He’s good, guys.”
Said hangout consists of a multi-part handshake and him telling me to help myself to whatever I want, before he retreats into a smaller room within the suite. The rest of my night and early morning is spent drinking Bud Heavies with his groupies. After all these years, they were still right there. One particularly busty example was 40-something, had brought her daughter along, and apparently was Seinfeldian-ly known as “the Braless Wonder”. A flight attendant, she would game her routes to make NKOTB concerts across the country 20yrs earlier. Now here she was, just happy to be back in her zone, even if -- much like me -- she wasn’t actually hanging out with Donnie. Three years later, after The Package (still funny!) concert, I hear rumors that she’s lurking around again. But Donnie and the boys have already hopped a bus back to Boston. There will be no groupieing for the Braless Wonder tonight.
Meanwhile, 98 Degrees is sitting a a roped-in table across from a Krispy Kreme just off the gaming floor, signing autographs onto copies of their new CD. One fan, who had somehow listened to it already, calls it “like if they put the BeeGees and the Jackson 5 together.” I say damn, that’s pretty high praise. “Oh, that’s not how I meant it at all. Maybe if you like the '70s.”