I.

Don’t encourage me.

Life right now in NYC is NSYNC on repeat. The first piece of music I ever owned was the album No Strings Attached by NSYNC. I had it on cassette.

Some history: NSYNC were a pop music boy band formed by this 26-year-old guy, Chris Kirkpatrick, who didn’t make the cut for the Backstreet Boys and so approached their manager, Lou Pearlman (more about him later), and asked him if he’d be interested in another act. After some pitching, Lou was sold, and boom. The reason, besides the wordplay, that the group called themselves “NSYNC”—provided you don’t already know, which you, of course, should—is because it corresponded to the last letters of each of the member’s first names (JustiN, ChriS, JoeY, JasoN, JC). However, just before things were made official, Jason dropped out on grounds of not wanting to be in a boy band—concerns about his “image” or what have you, ahem (more about that way way later, but probably in real life and in subtle, unintentional ways)—so they replaced him with this 16-year-old kid named Lance Bass. Lance’s name clearly doesn’t correspond with the thing that they had going on for their name, so they nicknamed him “Lansten.” Lansten. Who in the fuck’s name is Lansten?! What a sham.

NSYNC debuted their music in Germany, close-ish to where they were really born so to speak, considering the wonders Cheiron worked for them in Sweden. Europe was sweet, but then when they crossed back over the Atlantic, not so much. It wasn’t until they got their big break on the Disney Channel—on account of this one time that the Backstreet Boys had to call out at the last second (Brian Littrell’s medical problems)—that they started to see commercial success in the United States. It was around then that they put out No Strings Attached, which was huge and definitely made its mark on pop culture. Sales-wise, it set records. It sold a million albums in a day!

I didn’t really listen to that album. I listened to D’Aularis’ Book of Greek Myths and Harry Potter audiotapes before I went to sleep, every night. I remember getting up to flip the tapes, creeping over to the boombox, doing it quickly. I was afraid of the dark.

II.

Now, on to Lou Pearlman. He used to manage NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys, remember? Scumbag. Lou Pearlman grew up in Flushing, Queens, in the 60’s, close enough to the airport to visit often and develop a fascination with airfare, especially blimps. That fascination turned into inspiration and, once he was a college graduate (from a school in Queens), and one failed business deep (an NYC helicopter taxi service), he set out anew on his blimp quest under the guise of Airship Enterprises, Ltd. He actually did end up leasing a blimp (that he didn’t yet own) pretty fast to the clothing company Jordache, but the blimp, and business relationship that went with it, crashed pretty promptly. A seven-year lawsuit ensued wherein both parties sued the other, and Pearlman somehow ended up with $2.5 million in damages. Lou took Airship Enterprises public under the false pretense of having an experienced business partner (the same guy who’d helped him with the helicopter taxi venture) and used the money that he made from that, alongside with what he had left from the Jordache lawsuit, to buy a blimp for who else but McDonald’s. When that deal went through, Pearlman was ecstatic. He was finally seeing the successes that he’d dreamed of as a boy…thumbing through the enshrouded linens and fabrics of what he’d believed must’ve been some of the richest and most famous people in all of New York. His father’s dry cleaning business back in Queens all those years ago. He nostalgiæd on once trying on a woman’s mink coat. It was about his size and he loved the way that it hugged, yet near-delicately framed—more draped off of—his flabby, sweaty, filmed-in-grease, chubby boy-body. He admired its sheer quality. He’d never felt something so soft! Lou remembered ascending the narrow stairs to their apartment above the dry cleaners. The walls were drab. The steps were wooden. He remembered going into his mother and father’s room, straight to the bathroom, and was rooting around in a drawer beneath their sink—beneath their mirror—for some lipstick, make up, earrings, something when he heard the bell above—and attached to the front door—ring. He tore the coat from his body, balled it up, stashed it under his bed, and ran down the stairs. “Where were you?” his father asked. “Just in the bathroom,”  Lou said.

Right after the McDonald’s deal, Lou moved to Florida and set up contracts with Sea World and MetLife (MetLife are one of largest providers of insurance in the world). But then, all of a sudden, woe befell Lou, and I’ll be damned if his blimps didn’t all start dropping left and right like flies out of a sky without oxygen. His clients started leaving, and his stock dropped fifty percent…didn’t matter though, ‘cos ol’ Lou Pearlman knew a guy named Jerome Rosen, who was a partner at this small trading outfit called Norbay Securities in Queens and who worked specifically with airship stock. Word is that Rosen drove the stock up, and then right before all the blimps crashed, they shorted…but that’s just what I heard.

In the mid 90’s, having now witnessed the literal crash and burn of his beloved blimps, Lou decided to move on to a new thing. His new thing was, of course, boy bands. First things first—and Lou didn’t waste any time back then—he started a record label: Trans Continental Records. Their first signees were the Backstreet Boys (the best-selling boy band of all time) and then NSYNC. This pretty much gave Pearlman free reign in pop music for a spell. He had a formula that seemed to work. He even co-wrote a book about it. LFO, Take 5, Britney Spears, and Aaron Carter were all under his label and management for a time.

With the exception of the group US5, every single act ever signed to Lou Pearlman has sued him for misrepresentation and fraud. Every single case brought against him was either won by the party suing him or was settled out of court. Every case also ended in a confidentiality agreement. Even in spite of those agreements, what we do know is that Pearlman was getting paid as a sixth member of the Backstreet Boys, and as their producer, and as their manager, besides royalties and anything else he could get his hands on. Reportedly when between all of them they were making $300,000, he was making millions.

He was a man of many scams, Lou Pearlman, and on the heel of his boy band phase helped run a sketchy talent agency called Transcontinental Talent. TCT underwent many name changes, including Wilhelmina Scouting Network and Fashion Rock, but enjoyed a steady number of lawsuits, and, due to overwhelming bad press, had its advertising publicly blackballed. With TCT flatlining, Lou’s accounting came under investigation and it became apparent that this whole time that Lou Pearlman had been running one of the largest and longest-running Ponzi schemes in all history.

For over twenty years, Pearlman had defrauded people and businesses into investing in Transcontinental Airlines Travel Services, Inc., a company that only existed on paper. Lou used falsified FDIC and AIG forms to earn investors’ trust and money. He also created an “Employee Savings Account” for the fake company that he then used to falsify financial statements, statements in turn overseen by the also-fake accounting firm Cohen and Siegel that he then used to get even more money from banks in loans. All said and done, Lou made $300 million from the scheme.

It was in 2007 that the Florida regulators declared his savings program a fraud and set out to retrieve the $95 million in it. Lou skipped town lickedy-split. Over the next few months, he was reportedly seen in Russia, Germany, Israel, Spain, Panama, and Brazil, until he was finally apprehended and arrested in Indonesia. Lou was indicted by a federal jury on my birthday, June 27th. He was convicted and in May sentenced to life in prison on charges of conspiracy and money laundering. In August of 2016, Lou Pearlman died in custody from a heart attack.

III.

Now, on why my “life right now in NYC is NSYNC on repeat.” Note: I didn’t say my life is like their music, or even like them as individuals, but I spoke of NSYNC as an entity unto itself and will address and define it/them as such.

What is/are—well—were, NSYNC? Let’s examine the above. They were an apparently emotionally and financially exploited cultural movement that entered into the hemisphere on the coat tails of another (the Backstreet Boys) and rose to fame and notoriety of their own accord. Their foundation (Lansten) is wrought with fraud and illegitimacy, the environment in which they were born and then thrived was monopolized by a fraudster and self-serving entity (Lou Pearlman), who, on the other hand, created and then cultivated that same environment that they in fact owed their very existence to. In all of it, the soul seeps through the cracks, but it isn’t easy to find from far away. And I’m detached. I told you, I had it on cassette.

***

For all installments from 30 Birds, click here.

Previous installments:

  1. “Velvet” by the Bloody Eyes
  2. “Subtle” by Yukio Mishima
  3. “Geronimo Sunset!” by Jun. 27
  4. “My Hero” by Annie Wonoffate Million
  5. “Gender” by Jun. 27, Part 1
  6. “Gender” by Jun. 27, Part 2