By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
When Merlin ran away, the dancers were tumbling in a field after rehearsal at the Jaycees Club on Marathon Key. The Shih Tzu nosed around in the sand on the volleyball court and then trotted across the Jaycees' driveway to Stanley Switlik Elementary School. Sniffing at the silver buttonwood on the bay side along U.S. 1, Merlin passed Alvin Hayes sipping a beer in a broken armchair out in the dust in front of his trailer with a couple of associates in the neighborhood known as The Rock tucked out of sight from Marathon's tourist attractions. The black, white, and brown scruff eyed a heron swooping over St. Paul's A.M.E. Church at the end of Louisa Street, pawed at the chainlink fence surrounding the Grace Jones Day Care and Community Center, then headed down 41st Street, past abandoned houses and cement slab apartment buildings plastered with "No Trespassing" signs, toward the sea.
Four miles east, on the ocean side of the highway, Aaron Carter sat watching Harry Potter at the Marathon Community Cinema with his dancers and vocal coach. The thirteen-year-old pop star did not remember his little dog until the scene where the boy magician confronts a three-headed canine guarding the sorcerer's stone. "Merlin!" the boy shouted, rushing from the theater, his dancers fast behind, while Potter battled Fluffy. "We found him the next day, though," he says a week or so later. "He was in some old people's yard."
For the past two years, ever since Aaron Carter released his triple-platinum Aaron's Party (Come Get It) and his parents/managers bought up twelve Marathon acres, the kids at Stanley Switlik have been swapping sightings of the tousle-haired teen and his big brother, Backstreet Boy Nick Carter. Although the Nickelodeon fave has a private tutor, everybody knows he has been practicing for his upcoming tour right next door to the school. His tutor, tour manager, and production manager all stay in trailers on the family property; a second tour manager has moved into a Marathon apartment year-round; his Toronto-based dancers have shared a rented duplex for the past month and a half; another duplex houses the band members whenever they fly in from LA. In addition to the family residence, crew quarters, and a management office, his parents are building a recording studio and, as the need arises, a stage for concerts at the Marathon Airport.
But no one on the playground that afternoon recognized Aaron Carter's dog. As for Alvin Hayes, he says the only Aaron Carter he knows is the man who lives in the white house down 41st Street and owns most of the property in The Rock. "A kid who sings?" he considers. "Maybe that's his grandson." Well, no, but on December 8, one day after his fourteenth birthday, the Keys' most famous kid will get a little closer to the tots of The Rock when he gives a benefit concert raising funds to keep the cash-strapped Grace Jones Day Care Center (no affiliation with the singer Grace Jones) from closing. "Aaron's mother read about [the financial trouble]," says tour manager/vocal coach Mark Giovi, "and she thought it was a great service Aaron could provide."
This must be what it means for a blue-eyed rapper to keep it real. As the youngest white pop star currently at the top of the charts, Aaron Carter belongs to the crossing guard that keeps middle-class kiddies safe on their way to hip-hop cool. His lyrics are as inane as a note passed in a fourth-grade class, and his beats are about as dangerous as a trip across the monkey bars, which is precisely the point. Angry young men and hipster grownups, this music is not for you. It is for kids just like Aaron Carter and the nine-year-old freckle-faced Switlik third-grader who is madly circling his hips while watching a run-through of "Come Get It" at the Jaycees.
The third-grader and a fourth-grade friend watch spellbound as the singer and his dancers fool around between numbers, tossing a stuffed green turtle atop the fluorescent lights to see who will be the first to bat down the toy that seventeen-year-old daredevil-dancer Matt -- "He's like my best friend in the world," says Aaron breathlessly -- won playing the claw machine down the road at Gary's Bar & Billiards. Leather bands on each wrist, rings on his thumb and pinky, and blonde highlights streaking through the uppermost spikes of his hair, the Canadian tumbler is the high school hero younger boys worship. He leaps at a pole and spreads his legs, hovering in the air and holding a b-boy move the singer will imitate when the music begins again. The choreography is just another kind of game. Matt and the three other teenage dancers, who grew up outdoing one another on Toronto's dance-studio competition scene, back the star with the highly stylized moves that have come to signify hip-hop on MTV: Shoulders rise and fall in synchronized syncopation; legs pop; fists sucker-punch the air. Aaron Carter strides across the floor, throwing his arms and cocking his head to the verse. Even though his voice has changed since recording Oh Aaron, released this past August, and he now looks more adolescent than child, there is no menace in his pose. This is hip-hop as phys. ed.
And this is Aaron Carter's hood. Lil' Bow Wow might enjoy more street cred than this little Backstreet brother, but residents of The Rock will likely never cross paths with Snoop Dogg's shorty at Gary's over by the projects or at the Fish Bowl bowling alley up in Islamorada. If, like his big brother and the rest of the boy bands, he is copping black street style for pop profit, at least Aaron Carter is giving something back.