ROCK 'N' ROLL MAKEOVER

Our intrepid reporter gets 'Jessed for success' by former MTV personality

 

BY COREY LEVITAN

      I'm a typical male. I have no fashion sense. I buy clothes exactly as they're displayed on Gap mannequins, and value my girlfriends based on their ability to tell me which shirt goes with which pair of pants in my closet.

      Jesse Camp is not a typical male. The former MTV VJ wears eyeliner and nail polish. Standing 6'5 with his stringy hair pouffed out, he looks like a cross between a young Christie McNichol and Big Bird.

      Camp's may not be a "GQ" sense of fashion, but at least it is one. That's why I thought it would be cool to have him rock me out with a shopping trip down Hollywood's Melrose Avenue.

      "First, you need a good pair of pants," says Camp, welcoming me aboard his tour bus. Jesse and his band, the 8th Street Boys, have just pulled into town after a concert the previous night in Phoenix.

      "Pants are like armor," says Camp, 19. "They're your last line of defense."

      He walks me back to his bunk, flipping through his trouser collection. He points out how they're all skin-tight.

      "The tighter the better," he says, "and everything should have leopard in it."

      My brain is a sponge for this new information. I never saw tight leopard pants on a Gap mannequin. Everything I've been taught is wrong.

      We begin our stroll along Melrose.

      "This is a great place for clothing," Camp says. "But the best clothing is stuff you make yourself." Camp reveals that his leather jacket is really cut from a huge slab of vinyl.

      Much speculation has swirled over whether Jesse himself is the genuine article. A hayseed kid from rural Gramby, CT, he won MTV's first "Wanna Be a DJ" contest in 1998. America loved his bubbly, stonerlike personality and his unswerving belief in the power of rock 'n' roll. Based on his enthusiastic fan base, he signed a $2 million-dollar record deal and released "Jesse & the 8th Street Kidz" last year.

      But a Spin magazine article last year postulated that it's all an act; that Jesse is a Rhodes scholar-type from a wealthy family.

      "I don't want to say I'm from the street," Camp tells me.

      Whatever. Camp's rock fashion sense is real enough, a fact confirmed by his forearms. About 50 bracelets dangle from each one.

      "You can't take them off," he says. "They're a badge of honor. The more you have, it shows the longer you've been rocking."

      An equal amount of buttons festoon Camp's fake leather jacket. They advertise artists such as the Lynch Mob, David Coverdale, Dokken and Ratt. Camp's music is obviously not indicative of current music trends. He should be opening for Motley Crue or Buckcherry.

      But Camp is in town to open a tour for 'N Sync.

      "We just want to play our music to whoever wants to hear it," he says. "And these little girls love it. So if the older rock generation doesn't want us right now, that's cool. I believe in our music and I know eventually they're going to love it, too."

      Camp is fingering through the racks of printed T-shirts at a store called Wasteland. My rock 'n' roll makeover has begun.

      He stops at a Lou Reed "Transformer" shirt, then an Ozzy Osbourne, before noticing that it promotes 1995's "Ozzmosis." This is not a classic Ozzy album. Camp says a T-shirt has to promote something "you really believe in."

      A man approaches to hand us free passes to the record-release party for Puff Daddy's new record. This never happens when I shop alone.

      "This is it!" Camp says, plucking out a Guns N' Roses "Appetite For Destruction" shirt.

      Camp then decides some black and white tiger-print pants are growling my name. He says tiger is a suitable substitution in his leopard-in-the-pants rule.

      "None of the rules is hard and fast, man," he says.

      The pants are furry, which will limit their ability to be cleaned.

      "Stains are not a bad thing," Camp says, smiling. "Well, it depends on what you were doing the night before."

      Camp's attention focuses on a feathery white jacket by the front window.

      "I don't know if this is really great or really hideous," he says, handing it to me, "but as long as it's extreme, it's good."

      My new outfit is topped with a red straw hat.

      Walking into the dressing room, my fingers are crossed. The pants aren't marked with a size, and they can't be bigger than a 28. I'm not fat, but ... let's put it this way ... Jesse and I weigh exactly the same and are a foot apart in height.

      Luckily, everything fits. And I'm feeling fairly confident. Being normal-sized for once probably helps. Camp picked out some four-inch black boots for me.

      Wasteland lets us walk outside with my unpurchased outfit, triggering the store's alarm. Hopefully my wild look will be distracting enough so no one will notice the nipple-shaped plastic anti-theft devices fastened to every article of my clothing.

      Amid the clopping of boots on pavement, Camp leans over the decreased discrepancy in our heights. He seems to be addressing me as a peer now.

      "If you believe in something and someone tells you, 'You suck for believing in that,' you're gonna believe in it even more," he says. "So I think that's why the rock look gets extreme. The meaner you look at us, the more piercings and tattoos we'll have and the spikier we'll make our hair."

      "Us," he said! Am I now officially a rocker?

      Maybe not. For some reason, nobody is staring at me. Sure, it's Melrose and everyone looks weird. But I look like Rooster the pimp from "Baretta," for crying out loud.

      Oh, wait. We're stopped. Ashley Dickinson, 16, from Indiana, is shopping with her girlfriend. She locks eyes with me and opens her beautifully glossed mouth to ask a question.

      "Can you take our picture with Jesse?" she asks, foisting her disposable camera into my hands.

      Great.

      The walk back to Wasteland is long, the clock ticking down to the moment I have to return the clothes and revert to a pumpkin.

      My pimp confidence waning, Camp leans over to deliver a message of inspiration.

      "How you dress says a lot about where you're coming from," he says. "But at the end of the day, clothing doesn't make the man."

      Maybe Camp really is a genius after all.

      "I was still a rock 'n' roller when I had to wear a stupid cake outfit and work at the Entenmann's thrift store," he says. "What matters is your soul."

      OK, my soul. Which store can we pick one of those up in?

 

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