Jan 012021

WB was the kind of friend who could get you into awkward and troublesome situations, but if things didn’t go wrong, then we had a whole lot of fun (bonus: he was shameless about talking to girls while I played the part of the quiet sidekick). There we were at the Spectrum, waiting for the Psychedelic Furs to take the stage. Pretty In Pink was a big hit, the joint was packed. WB turned to me and said, “When the Furs come on, we have to go up front!” I looked around from our seats in the 12th row and said, “We ARE up front! We can see, we can hear, we have room around us, this is great – we’re good here.” “No,” he said, “we have to go ALL the way up front!” He was resolute, no point in further discussion. Not wanting to get ditched, I reluctantly agreed. Much of our dynamic was this way.

We pushed our way into the crowd at the edge of the stage, no doubt ticking off a few kids whose (correct) perception was that there was no room for any more people. I found myself jammed up against a metal fence, crushed and uncomfortable. My left arm was pinned. I worried that if the crowd started moving, I wouldn’t be able to protect myself or keep my balance. I figured I could wriggle my arm up and rest it atop the fence, but once I got my arm free, I realized the fence was higher than my shoulder and unless I got a foot taller, broke my arm, or came down with a case of Rickets, there was no way my plan would work. I had two choices – put my arm back down where it was immobile, or hold my arm up in the air like an idiot. I chose the latter.

So there I am, standing there with my arm aloft like a New Wave Statue of Liberty, the lights go down, the crowd cheers, the band comes out and launches into the first song. Eight bars go by and a spotlight reveals lead singer, Richard Butler, sauntering onto the stage with that laconic confidence that screams, “love me” to his loyal followers. As he walks downstage, he makes a beeline – to me! He struts over, grabs my hand and gives a vigorous shake! Richard Butler shook my hand, HOW COOL IS THAT?!

I felt energized by the handshake from a rock star and it tamped down how silly I felt about standing there with my arm in the air. A few songs later, Butler made his way towards me – and shook my hand AGAIN! Well, that was also cool. A few songs later, he did it again but the excitement was turning sour. When he shook my hand for the 5th time, I began to feel tormented. “Hey Richard,” I wanted to say, “stop shaking my hand! You don’t understand – I can’t put my arm down! Please make it stooooooooop!”

Of course, after a while the crowd had spaced out a little and I was able to lower my arm. It was then that I realized why WB wanted to get close- he’d brought a water pistol to the show and was getting a kick out of trying to squirt the band members. Yes, that is a weird thing to do.

What about you – have you had brushes with greatness at a big rock show? I’m not talking about singing Freebird at your local with your friend’s band. I mean, did you get a handshake? Did the singer hold the mic out to you to sing the chorus of the song? Did you get pulled onto stage to dance? Did the lead guitarist jump into the crowd and play a solo right in front of you? Maybe you got the jackpot – going backstage after the show? Hopefully your experience was less of a torment than mine!


  12 Responses to “Brushes with Greatness”

  1. What a great story to open the New Year! At first, I thought you were heading in the direction of, “Have you ever had your life threatened at a show?” (I have. Twice.) Then, it’s all about being singled out by the lead singer at a big show. Nice!

    I don’t recall ever being singled out like that. I’d like to imagine that Sarah Lee was checking me out from the stage any time I saw Gang of Four, but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the case. It’s not rock ‘n roll, but I had a similar experience involving then-Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. My wife and I and my old boss/still friend and his wife were at the annual Bloomsday reading at The Rosenbach Museum, Kevin and I used to be among the guest readers. If you’ve never been to a Bloomsday reading outside The Rosenbach, I highly recommend doing so. (It’s every June 16, the day of the events in James Joyce’s Ulysses.) This particular year, however, it was raining, so the festivities were moved inside. Gov. Rendell was one of the celebrity readers that year.

    As we entered the Rosenbach, someone and his entourage were coming down the steps. Whoever it was caught the crowd’s eye. People gravitated toward this celebrity, as people will do. Of course, the local celebrity was Rendell, previously our city’s Mayor and a guy with such a big personality that he spent his Sundays as Mayor and then Governor doing the Philadelphia Eagles’ postgame television broadcast, giving a “man-on-the-street” point of view.

    Rendell and his entourage came down the steps. We happened to be walking in his general direction, but we weren’t walking directly toward him or trying to touch the hem of his garments. He walked right up to me, thrust his honey baked ham-sized mitt at me, and said, “How ya doin’?” He looked me right in the eye and smiled as he pumped my hand. The people around us were in awe of this scene, thinking, “Wow, who is this VIP that Gov. Rendell sought out for such a warm handshake?”

    He didn’t know me from Adam. My wife decided it was because I’m a big guy with a big head. If a politician wants to look like a true Man of the People, she explained, it only made sense that he would put on this display for someone who wouldn’t get lost in the crowd.

  2. Ditto! Great story, Cher!

    Allow me to throw my hat in the ring:

    1) I saw the Psychedelic Furs, backed by the Divinyls, junior year in high School at the Harrisburg Forum. Not a pleasant memory. The Divinyls were nothing to write home about. The lead singer did nothing but rant and rave at the audience because they didn’t “get” what she was putting over. Trust me, there wasn’t much to get. The Psychedelic Furs were interesting, but their Montgomery Ward smoke machine malfunctioned, compromising the oxygen level in the theatre. A lot of people walked because they couldn’t breathe. And worst of all, my then girlfriend and I broke up at the front of the stage while the Furs were playing “Love My Way.” Let’s just say that Betsy did not want to love my way.

    2) I met BB King backstage after a show at the Valley Forge music fair. It was one of those rare occasions when you meet the star, and he delivers in spades. He looked, sounded, and acted just like the BB King I heard on numerous favorites like Live at Cook County Jail. Now there’s an album! I shook his hand and blabbered away like Ralph Kramden in the Honeymooners: “Humuhnuh humuhnuh. ” Too overwhelmed by the majesty of the man to say anything coherent. His hands were as big as baseball mits. That I recall rather vividly.

    3) Before a Kinks show at Valley Forge, I met Ray and Dave Davies. A good friend of mine just had to get their autographs. Not my thing, but I knew it was going to be interesting to see the two of them in the flesh. They were both very personable and surprisingly very short, though Ray was helped out by a pair of beat up Beatle boots. I told him I loved the song “Two Sisters.” He paused, smiled, and said, “No one ever mentions that one. We should do that again.” He played the song a few months later when I saw him on his solo tour. Whatever the case, the whole experience was very memorable.

    4) Again, I’m a sucker for the stars, good and bad. Hell, bumping into Don Knotts would probably make my heart skip a beat.

  3. At the risk of turning this into Ed Rendell Town Hall, Rendell had a house on the same street as my parents’ house in Ocean City. I never saw him but my siblings used to see him all the time. One time he was walking his dog and the dog took a shit on my parents postage stamp sized lawn and my brother had to call him out for trying to sneak away without picking it up.

  4. I was a bartender at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco for a few years in the early 90s. I was stationed at the bar closest to the stage door for the Spinal Tap show and Les Claypool was standing at my bar, watching the show. I bought him a beer. We didn’t really talk but he seemed like nice guy and he looked like a cartoon character who had come to life. Moments late, he was on stage, providing a 4th bass for Big Bottom.

  5. BigSteve

    I may have mentioned this before, but I’ve met Randy Newman after concerts in New Orleans, Birmingham, and Kansas City. I used to be a member of a Yahoo Group (remember those?) called Little Criminals (after one of his albums). Newman is not famous in a rock star kind of way, and he apparently enjoys meeting small numbers of fans. The secret word to backstage access was the name of his manager. The first time was the best, just me and one fellow Little Criminal. After saying the manager’s name to the right person, she appeared and ushered us into his dressing room. The four of us shot the shit for a bout half an hour. It was cool.

    The second and third times there were more people, Little Criminals and other unknown people, and it was less fun.

  6. cherguevara

    I went to see Squeeze after they reunited with Jools Holland in the band . Somebody near me in the audience had one of those loud plastic horns, blowing it between songs. At one point, Holland made like he wanted it – he jumped off the stage and went to the guy. When he got the horn in his hands, Holland immediately destroyed it and then jumped back onto stage. I had a good up-close view of all that action.

    I’ve seen Crowded House a few times and it was not uncommon for them to pull an audience member up to play an instrument or sing, which seemed like it would be fun. I read a book about them and it turned out that this was a passive aggressive thing for them, at one show they handed their instruments off to audience members and left the stage. So maybe not as fun.

    My dad has read at the Rosenbach, you may have crossed paths with him there! I never met Ed Rendell, but I saw him once at a Halloween party at the Reading Terminal. Politicians can have an incredible ability to remember people – a former roommate had that experience with Frank Rizzo, remembering him by name at the second of two brief meetings, years apart.

    E. Gergly’s story about the Furs’ smoke machine reminds me of a girl from my high school, a huge fan of the Cure. She scored front row, center seats to the Head on the Door show at the Tower, and she talked about it excitedly for weeks before the show. It was hard to begrudge her, since she was such a maniac for the band. At the show, they cranked up the smoke machine during the intermission. She became overwhelmed and fainted, had to be carried out and missed the entire show.

    Other high school friends met Depeche Mode walking down South Street, and they scored backstage passes to their show that night. Surprising no one, it turned a bit creepy and pedophile-ly, they wisely left before anything bad happened. Another friend made a hobby of meeting rockstars, often hanging at stage doors or more often hotels. She met Duran Duran so many times, it’s not worth noting, really. My favorite of her stories was meeting Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins and somehow their conversation led to him getting into her little blue compact car (did every 80’s teenager have a blue Chevette or similar?) and driving him to Harry’s Occult Shop, where they shopped together. That’s a pretty good rockstar encounter.

  7. I was once called into my boss’s boss’s boss’s office for what I thought was a status report on a pet project of hers. I walk in….and there’s Peter Gabriel.

    And that’s how I ended up getting to perform a song with him at Madison Square Garden.

    (No, not really, but it’d be a better story that way.)

  8. A band I was in opened for Johnny Thunders’ Gang Wars. I only have the vaguest memory of Thunders being in the dressing room, he may have been in the bathroom self medicating, but Wayne Kramer was the friendliest guy. We were a very weird rickety artsy band, but Kramer was very complimentary and friendly, giving us tips like “Make sure you wipe down your guitars before you put them away. It was a weird bill for us to be on in the first place , but he in no way gave any indication of that.

    In the fall of ’76, I drove up to NYC to see Talking Heads at Max’s. On the way home, about a block from Max’s, we spied Byrne walking along carrying a guitar case. We stopped and asked him if he wanted a ride. He accepted, got in the car and we drove him to his place, which was 8 or 10 blocks away. He sat in the back seat, next to the female Columbia student who had most forcefully lobbied for us to offer the ride. He barely said a word.

    A year or so later, I got to chat with the band after a show at a strip mall in Delaware. For some reason, the conversation got around to my employment at Social Security. (Don’t Worry About the Government?) Anyway, as a result I have a signed copy of the first album, which includes Tina’s Social Security number!

  9. Geo, it took 45 years for me to hear these stories?!

    Finally, I understand your defense of Wayne Kramer!

  10. The Kramer meeting was probably ’79, so make it 42 years. I also sa him play in the original Was (Not Was) lineup at the East Side Club and they and he were great. So there.

  11. hrrundivbakshi

    A good college friend (Jim Hardcastle, for those who shared my GWU experience) had a huge rock star crush on Chris Bailey, the lead singer of the Saints (of “I’m Stranded” fame). In the early 90s, the Saints had a minor hit (which Springsteen covered, strangely: a crappy song with a really dumb pun-ny name called “Just Like Fire Would”) — anyhow, the Saints embarked on a tour of the US, which included a stop at DC’s infamous old 9:30 Club. Jim and I (maybe Mockcarr, too?) went.

    JIm, as was his wont, quickly started in on the booze. The drunker he got, the closer he pushed to the front of the stage, and the more vociferous and fist-pumping his singalongs got. Finally, towards the end of the show, he started bellowing “I LOVE YOU, CHRIS” over and over at the top of his lungs. And so it came to pass that iconic Ozzie punk bent down, grabbed Jim’s sweat-soaked lapels, pulled him close, and gave him a big, fat, long kiss, full on the lips. Jim blushed like a little schoolgirl, and Chris hopped back up, finishing the song with bravado.

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