Somewhere over the Hollywood sign
There was a time in my life when I was in my late teens-early twenties that I felt fairly certain that I would be the subject of many interviews in my career. Already, I’d been on a few radio shows and in several local newspapers, and I figured it was just the beginning of my rise to celebrity.
There is a great scene in The Commitments when Jimmy Rabbitte, the band’s manager, is lying in bed practicing his answers to a hypothetical interview, playing both parts of interviewer and subject. In my spare time, that was me. Not out loud would I practice, but certainly in my head I would imagine what I would be asked and how I would respond to questions like, signing our first record deal, headlining our first tour, taking some time away for a solo project, and so on.
By that point in my life I’d read countless interviews with my musical heroes. I poured over the pages, in the days before the Internet, and devoured every chosen word, every parenthetical indicator, (laughs), just to be sure I knew exactly what Paul Barrere or Gregg Allman or Trey Anastasio meant when they said what they said. I dreamed of the day when others just like me would do the same about what I had said.
Then, my sax player decided he would rather be an accountant, and my drummer soon followed him out the door. In one weekend my band was dead. I was 22.
I didn’t stop playing music. I recovered, formed a new group, and the dreams of record deals, tours, and page-turning interviews flickered to life. Until that one, too, split-up about a year later.
Something pretty spectacular was happening along the way, however. During our rise to regional notoriety in the college towns of the northeastern United States, I met a lot of my musical heroes. In some cases, we opened for them or even jammed with them. It was incredible.
Deep down inside I was a fan of these musicians, yet here I was talking shop, asking advice, and desperately trying not to look like a complete star-struck goof. I wanted to be seen as a peer, even though the reality was I was anything but. They were established stars, working each and every night, with audiences in the thousands. I was a wanna-be, still under the legal drinking age, begging club owners for slots. It was really strange.
If I have to be honest, part of me was thinking, “What happens if they (meaning anybody- audience, promoter, other musicians) find out we’re not very good?” We were raw, still learning, still making plenty of mistakes. The last thing we wanted to do was slip on the banana. Even with that measure of doubt, perhaps because of it, I believed that if we’d gotten this far, someday we could be big.
A few weeks ago I attended the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Awards. It was held at a theater in Los Angeles on the Saturday prior to the Grammys. I had requested press credentials to report on the event for an online magazine for which I write because one of the recipients of the Lifetime Grammy was the Allman Brothers Band- a favorite of the magazine’s and of mine.
I had met all of the younger, newer members of the band prior to this day way back when I was an aspiring young musician. As the red carpet interviews rolled, I had the chance to reconnect with those guys, talking about days from 20 years prior. Even if they didn’t quite remember the story, they did a great job of being polite about it.
In my travels, I had never met the three present original members of the group- Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks, and Jaimoe- though I had wanted to always.
Across the street from the theater, waiting for the guests to arrive, were some of the devoted; a few men in their late 30s-early 40s, holding up Allman Brothers Band albums, hoping for a glimpse or an autograph. I won’t lie. As for Hollywood award ceremonies, this was pretty sleepy, with about two dozen photographers, journalists, and broadcast media, and that handful of fans across the street.
Of the big three, Butch arrived first, ebullient and bright, easy to talk to all afternoon if he had the time. Jaimoe was the diametric opposite in number of words, but equally as pleasant and forthcoming.
Finally, Gregg arrived.
Gregg Allman is as legitimate a music legend as the world has seen in the last 40 years. A brother and bandmate dying young accidentally, lead singer of the biggest band in the country, drug and alcohol addiction, a marriage to Cher, sobriety, movie and TV roles, and now, a career resurgence including a Grammy nomination this year for Best Blues Album- he has checked every box on his rock star card.
Just before I started to interview him, I saw one of the fans from across the street approach the red carpet area, his album in hand, but was cut off rather stealthily by a non-descript mountain of a security man who referred him back to the other side.
I finished my two minutes with Gregg, a very soft-spoken and congenial statesman at this stage of his life, and watched as he continued on down the procession, indulging each reporter. I couldn’t help but think about those fans across the street.
If not for the press lanyard dangled around my neck, I realized I probably had more in common with that guy with the album cover than I did with Gregg Allman.
I wasn’t famous.
I wasn’t dressed up, being asked questions, having my picture taken, getting an award.
I was more Jimmy Rabbitte imagining that life.
I was more anxious fan hoping for a connection.
Perhaps I was a step closer to it all, a journalist with some first-hand experience in the business that aided in my ability to relate, but I was no peer.
I think I would have made a pretty good rock star if I had the talent and opportunity to succeed. It’s also possible I would’ve been a disaster.
I am, still, a musician. And a fan. Always will be.
To think where those two things alone have taken me.
A Final Note: I wish to express my sadness over the passing of Davy Jones. Known mainly for his work with The Monkees, Davy Jones was a talented actor and musician that brought millions of people joy through music, including my family and myself. We will miss you.
Recommended listening: Joe Walsh- Life’s Been Good
Picture By Brian Gimmel
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