The year was 1989: there was poofy hair and acid-wash denim as far as the eye could see. I was a sophomore in high school, and just getting into the music scene. I had never been to a concert before, but I had gotten my first real job that year, and for once, had a little extra money in my pocket to spend on weekend entertainment.
On the spur of the moment, a couple of friends and I decided to go see James Taylor in concert at the Jones Beach Amphitheater. I wasn’t very familiar with his music, but figured that I knew enough of his greatest hits to make it worth the cost of the ticket. We showed up to the box office a couple hours before the show, and managed to score floor seats for only $20 a piece…. that makes me sound older than a bag of dirt, doesn’t it?
When James started singing, his voice made something deep down inside of me resonate; I felt like I had swallowed a tuning fork set to the same frequency as his guitar. He didn’t whip me into a fanatical frenzy or make my heart flutter wildly inside my chest – just the opposite, really.
At a time in my life when I was riding an emotional roller coaster, James introduced an element of peacefulness into my tumultuous teenage world. And while most girls my age were shrieking and swooning over Bon Jovi and New Kids on the Block, I was hopelessly hooked on a balding, middle-aged man with an acoustic guitar.
That concert was the first of many – I went on to see him a dozen times over the course of the next two decades. Every time he came anywhere near New York, I bought tickets.
In that time I went from being a greatest hits fan, to owning every album he ever produced. My iPod looks like the James Taylor music directory. And I can sing along to all of them…. much to the chagrin of my two kids.
Looking back, there is one concert that stands out vividly among the rest: June 22, 2008. Why that one concert in particular? Because I got the chance to meet him, face to face….. well, sort of. I’ll explain in a minute.
How do you think you’d react if you got the chance to meet a movie star or musician that you’ve idolized for years? There are several ways to go:
- Shriek loud enough to make dogs in the next town howl, then attempt to catapult yourself over security and into the waiting arms of your idol. (*Warning: they probably won’t catch you.)
- Sob while at the same time trying to form words that express how much you worship and adore them (this one’s never pretty because there’s a lot of snot, spit, and tears involved).
- Faint at the sight of them, and hope the person is still there when you regain consciousness.
- Stand there completely paralyzed, unable to form a single word without feeling like you’re going to trip over your own tongue. There’s usually a lot of internal activity going on inside the star-struck idiot: blushing, heart palpitations, profuse sweating, butterflies in your stomach, jitters that resemble the DTs, etc.
- Stay cool, calm, and collected. Tell them you think they are the cat’s pajamas, wink, and then casually amble away like John Wayne. (Do cool people say the cat’s pajamas anymore? *Spoiler alert: I didn’t choose this option).
I wasn’t sure how I was going to react to meeting James, but I was about to find out. He usually takes the time to sign autographs for a few fans during his concert. But I didn’t want his autograph. I wanted to give him something to show my appreciation for all he had done for me; all the times I played his music and he had unknowingly sung me off a ledge, or crooned me out of committing homicide - this came in particularly handy during the twelve hours I was in labor with my firstborn. I’m pretty sure playing James Taylor songs during those pain filled hours is what saved my husband’s life.
What gift could you possibly give that says all that? (*Hint: it wasn’t a pair of socks.) It was a poem. Don’t laugh. I was going through a very sappy, Hallmark card period of my life back then. I had gotten the idea to write him a poem that used his own song titles in a way that expressed my feelings of appreciation and gratitude. I thought it was kind of clever…. and yes, also kind of corny. Okay, REALLY corny. And because I cherish my readers more than my own dignity, I’ll embarrass myself, and share it with you (the song titles are in italics):
Perfect strangers look to you
To Shed A Little Light
They turn their radios on,
Praying Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight
Your words of assurance
Helps guide them through just Another Day
Struggling to reach their goals,
You say it’s Enough To Be On Your Way
Your fans find comfort when you sing songs
Such as That’s Why I’m Here
They think How Sweet It Is to have found someone
Who can ease their darkest fear
To Mill Worker and Company Man alike,
You have sung your ode
You’ve shared with them the Secret O’ Life
And how to walk That Lonesome Road
And even in joyful times,
They love to see Your Smiling Face
When you sing Sunny Skies their Fire And Rain
Is gone without a trace
When at your concerts,
Your fans say Isn’t It Nice To Be Home Again
You Can Close Your Eyes and feel safe knowing
That somewhere You’ve Got A Friend
Okay, so I’m not Robert Frost. Hell, I’m not even Robert Frost’s second cousin, once removed. But I was kind of hoping that he would focus on the sentiment behind my pathetic lack of poetic talent.
I saw my window of opportunity open up right before the start of the second set. A bunch of people rushed the stage and started begging him for his autograph. This was the moment I had dreamed of for almost twenty years – I was going to meet James Taylor!!! But rather than leaping to my feet and storming the stage like the other crazed fans, I sat frozen in my seat, grasping the laminated poem in my hands (yes, I had it laminated – it was an outdoor venue and in case it rained, I didn’t want it to get all wet and smeary. Perfectly logical… and maybe slightly obsessive).
As the seconds ticked passed, I could see the window closing, but felt helpless to stop it. Then my husband, Kevin, practically shoved me out of my seat, and reminded me that I would never be able to live with myself if I didn’t do it. His threat of regret was enough to put my paralyzed limbs in motion. I climbed over the 13 people in my row, and made my way to the stage, less than a hundred yards from where I stood.
Nervous doesn’t even BEGIN to describe how I was feeling. My body kept vacillating between adrenaline rushes and nervous jitters. My hair, which I had cemented into place with a can of hairspray, felt like it was melting beneath the sweaty steam rising off the top of my head. I knew if another five minutes went by, I would look like I just stepped out of a sauna.
I didn’t really expect to make it passed security, but before I knew it I was standing up against the stage, a mere two feet away from him. As he signed autographs, I just stared at him, completely star struck. I tried to commit every detail to memory – I noted that he has really defined forearms. Must be all that guitar strumming. But I digress….
When he approached me, I handed him the (lovingly laminated) poem and stared at him, totally mute. He looked at me like I just sprouted an orange tree out of my ear, and asked him if he’d like a glass of freshly squeezed OJ. I guess because everyone was handing him t-shirts and ticket stubs to sign, he had no idea what the hell I was giving him. Finally my tongue unknotted itself, and I tried to offer him an explanation. I said, “It’s for you.”
IT’S FOR YOU?! I’ve had entire conversations with this man in my head since high school, and when I finally got the opportunity to do so IN REAL LIFE I could only manage to squeak out three little words! He took it, didn’t say a word, and went on to sign other autographs. I don’t know if he didn’t hear me, or if he was just trying to back away from the scary stalker lady, but as the physical distance between us grew, I felt my window of opportunity slam shut.
As I stood there, stunned that I had let my golden opportunity slip through my clammy fingers, he circled back around to where I was standing. I held out my ticket stub (mostly because I didn’t know what else to do). He took it, quickly scribbled something, and gave it back. I think he was hoping this would finally encourage me to exit, stage right.
Not exactly the picturesque moment I envisioned. Clearly I’m incapable of acting like John Wayne under pressure. But given the option between star-struck idiot and crazy Belieber-like fan, I think I took the high road…. or at least the road that didn’t involve me leaking bodily fluids all over my idol, screaming, or passing out.
Have any of you ever met anyone famous? If so, did you make as much of an ass out of yourself as I did? Please say yes….