Meeting an American Legend

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, something deep down inside of me seemed to resonate with the music; 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.

Just a handful of my concert tees – I call them Taylor couture.

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.

This is less than half of the James Taylor albums on there – I need a bigger screen.

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:

  1. 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.)
  1. 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).
  1. Faint at the sight of them, and hope the person is still there when you regain consciousness.
  1. 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.
  1.  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 wanting to strangle somebody  - 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):

James

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 juice.  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.

I think his fear of sweaty stalkers made his hand shake too much to write legibly.
I’ve seen his normal signature, and this ain’t it.

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….

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29 thoughts on “Meeting an American Legend

  1. Reminds me of the time I gave Eddie Van Halen a guitar shaped box of chocolates…our eyes met briefley…he looked at me as I uttered “you complete me…”. That was the last time we spoke.

  2. At a dinner party in the late 1980′s or early 90′s I sat next to Harrison Schmitt who was one of the last astronauts to the moon and later became a senator in New Mexico. We had few words between us because I kept hearing this voice in my head saying “what do I say to an astronaut who’s been on the moon?!!!” I couldn’t think of ANYTHING intelligent to say! About five seconds after I left I thought of a great question! “How did being on the moon change you spiritually?” Alas, I will never know the answer.

    • Well, better to have nothing to say than say something stupid. I probably would have been like, “So, does it piss you off that the only astronaut anyone ever talks about is Neil Armstrong? Because I totally never heard of you before tonight…. pretty cool about walking on the moon though, huh? Can you pass the salt?”

  3. When I met Renee Fleming, I started to cry when she walked into the room….I handed her a CD of myself singing arias from some of her albums……she probably uses it as a coaster if I am lucky! She was very gracious though!

    • Noreen? If it’s not, you and my sister in-law should meet for drinks at a karaoke bar – you’d get along famously :)

      I think it took guts to give her your CD. At least you can say you did it, right? And who knows, maybe one night, after a long hard day of warbling, she sat down with a glass of wine, closed her eyes, and listened to your music. You never know….

  4. I don’t think you did anything stupid. Actually you handled yourself beautifully and I’ll bet he loved the poem when he got a chance to actually read it. But—then again—I could be partial. Love ya–Aunt Sandy

    • Aunt Sandy – Yes, I think you might be a TAD on the biased side, but that’s one of the reasons I love you :) I’m not sure my poem ever made it off the stage floor, but I like to imagine that he gave it a look-see at some point, and after reading it, he smiled. I’d consider that mission accomplished…

    • It was fun. I found an email (as I was researching for this blog) that I had sent to Maura right after the concert about all the things that had gone on that weekend – I had forgotten that we ran the Shelter Island 10K the day before I gave JT the poem. Talk about a great couple of days!

  5. YAY! I was at that JT concert too! But I was having major internal debate as to whether it was 1989 or 1990… I thought we went to a bunch that same summer… It was B52s, Midnight oil, James Taylor and Erasure…

    We were outrageously close to Barack Obama when he came here during the first campaign… David hoisted Dante on his shoulders and Dante snapped a few really good shots… I saw someone who I thought looked like Lady Gaga at our local supermarket (in produce… NOT MEAT) and I passed it off as total insanity… the next day the paper reported that she is (or was) dating someone from here and she was spotted a few times around… so that’s a maybe… I asked the members of Fairport Convention for good baby names when we went to see them when I was pregnant… David went all fanboy on them and I made him leave so the boys could get some sleep… it was late… they they are… um… not young.

    • Yes, you were the one I was crying on while JT sang, “You’ve Got a Friend” :) I can’t remember if it was you or Sean G. that prompted us three to go to that concert back in 1989, but whoever it was, I have them to thank for kicking off my James Taylor obsession.

      I’m pretty sure it was the summer of ’89 because the “Never Die Young” album was released in 1988, so it would makes sense that he was touring the year or so afterwards to promote it. Sadly, that was one of two concert tees of his that got lost in the sauce (so I can’t check to find out for sure). I would love to find a vintage tee of that concert tour – kind of a memento of how it all began. Yes, I’m getting sappy and sentimental in my old age….

      I remember seeing your Obama pictures, but you never mentioned the Lady Gaga sighting in your produce department – how cool is that? Is it bad that I don’t know who “Fairport Convention” is? Shhh…. don’t tell David….

      • I remember you and Nancy over at my house while you put Pat’s JT tapes that were recorded from somewhere else on your own tapes… I can’t claim responsibility for your behavior when you actually met the guy, but I’ll be happy to take (or I’ll share with Pat) credit for your leap into JT Fandom…

        Fairport Convention formed in 1967 I think, and they still play and tour today… nice bunch of guys…

  6. Kindred spirits. I had to respond to your post.
    In 1992 I was in San Antonio and one of the nurses I worked with had passes to the James Taylor concert at Sea World. I’d been a drooling fan for years so YEAH! A bunch of us got there early and were walking around when, about 2 hours before the concert; this guy walks out on the “stage” to do a sound check. Ripped T-shirt and khaki shorts with no shoes, he proceeds to do an acoustic, 40 minutes sound check. James Taylor was not 8 feet in front of me and playing snippets of all his songs! After about 40 minutes he smiled, nodded his head, and left. I was speechless.
    Fast forward to 2011, I’m 43 and don’t get star struck anymore…
    Mark Mulligan is an acoustic singer/songwriter who has been compared to James Taylor, Jimmy Buffett, and Jim Croce. He’s playing a private ranch party about 45 minutes South of San Antonio. I’ve followed him for years and saw it posted on his website. I contacted the sponsors who were bringing him in to ask about tickets and they said “Sure!”
    That night about 7pm, my daughter and I sat in camp chairs about 6 feet away from a sand pit (beach) where he was performing. I actually got the guts to talk to him during a break and we talked for quite a while about the music and some of the charity kids stuff he does. 11:30 that night the crows slowly dispersed, four of us were left and when my daughter woke up Mark was playing and we were singing “Blue Bayou”…and none of us had been drinking! It’s gonna be hard to top that.
    That’s for the great memory of Taylor’s show!
    Doug Clark

    • Doug – Thanks so much for sharing such wonderful stories! It’s really awesome that Sea World allowed people to watch the sound check, and that you got such an informal glimpse of JT preparing for his performance.

      I’ve never heard of Mark Mulligan before, but I’ll have to check out his music. Sounds like a really nice guy – it must have been amazing to sing along with him after enjoying his music for so long.

      I’m not sure age has anything to do with the star-struck thing – I was around 35 when I handed my poem over to JT… not exactly a giggling teenager anymore ;) I think part of it has to do with the person’s personality (I tend to be kind of shy around people I don’t know well) and the other part has something to do with the star’s influence/impact. JT’s music has been the soundtrack for most of my life, and having him a foot away was totally overwhelming. He made my brain short circuit. Should the same thing happen again (well, not the poem part, just the meeting), I think I’d still be a babbling idiot…. I guess some things don’t get better with age :)

  7. I loved reading this. I saw James Taylor and Carly Simon in concert in 1973 I think. Brilliant. I met one of the Beach Boys at a post concert party and also had one member of Def Leppard sleep on my sofa (I knew a friend of his). I am still star struck even though I should know better.

  8. Wow, you’ve definitely had your share of celebrity run-ins, huh? I don’t think the star-struck thing can be helped (at least not initially). I was just telling one of my other readers (see the comment I made above yours for more details) that I don’t think it has anything to do with age or “knowing better”. Some people are just larger than life, especially if they’ve had a big impact on your life, and it takes awhile for your brain to register that they are just people too. Unfortunately, while your brain is busy processing, your tongue stops working :)

  9. My husband has a similar, somewhat disturbing obsession with James Taylor and enjoys randomly bursting into song à la Taylor for our family’s listening “pleasure” – primarily favoring, “Hey babe, I’m your handy man.” (As I said before – somewhat disturbing.) Conversely, I grew up idolizing Bryan Adams, and when my sister and I met him backstage at a concert a few years ago, we discovered that, in person, he’s kind of a jerk. (heavy sigh) And so passes the dreams of youth.

    • It sounds like your husband has impeccable taste in music :)

      Aw, that’s so sad about your Bryan Adams encounter. I don’t understand how anyone who has thousands of adoring fans can be ungracious. How hard is it to smile, shake a few hands, and say thanks? What an asshole….

  10. Oh, I can relate…or my daughter can anyway. When you have a moment….you can check out the “One Direction” story on my blog. Because I wasn’t fortunate enough to go to a David Cassidy concert, I said “yes” to my daughter and her friends to the Jonas Brothers….ahhh the memories.

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