Tuesday, November 21, 2006

COLUMN: Me = Geek.

I've always been fascinated by the "cult of celebrity." You know, the poor schmucks who wait for hours to get an autograph or say a few meaningless words to another schmuck who just happened to have enough talent or fate to merit 15 minutes in the spotlight.

I'm fascinated because I'm one of those schmucks. (Hint: Not one of the famous ones.)

That's right, your holier-than-thou columnist is one of those types who gets flustered and tongue-tied around celebrities and then goes and brags about it for weeks afterwards. It's something I can't help, even though I realize just how inane it is. I can be bragging about meeting someone famous, leap out of my body, listen to myself talking, and think, "Wow. What a loser." But is that enough to shut me up? Nooooo. I'll keep right on yapping and dropping names willy-nilly.

I spent a great deal of my formative years as a semi-professional band stalker. There wasn't a concert that I went to that didn't involve some kind of effort to meet the group. This was usually always a challenge -- you might find this surprising, but it turns out that a lot of bands DON'T want a backstage visit from a chubby, tongue-tied music nerd of the male persuasion.

Yet, my friends and I tried -- and often succeeded -- at the unannounced meet-n-greet. We knew all the right loading doors to loiter around. We knew the right hotels that booking agents preferred. It was SCIENCE. And it paid off.

Minnie Driver? Met her. Lara Flynn Boyle? Totally. Duran Duran? You know it. The Barenaked Ladies? Twice. Oasis? Got to see their egos first-hand. SEE? I'm totally doing it AGAIN. Stop me, someone, seriously.

And you know what the one thing all these celebrities had in common was? THEY ALL HATED US.

I could have the most eloquent questions imaginable for these people. I could have a game plan in my head to totally WOW these celebrities with my extensive knowledge of music theory and the sort of deep appreciation for their art that no mere mortal fan would possess.

Yet, given the chance to actually speak to them, it usually devolves to something like, "Ummmm. Hi. BIG fan."

Case in point: Flashback 1994-ish. An outdoor music festival hits Chicago featuring, among other bands, The Stone Roses. Now, you might not have even heard of the Stone Roses, but they were THE band to shape my musical development in college. Suffice to say, meeting the Roses for me would be on par with, say, meeting The Beatles might be for you.

So we went to the show with a mission and a gameplan. It was me, my old college roommate, his then-wife Kari, and our friend Stuart.

After the band got done playing, we made our move. Kari went up to the backstage gate, flashed a phony press pass at the guard, and just sauntered right on in, leaving us to wait outside, gobsmacked. Ten minutes pass and Kari emerges with some random roadie, beaming and going, "C'mon, guys, wanna say hi to the Roses?"

Holy jeez. This was it. The gods had smiled upon us, and I was about to meet my favorite musicians.

What we didn't know is that, after sneaking inside and somehow finding the band's dressing room, Kari then told them that her friends were outside and really wanted to meet them. What she FAILED to tell them is that we were a bunch of chubby, nerdy DUDES.

Five minutes later, we're backstage and the look on the band's faces said it all -- namely, "Hey, you're not a bunch of cute girls." There I was, face to face with the band that had seen me through my darkest days of college. I wanted to tell them everything, I wanted to ask them everything.

What I believe I said was, "Ummm... h-hey."

The awkward silence in the room was deafening. It took brave Stuart to break the ice.

"Sooo... did you guys fly in for the show?"

"Uh, yeah," say the Stone Roses. Good start. Conversation. Soon we will be close friends of the band. They will respect us as huge fans, ask us for advice, thank us on liner notes, and possibly write a song about us one day. All we had to do was NOT say something stupid.

"Man," replies Stuart, not NOT saying something stupid, "I'd hate to fly with all those terrorists and bombs and stuff."

Sigh. Maybe there was still hope.

"So what's the best part about America?" asks Ian Brown. THE Ian Brown. Lead singer of THE Stone Roses.

"I dunno," says my old roommate, apparantly feeling threatened. "What's so stinkin' hot about England?"

Five minutes later, we were summarily dispatched from the room. Close personal friends of the Stone Roses we were NOT. In fact, mere weeks later the band split up -- I like to think that they realized that, after meeting fans like us, all hope was lost.

I'm a decade older now but still can't grow up. I still watch E!, I still visit gossip websites, and I still get flustered when I meet somebody's who been on TV. All I know is that, if one day I should write the Great American Novel and become a literary figurehead, I'll be extra nice to any nerdy fans who come up to me all tongue-tied. Well, provided they're cute and female.

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