Sunday, October 17, 2010

Meeting My Hero

If I were a real writer and observer I’d know more about the room and I’d remember more about what I said and what he said.  But I’m just a fan, and I was following Jim Marsala into a room where my lifelong hero was resting after a powerhouse show on the eve of his 84th birthday, so I was on automatic pilot, and nearly deaf, dumb and blind.

But here’s what I remember: I remember an 83 year old icon practically jumping from his comfortable chair to enthusiastically and graciously shake the hand of the 937,681st perfect stranger who has come to him for an audience.

I also remember in his book a few paragraphs about encountering fans like me.  He said the one sort of greeting he didn’t like was from the sort of fan who began by reminding him that he’d shaken hands twenty or thirty years ago and blah-de-blah-de-blah.

So of course that’s what I did.  

I told him that I shook his hand when I was 15, and that I first saw him perform when I was 14, and that it had changed my life.

I was there for two or three minutes.  I said what I wanted to say in a voice that wavered once or twice.  It was a pretty emotional experience for me.  I’m not sure he could hear everything I said (I suspect his ears were ringing like a bell after an hour of performing) and it doesn’t matter.  I wish I could remember more of the two or three minutes myself.  

(There was a story I need to remember.  When I told him I’d first seen him at 14, he told me that he’d done some work at the age of 14 in the lot that The Pageant was built on.  “Right below this building!”  Maybe it’s in the early chapters of his book.  But my brain was too full to absorb everything that was happening.)

But what I remember was that generosity-- that gift that keeps returning as I write this  blog: this time the generosity of an icon, an historic figure, one of the great artists of our time or any time; a man who told Tchaikovsky the news at his third or fourth recording session and lived up to it; who invented rock and roll as we know it; who taught the Beatles and the Stones and Dylan; who wrote the poetry of “Bye Bye Johnny,” “Nadine,” and “Memphis;” a man who is probably the most influential musician America has ever produced, and (along with B. B. King), one of the world’s two most influential guitarists; a man who toured the country heating his own food on a hot plate to avoid the back door of a restaurant, and who helped break down Jim Crow by playing music like "Brown Eyed Handsome Man" to kids and watching the rope that separated them fall to the ground for at least a little while.

A man old enough to be this old man’s father, who’d just played a knockout show;  who was probably enjoying the quiet for a moment, thinking how far he'd travelled from the days he worked in a field buried beneath the stage he'd just performed on to thunderous cheers: 

That man stood and greeted the 937,681st perfect stranger as if he mattered.

That’s what I remember, and that’s what I’ll never forget.


Anonymous said...

I'm sooooo happy for You and also happy that you want to share every moment of your trip here with us. It must have been fantastic!
I don't know if I would be able to say any word in your situation.


Anonymous said...

Peter, This is just great - Like our friend above Peter Kaleta from Sweden, I am so glad for you - and Thank You for taking the time during your trip to keep us up to date on the happenings in St. Lou. I didn't realize you hadn't seen Ingrid perform with her Father. She adds so much to his show. I wouldn't want to see one without her. As far as that goes I want to see him with his St. Louis Band everytime!!!! Your stories have made me very emotional. I don't know how you kept your composure in the Dressing Room. I would have been crying my eyes out.... - I'm so Happy!!!

Thanks with tears of joy drops on my cheeks that are trickling from my eyes,
CB Forum ID Busseybootlegger

Anonymous said...

Peter! Thanks for sharing this unforgettable experience with us! I'm really happy you lived this wonderful moment which mean, and always will, so much for you. And thanks for the full report of these days in Saint Louis.
Grazie :-)

Robert said...

...what can I say? The St. Louis band takes care of True Believers...LOL...but Pete...don't EVER leave out Aaron T-Bone Walker in a discussion of the Most Influential Musicians of the 20th Century...T-Bone was the Grand Master, end of story...if there was no T-Bone, there would be no BB nor Chuck...

Bob Lohr

Peter said...

Bob, if I started putting in all of my heros, and all of the greats, there'd be T-Bone Walker, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, B. B. King, Elmore James, Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, --- it doesn't stop. But I'll stick with your boss as the most influential. He took bits of T-Bon, Charlie Christian, Elmore James, and other, and mixed it up into something everybody copied. He's how I FOUND T-Bone Walker, Elmore James, Charlie Christian... But since you're talking T-Bone Walker... I'll dredge up some old posts!