girls, season two
music friday: lou reed at the old waldorf, march 22, 1978

did i ever

There’s a web site called “Did I Ever Tell You About the Time…” that offers people the chance to tell dull stories of their brushes with fame. The FAQ for the site explains: “Your story must be an anecdote about meeting a Pop Star. It must be dull. That’s it.” They also prefer that the story is short.

Maybe an example would help. Here’s what I got when I clicked the “Random” link:

I had at meeting at a music management company once. As I was going down the stairs, Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page was ascending them. He nodded at me as we passed. I was too slow on the uptake to nod in return and had passed him before I could do anything.

I saw him a few weeks later having a coffee on Portobello Road. I didn’t nod at him that time either.

You get the idea.

Of course this made me think about my own exciting tales. The biggest problem is that most of my so-called brushes with fame are with people who are not pop stars. If I adhered to that standard, I don’t suppose I’d have any tales to tell. So I’ll stretch it a bit, include a couple of actors, and also musicians who, if not pop stars, are at least famous to me. I’ve told many of these stories before.

Is Jack Casady a pop star? I suppose he was a bit in the late-60s, but then, I feel obliged to explain who he was, which means he’s certainly no longer a pop star, and likely never was. He was the bass player for Jefferson Airplane, and later, Hot Tuna. He was my favorite bassist when I was a player myself, and it wasn’t a bad choice … he’s great. I had two encounters with him, both of which follow my standard pattern in such situations. First, I notice the person. Second, I freak out because I’m in the presence of fame. Third, I act like nothing’s happening, because in the Bay Area, we’re supposed to be cool about this stuff. I saw him once at a Renaissance Faire in 1973 or so, just wandering around. And in the 80s, I took a leak next to him in one of those urinal troughs at the Fillmore at a Hüsker Dü concert.

Let’s see … fast-forward to the early 80s. We went to LA for the wedding of a friend. Another friend introduced us to her friend, Ralph Mauro, an actor who had just finished shooting They Call Me Bruce?, a comedy starring Tonight Show favorite Johnny Yune and Margaux Hemingway. This probably doesn’t fit the site’s standards … the anecdote is dull, but since we talked for quite a while, I feel like it’s a bit too substantial. Perhaps a better example comes from the same trip, when I met Brian Seff. I knew of him as “Rick” of Rick and Ruby, a comedy/musical act in the Bay Area that appeared in The Pee-wee Herman Show and on Mork and Mindy. In this case, I fear I gushed a bit, and while I recall Seff being polite, I don’t think he was enjoying himself as I badgered him. (I now know that he had just moved to LA, with “The Rick and Ruby Show” having broken up.)

Gee, I think I’m already done. My life has been so boring, I don’t even have any lame stories for that web site. I guess I’ll fall back on Gregory Peck. Here’s how I told part of that story in the first year of this blog:

I'm reminded of the time when I got to meet and hang out for a bit with Gregory Peck for a few days some years ago. At one point, thinking of the awful Boys From Brazil, I asked Mr. Peck if he ever got into a movie, saw it was going to stink, and decided that at least he could have some fun with his role. No, he assured me, that would be unfair to the audience. His job was to do his best, no matter what the circumstances; his audience expected no less. Gregory Peck was an exceedingly charming man, and I consider myself very lucky to have met him for even those few hours. But his answer explained the problem: he was so worried about his audience that he never allowed for the possibility that in a piece of shit like The Boys From Brazil, we were all in on the joke, and so he ended up looking foolish for trying to do his best. Meanwhile, in the same film, Lawrence Olivier tarted up his role as if it was more fun than having a three-way with Vivian Leigh and Danny Kaye. The result? Olivier is the only thing worth seeing in the entire film.

I have a couple of other Gregory Peck stories, but this is the one that actually placed me in fame’s orbit, rather than merely watching from afar. This is also from my blog:

Well, I was just searching myself via Amazon's "search all the books in our store" thingie ... yes, I'm vain like that ... and I find the following, on page 377-8 of the book Gregory Peck: A Charmed Life by Lynn Haney:

Around this time journalist Steven Rubio confronted Greg with an intriguing question. 'At one point, thinking of the awful Boys From Brazil, I asked Mr Peck if he ever got into a movie, saw it was going to stink and decided that at least he could have some fun with his role. No, he assured me, that would be unfair to the audience. His job was to do his best, no matter what the circumstances; his audience expected no less... But his answer explained the problem: he was so worried about his audience that he never allowed for the possibility that in a piece of shit like The Boys From Brazil, we were all in on the joke, and soon he ended up looking foolish for trying to do his best. Meanwhile, in the same film, Lawrence Olivier tarted up his role as if it was more fun than having a three-way with Vivian Leigh and Danny Kaye. The result? Olivier is the only thing worth seeing in the entire film.'

The quotes are, of course, from my old blog post. Haney doesn't get everything right, which makes you wonder ... how hard is it to cut-and-paste, anyway? She changes a couple of words and messes with some of the punctuation, and while it's a matter of contention these days whether or not bloggers are journalists, I don't think of myself as one. What's even weirder is the part that introduces the anecdote, "Around this time."  The context is the critical reaction to Boys From Brazil, which came out in 1978. (On the same page, Haney includes an extended quote from Pauline Kael's review of the film ... yes, I'm on the same page as Pauline Kael! That can be taken two ways, of course ... we're both on page 377 of Haney's book, and we're both on the same page regarding Peck's performance.) But I didn't meet Peck and ask him that question until sometime around 1990 ... I don't remember the exact year, but it was while I was in grad school. I most certainly wasn't a journalist then, just a guy sitting in the audience while Peck took questions about acting.

Maybe the next time I’m desperate for something to post, I’ll review the story about me, Bob Dylan, Joel Selvin, and the wife of Ralph J. Gleason.

And, oh yeah, I once shook hands with Muddy Waters. (That one never gets old.)

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