Last week, while browsing through Nexflix, I stumbled upon a documentary I meant to see in the theater, but managed to miss. It is called Beyond the Lighted Stage and it is a documentary that chronicles the forty-year history of the Canadian rock band Rush.
Rush was one of my very favorite bands growing up, and it was great to learn all about the history of both the band and each individual member. Like all documentaries, the filmmaker highlighted many details outside of what we typically think we know about a famous person, showing their more “human” side and giving us a heretofore-unavailable look into the personal lives of these three giant rock stars. It was so well done that I imagine it might even be interesting to someone who is not a fan of Rush’s music.
As I reflected on the film in the days after seeing it, I was reminded of two personal experiences where I learned, first-hand, how “famous people” are nothing more than people – who just happen to be famous.
In the spring of 1994 I had a one-day job working at the 36th Annual Grammy Awards held at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. I mentioned this experience briefly in a post last October called Two Out Of Three. At the time I promised my readers the rest of that story and today is the day I fulfill that promise.
The volunteer job I had at the Grammys was that of a “Talent Escort.” This job is made up of the following responsibilities:
- Go through a 45-minute training session where they teach you about half of what you need to know for the job
- Meet your “talent” and their “people” in the lobby
- Look after them throughout the full day of rehearsals, making sure they are where they need to be and when
- Get them pretty much anything they ask for no matter how odd or unreasonable
- Work with their “people” to make sure they are back in time to be in their seats before the broadcast starts
I had the pleasure of escorting a gentleman named Michael Lee Aday, someone you all know better by his stage name – Meat Loaf.
All the escorts were gathered in the grand lobby of Radio City Music Hall. As each talent arrived, they received their credentials, were introduced to their escort, and off into the theatre they went.
When Meat Loaf arrived, there was some kind of problem with the credentials for his people and instead of coming in to meet me, he began yelling and promptly stormed out the door and down 6th Avenue.
This was the first of many situations they failed to cover
in the training session.
Not knowing what else to do, I ran after him, catching up with the entourage half a block later. I quickly introduced myself and assured Mr. Loaf (no joke that’s what some people call him – others just call him “Meat”) that I would sort out the problem. He reluctantly agreed to return to the theatre.
I managed to get Meat and all his people in the door and the day began. There was a lot of sitting around and waiting, but the place was crawling with mid 1990s pop musical royalty.
When the appointed time came, I escorted Mr. Loaf to backstage left from which he would emerge to present one of the awards. When we arrived in the wings, Whitney Houston was on the stage practicing her performance of “I Will Always Love You” from the movie The Bodyguard. Once backstage, Meat ran into Steven Tyler (who was wearing black stirrup pants with little white skulls on them) and they began chatting. I sat down on a folding chair next to Vanessa Williams and waited for the cue to send my talent onto the stage.
As I sat, Meatloaf and Steven Tyler had a conversation that went something like this:
ST: (pointing to Whitney Houston) Man, listen to that voice, I bet she didn’t even have to warm up at all
ML: I bet she hasn’t done an illegal drug in her life (oh how prescient he was)
ST: Man, it sucks being on tour at our age
ML: You ain’t kidding, sometimes it takes me an hour just to get out of bed and that’s without a night of partying
It went on like this for maybe ten minutes, and then Mr. Loaf was called to the stage to practice his presentation. Once he was finished, I returned him to his people, but as they prepared to leave, his manager demanded, “We need Mr. Loaf’s tickets for this evening, we’re not going through that mess we experienced this morning again.”
I asked them to wait a moment and that I would see what I could do. Looking around the hall, I spied the woman who I needed to talk to, clear across the room. I began moving swiftly in her direction and as I tried to turn the final corner to catch her, two people were in my way – Billy Joel and Dolly Parton.
Although both rather short, they were no longer famous people,
they were simply people in my way.
I managed to get by them, but the delay had me chasing the coordinator I was after, down a hallway and up a flight of stairs. I returned to Meat and his people, letting him know that the tickets were not yet available, but that we would drop them off at his hotel in a few hours. His manager demanded that they be there by 3:30 because Meat was taping Letterman before the Grammys. I was informed he was staying at the Essex House on Central Park South, registered as “M. Loaf.” Very clever, I thought silently to myself.
Two hours later, my friend Kris and I walked the eight blocks uptown to the hotel, where after asking for the room number of Mr. M. Loaf, they gave it to us without hesitation. As the elevator opened on his floor, we immediately heard singing. We quietly walked to the door of the room where we could clearly hear Mr. Loaf doing the very same warm-up scales we all used to do in high school chorus class.
I slipped the envelope containing the tickets under the door and we walked away.
As I have mentioned before, in the 1990s I worked in the Marketing department of a professional audio products manufacturer called Crest Audio. Throughout the year, but more often in the summer, I was regularly sent out to concerts to connect with our customers, bring clean t-shirts to the roadies and deliver warranty or replacement parts.
On July 29th 1993, I was sent to the Garden State Arts Center to deliver a small amplifier to the monitor engineer on tour with David Sanborn and Al Jarreau.
I understand that this wasn’t exactly the Rolling Stones or Pearl Jam, but in the world of jazz, these two are major superstars, and the sold out show proved it. As far as my 1990s self was concerned, you couldn’t read the Sunday New York Times and have a cup of coffee without some David Sanborn on the CD player.
I arrived, got my credentials, delivered the amplifier and was introduced around to the crew. I did my usual handing out of fresh Crest Audio t-shirts and other swag when David Sanborn himself (who is also rather short) walked up to me and asked, “Do I get a t-shirt?”
Unfortunately, I was out of t-shirts, but I did have a mini Crest Audio flashlight, which he enthusiastically accepted. He then said, “we’re going out to the bus for some beers, you want to hang out?”
Since my work was done I happily agreed,
and off to the tour bus we went.
We sat in the “Silver Eagle” tour bus for the better part of two hours, drinking beer, and telling stories. At one point David Sanborn told us all about how the saxophone reed business has been totally mismanaged, and that he has to go through more than 1,000 reeds before he finds one that he can really play on.
I asked him what he does with all the reeds he rejects and he said that they are all in a box in one of the tour trucks. I suggested that he turn them into autographed “reed pins” that they could sell alongside concert shirts.
I asked if he knew of my Mom’s cousin Dennis Anderson, who is well known among serious saxophone aficionados, and before I could begin my explanation he replied, “Of the NY Saxophone Quartet? Yeah, I love that guy. His stuff is a little out there, but a very talented player.”
When it came time to get the concert going, I was set up with a prime seat just behind the wings stage left. When Sanborn finished his set, he walked over to me, gave me a high-five and (before I could say great show) he said, “It was nice to meet you Steve, thanks for the flashlight.”
He disappeared during Al Jarreau’s first set, but returned to play along in the second set; the crowd loved them both. I left the Garden State Art Center feeling pretty good that night.
A year later I went to see David Sanborn play a free concert in the Winter Garden atrium that was part of the World Trade Center complex. Sure enough, at the merchandise stand right next to t-shirts and sweatshirts were autographed saxophone reed pins available for only $15.
Watching that Rush documentary last week reminded me that people don’t set out to be famous, they just do what they do and sometimes it happens. When it does, those people don’t stop being who they are. Certainly their relationship with the rest of the world changes, but they still pull on their pants, one leg at a time after having their daily “moment” in the bathroom.
People who play music, act in films, and appear on TV; deserve the attention that their respective talent can muster, but make no mistake – they have problems and worries and crazy family members just like you and me.
If you encounter a famous person in the wild, don’t be afraid – go up to them, introduce yourself and say hi. Sure, they might be an a-hole, but chances are they are as happy to connect with you are you are with them.
As I was looking for the image at the top of the post, I came across this magazine ad for Chase and Sanborn coffee. We sure have come a long way.
Copyright © 2016 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.