Tuesday, January 10, 2012
"He Wasn't A Friend Of Mine" (Songs 'n' The Hoods Part 11)
I don't like meeting famous musicians, especially those I've followed and adored. It's never how I want it to be, even if circumstances seem to be ideal, like the night Chris Isaak played the Beacon Theatre. A friend who had directed a few of Isaak's videos found out I was going and said he'd introduce me after the show. (One thing you should know about me---I don't like hanging out after the show. I don't want backstage pictures. I don't want my album signed. I just want a cab.)
I forced a "Sure, sounds great," trying my best to go against type.
Finally, about 90 minutes after "Wicked Game" concluded, and Kenny Dale no longer needed to be polite, we were told to move to the side entrance, along with 20-30 other patient diehards. We did, and as we got there, the door opened, Chris Isaak came out, an assistant holding an umbrella over his head, and mechanically signed some autographs. My friend shouted, "Hey Chris!" Isaak looked up and my friend said, "Great show. This is my friend Sal, with the great record store I told you about." Chris Isaak said, "Oh, hi," got in his limo and drove off. I couldn't get a cab for 15 minutes. It was raining.
I don't blame him. I never do, not any of them. But this is why I just stay away.
I met Todd Rundgren twice. The first was at a Utopia in-store appearance at Tower Records in 1982. The second was backstage at Pier 82 before a performance. I would never have agreed to the backstage meeting, but again, circumstances.
No musician really wants to yuk it up with some fans before a show, or at least that's what I've always heard and this meeting proved me right. Kas was as friendly as ever. (Family, you know.) As for Todd, he just looked at Alex and said, "Little brother," and disappeared. So much for that.
Working in a record store, both on St. Mark's Place and in my own place, the meetings were a little easier. It was my turf. I felt more in control. The Ramones were regulars, and gave me the most pleasure. They were really pinheads in the most adorable ways. My three favorite Ramones moments:
1. Marky storms through the front door and screams, "I need to use yer bairtroom. I just had 4 expressos at Dojo's and dey go right troo me."
2. Johnny asks, "You have that Judy Collins song, 'I looked at things both ways now."
3. Marky tells me he will be leaving for Europe for a tour. I say, "Bring me back a British Ramones Tour T-shirt." He says, "Sure!" Two months later, Marky walks in and flings a shirt in my face. He laughs. I am very excited, except it's a Motorhead shirt. "Hey Mark, what's this?" Marky, "Oh shit. So stupid."
Al Kooper would come in, occasionally with Jimmy Vivino, take over the store and the stereo, tell amazing stories, insult me and then leave. Thankfully, Al is a friend. I wouldn't have taken that shit otherwise.
Mel Torme set a record for shortest stay in my store. He walked in, held his ears to prevent himself from hearing even a second of the "racket" that was coming out of the speakers, and asked, "No classical?" I said, "No, I'm sorry." And that was that.
The best night was when long time friend of the shop, Eddie G. gave me a call to find out how busy it was. He wanted to bring in someone special to shop, but was hoping it wasn't too crowded. About 30 minutes to closing time, Eddie walked in with a slight man in a trenchcoat, sunglasses at night and a hat. The store was empty. Eddie said, "Sal. This is my friend Billy. Take good care of him. Billy, Sal's a good guy. He'll help you."
Billy quietly replied, "Sorry. Give me a minute." He unbuttoned the first few buttons of his coat, and proceeded to pull out his long, red beard. Here was Billy Gibbons from Z.Z. Top, extending his hand, "Nice to meet you, Sal." He shopped, I helped, we chatted. One of the sweetest gentleman I have ever met. And he paid with an Elvis Presley credit card.
One last story. This was one of the worst encounters, so I will not mention those involved.
A Grammy winning singer-songwriter became not only a regular, but a friend. I'd go to his house and we'd hang, listen to CDs and talk about New Orleans. He even liked some of my mixes so much, he asked me to put one together so he could take it on the road and play it as his walk-on music before each show.
One afternoon he walks in with a friend. Of all the people I've mentioned, it was this person that really blew my mind. I don't really know why. There are so many factors. I was and still am a huge fan. He's legendary, for so many reasons. He's one of the great voices of all time. And it's a wonder he is still with us.
My friend introduced us, and this icon nodded and grunted a "How ya doin," turned and walked away. He picked up several different CDs and had nasty commentary for each.
"I should have been on this session."
"I never got paid for this."
"Why do people like this record?"
This went on for 30 minutes, and my mouth was agape the entire time. I couldn't accept that this person was in my store, right in front of me. It was surreal.
He finally came back to the counter to check out, and hit me with, "Why the hell don't you have my new CD in stock?"
What was I going to say? I couldn't stock everything, and in actuality, I think I did. It was in the 99 cent bin. (Even legends end up in the 99 cent bin once in a while.)
I cowered and simply said, "We DO stock it. I'm sure it sold out."
My big mistake was the following:
"It's such a pleasure to meet you. What do I charge such a legend?"
He slammed the CDs down hard on the counter and barked, "JUST CHARGE ME WHAT THEY COST SO I CAN GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!"
I did just that as quickly as possible. My friend looked at me and mouthed, "I'm sorry," and they both left.
If I would have had immediate access to my record and CD collection, every note I owned by this legend would have been tossed into the first greasey dumpster I found. Thankfully, I cooled off.
I've always been satisfied with just listening, though if any one of the aforementioned artists wanted to take me to lunch, I would accept. But my friend's friend would have to apologize first.