Monday, August 13, 2012

Showbiz memories: Getting to meet my all-time celebrity crush

When I worked at the Sun Dome at the University of South Florida, I had what I think was probably the coolest job in the building. I don't recall my actual title; USF gave us less than a shoestring budget and we all had four or five different jobs. But as the guy in charge of marketing and public relations, I spent a lot of time backstage during concerts, specifically herding writers and photographers around, getting them to places they were supposed to be and keeping them out of places they weren't. This was pretty easy, since for the most part, all of the people I dealt with were very professional and conducted themselves accordingly with the barest minimum supervision from me. This left me with plenty of free time. I would often use this time to just wander around and take things in. One of my favorite activities was to wander out by the stage and take pictures for fans with their cameras from the angle of the stage. They were always so excited and it was a privilege to play a part in giving them a happy memory of the experience. Otherwise, I was roaming the hallways backstage, picking up and delivering lanyards and credentials or doing other odd jobs. As a result, I tended to cross paths with a lot of the performers.
The common protocol for the arena staff when it came to interacting with performers was Do Not Speak Unless Spoken To. It wasn't because you were supposed to treat them as superior beings, it was just extending the courtesy of leaving them alone so they could tend to their business. Some of them clearly did not want to be bothered and observing the protocol was the ideal way of not getting yourself in trouble. Others, were very outgoing. I remember Jack and Meg White of the White Stripes both being extremely friendly, as was Michael McDonald. In cases like that, it was perfectly acceptable to engage in conversation because it was just being polite. Pretty simple.

FLASHBACK: In 1984, I walked into a record store and saw this...

Featured: Everything I loved about the 80's
I was instantly in love. Like, head-over-heels, little cartoon hearts shooting out of my eyeballs, forever and ever amen IN LOVE! Oh sure, it was completely superficial and shallow, based entirely on a glimpse of a photo on a record album, but still: L-O-V-E.
Of course, I bought the album and played it and discovered that Ms. E (short for Escovedo) was not only stunningly gorgeous, but had serious musical ability. I've always had a thing for girls who can play an instrument. Learning this strengthened my already feverish infatuation with a healthy dose of respect. Over the years, with the benefit of maturity the respect grew deeper and what I had referred to as "love" turned into admiration, which is much healthier. Although...

END FLASHBACK: ...I was still a fan and never truly got all the way over my crush on her.
In 2001, a promoter booked Ringo's All Starr Band for a show at the Sun Dome. Former Beatle Ringo Starr had been doing these all-star tours for a while and that year's line-up consisted of him, Roger Hodgson of Supertramp, Ian Hunter of Mott The Hoople, Howard Jones, Greg Lake of  Emerson, Lake and Palmer and King Crimson, Mark Rivera and... Sheila E! The decision was made instantly: I was going to meet her even if I put my job at risk. Nothing crazy or inappropriate or even impolite, mind you. No, but I would definitely put myself in a position at some point during the event that would require an interaction. That's all. In the interest of fairness and full disclosure, I told my boss about it:
"I can't wait for the Ringo show. I'm finally going to meet Sheila E!"
"It really should be a great show. I'm looking forward to seeing Ian Hunter!"
"Are you going to meet Ian Hunter, the way I'm going to meet Sheila E?"
"The way you asked that question concerns me, which I'm guessing is your intent."
"Ha ha! Don't be concerned. I'm not going to do anything improper. But she's going to be in the building and I am going to find a way to make her acquaintance at some point during the evening."
"While I marvel at your consistent ability to cause me a great deal of apprehension while attempting to reassure me, I think I'm just going to pretend that this conversation never even happened. That way, I don't have to fire you presumptively and if you do end up doing something stupid, maybe one of her bodyguards will just break your neck." 
With my boss's ringing endorsement, I did my usual routine leading up to the show. That night, I found myself more amped up than usual. I took care of things as needed, just with a little extra pep in my step. As a result, I almost killed a Beatle.As the houselights went down to begin the show, I was out in front at stage left, minding my herd of photographers. The band started playing and I suddenly realized I had forgotten something in my office. I took off and burst through the stage doors and found my face inches from that of Ringo Starr, waiting to make his entrance. "Oh! Hi!", I said. He replied with an icy, "Yeah. Hi." So that's how that brush with greatness went.
Relieved that I hadn't bodychecked the singer of Yellow Submarine back to the '60s, I spent the rest of the evening anticipating The Big Moment. Of course, I watched her play during the show itself and that experience in and of itself was fantastic. If you've never seen her, she really is super-talented. Here she is on Letterman a while back...

The show ended and now I was almost out of my mind with anticipation. The Sun Dome was a very simple building, with one continuous, narrow service hallway that circled the entire building, with four in/out access points. Positioning myself between the loading dock and the dressing rooms, there was no way she could get past me on her way out. That sounds a little creepy, doesn't it? Now that I read it, yeah, it does. And now, I kind of regret it. But at the time, hey good idea and a solid plan! As I stood there waiting, it suddenly occurred to me: what if she's a jerk? Uh-oh. I didn't think she would be, but you never know what kind of reaction to expect from someone you meet for the first time. Maybe I was going to ruin everything I'd built up in my mind by actually making it happen! Oops, too late. I saw her coming down the hall. This was it. 17 years, leading up to
The Big Moment
Me: "Excuse me, Sheila. I've been a fan of yours for a very long time and this is the first time I've had the chance to see you perform in person. Thank you for coming." (I extended my hand, she smiled and shook it)
Sheila E: "Oh, that's sweet of you to say. My pleasure! Thank you so much!"
That was it. Maybe 10 seconds. Awesome. Unless I'm remembering it wrong and
It Was More Like This
Me: "Duhhh. Me work here. You pretty. You make bang-bang on drums good. Me happy you come here. Duhhhhhhhhh." (A stream of saliva dribbled out of my mouth and puddled around my shoe as she recoiled in horror)
Sheila E: "Do you need medical attention?"
Either way, it was totally worth it. Especially since I didn't get fired.


Mike Stuben said...

Clark, I was at that show, enjoyed seeing the 4th Beatle (not that I have seen the other 3, just Paul, but Ringo clearly is 4th on everyone's Beatle list.) .... I just remember all night long, Ringo would turn to the crowd and shout out "What's my name?" and the crowd would yell back "Ringo" and he kept doing it over and over and over .... it would have made an incredible drinking game.

Clark Brooks said...

I think most USF staff got to see that show, as we ended up papering the house. That generated A LOT of good will for us and they got to see a great show. If I recall correctly, Liberty Devitto, Rick Derringer and Brian Johnson also all showed up unannounced.