(Photo below, left, shows some of Terry’s mementos)
Crash, crash, crash, it’s a gas by Terry Godbey
The White House state-dinner crashers with reality TV dreams may be hogging the media spotlight for the moment, but a couple decades back I racked up some celebrity encounters of my own. Bodyguards … who cared? Invitations … who needed them? True, I never took my act to the nation’s capital, but I was unstoppable when it came to meeting entertainers I admired.
My backstage derring-do began in a small Winter Park, Fla., nightclub called Cheek to Cheek after a concert by one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Karla Bonoff, who was mostly known for writing songs Linda Ronstadt turned into hits. As I watched her vanish through a nearly hidden door in the stage wall, I suddenly decided I wanted to meet her.
I headed off, and my stunned husband followed. I knocked on the first door down the short hall. Bonoff opened it, looking surprised. She still carried the long-stemmed rose a fan had placed on her piano during an encore of “Rose in the Garden.” She was kind, and she brightened when we told her my husband sang one of her songs at our wedding. She signed our tickets; we chitchatted and left quickly. I didn’t want to be a pest.
The next big act we saw at Cheek to Cheek was comedian Jay Leno, before he was a late-night king. Throughout his sidesplitting show, I never once thought about pouncing, but when he finished and I saw a bouncer stationed at that same dark door, I made a break for backstage.
“Young lady, you can’t go back there,” the muscle-bound bodyguard said. We waited until he was distracted by a loud group on the other side of the stage and ran for it. Success! We knocked on that same door, but this time we were the ones surprised – by Leno’s appearance. Not just by the famous expanse of jaw, close up, but by how sweaty and pale he looked, how utterly exhausted, so opposite of the energetic entertainer who made us laugh so hard and so long our own jaws would ache for hours.
After my second Bonoff concert, I was about to knock again on her backstage door when I noticed another door, swinging open and leading outside. There, under the stars, stood Bonoff’s opening act, singer-songwriter J.D. Souther. The writer of the Ronstadt classic “Simple Man, Simple Dream” and co-writer of “New Kid in Town” needed some fresh air after the smoky nightclub. When I told him I had come to say hello to Bonoff, he sulked and asked, “What’s wrong with me?” So we talked, about his music, about poetry and lyrics, about my treasured, old Gibson guitar. When I left, he tried to direct me to Bonoff’s room, but I shook my head. I already knew the way.
Then came the kiss. During a high school friend’s visit, we drove to St. Petersburg and stayed in a beach motel. We scored free tickets to an outdoor Little Feat concert. Little Feat! One of my favorite bands, fun and funky and enhanced by the addition of Craig Fuller, a singer with a sweet, sexy, soulful voice (“Amie”) and co-founder of Pure Prairie League.
It was a humid summer night, but the musicians played with great energy for two hours, toweling off between songs. Afterward, amid the sweaty, drunken crowd and in the dark, I couldn’t see where the band went. There would be no backstage capers. So my friend and I went into a bar. A bus pulled up. Curious, I walked outside and there stood Fuller. As I dug in my purse for paper and pen, a roadie hauling sound equipment said, “Come on, Craig, give the pretty lady a kiss.” He smiled, kissed me on the lips and climbed aboard the bus with a wave. Let me assure you, swoon is a verb.
My final adventure: a John Hiatt concert in a converted railroad car. I did not intend to bust backstage in an unfamiliar venue, but friends kept daring me. Never one to back away from a challenge, I headed for the door the band had disappeared through. A burly man appeared: “Don’t even think about it.” Another effort, another rebuff, but my persistence paid off when he became caught in a crowd. I stepped inside another world: on a long table spread with white cloth lay an expanse of shrimp cocktail, crab legs, fresh fruit (some so exotic they were new to me), carafes of wine, vases of fresh flowers.
The band members looked up from filling their plates. “How did you get past our bodyguard?” one asked. “Good thing you’re not a crazy woman,” said another as he handed me a plate. They gave me their concert song list and signed it, handed over a pink guitar pick with Hiatt’s name on the front and signature on the back, asked me about myself, encouraged me to eat a little more. They told me Hiatt was changing clothes and would sign autographs and talk with fans out by the tour bus. Several shrimp and starfruit later, we filed outdoors where I spoke with Hiatt, ever the affable Everyman. He signed all the souvenirs in my arms (and would have signed my arms, too, had I asked) and threw in a hug.
My encounters happened at small venues, before stalkers and the need for elaborate security, before reality shows made celebrities of perfect fools and perfect fools of television viewers. My motives were pure. I simply wanted to meet artists whose work mattered to me and tell them so. My invitations? All those doors, just waiting to be opened.
~~~end~~~ (photos courtesy of the author; Leno photo: boston.com)