I enjoy taking to people. It’s nothing for me to start a conversation with a perfect stranger in a record store, at a concert, or somewhere similar. It’s a blessing, I guess. Although my teenage daughter sees it more as a curse. “God, Dad! Is there ANYONE you won’t talk to?!?”
My professions (military journalist for five years and police officer for the last 24) have made it necessary for me to talk to people. These days, I catch people at their worst more often than not. Still, I am occasionally able to steer the encounter toward something a bit more positive.
My day job has made it possible to meet and talk to people I would normally never share space with like politicians, celebrities, and professional athletes. Most of them want to thank me for my service, ask me about the equipment on my belt, or just make small talk. So meeting someone famous doesn’t really faze me any more.
The same goes for musicians, particularly those I admire. I had to conduct more than 20 interviews for my first book. What once might have made me mildly apprehensive got considerably easier as time wore on.
I remember being a little worked up before my very first book interview, which was with Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid. I wasn’t worried about the interview as much as I simply didn’t want to appear to be an idiot. What put me at ease was spending half an hour talking to Reid and lead vocalist Corey Glover about Star Trek and Marvel Comics movies after the band’s set. It humanized them, and it was really cool to learn we had our fandom in common. When Corey decided to head backstage for a shower, he pointed to Vernon, then to me, and said, “Go to work!” I laughed, and it was a breeze after that.
I was a nervous wreck the first two times I tried to speak to my musical idol, Adrian Belew. I talk about those encounters in my book. Now it’s nothing to talk to Ade, which I look forward to doing again in March when he comes to town on tour. He’s an incredibly nice man, and I never should have worried about talking to him in the first place.
It’s funny how things change. All but gone are the days of me getting jittery or feeling butterflies before meeting a musician I admire or need to introduce myself to. Going to Progtoberfest certainly helped. I was surrounded by musicians! Half the time I was talking to someone one minute, and seeing them on stage the next. And I didn’t even know they were in a band! Regardless, I feel more and more like I’m becoming a part of the music/musicians culture, and less and less a part of my current professional culture. That’s not a complaint, to be honest. Hopefully, it’s a sign of things to come.
There are so many musicians I’d like to interview. Obviously, I will not be able to get to them all. But that won’t stop me from trying. And while I spend more time trying to figure out how to get to these musicians than I do worry about how I’ll act should we interact, there are a couple who give me a minor case of the shakes.
My book on my father and jazz will swing a much heavier bat if I could talk to some of the musicians Dad admired. My “pie in the sky” ambition is to interview any combination of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, or Ron Carter. They played in the legendary Miles Davis quintet of the mid to late 1960s, and were probably Dad’s favorite band of all time. They’re mine, too. What do you ask a legendary musician who has probably answered every question you could possibly think of at least a dozen times? How do you convince them to go back into the past, when they no doubt want to spend time talking about the present and/or the future? It’s a problem I would very much like to have.
Meeting Miles Davis himself would have made me a little … off-kilter. As interested as I am in his music, Miles on a personal level seemed a bit more abrasive than I would have been able to tolerate for an extended period. I have met a couple of musicians who played with Miles in Jack DeJohnette and John Scofield. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to ask them any questions. But our encounters were very pleasant indeed.
Meeting or talking to Paul McCartney would make me more than a little nervous. He is, after all, a quarter of one of the most influential bands in music history. I worry at times that I might suddenly turn into the late Chris Farley in his famous Saturday Night Live sketch with Macca. “R-r-r-remeber when you were in the Beatles? That was awesome!” Of course, I’ve heard nothing but nice things about him from people I’ve worked with who were on his security detail when he was in town. That goes a long way toward relaxing the mind.
I wish I could have met Frank Zappa. He’s another one with a prickly reputation, but I can assure you I would have studied intensely for that interview. I’m sure I would have gone over each question a dozen times, and kept my editorial comments to a minimum. As it happens, I bumped into his son, Dweezil, at one of my favorite guitar shops not long before DZ’s gig, which I had the pleasure of attending. He couldn’t have been a nicer and more humble person. He seemed genuinely flattered when I told him about his father’s effect on my musical being.
Truth be told, meeting and talking to musicians is not that difficult. The key is to make the most of your time in their space, and to do so without being ignorant or demanding about it. Thus far, all my encounters have ended with a handshake and a smile. It helps that I keep in mind what my friend Jimmy Griffin (a rather popular regional musician in his own right) told me when I interviewed him for my book. There was really only one thing to keep in mind when meeting someone famous: “They’re just people!”
That makes things a lot simpler.