Weekend Question Thread

I was just saying on Facebook this morning that I never know what to say when meeting people I admire. I turn into a gibbering idiot. What I mean is, “Your work made me think about the world differently, gave me hope when I really needed it, forced me to reconsider how I dealt with all the things we’re taught to fear and hate, and I really think your story made me a better person” and what comes out is, more often than not, “um, hi, I really love your books.”

I said that to Laurie King after having rehearsed in my head two dozen questions about Holmes and Mary and the May-December mentor-apprentice relationship and how teaching somebody something is so intimate and how easy that is to tip over into this whole thing without any boundaries at all and how she was the first author I ever read who GOT that, really got it. I said “I love your books” and went out into my car and banged my head on the steering wheel for a while.

Which was a head better than when I met Herb Brooks and could barely SPEAK.

What amazing encounters have you all had with people you admire?


13 thoughts on “Weekend Question Thread

  1. I told Christopher Hitchens back in about 2000 that I’d been following him for a long time. He said, “What are you, a stalker?”

  2. I hadn’t thought about that moment for a long time, but looking back, I think, “Wow, pretty easy.”

  3. OMG so many, since in my previous life I was a music journalist. I got to meet a lot of super cool people and behaved like a total, complete idiot every damn time. Bonnie Raitt. k.d. lang. Jackson Browne. B.B. King…
    OK I’ll tell you my Jane Fonda story. I adore Jane Fonda, I really do. So once, when I was still in college, I had a summer job at a women’s clothing store in the old Santa Monica mall, this was the outdoor mall which has now been gentrified into the la-ti-da “Promenade,” but back in the early ’80s it was very seedy and filled with the homeless and drug dealers and gang-bangers. The store I worked at had a shop there and one in Westwood Village. Westwood was much more upscale (I waited on Jack Nicholson there once), and normally I was there but sometimes I was assigned to Santa Monica,. Jane Fonda was still married to Tom Hayden whose office was in Santa Monica then. And that summer in addition to working at the store I was volunteering for the Fund For Animals and on my lunch break I’d go around the mall and get petitions signed to outlaw steel traps or designate the wolf as the national mammal or some such, god who the hell knows. But this one time I was circulating my petition outside the store and this incredibly gorgeous woman comes striding up in a striped, off the should t-shirt and big billowing skirt and I realized OMG IT IS JANE FONDA YOU GUYS and of course I asked her to sign my petition and of course she said no, but she smiled at me, almost gave me a little wink, like, “I can’t sign your petition but I’m so glad to see a young woman doing what you’re doing.” I mean, I’m totally making that up, probably, maybe? Maybe not? But I always imagined that Jane Fonda was giving me a thumbs-up to keep fighting for what I believed in.
    Fast-forward about 25 years and I’m on a flight from Nashville to Los Angeles and who is sitting across the aisle from me but Jane Fonda. Yes, it was first class, I was using airline miles. She was living in Atlanta then. And I so, so, so wanted to go up and say something, like “I’ve always admired you,” or whatever stupid thing she’s heard a million times, but I was just too shy. So instead when she looked at me I gave her one of my stupid grimace-smiles and a thumb’s up and she smiled back. And that was that.
    Always wish I’d said something to her. Someday, maybe. If our paths cross a third time.

  4. I got to see Richie Havens up close and personal during an in-store signing at HMV when he released “Cuts to the Chase” in 1994. In his short set, he did a medley of “Tupelo Honey” and “Just Like A Woman,” and that totally blew my mind. The Van Morrison tune figured very prominently in my life at that point — I was playing in a bar five nights a week and it was a staple of my set, not to mention Cassandra Wilson had just released her version that year and I couldn’t get enough of it, AND it was the song I was playing the night I met the woman who later became my wife — and the Dylan … well, I saw Havens do it at the Bob tribute at MSG two years earlier and it completely floored me. The performance haunted me ever since. There was a long line to get the CD signed afterward, so I had plenty of time to practice what I wanted to tell him. When it was my turn, I told him, articulately and without gush, how I had never heard the love in that Dylan song until I heard his version. I did kind of lose it when I said, “And I can’t believe you paired it with ‘Tupelo Honey,’ you have no idea …” That part I couldn’t quite work out how to verbalize. But he smiled so warmly and said, “Well, I firmly believe in the connection between artist and audience, and I believe they tell me exactly what they need to hear.” My name’s Richard, too, so he signed the CD, “To Richard — a friend, Richie Havens.” It made my millennium.
    It may not seem like much, but considering the disastrous run-ins I’ve had with famous people throughout the years — I have a treasure trove for whenever you run the Worst-Encounter-With-People-You-Admire Weekend Question — by comparison it was an unexpectedly lovely grace note.

  5. Wow, Richard. I was going to mention Richie Havens as well. In 2010, I think, a friend of my sister got me a “backstage” pass to the Fais Do Do Stage, and Havens was the next act. I awkwardly stood around on a walkway leading from one of the trailers to the stage, and when Havens walked by I said something typically dull — “Hi, I’m a huge fan,” or similar expression.
    I was equally tongue tied when Abbie Hoffman came to town a long time ago, but I was pretty young at the time. Hoffman seemed more interested in my then-girlfriend anyway.

  6. Thirty years or so ago, my sister begged a ride to a Star Trek convention, and once there I could either sit in the car for eight or ten hours or go in, so I went in. Eventually I found myself in a crowded restroom waiting in a goddamned line to get to a urinal, and once I reached one my bladder chose to get sullenly shy. People behind me were saying ‘come on, man, Jesus’ and I couldn’t go and I couldn’t go and damn did I need to go. I could only stand there with my dick in my hand waiting for the crowd to thin, which it finally did, and I was just about to coax my release when SON OF A BITCH a guy bellied up to the urinal next to mine. I glared sideways and blurted: “Hey! You’re Leonard Nimoy!”
    “Yes,” he said. “I AM.”

  7. When I met Amy Goldman of Democracy Now!, this was our actual encounter (and I am not making this up):
    TG: “Amy, I’m gobsmacked to meet you!”
    AG: “Gobsmacked? What does that mean?”
    TG: “It’s from ’70s London punkrock, it means spat upon…”
    AG: “Then maybe you should stand back.”
    Oh well, maybe next time I can tell her how much I appreciate her work.

  8. I met lots of people in my rock ‘n roll years, and Bawstin used to be a supreme bookstore town, so I’ve probably said hidy to just as many authors. I tend not be be that starstruck, but try to hang back and be polite and not make a nuisance of myself. (I was a little fanshy when I got to meet David Simon ‘tho, and pulled a COMPLETE Ralph Kramden humina humina when I attended a Patti Smith book signing. (“PATTI SMITH IS TALKING TO ME!!!” I…Just…Shut…Down…)

  9. I also met Gore Vidal at an event at our local junior college and told him his depiction of Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address sent chills down my spine. He was gracious, as you would expect.

  10. When Alan Ginsberg published Cosmopolitan Greetings in the mid-90s, I happened to see that he was doing a book-signing at Powell’s Books. I worked not too far from there, and figured, “What the hell, I’ll go see Alan Ginsberg.” I got off work at 5 and the signing didn’t start until 7:30, so I was very close to the front of the line.
    It was pretty obvious that there were others there to whom Ginsberg meant *a lot* more than he did to me. I figured I’d just proffer the tome, get it signed and get out of there so the real fans could have more of his time. Instead, he was very gracious, asked a couple of questions, we actually bantered, he signed and I was off. I will always remember it fondly.

  11. “What would I say?” If you admire them, thank them for whatever it was that aroused your admiration. It’s a kind of giving back. They’ll smile, nod politely, and sign your book. Moment over, no big deal. I met John Dean at a signing a few years ago and told him he was a hero. He smiled, thanked me and signed my book. What more could I have asked?

  12. One time I ate chocolate chip cookies withAnne Preven backstage at Tremont Music Hall in Charlotte, NC. That same year I met James Earl Jones. I forget exactly what I said to him, but I remember that he said he sometimes misses home (meaning Mississippi).

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