As you move up in the rock ranks, you’re bound to run into some of your musical heroes. This is where you learn to keep your cool—After all, you’re now a peer of sorts, not just a fan. You may wind up catching them off guard and seeing sides of you idols that you wouldn’t have imagined when you were sitting at home playing their CD’s.
For instance, Joey Ramone used to live in a high-rise apartment in the East Village in NYC. I know that because I got to interview him once, and he wanted to do it at his home. To my mind Joey was (and always will be) the living embodiment of punk rock: Seeing him in front of the band at a sweatbox club show, inscrutable behind shades, the only guy in the place that wasn’t moving—Ramones concerts were some of the most fun I’ve ever had, and Joey seemed to be the man in charge of it all.
So there I was in Joey’s apartment, a dark little place with lots of punk-rock trinkets and band souvenirs hanging everywhere. Draped on a chair was a custom Simpsons leather jacket, which he’d just gotten when the Ramones guested on the show (they sang “Happy Birthday” to Mr. Burns, you’ll recall).
I’m glad to report that Joey generally turned out to be one of the nicest guys around ,he phoned me two days after our interview, just to make sure I’d gotten good enough answers to all my questions
And his cleaning woman was there to tidy up around the place—at least, that’s who I thought she was. Until she picked up the jacket and told Joey that he really shouldn’t just leave it laying around like that. “Awww, Mom…” said a sheepish Joey, looking down at the floor in embarrassment. Yes, I was watching my musical hero and punk-rock savior get scolded for being sloppy. By his mother.
I’m glad to report that Joey generally turned out to be one of the nicest guys around (he phoned me two days after our interview, just to make sure I’d gotten good enough answers to all my questions—Trust me, rock stars absolutely never do that). When you meet your musical heroes, you can be surprised at how normal they are. Not always, of course: Sometimes they stay right in character. Our own Kurt Davis (now the Konks’ frontman) was in Los Angeles during the 90’s when his then-current band, Bullet LaVolta, was signed to a major label. He knew he was really close to the big leagues when he checked into the Sunset Marquis—one of the favorite rock’n’roll hotels—and saw a familiar figure at the swimming pool: KISS front man Paul Stanley was reclining with a lady friend, and an employee was on hand, circling around the happy couple so he could mist them with water from an Evian bottle. No, Kurt didn’t go say hello--- Who’d disturb a guy who so obviously has it made?
Sometimes the biggest rule is to not get too starry-eyed. Boston rocker Kevin Stevenson, who led a terrific band called the Shods, was also an auxiliary member of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones when the Bosstones got honored with a star outside Tower Records. Kevin was trying to enjoy a night at home with some pizza, when he got a message from his bandmates: Get down here quick. The Bosstones were hanging out at the Cambridge hotspot, the Middle East, with a man who’d come into town to help honor them: The Clash’s late, great front man Joe Strummer.
Stevenson was as big a Clash fan as anyone in the room, but didn’t want to come across like too much of a fan boy type. “He was surrounded by stupid little punk rockers asking him questions about the Clash, and I could tell he was getting a little annoyed,” he recalls. “So I said, ‘Hey, Joe—You want to get outta here’?” He did, and the two adjourned to Green Street, a nearby bistro that was known for its great jukebox. And when you’re hanging out with Joe Strummer, a great jukebox is a must. “We stood there at the jukebox picking songs, and we were loving the same ones—all the old R&B stuff like ‘Stagger Lee’ by Lloyd Price.” Then Stevenson played his card; he said something that would either win him Strummer’s eternal friendship or get him punched out. “I turned to him and said Sandinista!.”—naming the love-or-hate Clash album that covered three very experimental vinyl LP’s. “He looked at me and said ‘Yeah, what about it?’ And I said, ‘Should have been an EP.”
There was a tense, quiet moment while Strummer thought that over. “Then he looked at me and said, ‘YEAH! It should have been!’ And we were friends from that point on. I mean, I could tell that we were already on the same page and that he wouldn’t take offense. But he was so much happier from that point on. I took him downstairs to the VFW Hall, because I knew that would be his kind of place. We talked music for hours and he was buying me drinks all night.” And all because he’d dissed one of Strummer’s albums—not a strategy we would have recommended.
He was surrounded by stupid little punk rockers asking him questions about the Clash, and I could tell he was getting a little annoyed," he recalls. "So I said, 'Hey, Joe—You want to get outta here'?" He did, and the two adjourned to Green Street, a nearby bistro that was known for its great jukebox.
Another happy story comes from Corin Ashley, a Boston songwriter whose biggest love is classic, Beatles-inspired pop. His band, the Pills, toured England a few years back; and one of their tour stops was Swindon—a town beloved by pop fans since it’s the home of one of Ashley’s favorite bands, XTC. But it turned out that the Pills also had a small and enthused following in Swindon, led by a very pretty blonde woman that Ashley couldn’t help but notice from the stage; she was singing along with all the songs. She introduced herself afterwards and said some nice things, but one thing really made him take notice: “You like XTC? That’s my dad’s band”. Sure enough, she was Holly Partridge, daughter of XTC mastermind Andy Partridge. Corin had pressed a Pills CD on Andy Partridge when XTC came to Boston, and Holly had stolen and fallen in love with it.
Better still, she called her dad after the show so that the Pills could say hello. “I’m afraid we got him out of bed, so I was expecting a quick hello, but we had him on the phone for almost 40 minutes. We talked about performing and songwriting, and he offered us some encouragement for our show in Liverpool the following week; talking about when XTC used to play Eric’s in Liverpool. He left us with two requests: Send some more music because Holly keeps raving about it. And, keep your band off my daughter.”
I also have a story about meeting your greatest hero’s offspring: Five years ago I was returning home from the South by Southwest music conference in Austin, TX. Quite a few music figures were in the airport that day and the planes were over-booked. So as it turned out, two people who had confirmed reservations on our plane got bumped to standby: Myself and Sean Lennon. I had shown up earlier though, so I was higher in the pecking order. There was only one seat available, my name got called and…well, I waved and got onboard. Sorry Sean, I was in a hurry. Is it still OK if we do that Beatles game?