By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty
On Monday, I made the short trip from Chicago to Milwaukee to see one of my favorite musicians, Frank Turner. As with many of my favorite singers/bands, he was playing a mid-sized venue (this one being the conveniently named Turner Hall) packed with several hundred devoted fans.
I arrived a few hours early so I could eat before the show. As I left the parking garage next to the venue, I saw Frank walking back to his tour bus from the next block over and then hanging out with a handful of people, either crew or band mates.
I did a double take, but mostly this didn’t strike me as unusual. As a fan of several lesser known artists, I’ve had countless sightings like this one, because these artists don’t need to hide backstage from rabid, adoring legions. Rather, I’ve seen them by their tour busses, or watching the opening acts with the crowd, or having a drink at a nearby bar after the show.
And I have a policy to not approach them.
I was heading in the direction Frank had just come back from, but I walked past with no fanfare and no acknowledgement. A few hours later, I would be right near the stage being a fan: singing, dancing, taking pictures. But for now, I treated him like any other stranger on the streets of Milwaukee.
I almost always make this decision about celebrity close encounters, but I’ve never thought out why I act this way.
1. Remember – celebrities eat lunch, too: As a teacher, I can empathize with celebrities in one small way: some people in our audience (the students) forget that teachers still exist when not “on stage” in class. We aren’t chained to the lectern; we eat lunch, we have friends and family, we need sleep. Likewise, maybe Frank was relaxing pre-show or coming back from lunch on the same street I was heading toward. He didn’t need me bugging him. Our time for interaction is during the show.
2. Respect, but don’t idolize: A decade ago, I saw comedian Lewis Black at the small Zanies Comedy Club in Vernon Hills before he got famous and started headlining theaters. Afterward, he was at folding table in the back selling his CD. No one was approaching. As I exited past him, I paused to shake his hand and said, “Great show.” He smiled and said thanks. I didn’t orchestrate some attempt to go talk to him, and I wasn’t being a fanboy looking to repeat my favorite punchlines back to him. I didn’t want pictures or autographs. We were in proximity and I quickly acknowledged that I enjoy and respect his work. End of transaction.
3. Do I honestly have anything to say?: One of my favorite authors, David Sedaris, packs theaters for hilarious readings of his works. Before and after his shows, he signs books and meet fans. Oftentimes the line is hundreds deep. The one time I saw him at the Paramount Theater in Aurora, IL, he was sitting alone at a table by the front entrance when I arrived. I could have walked directly up to him, but I didn’t. This is a man whose work I adore, whose writing I try to emulate, whose literature I teach in my classes – yet still, I had no pressing questions or statements for him. So, what was I going to say? “Hey, I love your writing.” No kidding – I’m at the theater, aren’t I? Likewise with Frank or any other artist, do I honestly have anything of value to say to them that they don’t hear from hundreds of other fans at every stop on tour?
4. What if they suck?: Normally, I separate my feelings about an artist from my feelings about their work. But with my absolute favorites, I am nervous. What if they are mean or rude or dismissive? What if they say something stupid that I disagree with? What if they are generally unlikable? I fear that would ruin, or at least severely harm, my ability to enjoy their work in the future.
So, after a truly Wisconsin meal of a bratwurst, cheese curds, and some brews, I headed back to the venue and took my position at the foot of the stage. When I saw Frank this next time, it was a far more fitting situation for our interaction.