Saturday, January 23, 2010

Mesmerized by His Astonishing Eyes

There’s a scene in the not-as-good-as-I’d-hoped Big Fan in which the main character, having followed an athlete he idolizes into a nightclub men’s room in hopes of just happening to strike up a conversation, is overcome by shyness at the last second. I had a nearly identical moment the evening my brief, but deeply embarrassing-to-remember career as a male groupie began.

B. Mitchel Reed, the hippest DJ in LA, had announced that The Who would be visiting him at the Hollywood Blvd. studios of radio station KRLA. I persuaded my friend Dave, whom I hadn’t yet persuaded that The Who were the greatest group ever, to go with me to gawk at them. Ascertaining that they’d be entering the second-floor studio through its back entrance, we staked places on the metal stairway leading to it. After a while, a limousine pulled into the parking lot down below, and my idols emerged, looking godlike. In his orange bouffant hair, Daltrey (who a couple of months later would tell Tommy Smothers quite credibly on national TV that he was from Oz) looked as though from a different planet. And it turned out that Townshend’s remarkable gigantic snout was only his second most arresting feature, his startlingly blue eyes being No. 1. As they drew nearer, though, I was overcome by shyness; it was sheerest coincidence that I happened to be there admiring the view of the back of the coffee shop next door at that moment.

When they’d finished their interview and come back out, though, I was ready. I managed, in a much higher register than usual, to speak my idol’s name. He was gracious enough to pretend not to recognize me from before, and I thrust at him some lyrics I was hoping he would want to set to music. (Forty-two years later, I still remember the first lines: Lovely leggy Sybil, let me nibble at your ear and whisper words of wisdom of a sort you seldom hear. Not bad for a 20-year-old! Not that good either!) He looked at me with those astonishing eyes and told me in his inexpressibly cool accent that he’d look them over and pass them along to his music publisher if he liked them. Naturally, I was speechless.

He claimed, years and years later, to remember that first meeting, but I think he was just being charming. His publisher didn’t contact me, and no, I don’t fail to notice the homoerotic underpinnings of the foregoing paragraph. But in all honesty it never went farther than my being mesmerized by those astonishing eyes.

Two years later, I was working in Burbank for Warner Bros. Records, mostly because I’d written glowingly about The Kinks in my college student newspaper. Ray Davies came to Burbank to hobnob with the company’s brass. Later, having been advised that I was the biggest Kinks fan on the premises, he dropped by my office for a wee chat. I realized after a few minutes that while he continued to sit in the chair opposite my desk, I had come to be kneeling before him. A natural posture of supplication!

He was as gracious as Townshend, and I was all over him like a cheap suit. When the whole group did their first American tour in four years, I was there to welcome them to New York on behalf of Warners —— and to suggest to Ray that he bring me on stage at the Fillmore East to play percussion on one song; my gall was boundless! And he tried to do it; only a zealous stagehand stood in my way!

When the group got to LA, I was there to drive them around to radio interviews in my VW microbus — at least until Warners’ incredulous promotion man apparently called company headquarters to shriek, “Can't somebody call this idiot off?” When The Kinks attended a party in their honor at what I think was still called the Daisy, I was there in poor Ray’s pocket, zealously Being Seen With Him. Oh, the embarrassment (oh, the despair!) to remember this stuff! (And yet...via Facebook, a young woman I was secretly smitten with at the time recently admitted to having been terribly impressed by my and Ray's apparent friendship!)

Several months later, when The Kinks came back to town, and holed up in their beloved Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel, I got the Los Angeles Times to send me to interview Ray. The bloom was off the rose in a big way by now, though. He was sullen and monosyllabic, and, as no else I’ve ever interviewed, conspicuously made his own recording of our conversation, presumably so I wouldn’t misquote him.

As though I would have! As though, however many months before, I, the shameless toady, hadn’t rapturously reviewed The Kinks' show at the Whisky even though they’d been brazenly under-rehearsed, out of tune, out of time, and generally appalling!

I decided henceforth to let only women break my poor heart.

[Exciting news: On, where you can hear my new album Sorry We're Open, I am now ranked 80,573rd; next stop: stardom! Facebookers: Read more little essays and subscribe here.


  1. Great story John, I think we met back in the day. The first of my approximetley 300 kinks shows began October 17th and 18th 1969 at the Filmore east in NYC...Handsome Dick Manitoba was at those shows too, he talks about them every so often, but my life was never the same after seeing the kinks, I became the legendary Dan the Fan in Kinkdom now also known as The Montvale, New Jersey Hillbilly Boy.

  2. just one more thing the kinks even under rehearsed, out of tune, loud and sloppy were still the best damn rock & roll band I ver saw live. God save the Kinks and all their fans who have stood by them and supported them through the years. There will never be another band like them, they are the band I mss seeing live the most and once Ray is gone there will never be another song writer or performer like him again. He and the kinks really were the last of the steam powered trains!

  3. Please tell me more about your fascination with Townsend and the Who. Why? Or, perhaps there is an article written in a previous life that I can access?