What a “Q.T.” couple!
In this crazy, mixed-up, recap madness of a world…we have hit the “silver” lining…a story to end all stories by our sweet Quossum.Once again…I am lending the blog out for the day.
I think you’ll enjoy what you’re about to read…I know I did.
Q…take it away.
Quossum’s Awesome Austin Recap
It’s Sunday evening, September 10, 2006, and we’re on the road. Not, strangely enough going home, which would be a sane and reasonable activity for a Sunday evening, but instead going away from home, to Austin, a near three-hour trip, knowing full well that we won’t return until almost time to get up for work Monday morning. But we’re doing it: a silly middle-aged woman and her sweet and indulgent husband, off to the last stop of a road trip dedicated to a certain gray-haired singer.
Yeah, I’m a Taylor Hicks fan, and I think I’m a fairly normal one (if indeed such exists). I fell hard for that goofy, crazy-dancin’, atypical American Idol contestant who obviously loved music with a passion. Started following his story avidly. Read the websites. Posted at Gray Charles. Cheered when Vote for the Worst chose him because I got the joke. Called in to the local radio station each Wednesday and Thursday and gained a following as “Crazy Taylor Fan.”
Luckily my husband, James, enjoyed the ride just as much (well, almost!), even putting in hundreds of votes when I was off at Dog Agility class.
My affection for Taylor careened wildly and unpredictably between “middle school crush” and “serious music fan,” but mostly it was fun—fun looking forward to the show, fun making new Internet friends, fun predicting what he’d sing and dissecting the performances afterwards.
Fun sitting in my quilting room working on a project that had seized me with surprising enthusiasm, the patterned gray fabric running through my fingers, thinking of something my husband, James, had said a few days previously: “You ought to make a quilt for what’s-his-name.” I’d laughed at the time, though goodness knows I build quilts constantly; it’s what I do. Maybe…maybe…
We’d gone to Birmingham, Alabama, and had a hellaciously good time. We’d been to the AI show and LiMBO afterparty just the night before and had another splendiferous time.
And so what are we doing, driving to Austin on a Sunday night, a gray-and-black lap quilt that had been carried to Birmingham (in vain) and back tossed in the trunk, giddy with the excitement of finality? This was our last chance to *maybe* see Taylor—at least, the last until he tours on his own or (hopefully) reunited with his old band and its exceedingly talented members.
We’re driving, rain spitting at intervals, and then clearing, and at once there’s a rainbow in the evening sky, a complete bow stretching across the horizon behind us, the kind that promises gold. Giggling and capering in my seat (I’m the emotional type), I photograph it and squeal to my husband when one end of it turns double, the reversed colors a dim luminosity in the blue sky. Surely this is a sign, isn’t it?
We arrive in Austin and take in the city (we get lost), get gas at a station where we’re hustled by a man who knows his art (“You sure got a pretty wife—she got a sexy smile! Can you spare a dollar?”), eventually making our way to the famous Antone’s. Already, there are people lining up outside, but James and I walk around the block, touching base with friends by cell and pausing for a cup at an interesting coffeeshop populated by college types studying, working on laptops, and all wearing, in some combination, flip-flops, ragged jeans, hippie skirts, dreadlocks, and various body piercings. Art covers the walls, and it is very, very cool.
After a little more of a stroll, enjoying the music pouring out of every door of every bar and club, we make our way back to Antone’s, where a news team is setting up, and we watch the reporter give a one-line blurb hinting about the expected special guest. We grin at one another knowingly.
Inside, we watch in smug amusement as the early arrivals park themselves at the front of the stage, from whence they shall not budge for the remainder of the night. Oh, no, we’re much too cool for that. That was SO Birmingham! We’re over that now! Instead we chat with friends (people who until recently had been only Internet pseudonyms), help out at the charity table, and drink beer.
Seeing Brian Less talking music with the bass player for the Texas gigs, Abe, I wait for an opportunity and seize a moment to take care of some business. First I thank him for how incredibly nice he was to NOLAgirl and me the night before in Houston, and then I ask if I can have a picture with him. “I’ve got me with everyone else: Mitch, Zippy, and Sam, but I don’t have you yet.”
“Of course!” he says, posing obligingly. Then, “Now your collection is complete—except for Taylor.”
I laugh. “Maybe someday.”
And he says, “You’ll be able to complete it tonight. You will.”
I’m aflutter, really I am, because of course that’s what I want—a picture. Sure, I’d like to sit and have a beer with the guy, chat him up while hanging out with the band, give him the quilt (or, as my sister lovingly dubbed it, “the crazy stalker blanket”), but, barring all that, a picture would be nice. To prove it. To make it all real.
Other members of the band come strolling in—Sam, the big red bear, hugs me and might actually remember me, since this is the third time I’ve met him, but even if he’s just pretending, that’s okay ‘cause he’s a great guy. Zippy is the shy one; Jeff is pretty touchy-feely, engulfing me in a big hug and rocking me back and forth. I would’ve felt a bit funny about it if he hadn’t gone and hugged James the same way! What wonderful guys they are!
Eventually, after 10 p.m., they begin to play. No, they being to play! It’s one fun ride when these guys do their thing. Brian has magic fingers; Jeff wails sax like a crazy person; Zippy plays like a thing possessed! At one point Brian says that it’s been a dream of Sam’s to play at Antone’s, and the man looks a bit sheepish, but then he plays wildly and makes good on being there—it’s all super.
At some point, watching, listening, dancing in place back in the more-clear area away from the stage, I’m thinking about how crazy this has all been, and yet how energizing. I think how silly it is that I’ve come out here, and yet how cool it’s been to just, well, be silly. And I think, with a rare clarity, that it’s so good, and here I am alive and living in this moment, in this place, at this time to which I’ve been brought, and it is all so, so, so…good. I don’t care about the quilt, I (almost) don’t care if Taylor shows up or not; I’m in this happy place, the right place at the right time, and the music is loud, loud, loud, and wonderful, and I laugh with the joy of it all.
And at last Taylor appears. He’s smiling, he’s wearing a shiny black jacket and a black shirt and jeans, and his hair—those of you who know me know that I love the hair—is absolutely fan-friggin’-tastic. It’s gleaming like silver, dark in the back, and has lovely definition to it. People are screaming, I’m jumping up and down, and at last Taylor is singing!
The Taylor we saw at the WorkPlay in Birmingham was funny, hyper, silly, energetic. Now Taylor is serious, he is focused, he is a working artist. The energy is there, laser-like in intensity with an incandescent edge, but he is putting it all into the music, he is working it, he is bringing it! Oh my God, it’s great! Not as much (if any) crazy dancing, just real and serious music pouring from him, from them all. He switches guitars with Sam for a while. He grimaces, he leans, he puts everything he has into it.
I’m not much good at remembering titles, or when certain things took place, but I can tell you some of the things that happen during that concert, in no particular order, and subject to the vagaries of memory, of course…There are sound problems, and while they are being worked out, Taylor asks for questions from the audience, who strangely enough don’t give him many. He comments about liking to play in college towns and in bars and asks the audience, “How many of y’all are drunk? How many of y’all were here drunk last night?” He says, “I cut my teeth in places like this—not in Texas, but in Alabama. Now I’m cuttin’ it in Texas!” He says, “It’s kind of hard not getting much practice time with the band. I’m walkin’ down those stairs thinking, ‘What the hell are we gonna do?’” At one point he goes into a long, rambling series of lyrics, almost muttering the words in a trance-like way. During this, some girls behind me are chattering like magpies, and I can’t help but think of the pre-Idol live performances with folks talking constantly in the background. Guess it doesn’t matter if they’re watching someone “famous” or not: the talkers are gonna talk!
And then Taylor says, “We could do that thing called…uh…called…whazzat called…?” He’s building it, teasing—then pulls out the harp!
His harp during this show is phenomenal. Just that, phenomenal. How can I distill music into words that could possibly get across how great the harp is here? Have any of you eaten Mexican candy? Sugar with chili powder—it’s how this music would taste if you could eat it, sweet and hot. I’ve heard Taylor play some harmonica before, but this is special. Moving around during this, bobbing up and down, leaning out to the audience, wailing, wailing, wailing.
Later, James told me he thought Taylor looked tired, and I don’t doubt he was—it’s been a long tour, and he was certainly more subdued than he had been at WorkPlay an entire month earlier. But like a pro, he put all he had into the performance, and I am grateful. It is marvelous.
Taylor walks off abruptly while the band plays on, and then the set ends. People disperse, no doubt hoping for another set but needing a breather, a smoke, a drink. However, only a few minutes later, Taylor walks back up on stage and gives a short, “Thanks for coming, I’m leaving now,” speech, and walks off.
Now things happen. Now listen to this. It’s all clarity—it’s all good—it’s all with my ears ringing with the good music. I see that Taylor has stepped off the stage and is talking to fans, and in a curious focused calm I walk through the VIP section of tables (strangely unguarded at this crucial moment) and join a small group standing on the path between the stage and the backstage door.
A security guy is telling people, “Move back! Move back! I want 10 feet here, people!” but no one is budging. I’m standing there, a short little gal sandwiched between a couple of tall pretty girls, almost at the end of the line closest to the backstage door, and I am looking at Taylor. He’s right there, right there, signing autographs and answering questions. I think he’s talking about his upcoming album, but I am so utterly and completely focused on taking this all in that I don’t quite remember. I’m not saying, “Taylor, Taylor, Taylor!” I’m not thrusting some miscellaneous object at him to sign. I am just being there.
He moves along down the line, closer. Maybe it’s because I’m so quiet and still and just looking at him with a smile brimming with contained excitement, but he looks at me and says, “And how you doin’, sweetheart?” and sticks out his hand.
I shake it and say, “We’re lovin’ having you in Texas,” or something like that. He moves back toward the stage as a fan asks for a picture, and she leans across the rope and he leans towards her and someone takes it. Then he’s moving back toward my end of the line again.
I touch his elbow and say something like, “Me, too? I’ve got the whole rest of the band, and Brian was saying I could complete my collection tonight.” Taylor smiles broadly and steps closer for the picture. I’m beyond the rope so there’s nothing to lean over; I just step into him, put my arm on his waist (I feel the slick, shiny material of the jacket; I feel the solidity, the realness, of him, of this whole crazy thing), lean in, and James snaps the picture. I say something like, “Thanks! And thanks for coming to Texas!” and Taylor’s already moving on to someone else.
Then I step away and retreat from the area. My hands are shaking so that James, who is laughing and saying, “You did it!” insists on taking the camera back. I am so excited, so pumped, and yet I feel the perfect, the perfect sense of completion, of satisfaction. I “met” Taylor Hicks—he spoke to me graciously—I touched him.
I got my picture. And when I look at it, I am completely happy. Every star aligned, and aside from a slightly maniacal look in my eyes, I would have to say it’s perfect. Taylor has a real smile (was it mentioning the band and putting him into it that brought out that real smile, that just a hint of a quirk?) and he looks gorgeous.
There’s a little bit more to the evening. I can’t stand to leave, not now with adrenaline rushing through me. First there’s a little matter of a VFTW t-shirt that I’d promised to try to deliver, which I’d forgotten about totally in the excitement. I place it in the hands of the security guy, with whom I discuss the matter of Taylor’s crazy fans at some length. (I’m not sure if he recognizes me as one of the crazy fans refusing to step back when he was yelling earlier!) I listen to at least the beginning of LiMBO’s next set, during which Jeff appears on the floor right next to me!–blowing sax like a maniac and exchanging riffs with Sam while those around him dance or just step back and enjoy. The “other Idols” are visible in the upper balcony areas, surrounded by various hangers-on, and I know they’ll be coming down to sing later…but by now it’s past 1am, and James had insisted that we should leave by 1 a.m. And I suppose, if you have a husband who willingly goes along with schlepping you and your friends all over creation to see a band, and who willingly takes your picture with a hot singer, well, you owe it to him to leave by 1 a.m. if he wants!
No, I didn’t give Taylor the quilt, which had been carried around faithfully by my long-suffering husband from Texas to Alabama and back and everywhere else there was a remote chance of seeing Taylor; I didn’t have it with me at the time I encountered him, and, in any case, the moment didn’t seem “right.” At the risk of outing myself as one of “those” fans—you know, the ones who give gifts (most of which will summarily be disposed of) to famous people, I have to say that I still want him to have it, because hell—he sings, I quilt. It’s what I do. I build quilts and give them to people, and this one is his, it just is—a sort of one artist to another thanks for giving something of yourself to all all all these crazy fans. I’ll mail it—and if he doesn’t want it or like it, he has my permission to take a picture of himself sleeping under it and then use the picture to sell it on eBay to raise money for charity!
So we leave, not without newly purchased Antone’s t-shirts in hand, and not without making one more round of my friends and telling them “bye,” and “see you on the next tour!” And all the way home we talk and talk and talk about it, how exciting it was, how fun it was, how right it all finally was.
Thank you…Shelley, NOLAgirl, milkies, Worsters, tolerant friends from school, LiMBO guys, Gray Charles, Bucky, Chris, Dana, Jan, James, Taylor…what a fun fun interval in my life.
Now back to your regularly scheduled blog.