Posted by: facetothewind | September 27, 2007

Backstage at the Hollywood Bowl Rufus concert

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At two o’clock Sunday my mobile phone rang with a call I had hoped for three weeks ago. I had given up hope that the call would come, but finally it did. It was my friend Pan calling from Portland.

“Guess who just called me?” he asked me as the mag-lev train was delivering me to the entrance to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.

“Well, I’m guessing it was Thomas Lauderdale,” I said. Thomas is the founder of the band Pink Martini.

“Yeah – he left his cell phone at home while he was on tour and so he just now got my messages and called me back.”

Rewind three weeks to my last night in Portland. I met Pan downtown for an outdoor concert of some chorus making odd bird noises. It was somewhat disappointing, but afterward, as the crowd was dispersing, I saw Pan talking to a short, bespectacled, Asian man with a big shock of blond hair who was fiendishly smoking cloves cigarettes. I noticed his cute hand-tied bow tie, but kept my distance avoiding the smoke.

After their conversation, Pan came to me to leave and said, “Do you know who that was? It was Thomas Lauderdale from Pink Martini.”

I grabbed his arm, “Pan, we’re going right back! We have to go talk to him. Didn’t you know Thomas took Rufus to Sauvie Island the day Rufus was in town for his concert?” Someone had clued us in a few weeks ago at Rufus’ Portland concert.

Always up for a little adventure, Pan agreed to go back and so we followed Thomas out to the sidewalk as he was leaving. We approached him from behind. My friend Mikey, who had joined us, playfully blurted out so that Thomas could hear, “Are you guys stalking Thomas Lauderdale?”

This caught Thomas’ attention as he was working on another cigarette and waiting for the light to change. I could see a little twinkle in his eye that he was delighted that Pan had returned. He looked at us with a big closed-lip smile like he had just received the ultimate compliment…gay men following him. It’s of course, no surprise that Thomas is gay.

My thinking was admittedly strategic: If Thomas took Rufus to Sauvie Island, clearly he has a direct line to Rufus, and I have a direct line to Pan. With Pan I was only 2 degrees of separation from a meeting with Rufus. If I got to talk to Thomas myself, I would be halving the degrees, inching myself one big step closer to meeting my muse.

It’s no secret that I’ve been deeply fascinated, no, infatuated with Rufus. His music somehow seems to have unimpeded access to my soul and so I have developed my first-ever celebrity infatuation.

Okay, I said it. I’m infatuated with Rufus.

I eagerly await his next musical offerings. I go to his concerts when they are within reasonable striking range. I study his music in my ear training classes and scratch out his chords for my piano parties in Tucson. I would add that I’m more infatuated with his musical output than with the man himself. I adore his music like I do Brahms and Chopin. There is only one difference, really: Rufus is a LIVING musical giant, which presents the odd possibility of actually bumping into him. Most intelligent music lovers idolize composers like Mozart, right? But what if you could actually go down to the backstage door after a concert and say hello to old Wolfie and tell him how much you loved that slow movement in the 23rd piano concerto? What if you were at the beach and Mozart was there – would you go over and say hello?

Pan and I stopped hiding behind Thomas like giggly teens clutching each other’s hands and just approached him. “Hi my name is David and I didn’t realize who you were back there. I just want to say that I really like your music and I heard that you were on Sauvie Island with Rufus the day of his concert. By the way, I love your bow tie.” Nerves were taking me all over the place. He took a drag off his cigarette and quietly listened to my excited blather. He was a good foot shorter than me.

His face lit up. “Yes, I took him berry picking,” Thomas said as he exhaled a big puff of smoke that hit me about chest high and looped upward around my whole body. The smell of the cloves was not so unpleasant.

“Oh my god, I knew it!” I told him. “We were at Rufus’ concert and someone standing next to us told us that he was seen out on Sauvie with you. I was driving my bike around all day hoping to meet him. I’m a huge fan of Rufus. I think he’s the greatest musical talent of our time and it’s so great to see him blossoming.” I was raving about one musician to another with so little regard for how this might be making Thomas feel.

Thomas lowered his voice to get serious with me, “Yes, I agree, he’s great isn’t he?”

“We’re going to see him in a couple weeks at the Hollywood Bowl. I have an extra ticket if you’d like it,” I offered him.

“Oh thanks, I’m going to be on tour then,” he told me. “And in fact I’ll be at the Hollywood Bowl performing soon, as well.” He turns to Pan now and almost whispers, “I might be able to get you backstage passes so you can meet Rufus.” He turns back to me, “What is your name? I’ll see if I can get you guys on the list.”

“David Gilmore,” I told him shyly. “I’m just a nobody.”

“You are NOT a nobody!” Mikey admonished me from his bicycle. I appreciated the vote of confidence.

Thomas seemed to be antsy to cross the street. “Wayne” (Pan’s real name), “just give me a call tomorrow and I’ll see if I can get you on the list. Nice to meet you. David, right?”

We left Thomas on the street corner. We were bouncing with the feeling that maybe we weren’t just nobodies. Maybe we had been given the secret handshake, entrée into the glittery backstage world of the gay musical dynasties. Pan and I discussed how to get to the Hollywood Bowl concert – he didn’t have plans to attend, but if he got those backstage passes, I’d give him the ticket.

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Over the next few days, Pan left two messages for Thomas on his cell phone. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the calls went unreturned. I returned to feeling like Oliver Twist, living in Cupcake’s hot attic doing menial tasks around the house to earn my keep. Pan is on unemployment and I’m still counting my dollars until I run out of money. Neither of us will be performing at the Hollywood Bowl next week.

Fast forward to Los Angeles – the day of the Rufus concert at the Bowl. Pan is on the phone, “Thomas put your name plus one guest on the list to go backstage at the concert. Just go to the artist’s entrance.”

I began marveling about the power of putting something out into the world. I have been pretty consistently trying to contact Rufus. It is my own version of putting a note in a bottle and throwing it into the ocean hoping someone will retrieve it and contact me.

My first attempt to contact Rufus was in 2006 when my friend Lisa Simeone interviewed him for NPR at the Met about his upcoming opera. When she told me she would be interviewing him, I insisted that she give him a homemade video of me thanking him for his music. He went home that afternoon with my video in his coat pocket. I waited to hear from him. Then at his Portland concert, I bought him an antique brooch and threw it on stage with a note, once again thanking him. I eagerly awaited an email or something…even a thank you from a roadie. Nothing. Maybe they threw it away.

And suddenly, today, I’m given a pass to go meet him backstage at the Hollywood Bowl after his Judy Garland concert. Instantly I’m Charlie who just unwrapped the golden ticket to tour the chocolate factory, and I have to choose one of my friends to go in with me. Pan couldn’t make travel arrangements at the last minute. Crap. It’s Sophie’s Choice, Oliver Twist and Willie Wonka all in one. I want my dear old grandpa to go with me.

The concert was not exactly the best thing I’ve ever seen. Rufus’ beautiful voice is just too fragile to take on a huge lineup of songs that push him beyond his normal range. He ended up with his pipes hissing and squeaking through many of the top notes in the 2nd half. I didn’t go to the Bowl to confirm Rufus’ musical talent. He’s a composer who happens to have a unique and sonorous voice better left to recording studios than the cold night air and Judy’s cruel set list. I’d rather be listening to Rufus at the piano by himself spilling out his guts in one of his signature maudlin beauties.

I bided my time making bootleg videos knowing that this might very well be considered an historic event years from now. I wondered what the scene would be like backstage afterward. What I expected was a back room filled with hundreds of people in glittering gowns – the likes of David Geffen and Cher exchanging air kisses with Rufus. It was nothing of the kind.

At the artist’s entrance, I stepped up to the list keeper who immediately knew my name (mostly because I share the name with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour). When roadies hear David Gilmour is coming, they’re ready for royalty. When they find out it’s just me with an “-ore,” it’s like, “OK, here’s your wristband – put this on your wrist and get in line over there.” Still, I was grateful to be on the list.

Cupcake was the one chosen to accompany me. Actually I couldn’t choose. I just let whoever had the most enthusiasm go with me. We put on our wristbands and the guards checked with flashlights to see if we had them and then waved us in. We stepped up the stairs. I felt like the cowardly lion approaching the Wizard in Oz. I was tired and cold and my hair was a big messy mop from being compressed under two wool hats. I had every piece of clothing on – my fabulous striped shirt long since buried under a dumpy black sweater and faded polar fleece scarf. Looking fabulous as one enters a party is really the key to being fabulous. Gotta look the part. I looked like some guy who just got off the Greyhound bus carrying my backpack with a copy of my book and my camera.

When we got to the top of the stairs of the terrace, I was amazed to see that it was a dimly lit crowd of about 50 people. It was not a glittering affair at all. Most of the people were youngish – under 40 dressed in black. No superstars. Jimmy Fallon was there but I didn’t recognize him. In fact I didn’t recognize anyone. This the Hollywood Bowl – a special invitation party – shouldn’t there be paparazzi and limousines?

Cupcake and I bumped around the crowd. I noticed no one was taking pictures. I think these were well-hooved Los Angelinos who don’t pounce on celebrities with cameras – that gives you away as being a loser, an outsider. Then amid the din, I heard that voice…the nasal giggle that is more of a bleat than a laugh. “There’s Rufus,” Cupcake told me as I was fiddling with my bag trying to take off the scarf and wool caps and put on a more styling hat. Funny how at an event like this I spent most of my time digging through my backpack rather than actually talking to people. I was scared – scared someone would notice I didn’t belong.

I noticed that the crowd had not all shifted over to Rufus when he entered. I would have expected that there would be a roar and a rush to form a circle around him. Hardly anyone was even looking at him. I had heard that is the proper etiquette for backstaging it – just pretend to ignore the stars. Let them notice you. So I did. Out of the corner of my eye I watched Rufus, who was in a gold jacket and only about 10 feet away. There was a pretty clear path to him, clear enough that if I wanted to go over and introduce myself, I could just do it. The very thought of that started my body to trembling. I fiddled in my bag for my camera. I played with the settings to turn off the flash.

Cupcake ingoring Rufus

Cupcake was playing it cool. He was not looking directly at Rufus. And so it became this dance of avoidance, being careful not to stare. I let my gaze cross over Rufus a couple times. Once our eyes even met. Another wave of trembles came over me. The cold evening air was not helping. I spotted Rufus’ tall handsome boyfriend Jorn leaning against the wall behind Rufus. His face was unshaven like a gangster. He was eyeing the crowd alone and looking a little surly.

“Let’s go talk to Jorn,” I told Cupcake. Just as we started in his direction, Jorn launched himself from the wall and came up behind Rufus, enclosing him in his arms, kissing him on the side of his neck. Damn, we missed our chance! Rufus turned around inside his arms and kissed and hugged him – I guess they had not seen each other yet since the concert had finished. I heard him ask something about where the car was parked. They inched toward the door to the dressing rooms with the guard keeping watch over the exit. Clearly we had missed our chance to talk to Rufus. I felt like such a loser, but what was I going to say that would be of any interest to him? He was undoubtedly exhausted from the performance and just wanted to get out of there. So I took pity on him and myself and just shot a little video of Rufus with John ignoring him.

Then I had the bright idea to get a copy of my book to him. I quickly produced a book from my bag. “Jorn is leaving. Now Rufus is leaving,” John urged me to hurry up as I grabbed a pen to inscribe it on the title page. “They’re going out the door.” Dammit. Elvis has left the room and I’m still scribbling with my black glitter pen and trembling hands: “For Rufus – Thank you for your comforting voice in the darkness. – David Gilmore.” I blew on the ink to dry it, closed the book and turned to see them disappearing into the hall with a guard between me and them. Shit, shit, shit.

I asked the security guard if I could give the book to Rufus. He blocked me trying to reach beyond him and said, “Who’s Rufus?” Oy. Oh, I forgot, he’s not royalty among the straight black men. How can you be a security guard and not know who you’re guarding?

I handed the book to the last of his disappearing entourage: Rufus’ costumer’s boyfriend and asked him if he would give it to Rufus or Jorn. He nodded and took the book. He came back into the room empty-handed so I guess that he got it into the right hands or the trash can. I didn’t want to know.

Cupcake and I sort of looked at each other with an “Okay, now what?” look. Then I noticed Rufus’ sister Martha Wainwright had appeared in the room and was standing by herself sipping a glass of red wine in a plastic cup. “Let’s go talk to Martha,” I said. And we did. Her hair was up in a bun and she was wearing hooker-high heels and a slightly unflattering shiny dress that she wore on stage to sing Stormy Weather and Someone to Watch Over Me. She seemed so approachable and since I wasn’t goofy about my admiration for her (though I thought she did a great job singing), I was able to just talk to her like anyone else. She seemed genuinely interested in talking about the experience with me and wasn’t treating me like some nobody. She was very genuine and appreciative of our praise.

I missed my chance to get a picture with her before some other folks took over the conversation. Then I saw Rufus’ mother, Kate McGarrigle in a gold lame jacket and lots of big necklaces on the other side of the room. Cupcake and I went right over and joined in a loud conversation she was having with some guy who was clearly an admirer. I sidled up next to her and she gave me a slightly skeptical smile. She was talking about her tan and how they all were on the beach in Rhode Island after Martha’s recent wedding.

I introduced myself and Cupcake charmed her with a question about her performance while I fiddled with my camera. We both complimented her on her piano accompaniment of Rufus’ Over the Rainbow. I told her with a gleeful smile, “I just wanted to thank you for birthing the greatest musical talent alive.” She seemed genuinely flattered and lowered her head and nodded. She looked at me out of the corner of her eye – I think she knew the sincerity of my statement and by now she’s certainly used to gay men fawning over her about her son.

Cupcake snapped a picture of us and I thanked her and left her to the overbearing man who was complimenting her on her outfit.

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Next stop on the shameless tour was Lorna Luft, Judy Garland’s daughter. She had performed a couple showstoppers on stage – one a fantastic duet with Rufus. Cupcake and I stood next to her, now in her tight black pants and waited to talk to her. I stood to her side out of her range of vision, scrutinizing her face to see if I could find any resemblance of Judy’s face in her. I couldn’t. Some straight guy was dominating the conversation. Finally we gave up.

It was time to go. I felt like an imposter – having somehow tricked these folks into thinking I really belonged backstage rubbing elbows with them. I felt there was nothing I could offer them that would be of use to them and I only stood to get my feelings hurt if I was I snubbed by any of them…which I wasn’t. Being there was not going to enhance my love of Rufus’ music. I kept reminding myself that it is his music I’m in love with – not the man.

It did occur to me that next time I should just get over myself and barge in and say hello. I have thought a lot about what I would say to him if I had the courage next time. What could I say? After days of internal deliberation, I decided to ask this should I ever see him again: “What do you mean by the lyrics in the Greek Song, ‘All the pearls in China fade astride a volta. Don’t sew b-lines to anybody’s hide. Save your poison for a lover who is on your side’? What the hell is that about, Rufus?” That’s what I would want to know.

Oh, and: “Did you get the brooch I threw to you at the Portland concert? If you’re not gonna wear it can I have it back?”

**

Have you ordered my book yet?
Click here to order your copy of Homosteading at the 19th Parallel
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