Backstage in South Florida: 10,000 Maniacs, Roger McGuinn, R.E.M.
Photo by Mark Seliger
Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week, his sons join the fun.
It's hardly surprising that I got my two sons involved in my backstage exploits at a young age. Natalie Merchant's upcoming visit to our area reminded me of one such encounter that involved my son Chris when he was barely 6 months old. I reminded Merchant of it when we spoke on the phone recently in conjunction with an interview I was assigned for New Times. "Was he cute?" she asked. Of course, I replied, but that wasn't the point. It was her maternal instincts that suddenly took hold when she saw a babe in arms.
The incident transpired when Merchant was still singing with her first
band, 10,000 Maniacs. Although success would come very quickly thereafter,
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they were still slogging it out on the road at that time in a decidedly
primitive fashion. They had all piled into a beat-up-looking van and
driven themselves from gig to gig all the way from upper New York State,
the place they called home. On the afternoon in question, they were
doing an in-store appearance at the late, great Yesterday and Today
Records in South Miami, one of the finest music shops South Florida has
ever offered as far as independent record stores are concerned.
When the Maniacs arrived, Merchant's eyes immediately focused on baby
Christopher, sleeping peaceably in his dad's arms. The rest of the band
happily engaged in small talk and scouring the store for rare records,
but Merchant shut out the commotion and insisted on holding my baby the
entire time. She was quite shy to begin with, and I sensed this was her
way of wrapping a protective cocoon around herself, focusing solely on
my tiny tot. In fact, for the duration of the store stay, she
rarely glanced up, choosing instead to speak softly to little Chris as
if to isolate both her and the infant from any outside distraction. When
the in-store ended, she reluctantly gave him back and asked if I'd
bring him to the gig that night. Seeing as how Chris was rather young to
be going to concerts -- even those shows with a folkie bent -- I was
noncommittal. As it turned out, I made the right parental decision and
declined to take him. Still, it was a way to break the ice with her over
the phone all these years later. She seemed to get a kick out of the
anecdote, and I even elicited a laugh when I closed our conversation by
telling her that Chris, the child she cuddled 23 years ago, now sends
his warmest regards.
Unfortunately, as delighted as Merchant seemed to be in making
little Chris' acquaintance, my son had the opposite effect on Roger
McGuinn, leader of the legendary band the Byrds. Things started off
well enough when we visited him in his trailer after a solo performance
in Coconut Grove. After being introduced by our mutual friend Dan
Weiss, McGuinn seemed genuinely delighted when he noticed we had Chris
in tow. He immediately asked to hold him on his lap, a sure sign that he
knew how to handle a toddler with the same finesse he used in wielding
his fabled 12-string guitar. All was going fine, with McGuinn
bouncing Chris up and down, when all of a sudden a pungent aroma filled
the air. Not the sweet smell of incense and patchouli, mind you, but
rather the awful odor of a diaper filled with a sudden deposit of a
mound of baby poop. At that point, the look that crossed McGuinn's face
transformed his features from the benign bliss of nurturing a small
child to the abject horror that comes with the realization he was in
possession of a most unpleasant package. Cocking back his head in a
desperate attempt to avoid inhaling the foul fumes, he cast his arms
straight out, placing Chris at arm's length in a desperate attempt to
force me to rapidly retrieve him. I obliged, of course, but I have to
admit I was a bit amused by Roger's reaction. Even famous rock stars
aren't immune to baby blunders.
My other son, Kyle, came along 21 months after his brother, and while I
can't recall anything as dramatic as him pooping on a legendary
musician, he did have a rude introduction of his own to rock 'n' roll at
an early age. Did I say early age? Heck, he was still in the womb when
his mother, eight months pregnant at the time, and I attended an R.E.M.
concert at the James L. Knight Center in Downtown Miami. Now, I've been
to a bunch of loud shows in my time, but based on our close proximity to
the stage and R.E.M.'s penchant for turning the volume knob to the max,
this was one of the loudest I'd ever witnessed. R.E.M. was excellent, but
the noise level nearly made our ears bleed. Plus, I was convinced that
the sound waves would pierce the womb and affect our unborn child. To be
honest, I'm still not certain about the physical or psychological
effects of that noisy encounter. But I think it did have an impact.
Today, Kyle bears an uncanny resemblance to Dave Grohl, with
waist-length locks, a beard, a preference for dressing wholly in black,
and a talent for playing drums. Coincidence? I think not.
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