Backstage: Odder Autographs From Paul McCartney to Elton John
Paul McCartney and Lee Zimmerman, pre-autograph.
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: Lee literally goes off the wall.
someone's signature, you feel like you've captured something so intimate and unique that it becomes
practically inseparable from the individual. I will ask for one when
opportunity presents, but I must admit that sometimes it feels
awkward. It alters the playing field; we're no
longer two people sharing casual conversation, but rather an artist and
an admirer. Better to get a photo, because in my mind, that's more of an
equalizer. Past columns have explored the music business mementos that adorn the walls of my record room. I've accumulated quite a few autographs over the years, all of which I've framed and preserved, often with help from family and friends.
Most of the autographs that adorn my walls were acquired for me by others. For example, there's the business card signed by Elton John, which my mother asked for when she ran into him during one of his frequent South Florida shopping sprees. My buddy Barnes gave me a signed album cover from Chris Hillman of the Byrds, an autographed glossy from the late, great British folk guitarist John Martyn, and a photo from the late singer/songwriter John Stewart, who I'm sure was still alive when he signed it. (Trust me to be able to verify authenticity!) Besides, I once interviewed him by phone as he was making a purchase at Comp USA, so I'm confident we had a connection there to begin with.
Publicists send me artist inscriptions as well. It's probably because they figure they'll win me over by doing so. That accounts for my autographed photo of Greg Lake (of Emerson Lake and Palmer, natch), a poster notated by Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet Sprocket and a signed publicity picture from roots rock band Jason and the Scorchers. Admittedly, some of these artists boast more renown than others, but I figure since I have these keepsakes anyway, I might as well flaunt them.
Most of the autographs that come through intermediaries are pretty perfunctory. Michael McDonald only alluded to the TV station where I work by addressing his autograph to WFOR. Neither Ray Davies or Roger McGuinn displayed much personality when they simply signed their names to the posters I handed them. Would it have killed them to write, "To Lee?" Al "Year of the Cat" Stewart simply scribbled his name on a cocktail napkin when I met him at a party in Coconut Grove. I met Pete Best, the Beatles' original drummer, at a Beatles convention, and, perhaps because he was mobbed and trying to accommodate a crowd, his is all but undecipherable. For a time, I actually had a hard time remembering who wrote it.
On the other hand, some people really go off the deep end. Miami Vice's Phillip Michael Thomas filled his entire photo with words of inspiration. Comedian Michael Winslow, the guy that made all the funny noises and starred in the Police Academy movies drew funny pictures on his photo and wrote a bunch of nonsense. I give Dick Clark lots of kudos for being a bit more to the point. He was the guest of honor many years ago at a reception in Miami's Bayside area, one which marked the opening of a namesake nightspot meant to challenge to Hard Rock, where I worked at the time. I was mingling with the competition and I felt a bit like a traitor, considering that he was attempting to usurp my employer by working hte same theme. However, that didn't stop me from requesting an autograph for my sons Chris and Kyle. After all, this was guy whose popularity spanned several generations, and I figured my boys might appreciate someone who was so iconic. Sadly, they didn't, and the signature hangs with all the others in my office.
Still my two favorite autographs are those I've mentioned before and they belong to an artist and an actor who are among those I most admire. Tracy Ullman signed my Playbill when we worked together at the Coconut Grove Playhouse. She added a message that continued our private running joke, referencing my shag haircut while comparing me to teen idol David Cassidy. The David Cassidy who had yet to be pulled over by the cops on suspicion of driving under the influence, I might add. "Well Lee, " she wrote. "How can I be sure you're not really David Cassidy, you little rascal!" No, I was never a Partridge Family fan, but I gotta admit, I kinda liked the comparison.
Still, my true treasure is the Paul McCartney autograph I snagged at the Miami Arena following our WFOR one-on-one interview and private viewing of his sound check. It shares a frame with the concert program, concert ticket and the photo that was taken of us on that particular occasion. Even so, the most curious item in the case is the newspaper article I had him sign at the last minute. Being that it was a spur of the moment encounter, I didn't have an album, CD or any other suitable item, so I grabbed a brief newspaper article that bore his name in the headline. He graciously signed it, but was none too pleased when he read the story. It was all about a new endorsement deal. but the headline was rather unfortunate. It read, "Paul sells out."
Clearly, that's one signature that wasn't signed under the best of circumstances.
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