Some are born great, others achieve greatness, still others have it thrust upon them — and then there's the rest of us; we're supposed to count ourselves lucky just to share a room with greatness, I guess. At least that was the idea on Sunday, October 7, when Nobles, the West Palm Beach club, was the site of "the official afterparty for Velvet Revolver," following their show at Sound Advice Amphitheatre. A flier listed Velvets drummer Matt Sorum as the host.
I was dubious, especially when Nobles didn't ask me for a cover and, at 11:15 p.m., the swank club on Clematis Street was hardly hopping. The Mighty Quinn played covers from Seger to Led Zep for a small, subdued gathering. There were exceptions, like the effusive blond with '80s bangs and high-waisted jeans, who apparently had found a look that worked for her and had stuck to it for the past 20 years, ever since Velvets antecedent Guns N' Roses debuted. This was Dana, a petite personal trainer who did not want her last name used. She was sitting in a VIP booth near the stage. She usually sang a few songs with Quinn, she said, and had sung with the GN'R tribute band Rocket Queen in New York. "I usually do 'Sweet Child o' Mine,' " she said, and Quinn's guitarist "told me if Slash" — the Velvets and GN'R guitarist, "will play it, I can sing it!"
And then there were those such as the investment bankers who'd come to Nobles to watch football after dinner and didn't see any particular reason to be excited. One, in a blue floral shirt, said he was not fazed by fame, since his father had been a drummer for a big '70s rock band, although he would give no more details because, he said, the old man "is very secretive." He was "always amazed when people suck up to stars," he said. "What do they get out of it?"
"You're here," I said. "What do you get out of it?"
"I don't think anyone will show up, so it's a moot point," he said. "But I do want to know what's up with the hot 20-year-olds hanging out with old guys over there."
He was referring to a group of bikers and models, all wearing "Southern Bike Nights" T-shirts to promote their locally filmed TV show. Jim Burgos, the show's executive producer, said a limo from his Party Bus, Inc. business would be bringing the Velvets to Nobles.
As midnight approached, folks who'd been to the Sound Advice show arrived. The highlight had been the Bic moment when the Velvets kicked into "Patience," said Mike Lyons, a tall guy in a skully (not the local meteorologist), who'd come from the concert with his sunny girlfriend Summer Beaumont.
What did the couple hope to get from the after party?
"Maybe some Jell-O wrestling?" Beaumont said.
"I think it would be cool to shake Slash's hand," said Lyons. A self-described "guitar slut" by trade, Lyons was actually a guitar manager at Guitar Center. He'd become a guitarist in part because of GN'R's Appetite for Destruction, which he likened to "a breath of fresh air when everything else was glam and hair bands."
And then the moment of truth was upon us. I knew because suddenly the club was filled with fans. Palm Beach Post pop culture writer Leslie Streeter was there, sharing a VIP booth with Michael Alicia, the paper's club columnist. Then a short guy with frizzy black hair nonchalantly claimed a VIP booth. It was Slash.
A clump of people pushed through the narrow club like a blood clot moving through a vein. The other superstars and their security had arrived.
Sorum, our host, sat with his buddies the rest of the night and never said diddly to most of us. Bad boys of rock 'n' roll don't abide by Emily Post. The only host-like thing he'd done was to bring all of the band except Duff McKagan to the party, plus new Alice in Chains singer William Duvall.
Sorum was wearing a newsboy cap, a good omen, I thought, until I realized he had no love for the Night Rider.
"But I just need one quote!" I pleaded to the human wall that separated mere mortals from the rock stars. I was kicking myself for not having been as wily as Streeter, in a white shirt, who somehow arranged to have Velvets singer Scott Weiland accidentally spill red wine across her chest.
This was just a night off for the band, explained Weiland's assistant, as stiff with attitude as he was with hair product.
"So what's it take to become a personal assistant?" I asked the pretty boy.
"Skin about this thick," he said, stretching his forefinger several inches from his thumb. He smiled. But no sooner did I ask his name than his icy demeanor returned.
Nobles owner Rocco Mangel explained the band's standoffishness: This was "a rest stop" for them on their way to Miami, not a paid gig, he said; it was a favor he'd arranged through a friend of a friend. It was a sweet deal for Mangel: He got star power for the price of the band's bar tab. With Slash drinking cranberry-and-soda and the rest of the guys keeping it low-key, that tab would be less than $250. As celebrities are so few and far between in West Palm, his clientele would be thrilled just to glimpse rock stars. "People just wanted to see if they would be here," he said. "That's half the battle."
The other half was getting The Mighty Quinn to understand its role. The house band played the Velvets' "Slither," which was more blasphemous than flattering, and then they got the hook.
"We respect the big boys, but we're confident we were doing what we have to do," said Quinn guitarist Tommy Gunn. Meanwhile, Quinn bassist Jimmy was relishing the fact that forever after he could say, "We were in the same room with those guys!"
Outside I ran into rocker Randy Skirvin, a comparative small-fry, maybe, but major enough that he has fries named after him at Mr. G's, the rock venue west of West Palm, where he has company like "Paul McCartney wings." Skirvin, a guitarist, had shared a stage with Iron Butterfly, Spirit, and Walter Egan, among others, and toured as a guitar tech with Heart and Fleetwood Mac. He'd just arrived from Philadelphia, where he was stage managing a Blackfoot/Molly Hatchet tour. He'd lived in Los Angeles, he said, and remembered the days when GN'R hung out at a bar called Cat House and Slash drank Jack Daniels from the bottle.
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Great. So could he get me an audience now with the sobered rockers?
No. He didn't even want to walk up and bother them, he said.
Lyons, the guitar slut, said he felt the same way. He didn't want to be "that guy," he said, making air quotes. "At the end of the day, we're all people."
"Yeah," said Beaumont, his girlfriend, "but they're people that are cooler than us!"