Backstage in South Florida: 10,000 Maniacs, Roger McGuinn, R.E.M.

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...
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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,

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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