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Backstage in South Florida: Photos, Lost but Not Forgotten

Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares observations, insights and updates relating to South Florida's musical environs. This week, a Facebook chain recaptures my past.

I recently got sucked into one of those Facebook chains where it seems everybody and their sister gets tagged on a subject that each of them feels compelled to comment about. I say "sucked in," because I find once I've added my two cents, I began to receive many more tags, and over the course of the next several days, my attention is diverted to ongoing commentary about what was, in effect, a really mundane series of subjects.

I have to admit, however, that I've been really enjoying these online conversations because the list of participants consists of some former record business colleagues, many of whom I haven't heard from or been in touch with for the better part of the past 25 or 30 years. This dates back to the time when I was a local record company promotion rep for Capitol Records. 

Of course, a lot of the virtual chatter consisted of inside reflections from former DJs and radio program directors, who still seem intent on reliving their former glories or lamenting the loss of radio or record company people who have left this earthly plane and are now residing in the big broadcast booth in the sky. Many are also busying themselves by kissing one another's ass or preening and posturing or exorcising their egos. 

In the world of radio, some things never change.

What especially interested me was that I was tagged by a guy I once worked with on both sides of the radio/records divide. Bill Bartlett was a respected rock radio programmer in Jacksonville until he was tapped by Capitol and then became my regional rock radio promo guy. He was a hoot in both roles, a constant kidder who was quick with his wit and happily irreverent even on the most serious occasion. He gave himself the nickname "Buddy Bear," which played off his colloquial Southern mannerisms and the easygoing attitude that seemed to come to him so naturally. 

In the course of conversation, he made mention of some of our youthful adventures -- all procured in the name of business, of course -- and I was reminded of some of the silly little nicknames we bestowed on our compatriots ("Ken Kirby, Ken Kirby, got lost at the roller derby..."). Suddenly, I felt like I was transported back to an earlier time and place when my life was focused solely on sharing music, when it was OK to act the role of a rock 'n' roller because, hey, I was getting paid for it.

(Side note: Not that the pay was that great. When I was first hired at Capitol, my new boss asked me what I had made at my last gig with ABC Records. "$15,000," I replied, likely boosting that number by a bit for the sake of negotiation. He was so embarrassed by my pitifully low pay, he insisted that I alter the figure to $18,000 just to assuage his guilt.)

Anyway, someone posted an old photo of Buddy Bear, me, and Graham Nash backstage at the old Sunrise Musical Theater circa 1980, when Nash was playing a gig in celebration of his new Capitol solo album, Earth & Sky. I remember the show well, and I recognized myself in the picture immediately, even though I was partially hidden by Bill and sporting a cheesy mustache that I actually believed looked pretty dashing (Not!). But it was Buddy Bear's comments that really had me cracking up, as he recalled how Nash would wear the same white jumpsuit every day (leading to a rash of B.O.) and that when he took the rocker to CNN, they were nearly thrown out of the station because Nash began hitting on one of the receptionists.

I reminded Buddy Bear that he also referred to Nash as "Gram of Hash," a pretty humorous nom de plume, especially considering the fact that he would use the nickname even in front of Nash himself.

Staring at that photo some three decades on -- and recalling that reference -- I couldn't help but crack up. Those old photos hold a lot of nostalgia, and I still have a number of them on my office walls, along with the plaques, autographs, picture discs (relics from the age of vinyl), and promotional buttons of every description.

Still, it's a photo that I don't have that really kind of bugs me. Twenty years or so ago, I was backstage at the aforementioned Sunrise Musical Theater for a solo Elton John show. The PR firm I was working with at the time was giving his AIDS foundation a sizable donation, and as a result, he graciously agreed to take some photos. Consequently, I got my picture taken with him -- an opportunity my friend Dan refers to as the "Me With" shot -- and for days afterward, I eagerly awaited my copy to come back from the photographer.

Unfortunately, in the days following, I had an argument with said photographer over that same assignment, which he had apparently screwed up. It got kind of nasty, and as a result, he never sent me my "Me With Elton" photo.

Lesson learned. Never piss anyone off until you collected what they owe ya.

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Lee Zimmerman

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