Monday, February 1, 2016

A Don Henley story … and a few more
(click image to enlarge)

February 1, 2016 

One of the cool things about being a writer in your 40s is that, when you’ve been doing it for 23 years, you’ve got some miles on you and you’ve got some stories to tell. And I do have quite a few. My aunt told me once that I should write them all down in a book. She thought my kids might enjoy reading them some day. I don’t know if I’ll ever have time for that, but maybe. I have learned, especially lately, that people seem to enjoy hearing cool stories about rock musicians. But for some reason, when you tell them - at least for me - you kind feel like a name-dropper, and so you tend to just keep them to yourself. Even my family and closest friends probably don’t know most of them because I just don’t talk about them.

A few years ago, however, I read a marvelous book called “Cornflakes with John Lennon,” which was written by a music journalist from the Los Angeles Times. He shared his stories - stories of his meetings with Elvis, and Springsteen, and Elton John, and Lennon – and I just loved it. And so I'm thinking maybe I should share a few of mine from time to time.

Here are two short ones:

* I once saw Alice Cooper sneak a candy bar to a kid behind his parents' back, but also tell the kid not to eat it until after dinner. It was 1996. The kid's parents were big fans. We were hanging out on Alice's tour bus. And all I could think was, "That's pretty funny. To some, back in the  '70s, this guy was 'Public Enemy Number 1.' He was the devil. And here he is acting like a sweet old uncle to this little kid."

* I was the very first person that Steven Tyler spoke with, just minutes after learning that Aerosmith had earned its first No.1 single with "I Don't Want To Miss A Thing." 

"Not but 20 seconds ago, it went to No. 1 in America," said Tyler. "I am freaking.  I can't wait to go outside and smoke a cigar." 

And hey, who could blame him? At that point, the band had already been around for 25 years. They'd had plenty of big hits before, but the guy had literally just found out he had his very first No. 1. I said, "Congratulations." He said, "Thank you." Every time I hear that tune, I think of that. If you're a fan, the whole interview is up on YouTube. We talked for quite awhile about all-things Aerosmith and he really let it fly on a few topics. Just Google my name and Steven Tyler and it should pop right up.

My daughter, who turns nine next week, recently came across some of my work on the web. I guess she Googled her Dad. And suddenly, she thought I was pretty cool. We got to talking about music, and she told me her third-grade teacher loves Billy Joel. I told her I’d seen him play live a few times, and that I’d interviewed him once. She seemed have a hard time getting her head around that. I said, "Just Google my name and Billy Joel and you can listen to it." It’s not that big a deal to me. I did it 20 years ago. But people, even my little girl, seem to like hearing about such things. And I think the main reason is because they like to hear firsthand stories from people that have had nice experiences with such talented artists, and they like learning that despite their great fame, many such artists remain quite grounded.  

(We all love hearing those stories of Elvis visiting a car lot, observing someone he didn't even know checking out a car that they could not afford, and buying it for them on the spot.)  

It took me a long time to realize that. And so now, from time to time, I may share a tale or two.  A few weeks ago, upon his death, I was asked to share some of my David Bowie stories on a few radio stations. You can hear them here:

And here's one about Don Henley ...

Like many of us, since the passing of Glenn Frey, I’ve been listening to my Eagles albums quite a bit. I also watched “The History of The Eagles” documentary the other night. Four hours long and worth every minute. Such a great story.

I saw The Eagles twice. And I always really loved some of Don Henley’s solo work. “The Boys of Summer” and “The End of The Innocence” are, in my opinion, two of the best songs of the ‘80s, and so when Henley came to Montage in 2000, I was happy about the opportunity to interview him. I usually did phone interviews in the day, in the newsroom, but I think he may have been out west when we set up the interview, so his publicist asked if we could do it about 8 p.m. That was fine. And so Don Henley, the man who co-wrote most of the songs on “The Eagles Greatest Hits” - the biggest selling album of the 20th century – called me at my old apartment in Kingston.

That alone was pretty cool. I am sitting in my apartment, talking about music with Don Henley.

The story ran in the paper a few days before the show, and before he even came to town, he'd already read it online, or on the national wire, and I guess he really liked it. (All I did was tell his story in my own way and quote him accurately, so I assume he'd had some bad experiences with the press.) I later met him in person before the show and he was very appreciative of the article, which surprised me because, well, you know ... he's pretty huge and he had been written about thousands of times. At one point, he said to me:

 "Are you also covering or reviewing the show tonight?" 

I told him that I was.

"Well, is this a conflict of interest for you, being back here with me before the show?" he said with a semi-smile. 

I smiled.

"I'm not worried about that," I said. "I'm sure you're going to give a nice show, and I look forward to writing about it. And if I had the chance to come back here and shake your hand, and thank you for your time for the interview, I was going to do it." 

He said he was glad that I did, and we chatted for a bit more. I gave him a printed copy of the story, and he signed one for me, “To Alan – with gratitude. Don Henley.”

That one is a keeper.

A week or so later I opened my mail and found the letter seen above.

I am, in case you didn't know it, a "pocket of decency."

Sadly, the nickname never stuck, but if you'd like, you can still call me "Pocket.”

Looking back on that now, Henley didn’t have to do any of that. He didn’t have to do the interview, during which he was remarkably candid. He didn’t have to take a few minutes to chat before the show. The article was already published. And he certainly didn’t have to also write a follow-up letter to a guy from Wilkes-Barre.

I listen to “Hotel California” these days, or “One of These Nights,” or “Best of My Love,” and I think, “That one was pretty cool. That one was special.”

I highly doubt, with Frey’s passing, that The Eagles will ever play again. But again, I’ve been spinning them a lot lately. And I've been reminded that they were pretty special, too. And I am grateful to have had such a nice experience with one of them. 

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in NEPA since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River.)