You might think of this as my letter never sent to Michael Stipe, R.E.M.

“I am tired of second guessing.” — R.E.M.

In the news business, you sometimes get the opportunity to interview famous folks. By my third or fourth time doing it, my insides would start to pitch and tumble like wet clothes in a dryer as interview time approached.

I had learned by then celebrities sometimes react to interviews like they’re uncooperative witnesses being asked by a judge, “Where were you when the prostitute’s body was found?”

Over the years, I developed some strategies for getting them to engage. Sometimes I upped the dosage of Southern in my accent or dropped in some “y’alls” or “yes sirs”/”yes ma’ams” — or if things were going really poorly, all of those things.

I’m not sure why they work, but they do sometimes.

Also, a little flattery can do it. And some big names will perk up if you show you actually know something about their music or their TV show or some member of their band.

Another approach that takes some creative thought and strategic planning is to say something attention-grabbing they haven’t heard before — a funny line, a unique observation or an oddball personal anecdote.

Not just any oddball anecdote, though; it has to involve them somehow. It once worked with Ira Glass at a public radio fundraising reception. I put my arm around Jennifer and told him his first movie was our second date.

He raised his eyebrows, looked me straight in the eyes and didn’t say a word for a couple of seconds. “Really?” he finally said, his voice shooting up. “That movie usually has the opposite affect on couples.”

I’m pretty sure it was his most memorable conversation of the night.

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Our waiter said Michael Stipe came to the restaurant somewhat regularly, but I didn’t think to ask the waiter if Mr. Stipe minded interruptions.

I’m not quite so sure any of those things work if you sidle up to a table and make uninvited conversation, which is one of the reasons I didn’t try that on Michael Stipe the night we found ourselves sitting a few tables away from him in Manhattan.

But if I had, I would have told him this in my best Southern accent: R.E.M. came to Tuscaloosa in 1984. I was a big fan. But one afternoon, propped up on my dorm room loft bed, I had given it some thought and told my roommate, Chip, I thought $10 was too much to pay for a concert ticket. I guess he agreed because we didn’t go.

I might have added that I regret it to this day. I’d like to go back to 1984 and slap some sense into my 21-year-old self. Since I can’t do that, I make it a point to go to the concerts of everybody I like so Tuscaloosa, 1984, never happens again.

P.S. I sat on the edge of my seat the entire night, so close to jumping off and walking over. Do you think my story of Tuscaloosa 1984 would have engaged him? Tell me what you think.

Concerts I did see in Tuscaloosa between 1983 and 1986*

  1. Oingo Boingo
  2. X
  3. The Go-Go’s
  4. Jason and the Scorchers
  5. Cheap Trick

 

*All were free. I guess I was just a cheapskate.

 

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About Paul Isom

I'm an Alabama native who moved up north to Chapel Hill. My mission is to bring the Southern to my neighborhood, Southern Village. Otherwise, I'm all about journalism: writing, editing, teaching and advising.

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