This week’s list maker: Mike Landreth. Mike works for Nicor Gas Company. He grew up in Wheaton, Illinois, and currently makes his home in Batavia, Illinois.
I’ve been fortunate enough to run into a few famous people over the course of my life. Here are my favorite encounters:
1. Jaco Pastorius. In June of 1977, I was in 8th grade and had been playing the drums for four years. I was fortunate to have had a private teacher who had turned me on to jazz a year or two earlier: Miles Davis, The Crusaders, Return to Forever, Dexter Gordon, Freddy Hubbard, etc. When I discovered that Weather Report was coming to Chicago, I HAD to go. One of my former babysitters, Angela, was living in Lincoln Park. We arranged for me to stay at Angela’s and the two of us together would go to the show.
Weather Report was playing at the Ivanhoe Theater. Angela just happened to have dated the theater manager a couple of times, and that was our “in.” When we arrived at the Ivanhoe, the manager was waiting for us and had one of his staff unfold two metal chairs against the back wall.
This was the Heavy Weather–every jazz critic’s album of the year. The show was brilliant. Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Manolo Badrena, Alex Acuna and the incomparable Jaco Pastorius. Five masters producing a wall of sound. I’m in 8th grade sitting with Angela Veronico at the Ivanhoe Theater watching and listening to Weather Report blow the room away. It. Was. Amazing.
About half way through the show, Wayne Shorter is alone on stage, standing in a shaft of light performing a solo. Angela suddenly elbows my left arm saying “look who’s standing next to you.” I look to my right. Leaning against the back wall is Jaco Pastorius.
Tall, signature bright red jumpsuit, hair down between his shoulders and wearing a headband. I immediately stand up and say “you’re Jaco Pastorius!”. He looks down at me and asks, “Are you enjoying the show?” I muster up something like, “Oh, yeah–you guys are phenomenal.” He looks me straight in the eye and says “I’m glad that you’re having a good time.” Jaco Pastorius, the planet’s premier bassist, a player who revolutionized the music world, was glad to see an 8th grader from Wheaton, Illinois, having a good time at the show.
I fell asleep that night on Angela’s couch listening to Stanley Clarke’s School Days.
2. Peter Gabriel. I was a high school senior in June of 1980. Tom, Dave, and I had scored tickets to see Peter Gabriel at the Uptown Theater. This was the “Melt” tour; the show would feature the recently released third solo album.
We arrived at the Uptown Theater and climbed a wide, carpeted staircase to reach our first row, first balcony seats. At the far end of the first balcony lobby was a small bar tended by a waiter with a vest and bow tie. Deciding to take the risk, I approached and ordered three beers. The beers were poured. I paid. I brought them to our seats. I repeated this process several times. We were ecstatic: Uptown Theater, first row, firstt balcony, bouncing beers and waiting to see Peter Gabriel.
So I’m in the aisle seat. The house lights go off and there’s that magical anticipation: nothing but the red lights on the amps shining into the darkness.
At this point, a strange character walks down the balcony stairs and stands right next to me. His head is shaved, completely bald. He’s wearing a dark blue sweatsuit with white stripes down each sleeve. I remember thinking, Peter Gabriel can bring out some weird dudes. Then out of nowhere comes an incredibly bright blast of light. I look to my left, and this bald guy is waving a massive hand-held spotlight. He’s spraying the theater with this light. Almost immediately, I noticed other people throughout the theater dressed in the same sweatsuits doing the same with their spotlights.
I turn back to my left to take a closer look at this bald guy. He looks directly at me. He points the beam upward to illuminate his face.
It’s Peter Gabriel.
I leap out of my seat. “It’s Peter Gabriel! You’re Peter Gabriel!” I’m grabbing for Dave and Tom jumping up and down and then I put each one of my hands on each one of Peter Gabriel’s shoulders. The only thing I can say is, “You’re Peter Gabriel! You’re Peter Gabriel!” over and over. He stares at me, expressionless, then slowly, deliberately, starts walking backward out of my reach and back up the balcony stairs.
Meanwhile, all the other beams are making their way to the stage. It’s the band; each member has been positioned around the theater.
The show was fantastic. This was the first tour that included “Biko,” the entire theater was bellowing out the chorus to the song. I remember reading a later quote from Peter Gabriel saying that the Uptown Theater reaction to Biko had brought tears to his eyes.
3. Rhett Miller. In the spring of 2003, Rhett Miller was on tour in support of his recent release The Instigator. I bought two tickets for the upcoming show at the Abbey Pub. What I did not foresee was the challenge in getting someone to go with me. After striking out with my wife Di (works retail, up at 4 a.m. every day) and several buddies (just not that interested), I happened to be talking to a co-worker, Scott Davis, a twenty-something kid working in IT. I had previously loaned him my copy of The Instigator and asked if he’d be interested in going with me to see the show. No hesitation: “Hell, yeah!” Scott was a nice enough kid. Plus, I’d have a designated driver.
So we went to the show. Rhett Miller took the stage and killed! Being in Chicago, he opened with “The El” and didn’t stop for about two hours. I have never heard one voice and one guitar fill a room with sound the way he did that night. After an especially raucous crowd reaction, Rhett told us that “this show and this crowd tonight makes up for a hundred shows opening up for Tori Amos.”
After the show, Scott and I went back into the pub. We were too wound up to leave. We had a couple more beers reliving the highlights. After an hour or so, we decided to settle up and head out.
As we exit, I catch a glimpse of a couple of guys talking in a doorway to my left. About a step and a half later I stop. I turn my head for a second look. Indeed, it’s Rhett Miller talking with the club manager. I get Scott’s attention and suggest we sit tight. Their conversation wraps up and Rhett starts walking right toward us. I immediately approach him extending my hand and thanking him for a fantastic show. He’s incredibly gracious, shakes my hand and asks our names. After the introductions, Scott starts telling Rhett what a fan I am, that I loaned him The Instigator, bought the ticket,s and talk about his music all the time. Rhett Miller looks right at me asking me if that’s true and thanks me. He could not have been more polite or gracious. We let him continue on his way as he began signing a few autographs on the sidewalk.
I don’t think my feet touched the ground for the next week.
4. David Sedaris. David Sedaris debuted his “SantaLand Diaries” on NPR’s Morning Edition, December 23, 1992. Listening on my drive to work, I was absolutely mesmerized. Immediately, I became obsessed with David Sedaris.
Over the next several days, through phone calls to WBEZ (Chicago’s NPR affiliate) and then a follow-up letter to Ira Glass, producer of the “SantaLand Diaries,” I was able to obtain David Sedaris’s mailing address in New York and proceeded to write him a letter. I explained how much I enjoyed listening to his stories and how wonderfully original the presentation came across. I did my best to artfully beg for a complete audio copy so that I could listen to these stories over and over and over again.
Several weeks passed with no response. Then it arrived: An 8½ x 11 sealed brown envelope. I tore it open to find a two-page typewritten letter along with five cassette tapes. The letter was hilarious, and included anecdotes about his sister Amy. He noted that the entire “SantaLand Diaries” collection was included along, with a few other pieces of work he thought I might enjoy. He signed the letter in blue ink. I was absolutely thrilled.
Fast forward to 2008. My mom, Mary, and I went to see David Sedaris at the Hemmens Auditorium in Elgin. He read from his upcoming book When You Are Engulfed in Flames. He was everything you expect of David Sedaris: whip-smart, incredibly funny, poignant, and frequently deeply touching.
There was a meet-and-greet in the theater lobby after the show. I purchased a copy of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and waited in line for an hour. When we got to David, I introduced myself and told him about the letter and cassettes he’d sent me, thanking him for do doing so. He listened politely and told me he macs a concerted effort to respond to all of his mail, no matter how long it may take. Then Mary started in complimenting a portion of the show that David had introduced as a work in process. David Sedaris and my mom, chatting up show content, talking as if they’d known each other for years. It was hilarious. We thanked him again and we were on our way.
When we got to the car, I opened the front cover of my new book to find inscribed: “Mike – So glad to finally have met you. David Sedaris.”