Wednesday night, I went to the Cribs show at Bimbo’s 365. I’d be lying if I said I was there for any reason other than to see Johnny Marr up close. Of course he was making it look so easy up there. I was studying the technique, the posture, the banter. Taking notes, you know. After their set, we waited first in the main room, until the staff swept us out. Then in the foyer, until the staff swept us out. So we found ourselves waiting out front in the cold, where the tour bus still sat. I ran into Tom, who was waiting for Johnny too. I wasn’t too nervous, but in a kind of dream state, finding it hard to believe that after years of poring over Johnny Marr’s every word and note, there was an excellent chance I was about to see him face-to-face. As the minutes dragged, we got anxious and started making our way towards the alley where I knew the backstage door to be. After about 45 minutes, the band finally came out. The rest of the Cribs filtered past us (and into the clutches of the girls), while we intercepted Johnny in the alleyway. I could hardly believe it was happening.
I freely admit to being totally starstruck and blurting out stupid things. I’m really not the type, but come on, we’re talking about my #1 guitar hero. You’ll have to grant me a little teenage girl fantasy here. Tom got in there first, and I was in line right behind him. There were several more people who eventually came around after us, and to my horror, they started just butting in and taking Johnny to themselves. Now, I can understand people getting excited and all, but they were being shameless. I was seeing self-preservation and every-person-for-themselves vividly and hideously played out in front of me. I couldn’t believe what disregard people had for each other (and for me!). I was trying to be cool and not make a scene, especially because Johnny was being so patient with everyone. I didn’t want to start making nasty “me first” comments to the people around, or throwing richly-deserved elbows. But at the same time, this was Johnny fuckin’ Marr standing in front of me, and I had no idea how long he was going to stick around before hopping on his bus and disappearing. As I neared my limit and started to get a bit aggressive, I finally got my turn, and I held on until I felt I’d had my fair share of his time. We Smiths fans are a selfish bunch I guess. It reminded me of the disappointment I sometimes feel in the cut-throat fans that fill the pit at Moz shows. How they can sour what should be such a positive experience. But no more dwelling on the negative here. The point is: I did get my turn, and I met Johnny Marr!
When I finally got in there, the conversation — severely paraphrased for continuity’s sake and also remembered incompletely and probably incorrectly — I think went something like this (with Johnny in blue)…
I like your shirt.
Thanks! [unzipping my jacket to reveal the rest of the T. Rex “Electric Warrior” album cover shirt]
I know what it is.
It’s such an honor to meet you. I just have to tell you that your music was the inspiration for me taking up the guitar seriously, and it’s become a huge focus in my life. So thank you!
Well, that’s the best thing to hear really. I’m glad.
Working out and playing your songs has brought me years of pleasure and headaches. Trying to figure out all those parts.
As long as you’re having fun with it.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finally worked out some difficult part and said “that sneaky fucker, look what he’s doing there!”
[laughs] Well, I tried not to make it too tricky.
[laughs] Well, you failed! Hey, do you mind if we snap a photo?
No, not at all. [picture is taken, hands shake]
Also, I hate to trouble you, but could I get pick? A lucky charm? If it’s a hassle…
Oh sure, let me see. [digs around and gets a pick out of his pocket]
Thanks so much! And again, it’s really a pleasure to meet you!
It may not come across in my faux transcription there, but he was so gracious and approachable. He made time to talk to everyone who was waiting for him, and happily signed autographs, posed for pictures, and spoke freely even asking people about themselves. He seemed genuinely interested in all of us. So laid back, and just could not have been nicer. It was an absolute honor and pleasure to meet him and chat with him.
I listened in to the conversations he had with others. Someone asked him about the tab books that are out there, and he said he isn’t too familiar with them, but one of the things he’d like to do when he revamps his website is to take some time to show people how he plays certain things… tabs or videos or something. “But I don’t want to give away all my secrets.” I screamed “YES PLEASE!”
Of course, now that it’s over, I’m second-guessing myself a bit. First off, you may notice I didn’t mention This Charming Band. When I first walked up, I was with Tom. Tom went first, and Johnny asked him if we were in a band. Tom said no of course, and I didn’t want to be like “well actually I’m in a tribute band.” So I just let it drop. If he’d asked me point blank, I would have fessed up. But I wasn’t sure if he’d be flattered or repelled. I’ve read something to the effect that he doesn’t like tribute bands. Don’t live in the past and all that. I gather the other three Smiths are more on the flattered end of the spectrum. Who really knows how he would have reacted? I didn’t want to risk tainting the experience. As it was, we talked for a moment about love of the guitar, and that was enough for me. I might have liked to ask him about a riff or two. Or twelve. But it wasn’t really the venue for that kind of discussion. Maybe someday I’ll get a chance to really pick his brain.
The other thing I kicked myself for is an autograph! I’m really not an autograph kinda guy usually, and having an autographed album or picture from him wouldn’t do that much for me. But damn… I should have brought a guitar for him to autograph!!! And strum! And bless! There isn’t a guitar in my collection that I wouldn’t happily have allowed him to sign, and there aren’t many on the planet I can say that about. Can you imagine having Johnny himself strum your guitar, and mark it? Damn. I really should have done that. But these small regrets aside, it was an amazing night. Special thanks to Jamie and Lourdes for waiting with me in the cold and taking pics!
Surreal. Only real. There isn’t a person alive that I’d want to meet more than him, and here it’s happened. If touching the hand of Moz was like touching the pope’s vestments, then meeting Johnny was like sitting down with Yoda.
Playing the guitar means everything. Know what I mean?
— Johnny Marr