Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Just One of My Many Regrets, Fame Edition

Yesterday's Question of the Day at Shakespeare's Sister involved brushes with fame. This was my response, a story that seven years later still tears me up.

In 1999, right about this time of year, I attended the Jacksonville Jazz Festival, and they had set up a booth where some of the acts signed autographs either before or after performing. I was torn between staying in my seat and listening to Rick Braun or getting in line for Grover Washington Jr.’s autograph. Since Washington played the festival practically every other year, I figured I’d get another shot at his signature, and I decided to sit and listen to Braun, then go to the booth for his autograph following his performance.

I got in line immediately after Braun finished, so I was right there beside the booth. Washington hadn’t left. He was still signing; a handler gently tried to pull him from the crowd and get him in the little golf cart to take him backstage because he was to perform in less than half an hour. But he kept signing and joking with the fans. I wasn’t close enough to get an autograph, but I was close enough to watch the delight he took in talking with the crowd. The handler finally pulled him away from the fans and almost had him in the cart when Washington saw some people he knew and started hugging on them and talking and laughing with them. What a guy.

Rick Braun showed up a few minutes later and coldly signed his autographs, barely looking at the fans.

Washington gave his usual phenomenal performance. He was as exuberant on stage as he had been in that makeshift autograph booth.

About three weeks later Grover Washington, Jr. died of a heart attack following a performance at CBS’s studio in New York.

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