Saturday, February 12, 2011

When The Student Met The Master

***NOTE- This is an EXTREMELY overdue entry. I pledge to try being more consistent with writing...I promise***

***WARNING- Due to strong language, parental discretion is advised for this post...if you don't agree that sometimes "fuck" is the right word in that certain sentence, then fuck you and go read something else***

So I was very fortunate over this past 12 months, for a lot of reasons. Putting the heavy stuff aside (which I've alluded to in previous entries), my biggest score in this period involved meeting my food writing inspiration- Anthony Bourdain.

It's always kind of scary interacting with people that you look up to who are celebrities, especially those who do the same things you do, or aspire to emulate. Whether you are a "small time" writer, actor, musician, or athlete who meets a "big time" writer, actor, musician, or athlete, there is always the danger that Mr. or Ms. "Big Time" will be a royal prick and shatter the myth you have built up in your mind about this person. We've all heard stories from friends who ran into certain celebrities only to find that they were total douchebags.

I've been lucky enough over the years, in my various adventures where I've traveled around playing music, pretending to be a rock star, to meet some of my musical heroes. On the whole, I've been lucky enough to discover that they were all cool- at least to me. There was one notable exception where one of the great blues guitarists of all time was an all time prick, which I won't dwell on. Suffice it to say, you never know what you're going to get when you happen to come across some of these folks.

I will say this, without seeming like a name dropping starfucker, I do want to point out that the following "famous people" were pretty darn cool: BB King, Rosario Dawson, Los Lobos.

(As an aside about Ms. Dawson...she is even hotter in person and has (god this is going to sound perverted, but I'm a male and I notice these things) one of the prettiest mouths ever...(and, yes...that sounded pretty perverted...sorry))

Me and the lovely Ms. Dawson

With all of this in mind, I was kind of apprehensive about any interaction with Mr. Bourdain, for fear that he might be, dare I say...douchey. I was lucky enough to catch him twice on his speaking tour in support of his latest book Medium Raw.

The first time I caught him on tour was in my home town of Sacramento at the Memorial Auditorium. The show was great and surprisingly well attended by a crowd of foodies who really appreciated his writing, his humor, and his opinions about food, travel, and the more famous food writers and t.v. personalities. His show was basically a condensed version of his book done over the course of a couple of hours. It was pretty impressive for a couple of reasons: his riffing for that long without notes and how clear it was that his written voice was the same as his speaking voice. He really came across as a guy you could seriously just hang out and drink beers with while discussing anything, food or not. The show was great, that is up until the Q & A.

Before it all went off the rails...

Now having been a performer for a long time, I have learned one thing that remains true: the microphone is one of the most powerful weapons known to man. Whoever controls the mic, controls the crowd, and when you give it up, things can go incredibly wrong or, in this case, incredibly boring. I was really pulling for my people to come through with questions that were probing, original, and/or insightful.

Don't ask him about eating oysters in France. He wrote about that in previous books and has discussed that on his t.v. show. Don't ask him about the sickest he's ever gotten. That's been covered too. And here's a tip for future Q & A-ers: Don't go on for two minutes about yourself, creating a barely constructed question where you ask the person on stage to agree with an opinion or world view of yours. If you want to talk about yourself, get your own G-D blog or write your own book...(oops, did I just insult myself? hm...dammit!!!)

There was a palpable sense of astonished embarrassment from folks in the crowd, many of whom were some of my fellow food bloggers and writers. It was a conundrum though. Did we dare risk our coolness and become sycophantic fan boys and girls in an effort to save our city's Q & A reputation? Or did we sit there, being too cool for school, praying Bourdain wouldn't call his wife at home later that evening, bemoaning the lack of any originality from the good people of Sacramento? I think the answer is clear...writers are pretty much too cool for school. We all ran into each other after and commiserated, incredulous at the fuckery that was perpetrated by the food Q & A-ers of Sacramento that night. A malaise came over me and I felt as though something had to be done to make this right. I wasn't sure what, exactly, but I knew there was something. Well a couple of months later that something came along...

My friend Byron is a Nevada "High Roller"...literally. He gets all kinds of things comped to him by the good people at Harrah's Casinos for having the intestinal fortitude to sit at a blackjack table and push little round, black pieces of plastic back and forth on the green felt for hours and hours. Suites, epic surf & turf meals at the finest casino restaurants, spa treatments, top top shelf liquors and much more can be yours when you do what Byron does. My inner degenerate lives vicariously through him when I watch him play blackjack. It is a thing of twisted beauty, trust me.

I was stoked when he called and asked me if he wanted to go to Tahoe for a food & wine festival put on by Harrah's. Bourdain was going to be the Saturday night headliner in the South Shore Room with comped tickets. I mean, how could I say no to this? More important than a comped weekend in Tahoe was my newly formed mission that came to me when Byron extended the invitation. I was going to make up (at least in my mind) for the shitty questions that were asked in Sacramento by asking a good question in Tahoe!

This was going to be a great opportunity to ask away without seeming like a fan boy in my own hometown. I wouldn't say I agonized over this, but I really put some thought into what I would ask. The criteria was relatively simple. No questions about food. I mean you think he wants to be asked about eating at the French Laundry for the 5,000th time? How many times do you think he's recounted the story of that drunken wedding reception with his nutjob, Russian drinking partner Zamir? It's like being a musician on the road. It's real easy to get sick of a song if you have to play it every. single. night...night after night. You need something to break up the monotony.

Saturday night had arrived. The trip was notable as well, because it happened to be the first time going to Nevada since quitting the drinking and stuff. It was the first time I had ever woken up in the Silver State without a hangover. As with everything I've done for the first time since getting sober, it was amazing and again made me wonder why I hadn't done it sooner. But I digress...Byron had arranged, through his casino host (yes...he really is a high roller) to get a private booth for us and our buddies Chris and Tony (my friend who really encouraged me to start this blog) to watch the show.

This show had the potential to go bad for a bunch of other reasons-the main one being a room full of middle aged douchebags in Tommy Bahama gear with one too many tumblers of Glenlivet in their systems...because we all know how much more clever you are when you are slurring drunk and trying to be the funny one. Nobody came to see you fail at funny, Tommy Bahama. Just shut the fuck up and do less blow next time, so you're not as jittery and talkative, ok?

The show came to it's inevitable conclusion and the part that I dreaded even more due to the presence of so many Tommy Bahamas: Drunken Q & A. I knew I had to mobilize quickly. Since I'd seen the show before, I knew when his talk was ending and when to start making my way down to where the microphones would appear. Sober and nimble I managed to snag one of the mics well before Tommy Bahama could get his fat, stubby, sweaty fingers on it. I was not to be denied.

My turn came and there I was...face to face with Mr. Big Time Writer; The Master and inspiration for my writing about food. It was time to put up or shut up. I was going to make up, unbeknownst to him or anyone else, for the bad questions he got in Sacramento. And so it went:


I got in two questions, both non-food related, and I know it may have just been me, but I really did feel as though he was relieved to hear questions, that were seemingly from from left field that were neither drunkenly slurred, nor retread of questions asked at the show before, before, before, before, and before. I got some good answers and even figured if Bourdain could quit the sweet Marlboros then so could I, though I used the nicotine patch.

So through all of this, I was so relieved that he was actually a cool guy during our brief interaction and I am determined to meet him again, this time in some dive bar, to ask him his favorite live music venue...who knows?

I mean who'd have thought I would ever meet Rosario Dawson, number 2 on my personal "Hottest Woman In The World List"?

The Universe has a twisted sense of humor...

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