Um, no, really: I’m with the band …

Trent motherfucking Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, taken by me

There is a scene in the movie “Almost Famous” during which the star—a young and budding music journalist—approaches the backstage door of a concert venue, rings the buzzer, gives the surly security guard his name and says that he’s there to interview the band.

The guard checks the guest list on his clipboard.

“You’re not on the list,” he says dismissively and slams the door shut.

Undeterred, our young hero again rings the buzzer, and the annoyed security guard again opens the door.

“Sir, I’m a journalist,” the naive youngster says, holding up as a form of identification a copy of the publication for which he is due to conduct the interview. “Here’s a copy of the magazine that I—”

“Not on the list,” the guard says while some nearby groupies chuckle about the boy’s embarrassing predicament.

This scene is, for me, perhaps the most memorable moment of the entire movie, for it is an experience that I have lived through on more than one occasion.

The most recent occurrence happened earlier this year when I took a friend with me to a Chris Cornell concert that I was reviewing. After standing in line, we reached the door to the club, where stationed was the girl holding the ever-present clipboard to which was fastened the mythical “GUEST LIST.”

“Hi,” I said in my most charming fashion. “I’m supposed to be on the list.”

“Name?”

I provided it. She scanned the list, flipping through it until she reached the last page, then let go of the previous pages, which fell back into place.

“Hmmmm. Who are you with?”

I told her the name of the publication. She flipped through the list again.

“I don’t have you on here.”

“Really? Wow. Chris’ publicist just emailed me today and said she’d have me down for a plus-1,” I said, attempting to bowl her over with my knowledge of guest-list lingo. (“Plus-1,” as you can probably surmise, means the reviewer can bring a friend along.)

And it is at that moment that she and everyone in earshot joined in an unmatched display of synchronized telepathy to mentally shout in unison, “Bullshit!”

The thing is, I really was supposed to be on the list … so, rather than slouching over, slinking away into the night and finding a safe haven in which to nurse my ego back to health, I did the Douchebag Shuffle. This is the move where you say, “Well, if you don’t mind me standing off to the side here, I’m going to make a call to see if I can straighten this out,” then step out of the line and shuffle on over to rock-concert purgatory, where you stand on display for the other concertgoers to look at with bemusement as they proffer their own tickets and enter the club without incident while an almost visible cartoon-dialogue thought-bubble hovers in the air, from which successively smaller bubbles trail down to everyone’s heads, and the lone word in the middle of the cloud is “Bullshit!”

And now the game is on, because the guest-list girl and the security guards at the door? They think you’re full of shit, and that your little charade of pulling out your cellphone and calling someone is a weak attempt at saving face. But you know you’re for real, and you have been doing this for years, and this isn’t the first time this has happened, which is why, just before pulling out of the driveway to head to the show, you remembered to run back into the house and program the publicist’s phone number into your cell.

After a short conversation with said publicist, I hung up and informed Guest-List Girl that there was another list on its way, and that my name would be found therein. The dialogue in the cartoon thought-bubble morphed to “Suuuuuuure there’s another guest list on its way.”

But lo and behold, along came a higher-ranking Guest-List Girl, backstage laminate swinging from the lanyard around her neck. She held in her hand several sheets of paper, and my name was, in fact, on one of them. The dialogue in the cartoon thought-bubble morphed into “Well, blow me down. You don’t see that every day.”

Over the years, Wonder Woman and I have been fortunate enough to attend numerous concerts thanks to my job, but the frequency with which I go to shows has diminished greatly since the arrival of our lovely cherubs, and on those rare occasions when I am inclined to do so, I often end up going without her—since, you know, someone’s gonna hafta get up at an ungodly hour the following morning when the Pre-Dawn Duo rises, and, thankfully for me and my career, she is willing to be that someone.

Such was the case for the Nine Inch Nails concert the other night, which took place way out in Worcester, a city to which I would travel for perhaps no other reason than to see a Nine Inch Nails concert. Up until a day or two before the show, I had convinced myself I wouldn’t mind skipping it in order to avoid the hassle–but I had to miss the show the last time NIN was in town, and they are one of my most favoritest musical acts in the whole wide world, and their live shows are always completely spectacular. All of those factors eventually ganged up and convinced me that I wasn’t OK with skipping it after all.

With Wonder Woman recusing herself, I was left to find another date. I offered a free ticket to at least a half-dozen people, but pretty much all of them have kids and jobs and don’t get paid to stay out late at a rock concert.

So there I was, dragging my ass out to Worcester, alone, on a Sunday night.

“Who are your tickets from?” asked the woman behind the glass at the will-call window as she eyed my driver’s license.

“The group’s publicist,” I said, bracing myself for yet another performance of the Douchebag Shuffle. She nodded and walked away from the window. The Will-Call Window Craps game began. Would I roll a seven or snake eyes?

She returned, handed me an envelope containing my tickets and smiled. Seven! We have a winnah!

Written on the envelope were instructions to head to the security booth located at Door 5, where I would receive my photo pass. I asked a venue staffer where Door 5 was, fully expecting her to ask me who the hell I was and why I needed to know the whereabouts of Door 5. Instead, she did everything short of draw me a map and offer me a piggyback ride. Wow. This was going far too smoothly.

When I finally arrived at Door 5, I expected it to be locked and heavily guarded. There was a goth-girl standing in front of the door with what appeared to be a list.

“Are you handling the photo passes?” I asked her.

“Huh?”

“Do I check in with you for a photo pass?”

“I don’t work here. I’m just waiting for my boyfriend.”

Jesus, what a dork.

I pulled on the handle and Door 5 swung open easily. Inside was a little lobby, where stood several other photographers. Opposite the doors was a large plate-glass window, behind which was the security office. Everyone was just as pleasant as could be.

The two women whom the venue tasked with handling the photographers showed up and went into cruise-director mode—like, full-on Julie McCoy—introducing themselves to each of us, asking us our names and thanking us for being there.

I was looking around for a hidden camera, and trying to decide if I should deck Ashton Kutcher when he came through the door.

But it turns out we weren’t being Punk’d. In fact, the only complaint to be had was that, instead of shooting the first three songs, we had to wait backstage during the first two songs, then shoot during 3, 4 and 5 … which means I missed the beginning of the show. Also, when the band’s liaison finally led us into the security pit at the front of the stage and song number three commenced, its onset was accompanied by a deluge of fake fog that made the band practically invisible. (And here, I shall thank god for Photoshop, which allowed me to milk 40 or so worthwhile photos from the 250 or so that I shot.)

After the shoot, one of the pleasant and bubbly venue liaisons pleasantly and bubblingly escorted us into a service elevator that dropped us off at the seating level—and, serendipitously, right in front of a Sam Adams stand.

So, cold beer in hand, I sat and watched the most impressive lightshow in rock-concert history (seriously; check this, this and this for proof) while listening to live renditions of some of my favorite songs performed by one of my favorite bands, and contemplated how far I had come since the first time I, metaphorically speaking, rang a backstage buzzer.

It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this for more than a decade now … and even harder to believe that I actually get paid for it.

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3 Comments

  1. Posted November 14, 2008 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    That was a pretty awesome story. Bet you never forget that experience!

  2. Tara
    Posted November 14, 2008 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Oh Lord, how I know that feeling. You described it so well too. I so wanted to shrink back from the computer screen.

    Reminds me very vividly of a recent experience we had together at SXSW, when we weren’t on the ‘list’ for our employer’s own party. Big fat ego stroke there.

  3. Posted November 14, 2008 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

    Giovanna: Thanks. 🙂

    Tara: Yeah, you mean the party for which the logo of our publication was projected onto the side of the house, and yet we couldn’t get in for 10 minutes?

    Of course, we more than made up for it by drinking all of their tequila for the next three nights. Plus, we got to play Guitar Hero.

    Now I’m looking forward to next year; Richard says they rented the house again. 😀

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