I was born and raised in California’s Silicon Valley, just a decade ahead and a few miles south of where Apple would eventually take shape and introduce the iPod and iTunes to the world. I played in bands throughout Jr High and High School, and when I left for Los Angeles to attend the now defunct Grove College of Music, I told everyone to watch for me on the Grammy’s someday.
One of the first people I met upon arrival in the San Fernando Valley happened to be a TV producer. He was a nice guy – a friend of my roommate, and I didn’t really know the details of his involvement in the entertainment industries. He was aware of my music aspirations, and I shared with him that Peter Gabriel was my all-time favorite artist. Later that year, just ten days after my 19th birthday, my friend left me a cryptic message, “I need you to go to the Bonaventure hotel today to pick something up at the front desk. Be sure to bring your ID.”
I followed his instructions, and the concierge handed me a regular envelope. I was amazed to find two “All Access” passes to the Grammy’s inside!
I immediately called the young lady I was dating at the time – a talented vocalist I met at music school, and I went home to get ready for the show. I had achieved starving student status with honors, and the only thing I had to wear was a 3-piece suit that was easily one size too small. I figured it was more important how I carried myself than how it fit me, so I went with it and headed for the show.
The day was such a blur that it really didn’t hit me what I was doing until we were walking down the red carpet at the Shrine Auditorium in Hollywood, and I heard fans and paparazzi whispering “who’s that?” Once inside the theater, I grabbed the nearest usher – a young man just a couple years older than me and asked, “where does this pass get me?” He responded, “Dude, it’s all access. You can go anywhere you want. Upstairs, downstairs, backstage, press boxes, wherever.”
So I did.
Everything that followed was magical and surreal. The first thing I did was head backstage to get a behind-the-scenes look, and that’s where I was shocked back to reality for a moment. I walked smack into Stevie Wonder, and like an idiot I said, “I’m so sorry – I didn’t see you there!” to which he replied, “That’s okay, I didn’t see you either.” His escort looked pissed, and I suddenly felt small enough to fit into my suit. But in a way, that moment helped me regain composure so that I could really take in the rest of the evening’s events.
The performances were amazing. Janet Jackson must have had 40 people on stage for her dance routine – totally tight – and Anita Baker’s voice could have filled the theater without a mic. I spent some time chatting with the year’s Best New Artist, Bruce Hornsby, who seemed almost as awestruck by the Grammy experience as I was. I met Mike Rutherford of Genesis fame that was nominated for his work with Mike & The Mechanics.
I went to the press area backstage and watched Paul Simon field questions about his Album of the Year award for Graceland. I was talking with Steve Winwood when a group of ladies came over to get pictures with him, and as he put his arms around them for the shot he paused for a moment, turned to me and said, “hold these” and handed me the two Grammy’s he had just won. I distinctly remember Whitney Houston running by screaming, “Where’s my dress! Where’s my dress!” as she was being chased by several people with walkie-talkies whose job it was to look nervous all the time.
As the show was drawing to a close, the celebrities took the stage for a chorus of “Stand By Me.” I went around to stage left where I was abruptly halted by a guy we’ll call “tank.” I flashed my pass, he stepped aside, and there I was – on stage at the Grammy Awards standing somewhere between the year’s MC, Billy Crystal and Doobie Brothers’ Michael McDonald singing “Stand By Me” and waving my hands in the air like I was at the last 60’s flower power rally.
And yes, I met my idol. As everyone pooled in the lobby to wait for their limousines, I took the chance to chat with Peter Gabriel. I spouted something about how I had seen him perform in Oakland on his “So” tour the previous summer and I thought it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. I told him how disappointed I was that he didn’t pick up any awards from his four nominations, to which he said, “It’s politics.” At that moment he held the record for the most Grammy nominations without an award (nine), although “Sledgehammer” went on to receive the most awards ever for a single music video. And just a side note – Gabriel was on the Independent Music Awards judges’ panel that recently named my service Noisy Planet “Best Music Business Website 2009.”
As a youngster, I packed my bags and left for LA determined to fulfill my dreams of meeting Peter Gabriel and being on stage at the Grammy’s. I didn’t expect that it would happen in one night, or so early in my quest. And now as each year passes, I wonder whether I will ever return to the Grammy’s and take the stage for a very different reason.