Despite having an entire website devoted to my 13-year-old self, I am actually more emotionally connected to 15-year-old Lisa.
15. That’s such a tender age, too. At 15, I was still figuring out where I belonged. I’d found what would turn out to be my lifelong “tribe,” as it were, but I was standing right at the edge of that circle, not quite confident enough to fully participate. I was watching, and learning, and praying I wouldn’t be rejected.
My 15-year-old heart was evenly divided among three people. One was a boy in the aforementioned “tribe,” but I couldn’t muster the bravery to approach him and tell him I liked him “that way” (as it turned out, that boy would become my bandmate some 25 years later, but this was something I couldn’t know or even dare to imagine back then). Second was Neil Finn. And the third was Howard Jones.
He was ebullient. His music was ebullient. There was an impishness beneath that outstanding hairdo. I bought the “Things Can Only Get Better” 45 and played it incessantly. The sound of the needle hitting the record, the second or two of popping and crackling, and the staggered synth opening of the song was like being embraced in a warm, friendly hug. Every time. Of course I learned to love the rest of his work, but even to this day, hearing the beginning of that song takes me back to that hug.
So when I heard several weeks ago that he’d playing at a club that I myself had played a number of times, I was thrilled. Seeing him in such an intimate setting, and knowing that we’d both been on that VERY SAME STAGE? Plus the very real possibility of actually getting to TALK TO HIM and tell him alllllll of this? My God.
It was such a good show. Just him and a piano. His voice is just as sonorous and clear and heartbreaking as it was then. And he’s so funny and charming. I sat there and beamed. And in my purse was that very same 45 of “Things Can Only Get Better.” I was so looking forward to having him sign it and getting to express to him all the things his music has meant to me. It was going to be the perfect ending to a magical night. So I got in line after the performance and waited for him to emerge from backstage.
Now, understand – I’ve been a huge fan of this guy for 30 years. I spent a not-insignificant amount of time over those years rehearsing the witty banter I’d exchange with him when we finally got to meet. I would talk to him with the respect he deserved, yet with the confidence stemming from my own experience as a musician and writer. I would be reverent, yet poised. Giddy, yet clever.
Here is the transcript of the conversation that actually transpired between myself and Howard Jones:
Me: “Oh! I, um, brought a Sharpie because I didn’t know if you’d have one.”
HJ: “No, I’ve got this one; it’s very good.”
Me: “Ehhhh heh heh heh hehhh.”
I think I stammered some kind of thank you while my husband stepped in and attempted damage control by complimenting him on the show. I just stood there looking like one of those sucker fish, or like Winona Ryder in every scene where she’s supposed to be verklempt. You know what I’m talking about.
Anyway – then I burst into tears. I slumped into a booth behind the merch table and bawled as one of our companions went to the bar and grabbed me a bunch of napkins for me to snuffle piteously into. Meanwhile, his manager kept looking over at me as if he wasn’t sure whether to comfort me or GET ME THE HELL AWAY FROM HOWARD.
It was, bar none, my worst performance since the time I was in Annie Get Your Gun when I was like 18 and suddenly forgot the entire second verse of “You Can’t Get A Man With A Gun” and just kind of stomped around onstage in my fake buckskins with a rictus of startled alarm glued to my face.
So, Howard, if for some reason you find yourself reading this – I’m really not (that) insane. Thank you for coming to Johnny D’s to play, and for signing my record, and posing for a picture with me. And for everything, really.