#93. I was proposed to on stage, while opening for TV on the Radio (New Orleans, 2004–2006)

good dudes / sweet nerds
  1. 2004, New Orleans

White Bitch, my “band,” first opened for TV on the Radio at a giant, beautiful but terrible sounding Uptown venue called TwiRoPa. TVotR had just wrapped a tour opening for David Bowie and Nine Inch Nails. You could almost call that the peak of their popularity, but they did become even more well-known.

White Bitch, at the time, consisted of me and my beats and my guitar, plus my 55-year-old psychedelic guru Ray Bong making noises, and 13-year-old Lil Gregory Esquire acting as hype-man. Because of my band’s provocative name, I will mention that Gregory was Black (and, as my friend now at the age of 28, he remains Black).

We met TVotR backstage, and talked with them a little about the Bowie/NIN tour. We didn’t have much to say to each other (I always ask out-of-town bands where they ate), but Tunde Adebimpe (vocals), Dave Sitek (guitars, keyboards), Kyp Malone (vocals, guitar) Jaleel Bunton (drums) and Gerard Smith (bass) all came off refreshingly nerdy and nice.

We also shared that bill with the band that would go on to become MuteMath. That band, Makrosick, promised I could use their projector for a vital part of our show, so that we wouldn’t have to switch out our projector for theirs between sets. But then, at the venue, right before the show, Makrosick rescinded their offer, wouldn’t let us use their projector, and left us stranded without half of our show. Up on stage later, I told the crowd that, and relentless made jokes about Makrosick between songs. Otherwise, I thought we played well, though our personalities shined more than my songs did in that terrible sounding room. I later read a blog review of the show that asked, “White Bitch? More like White Shit.”

After we played, I went and sat outside on the curb with my sidemen, unimpressed with myself — until TV on the Radio literally ran out to us, majorly impressed. They gave us many compliments, though they seemed mostly interested in the Black kid. Kyp Malone gave all of us some free TVotR t-shirts. I picked a very ugly tan shirt that I still wear to this day, even though it looks gross on a pale white dude.

2. 2006, New Orleans

After Katrina, when MySpace exploded, I posted on TV on the Radio’s page. They remembered me, and immediately asked me to “go on tour” with them. Meaning one date in New Orleans and two dates in Texas. Their agent even hinted to me that they were looking for a band to take with them on their upcoming tour of South America. I scored all that from a MySpace post; those were simpler days.

This time, in New Orleans, we opened for TVotR at The Republic. A lady named MC Shellshock and my partner Mizzy served as backup singers. Talented as fuck, Shelly was more a rapper than a singer, but had good pitch, and big confidence. Mizzy had less good pitch, but she loved me, and had enthusiasm and a great smile and nice boobs she liked to bounce for an audience. Mizzy and I had just gotten back together after Katrina broke us up. She’d moved away from me to work in Providence for a year, and I’d just brought her back to New Orleans to play this show. Our happiness was only just beginning to return.

Our “band” had not gotten to practice enough, I felt, and during soundcheck I casually told the soundman, on the mic in front of everyone, “Keep the girls low in the mix. They are more for set dressing.” Mizzy didn’t react since she’s not really a musician, but Shelly got very mad. I didn’t realize the offensiveness of my comment, having more “important” things on my overcrowded mind at the time. But Shelly and I were never as close after I said that. I now realize how sexist and reductionist I’d sounded, and that I should have addressed it with Shelly long ago, but am only doing so for the first time right now.

By the time we hit the stage, people packed every inch of the place, and crowded the balcony so tightly they seemed to drip from the ceiling. TV on the Radio could have played a place twice that size. With a bill of just White Bitch, followed by TVotR, we played at 11pm, the perfect time. That show, and the next two in Texas, felt like living someone else’s life for a few days.

As we began that New Orleans show, I remained slightly distracted by a girl in the front row shouting up at me, someone I’d vaguely dated a month earlier. Mizzy stood behind me and I couldn’t see her, just this girl I’d dated, yelling up from my feet.

Shelly and I had worked out this great, complex back-and-forth rap. I’d told Shelley though, “If we stumble or fuck up this rap up on stage, I am gonna quickly skip to the next song — don’t get offended.” That exact thing happened though, and I can’t say Shelly didn’t get offended.

After we all finished singing my song “Serious” (“I take this very serious/I take this veeeery serious”), Mizzy snuck up on me from behind, snatched my mic and stopped the show. “There is something that I take very serious,” she said to the crowd. This was very unlike her — so unlike her, I almost knew what came next. Had to be something very big. She kneeled down, pulled a ring box from her pocket and, on the mic, asked me to marry her.

The crowd went fucking berserk. But, just as concerned with the pace of the show, I quickly said yes, kissed her, then jumped into the next song. That girl in the front row looked genuinely crestfallen, but at least she stopped yelling at me.

When we all walked off stage elated, TVotR didn’t look impressed. They didn’t seem like the type of guys who’d care that our engagement performance maybe “showed them up,” but I got the impression it somehow didn’t sit right with them. Maybe their own pre-show jitters had them feeling less sociable. Either way, Mizzy and I left and walked around together outside in a happy daze, talking about the future. Somewhere in it, I’ll never forget, I fucked up and mentioned that girl I’d dated yelling up at me from the front row. Mizzy went cold: “Why the fuck would you mention that? Now?

Today Mizzy and I have two beautiful daughters together, but neither of us has ever been married.

We returned to the club and watched TV on the Radio. The Republic sounded terrible that night too, but the band’s electric presence won the day. We met them backstage after their last song, before their encore. Their bright mood had returned and we all talked and drank beers while their crowd roared for them to come back. Shelly and I told the band how we’d flubbed the brilliant rap we’d worked on so hard. When they asked to hear it, Shelly and I launched into our routine, rapping back and forth as we climbed over all the couches in VIP.

TVotR loved our rap so much, they brought us out on stage to their roaring fans. They all switched instruments, and started jamming, and bade us perform. Shelly and I killed our routine with backing band TV on the Radio (?!), then walked off stage as Tunde asked everyone in the crowd to shake their car keys, and the band performed a beautiful a capella encore of “Ambulance.”

I can’t believe that really happened.

3. 2006, Dallas, TX

In Dallas, TVotR still seemed a bit colder than before. I wondered if they thought our engagement a corny stunt. Or maybe it disappointed them that I didn’t have the little Black kid with me now? I showed up in Dallas with different band members than in New Orleans: now my drummer friend Bret, and noise-man, Bernard Pearce, plus Mizzy.

While drinking TVotR’s expensive dressing room booze that they didn’t touch, we joked that maybe we’d recreate the on-stage engagement tonight. We hobnobbed with the band’s agent who’d let me know about the South American tour, but I managed not to ask her about it. At some point, I saw her and singer Tunde conferring intensely in a corner over a piece of paper. When they finally left, the paper lay on a table, and I snatched it up: a handwritten copy of some of Tunde’s lyrics, from a song on one of their albums. I still have that paper.

White Bitch suffered sound problems on stage in Dallas, to where only I could be heard. My new band left the stage disgruntled, having served only as a visual prop. But I felt I’d played a good show, to 800+ people dripping from the ceiling.

I long to live that life forever.

Like TVotR, who finally got amazing sound that night in Dallas, so that I was able to love their music, finally. What a great, unique band. Afterwards, they invited us all onto their bus where, quite drunk, I blurted, “Every time we’ve played together the sound has been terrible, and I wasn’t able to hear what the hype was about. Tonight I could really hear everything, and could hear how good you all really are!”

They laughed and thanked me for the “compliment,” but they went on to pick for their South American tour the band Noisettes who, with a badass Black girl singer, certainly deserved the slot more than White Bitch.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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#88–#92: Buncha quick ones: Jan Hooks (SNL), Gov. John Bel Edwards, Jon Bon Jovi, Lydia Lunch, Lloyd Bridges

first famous person I ever met: Lloyd Bridges

#88: Jan Hooks (SNL): As a pre-teen comedy nerd and passionate fan of Saturday Night Live, of course I recognized then SNL cast-member Jan Hooks at my local video store in Ft. Myers, Florida. “I feel so embarrassed with no makeup on,” she said, as she plucked a VHS of A Boy and His Dog from the shelf. Turned out her mother lived in our same condominium complex. I would run into Jan Hooks a lot over the years, saw her at the pool, and she was always very nice while indulging my SNL questions.

#89: LA Governor John Bel Edwards: I once toured New Orleans’s housing projects with Gov. Edwards and Ben Carson (who seemed very dim), and have attended a few of his press conferences, and my impression is that he is not as smart as he is kind. He seems pretty smart, too, except he’s definitely a religious nut, quoting scripture passages while announcing the opening of a new AT&T store in New Orleans East, and such. That and his anti-abortion stuff makes me doubt him. But he seems kind, close up.

#90: Jon Bon Jovi: During JazzFest time, Otis used to let me sit out front of FAB gay bookstore on Frenchmen St. and sell my music guidebook to the music tourists. I saw a lot of stuff out, sitting out there getting drunk and talking to strangers until 2am. When one of the strangers whispered to me that he’d just seen Jon Bon Jovi a block up the street, I snatched one of my music guidebooks off my table and dashed through the thick Frenchmen St. JazzFest crowd, and somehow homed right in on ol Jon, walking fast in a black leather jacket and black t-shirt. He looked great. “Mr. Bon Jovi!” I caught his attention though he didn’t stop walking with his entourage. His bodyguard tensed up. “I don’t mean to sneak up on you, but I wanted to give you this book that I wrote about New Orleans music.” Still walking very fast, and barely looking over at me, Jon Bon Jovi took the book and thanked me, then immediately handed it to an assistant who put it into her tote bag as they powerwalked into the night.

#91: Lydia Lunch: The first public reading I ever did in my life, in Ybor City, Florida in 2000, I opened for Lydia Lunch, and also Permanent Midnight author, Jerry Stahl. I’d been writing for only a couple years at that point. But I had a lot of friends in Florida who gave me lots of opportunities I didn’t necessarily deserve. I don’t remember at all what she was like. I kept in touch with Jerry Stahl for some years after. He’s a sketchy dude.

#92: Lloyd Bridges: The first famous person I ever met! At the age of about seven. I found the movie Airplane freakin hilarious, especially where the guy said “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue!” So when I recognized the glue sniffing guy on a visit to Epcot Center — he was filming a Disney somethingorother — I had to run away from my parent and up on him and tell him, “Airplane is freakin hilarious!” “Your parents let you watch that?” Lloyd Bridges chuckled. “Thanks kid.”

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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#87. I met and envied Trent Reznor

The name Trent sounds like the male version of Karen. but this former NOLA resident seemed nice enough

The dark lord of industrial music, Trent Reznor, famously lived in New Orleans for around a decade. The period when both he and vampire author Anne Rice lived here simultaneously, boosted New Orleans’s rep as a goth capital. I would see him standing atop his sweetly elaborate Uptown recording studio, catching beads during Mardi Gras Parades. Despite living in a part of town that took on no floodwater, Trent moved away a year or so after Hurricane Katrina.

I technically met him at a packed Kool Keith show at House of Blues. I always stand behind the sound booth at HoB, because it’s often fun to watch them man the glowing boards. I assume Trent stood there for the same reason. With longish hair, in cargo shorts and black t-shirt, he looked like my friends back in Florida. We stood beside each other as Kool Keith threw chicken wings and juice boxes and porn magazines to his fans up front, and the crowd crammed Trent and I together to where we were forced to say hello out of politeness.

After Katrina, a friend of mine planning a benefit concert in the Lower 9 met one of Reznor’s assistants, who invited my friend to Reznor’s badass studio, to possibly borrow a PA system for the charity event. Because her boss was packing up his studio to finally move away from New Orleans, Reznor’s assistant ended up giving my friend a massive PA that took up all the space is his apartment. “Trust me, you’re doing him a favor. He has way too much gear,” the assistant reportedly said. “Right now, you could probably take any of this stuff, and he’d never even notice it was gone.”

My friend pointed to a huge guitar amp, a Mesa Boogie cabinet and head, worth thousands of dollars, and joked, “So you don’t mind if I take that too, then?”

“Sure, go ahead,” she told him.

Even though Reznor very likely did not OK that sketchy transaction, it still left me with a forever impression of Reznor as a charitable sort.

But my own strongest memory of Trent Reznor will always be the morning I left a teaching job where my teen students had really beat me up. Almost literally. Adding to the stress, my bike had broken, I’d have to wait until payday to fix it, and so I walked along some Uptown road toward the bus stop, sweating, stressed out. Not at all hungry, I noticed a very grungy gas station selling two pieces of chicken and a biscuit for 99-cents, and I felt I had to partake of this amazing deal, since who knew how I’d afford lunch later otherwise.

Back outside the dirty gas station, as I chomped on this cheap, greasy chicken I wasn’t even hungry for, and hoped my life would get better, before my eyes appeared a beautiful shiny black Porche, contrasting brightly against the gross gas station, and my self-pity. Trent Reznor stepped out of the car, wearing a black leather jacket in the heat (I think), definitely all black clothes with black sunglasses. He looked very unlike my friends in Florida. And he looked even less like me.

I wish I could say that moment, watching him pump gas into his Porche, made me take my fate into my own hands and never suffer in poverty again. But I still eat gas station chicken from time to time.

Old photo of Trent Reznor in New Orleans

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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#81–#86: Buncha quick ones: Buckwheat Zydeco, Calvin Johnston, Ed Helms, Ellen Barkin, Hot Water Music, Hulk Hogan

Yuck.

#81: Buckwheat Zydeco: When I interviewed this legend by phone we discussed, among other topics, his great love of fishing. He even agreed to fish with me. But when I called him back months later to take him up on it, his manager said he’d fallen ill and couldn’t fish. A year or so later, he passed away.

#82: Calvin Johnston: K Records label head and singer for Beat Happening happened to be working the merch booth when I purchased a Chain and the Gang (Ian Svenonius) vinyl album. I remember he didn’t smile at all.

#83: Ed Helms: I wrote the only tourist guidebook ever created specifically for those who visit New Orleans to hear music, and I happened to be carrying a backpack full of them when, at the coffeeshop, I overheard a dude telling his girlfriend, “I wish there was some book we could buy that would tell us which music to go see.” As I laughed at the specificity of his remark I looked closer and noticed it was Ed Helms from The Office/Hangover, almost unrecognizable with a brown goatee and a pork-pie hat. “I don’t mean to bother you, but you should take this,” I said to them, and gave them a copy of my book. He was really happy about that. Then I left.

#84: Ellen Barkin: At Ye Old College Inn, I waited on the Big Easy star, her family, and her pre-teen son who wore a ginormous afro. They sat her at a corner table where, not a month earlier, a mouse had fallen out of the ceiling and onto someone’s plate. This did not happen to Ellen Barkin though. At meal’s end she thanked me with a wink and a large tip, for being sweet to her, without ever acknowledging her fame.

#85: Hot Water Music: My old band AmeriCar Underworld traveled from Tampa to Deland, Florida to perform at a punk show in a college classroom. Our opening band, Hot Water Music, played its first ever show. We snickered a little at the band’s “emo” theatrics, but they clearly had passion and power, and we knew they’d light up the local scene. Six years later, I’m working as a stagehand at House of Blues in New Orleans, setting up the backline for headliners, Hot Water Music. I said hello but didn’t mention that show in Deland.

#86: Hulk Hogan: In Ft Myers, FLA, I touched his sweaty body a few times as he quickly transported the 24-inch pythons to and from the ring. Years later in Tampa (coincidentally, the same city where Hogan was later filmed fucking the wife of shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge), I bussed Hulkster’s table more than once. I remember at Newk’s Cafe across from the stadium one night, he scarfed down the walnut fried grouper sandwich. When he was done I asked, “May I take that for you Hulk?”

“Thanks, brother,” he replied.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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#80. I spent the weekend raising hell with Tony Clifton (New Orleans, 2013)

Tony Clifton with my pet goat, Chauncey (photo by Zack Smith)

A big Andy Kaufman fan, I was honored to get to spend a weekend raising hell with Tony Clifton, and writing about it for Vice. I got to say everything I wanted to say in that piece, and feel like it’s one of the best pieces I ever wrote, and so I don’t have much more to say about that experience. I suggest you CLICK HERE and skip to reading that piece in its entirety.

Or if you’d just like a salacious excerpt of that article, I’ve culled the most informative and/or offensive parts, below:

In 2006, after an eight-year hiatus, Comic Relief reemerged to put on a show to benefit the victims of Katrina. When he hired Johnson as a videographer, Bob Zmuda (Kaufman’s former writing partner, and the head of Comic Relief) was working on a more ambitious project than a one-off gig: a tour featuring two dozen New Orleans musicians and dancers that would both raise money for performers still dealing with the effects of Katrina and restart the long-dormant career of Tony Clifton.

Clifton is a character, both figuratively and literally. Andy Kaufman claimed to have “discovered” the drunken, foul-mouthed nightclub performer in 1969, but in reality — if the word reality applies to any of Kaufman’s projects — he might have emerged from Kaufman’s head, like Foreign Man. In any case, since the 70s, the Clifton costume and persona has been passed around like a handle of warm whiskey in a green room. In his book Andy Kaufman Exposed! Zmuda copped to having first worn Tony’s signature thick prescription sunglasses, and starting in 1979 Kaufman impersonated Clifton as well — so often and with such hateful aplomb that audiences quickly came to consider the character Andy’s original creation and forgot that a “real” Clifton supposedly existed somewhere.

2.

Most people believe today’s Tony Clifton to “be” Zmuda, who’s now old enough that he no longer needs prosthetics to approximate Clifton’s jowls. Either way, Jeremy has always served two bosses: Zmuda — who Johnson by now considers “a dick” — and Clifton, whom he much prefers. Johnson has spent over five years as Clifton’s de facto assistant, on-call videographer, and sometimes writing partner. People close to the duo have suggested that Johnson is to Tony what Zmuda was to Kaufman. Which still doesn’t mean he can answer the most basic of questions: Who is Tony Clifton?

Like so many other well-meaning Katrina charity projects based in New York and LA, Clifton’s show helped in one way but also removed a lot of important talent from an already weakened New Orleans music scene. Still, Clifton maintains, “I did a good thing getting them out of this hellhole.”

3.

Another thing about Clifton: he has the tendency to be as racist as you’d expect a weathered old alcoholic lounge singer to be, both privately and especially publicly.

Clifton doesn’t use the word nigger to break down its associations and our prejudices, the way Louis C. K. does with hot-button words; he spits it out with abandon. Tony makes Quentin Tarantino seem tasteful. You wonder how he would ever find even one black musician to work for him, much less five of his 11 band members — especially since he claims he doesn’t warn anyone what they’re in for before he hires them.

Clifton claims that [his band quitting in the middle of the show because of his racist remarks], made him realize he needed to henceforth really befriend all of his employees. “I am now very close to my band members,” he says. “I’ve learned that I need to be talking with my people and communicating with them directly. People who work with me now know who I am, and know where I’m comin’ from… Some of the people who decided not to leave the band that night, by the way, were also black. But they saw the bigger picture. So, it’s not like all the blacks left the band at once. Just the niggers left.”

4.

Clifton tells anyone else who’ll listen how he’s the “official tester” at the Bunny Ranch. He calls Bunny Ranch owner Dennis Hof “the PT Barnum of booty” and claims, “Nobody gets laid more than Tony Clifton… As soon as Hof gets a new girl, I go down there and test to make sure they can do all the nasty things that clients want. I’ve fucked, on average, two or three girls under 25 years of age every week for the last 12 years. And they get nervous that I’m not gonna give them a good report! So they’re like, ‘Do you want me to suck your cock again? Do you want me to swallow your cum? Do you want anal?’ I am the luckiest guy on the Earth.”

. . .

“I have energy and I have a big fucking heart,” Clifton brags. “And the trick is to keep yourself associated with young people. Going back to Dennis Hof: I don’t fuck any girl over half my age, and I promise you.” He pokes my chest for emphasis: “Fucking, young, girls, will, keep, you, young. Their pussy juice is the nectar of the gods. It’s my secret to life.”

CLICK HERE to read the entire piece at Vice.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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#79. I fished with Todd Rundgren, and performed at his 65th birthday party (New Orleans, 2013)

Todd is God

In 2013, Vice paid me to attend ToddStock, a four-day celebration of wizard musician Todd Rundgren’s 65th birthday, with the man himself in attendance. Superfans paid $800 to sleep in a tent, eat twice daly from killer themed buffets, and attend fun, open-bar happy hours with their hero. My psychedelic guru, Ray Bong, had only recently turned me on to Todd, and I was not yet the big fan I am now. Even Prince looked up to Todd Rundgren, as a songwriter, guitar shredder, producer, and as a fellow uncompromising soul. I really loved writing about ToddStock (CLICK HERE to read that Vice story).

But I left out some of the funniest, most interesting parts…

2.

Just a few years younger than Todd, Ray Bong was one of the few who proudly paid over $1600 to take his wife for a weekend of camping with Todd Rundgren.

But before all that, I invited Ray Bong over to my house, he smoked me out, and we called up Todd Rundgren at his home in Hawaii and talked about music and laughed with him for 17 minutes, for OffBeat magazine — because not only would Ray consider this a great honor and gift, but I would have a Rundgren scholar on hand during my interview. Usually a psycho blabbermouth, Ray’s voice shook as he spoke to his idol.

I asked Todd, “Aren’t you scared of the type of people who would pay $800 just to be around you? Aren’t you taking a risk?”

“[laughs] We had the original Todd Stock five years ago out here on the island of Kawaii, in a lot next to my house. I just opened it up and said, ‘Anyone who can get themselves here and can put up $350 for food and booze,’ then everyone was free to show up. This time, we certainly expect to see the fans that show up to all the gigs and they want to have an opportunity to hang out outside of that context. When we had the first event, a few people early on would get a little over-excited and wanted to monopolize the conversation. But…eventually they calm down because they realize the have a whole week to get everything covered [laughs]. I have these events every once in a while and then they go back and they prosthelytize me!

3.

My wingman at ToddStock, Mike Hogan from New Orleans brass rock band Egg Yolk Jubilee, joined me at ToddStock with his video recording gear. Like Ray, Hogan worshipped at Rundgren’s feet. He even keeps in email correspondence with Rundgren’s musician wife Michele, to find out what projects Todd’s working on, when Todd will tour, what Todd had for breakfast. I kid. But Hogan wore a different Todd shirt every day of ToddStock.

So he was the perfect person to record video of Todd and I fishing together. I’d previously communicated with Michele Rundgren — who sort of manages, and is very kind to, all of her husband’s fans and other sycophants — and she arranged for me to interview Todd for Vice, while we fished for catfish on the flooded Mississippi River levee.

Todd remembered me from our phone interview, and happily went along with my idea to recast John Lurie’s famous weird fishing show Fishing with John, as Fishing With Todd. Pole in hand, Todd laconically answered my questions as if this were just a conversation we happened to have while fishing.

Todd was very cool, and generous with his time. Before he left and went back to the party, he even sang and recorded the augmented theme song with me, “Fishiiiiiiiiiiing, with Todd. Fishiiiiiiiiiing, with Todd.” I was excited to put at the beginning of the fishing video Hogan filmed (which you can CLICK HERE to watch), “Theme song by Michael Patrick Welch AND TODD RUNDGREN.”

4.

After the fishing interview, we took a nap, and then headed to the dinner buffet. I sat at a corner table munching when Rundgren himself walked up with his plate of food and sat down beside me, presumably because I was the only person in the dining hall not wearing a Todd Rundgren t-shirt. Todd and I talked off the record about New Orleans. “I love New Orleans partly because I love to cook. Cooking is a great passion of mine,” Todd said. “And one of my favorite things to cook is a good roux. So I like to come here and get the real thing.”

Just then Mike Hogan walked in — wearing a Got Milk? shirt, except it said Got Todd? — and he spotted me sitting and chatting with Todd. His eyes widened slightly. Hogan brought his food over and sat with us. I caught Hogan up on our food conversation. “Oh yeah, I knew you liked to cook,” the superfan said to Todd.

“And I was just saying that one of my favorite things to cook is a roux,” Todd added.

“I’ve never made a roux,” Hogan admitted. “It seems like it takes a lot of preparation, and is easy to screw up. So I leave it to other people.”

“Well then,” Todd said without laughing, “you’re a pussy.”

And I knew Mike Hogan was in heaven.

5.

Not wanting to make my Vice story about me, I left out an amazing musical memory I won’t ever forget:

All weekend, Todd’s superfans had been jamming in different combos in the main room. They’d be working on some Rundgren cover, and I’d see Todd walk in, realize what they were playing, then walk straight out.

I’d performed my psychedelic electronic solo act “White Bitch” in New Orleans for over a decade and, feeling discouraged, was ready to quit forever. But I had recently realized how much my music and weird approach had in common with Rundgren’s. I’d overlaid all of my meticulously programmed backing beats onto a series of weird, funny videos I’d made, so that my onstage moves synched up with the pre-recorded images in trippy ways — all of that was very Rundgren, even though I’d never heard him.

So at 2am, two hours after Todd turned 65, I set up all my one-man-band gear in the grass outside of the main room and began to play. Todd had gone to sleep, but lots of people wandered out of the main room to watch and listen. Two of Rundgren’s three sons stood in front of me jamming out to the first song. They seemed really into it, but then quickly walked off, which bummed me out. Still I played on.

By my third song, the two sons returned with their brother, plus Michelle Rundgren, and Todd himself — they had woken dad and dragged him out of his bed to see me play! The whole Rundgren family stood five feet in front of me for the duration of the show, clapping and whistling and shouting encouragement as I sang and played guitar.

I could have led the crowd in the weekend’s first chorus of “Happy Birthday to Todd,” but thought it best not to focus on him at all. I did say into the microphone, “I only recently discovered Todd’s music, and am learning a lot about it this weekend. I’ve learned that all this time I thought I was ripping off Prince, but I was actually ripping off Todd — just like Prince does.” Then I played Prince’s “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man.”

When I finished the song, Michele leaned in on me and shouted, “Play your original music!” I took this as a big compliment at the time, but later realized she simply feared I’d bust into a Todd Rundgren tune. She really looks out for him.

When I finally finished my set, everyone clapped, and Todd Rundgren himself began to chant, “White Bitch! White Bitch!” until all his fans joined in “WHITE BITCH! WHITE BITCH! WHITE BITCH!”

I took that as a huge compliment too — even though I’ve known plenty of people who didn’t like my music, but still loved saying the name. I played one more show after that, then put White Bitch away forever, satisfied, at least, that Todd Rundgren liked it.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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#78. I met Smashing Pumpkins (Tampa, 1991–1996)

“I have the looks, the voice, and the talent to make it.” — B. Corgan (second from right)

Smashing Pumpkins, in four parts…

1.

My two least favorite rock stars are Lenny Kravitz (such a poser, despite his talent, and also has never had an original idea) and Smashing Pumpkins lead singer, Billy Corgan, who is a great guitarist, but who sings like a toad, and is made even toadier by all his bragging. You’d think if you “sang” like that, you’d keep slightly humble. He should play guitar in some better singer’s band, stand at the back of the stage, and shut the fuck up.

Before I arrived in Tampa for college in 1992, Billy Corgan haunted the nearby Florida town of St. Petersburg. He’d moved there to be near Tampa’s goth scene, and to front the goth band The Marked, so named for all the members’ prominent birthmarks. Florida legend has it that, before Corgan moved back to Chicago, at his going away party, he told the roomful of people, “I have the looks, the voice, and the talent to make it.”

As they say: it ain’t tricking if you got it. Corgan soon made good on his threat. Still, what a toad.

2.

I still lived down in Ft. Myers, Florida when my friends and I drove two hours north to Tampa to see the Chicago-based Smashing Pumpkins a few months before Siamese Dream would come out. Tickets cost $6 apiece. We didn’t know much about the band, yet still showed up in Tampa five hours early to explore Ybor City. I remember seeing then-unknown Floridian, Marilyn Manson, in full makeup, carrying a lunchbox, passing out fliers for his band’s show the next week.

Hoping to listen to the Pumpkins’ soundcheck, we sat on the venue’s back steps. Soon, blonde bassist D’Arcy and guitarist James Iha pulled up in their tour van. We stood and cleared the steps so they could get by us. They looked dirty and half asleep as they struggled to open the back door — it seemed almost like they’d never opened a door themselves before. Still a teenager and a few years from my first drink, to me they seemed like drug addicts, totally smacked out.

Iha stuck his foot into a hole at the bottom of the door, as if that would magically trigger it to open. When that didn’t work, he finally looked up at us teenagers, mouth slightly open like, Please help.

I’d never seen anyone so out of it. It scared us a little. Whereas, nowadays I would just assume they’d been touring the country, staying up late every night, and sleeping in a van.

We knocked on the door and someone came and let them into the venue.

They seemed fine by the show that night, which was admittedly phenomenal, aside from the as-yet-released opening song “Disarm,” one of the toadiest songs to ever gain radio prominence. Corgan still had long hair, and wore a dress, and emphasized his guitar solos. Siamese Dream wasn’t out yet but they played all those songs. That night, it woulda been hard for me to believe how much I would come to dislike Corgan.

3.

Since my own story of meeting Smashing Pumpkins wasn’t that great, I want to share my friend Matt Simmons’s better story, about the time he jammed with a hilariously arrogant Billy Corgan. In Matt’s own words (edited by me):

“It was probably 1987. My bandmates and I weren’t old enough to get into bars, but someone had heard of a late night get together at the ‘Bad Dog’…There were a bunch of locals hanging out that I vaguely knew. In the corner of the large empty space was a smattering of musical instruments: a drumset, a bass guitar, a couple of guitars and amps. One guitar was missing a string, so I picked up the guitar that was intact, string-wise, though not entirely un-crusty.

“We embarked on a ‘jam’; a smattering of the simplest Rush tunes we could muster, and maybe a longform version of “Louie Louie.” I’m not sure which of these we played when Billy Corgan walked in. Billy was known in the area as the lead singer of goth power trio ‘The Marked’ and was probably the closest thing sleepy St. Pete had to a rock star at that time.

“He was wearing a poofy pirate shirt with big frilly sleeves, the likes of which would eventually be made fun of on Seinfeld. Corgan made his way past us to where the five-string guitar was, regarded it, and set it down again. He made his way back over to me during a pause in the music and said very matter of factly, ‘I think I should play the guitar you’re playing now, and you should play that one.’

“I made more of an effort standing up for myself than at any point prior or since; I had gotten there first, the space belonged to someone that I had known longer than this guy, and all the other players were my friends. So Corgan walked back over to the missing-string guitar and began to play it.

“At that point, the informal jam session changed substantially. We launched into some other progression of chords, but now it had suddenly become a background for the 5-string guitar played by Corgan. It took on less of a jam session feel and more of something cohesive, like something with purpose was happening. I felt like more people in the room started actually paying attention.

“Once that epic tune had ended, Corgan suggested playing the theme to the ‘Batman’ TV show. But now the informal jam was taking on the tenor of a masterclass. He came over and took the bass and showed the bass player how he wanted it played. He got behind the drum kit and demonstrated how the drum part ought to go. He showed me how he wanted the backing guitar so he could solo over it, this time on the 6 string guitar, which I had surrendered to him after his display of better-than-competent playing earlier on.

“The thrown together band did the best they could, but I think it ultimately fizzled out due to a general bad feeling among the players that they weren’t living up to the pirate-shirted bandleader’s expectations.”

4.

In college in Tampa one night, my very attractive young girlfriend went out without me to The Castle goth club. There, she spotted Billy Corgan. He was in town playing some Tampa arena with Smashing Pumpkins. He’d recently shaved his head bald.

My girlfriend approached Corgan and asked him to dance.

“No, thank you,” he replied.

Michael Patrick Welch’s “132 Famous People I Have Met” series is FREE, but please consider donating to his VENMO (michael-welch-42), or to his PayPal account (paypal.me/michaelpatrickwelch2), so he can feed his kids, pay his mortgage, etc.

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