Wherein I Meet My High School Idol and Totally Fail to be Cool

So I went to NEARFest with my brother this past weekend, and I was excited because I was sure I was going to meet the guy I once referred to as “the only deity I officially recognize.” That’s Keith Emerson, formerly of Emerson, Lake & Palmer and The Nice.

In preparation, I rummaged through my old LPs (these were these flat, non-optical 12 inch disks we used to use to store our music before iPods, kiddies) and dug out my carefully-collected-and-preserved first-edition copies of “Brain Salad Surgery” and “Ars Longa Vita Brevis” for Keith to sign. My plan was to have those and wear the T-Shirt I got when I went to London to hear the Nice play for a short reunion tour in 2002. I mean, I was going to be the One True Fan, because I went to freaking LONDON just to hear a gig.

That was before I met the 52-year-old woman who followed them to every date on their 2003 tour in England, but that’s getting ahead of the story.

So the day finally comes and we’re in our 6th row seats and hear a 3-hour set by Keith. Everybody lines up afterwards and I manage to get in around the 200th place. I have my LPs, I’m wearing my T-shirt, everything is ready to go.

I get to the line, and I feel kind of bad for the guys playing with Keith, because everybody has old ELP stuff that they don’t want them to sign, because they weren’t on it. I tried to hint that I enjoyed their playing in London (I think two of them were on that tour) but was too wound up about meeting Keith.

Now, I’d prepared a couple of opening lines to make the right impression with Keith. He’s English, so they couldn’t be too sappy. My first choice was, “Keith, you’re the reason I went to music school. So you’ll be hearing from my lawyers very soon.”

That seems to get a laugh. Now Keith has had neurosurgery on his arm, because he was almost unable to play for a good deal of the Nineties due to repetitive stress injuries. So my second was to mention the elephant in the room. “So, when I got my first issue of Keyboard Magazine in 1982, there was this column by some guy who’d said he’d had some exercises to relax when he played and threw them all away because they were boring. What have we learned?” OK, a little biting, but sending the message that I’m not just some Sandy-Come-Lately.

But during the show he tells about meeting Jimmy Smith, a famous jazz organist that Keith looked up to. He got backstage and started to tell Jimmy “I can’t tell you what an honor this is for me…” but Jimmy stopped him at the word “can’t” and repeated it with a U substituted for the A and grabbed Keith’s “salad meat and two vedge” as Keith put it. A bit off-putting.

So at the last minute, I decided to say, “After your story tonight, I cunt tell you what an honor this is for me.” I left it optional whether or not to say “so please don’t grab my balls.”

Never go for the last minute plan.

Remember, I’m the 200th, and I mean that quite literally, person in line. It is by now 1 AM. Keith is not as young as he used to be, and just played a 3 hour set. He’s kinda tired. He’s gamely signing stuff but looks tired. The guy standing guard sees that I’ve pulled the promotional poster out from my copy of Brain Salad Surgery and says, “Hey, you only get two things,” not knowing that the poster was part of the album. So I’m distracted as I’m trying to talk to Keith and point out the bits I want signed.

So I get to Keith and stammer my way through the last-minute joke and wait for a laugh and a witty comeback.

He smiled grimly.


So, opportunity for coolness blown, I decided I’d let my fanboy flag fly, and said, “seriously, thanks a lot,” and tried to shake his hand, not realizing that he was protecting his damaged right hand. So I was an insensitive ass on top of it. I abandoned all cool and asked the signature kommandandt if it was OK if I had a picture. He said, “Sure, just sit there,” and pointed to a seat beside Keith. I suddenly felt much warmer toward the guy. So I handed my camera to my brother, scooted around to the seat and sat next to Keith. Clearly Keith knew the routine, so he leaned up against me. Just then somebody else called him and the kommandandt started looking antsy, so I just turned to my brother and smiled:


So at this point, I knew it was just hopeless, so I simply turned to Keith and said, “Really, Keith, this meant quite a lot to me, thank you very much,” and he turned to me and said, “Oh, did you get it, then?” and someone called him away again so I just muttered, “Sure, thanks,” and strolled away with what little shreds of my dignity I could manage, and started laughing at myself before I’d gotten six feet away.

But all in all, I did meet him, I got to thank him, albeit imperfectly, for many years of musical inspiration, and got my photo with him, even if he’s not pointed toward the right camera. Until last weekend, I couldn’t even say that.

But until last weekend, I could still pretend I’d be a lot cooler if I met him.