I met Matt Johnson in a bar above the club where he played in Portland, Oregon during the Lonely Planet Tour. He was talking to a girl and she was letting him try a sip of her drink. He looked like he was having the time of his life.....until he saw me walking toward him with paper and pen in hand. He quickly turned his back to me and would not respond when I tapped him on the shoulder. He finally turned around and stared at me with a blank expression. I asked him if he would please sign my copy of Mind Bomb. To make matters worse it was a cut-out version. He rolled his eyes and silently complied. After about five minutes of facing the avalanche of autograph seekers, which I am afraid I inspired, Matt left with a really pissed off look on his face. Afterwards, a psychotic fan of The The told me that Johnson only likes to sign autographs if you are a horny looking girl...
For me, the summer of 1993 will be remembered most significantly for The The. I went to two of The The The concerts, one in Boston at Great Woods (2nd row seats), and two days later to the concert in Washington, DC (my home town) at the Lisner Auditorium (15th row seats). At the Boston concert I got to Great Woods some 8 hours before the concert. I got to hear them doing sound checks from some several hundred feet (and several high fences) away. That was an odd feeling. The music of The The has effected me in a way that no music before had, and no music since has. There's just something about it. It resonates, with me, in me, whatever. And so ever since the first time I heard my first The The song, "The Beat(en) Generation,' I have always hoped to meet the man that made me feel so well what I felt so much. Suddenly hearing the sound check, feeling beneath the CDs and cassettes. It was strange, and wonderful, and frightening. I had removed my license plate from my car and switched it with the old one. I was hoping the fact that my license plate had the name of the band on it might help me with the guards, and even more, might guarantee that I could get Matt Johnson's signature. I wanted to meet him, of course, shake his hand, thank him, but I knew my best bet initially was just to try and get a signature on my license plate. I had another chance two days later in DC, I figured I'd better just see how openly friendly the guards were on this night.
The security people there were some of the nicest people I've ever met. The first person I talked to was able to give my license plate, a note, and a marker that would right on license plates to Jim Fitting (The The's harmonica god). In my incredibly brief encounter with Jim Fitting, he seemed like one of the most obliging people, a very, very charming person. And then I was supposed to stop by the back stage entrance after the opening act had played and see if my plate had been signed.
Being humbly dutiful, and ever so hopeful, I went to the backstage entrance and talked to the backstage manager. He was great, he used his nifty little headset to ask whether or not it had been signed. Then he asked me a rather peculiar question, "Which state was it from?" Now, a friend of mine driving on 495 around Boston claims to have seen a car with "THE THE" on its license plate. He failed to mention it for several days after the fact, which seems a little odd, the shear coincidence of the entire thing would have burned it into my memory, but maybe that's just me. He said it was a Massachusetts plate, so somewhere out there in the Boston area is likely someone else with "THE THE" on his license plate. I was thinking about claiming that my vehicle was hit by a car with MA license plates that said "THE THE" just so I could meet the person, but I figured filing false police reports was probably not the best way to go. Anyway, there may have been no other plate back stage that night, I think it might have been a sort of casual, "We can't find it yet, maybe if you describe it to me more completely we could find it sooner." It wasn't signed yet, and Matt hadn't yet returned from dinner. He was already late, and that seemed to cause a little bit of worry.
The backstage guy assured me he would try and get it signed when Matt got back and that I should stop by after the show. He seemed generally concerned about what I would do if I didn't get the plate back. If I had just passed a piece of paper back, or an album, or something, the motivation of the security people might not have been quite so high. The backstage guy kept asking me, "So, you can't drive home with this, right? I mean, this really is your license plate." He even said he would try and get me backstage passes for the after performance party-ish thing. Matt returned, The The played, it was fantastic. It was odd going from knowing no one who had ever heard of the group to being surrounded by 10,000 people who had, and knew enough to cheer and scream, and all...
The concert ended, Matt came out and did an encore, then another. I went to the backstage entrance, and the guy talked into his little headset again. And suddenly, there it was. Just as I was talking to him, The The began a third encore... And then my plate came out... On the back it read:
_________________ | Drive safely! | | | | | | | | | | | | Matt Johnson | | | | | | | | | | The The | |_________________|
He wasn't able to get any backstage passes, or maybe he just forgot... I wish I had waited a few more minutes, then maybe I could have asked for the plate (which was on Matt Johnson's dresser), and maybe the timing would have been perfect and he would have said, "Why don't you let him come back here to get it." But ah well, that's the sort of thing we're supposed to work out in our dreams. So, suddenly I had the license plate. Suddenly I was somewhat more connected to the artist who had inspired me on numerous occaisons to my own ends. Reality felt a little more real. And two days later I got to actually pose with him for a photo. And speak to him insignificantly enough that he would never remember, and I always would.
The most amazing thing about my meeting him two days later was that he saw the license plate I was holding, held his hand out for it. Took it, flipped it over, and checked for his signature. That struck me, because just for a moment, something I had touched, something I had influence over had created a response in him. The person who I listened to, had heard me. Sort of.
It was just an interesting shift in perspective. It was to anyone who doesn't care, a completely trivial event. I realize that idolizing people is a dangerous occupation, and I hope that my appreciation of him is not so blind nor fawning. I respect his work, the depth of its beauty, and for this I owe a debt of gratitude. And that's all. His music has inspired and helped many, as many other's have. His voice happens to resonate with me more than any other I have yet heard, and so for his being that voice, and occupying that place for me, I will always want to thank him.