BY DAN COFFEY
In a Seattle bar, I sang karaoke with the band Heart in the audience. They applauded heartily. I had been singing an Elvis song.
Once, I bummed a Marlboro from Joni Mitchell when we were both backstage at a Bread and Roses concert in Berkeley. Even though I didn’t smoke at the time, I thought smoking together would give me time to come up with something to say other than “I really like your music.” We smoked in silence and I never came up with anything witty or intelligent to say to her.
In West Hollywood, at the Tropicana Motel, I sat around a black-painted swimming pool with Tom Waits and the Ramones. Waits lived full time at the motel, while the Ramones were there for a recording date and I was there because my comedy troupe had performed the night before at a local club. After the show, I’d drank vodka and snorted cocaine, and the whole next day I was sick from my hangover. So I lay on my lounge chair, sweating and fighting nausea. Again, I never came up with anything significant to say, and felt too weak to rise to the occasion.
On Hollywood Boulevard, I found myself standing next to Diane Keaton. I knew I had seen her many times before, and kept staring at her, expecting her to recognize me. The light changed, and she crossed the street. After a few minutes I remembered where I’d seen her before. In the movies.
I sat on the a barstool next to Jerry Jeff Walker at the Boardinghouse in San Francisco. He was so drunk he couldn’t talk, and eventually fell to the floor.
In 1980, at a party in New York City, celebrity photographer Annie Liebowitz took my picture. I don’t know if she ever bothered to print the negative. That was the same year John Lennon died on the very day she had taken many photos of him and Yoko, one of which became the cover of his last album.
I knew Robin Williams and Tom Hanks before they were famous. In fact, I slept on the floor of Robin’s first Hollywood apartment. His caged parrot kept throwing sunflower shells on me all night. Tom Hanks paid for my admission ticket the first and only time I visited Disneyland. That day, Tom was too busy to go along, but I went with his then-wife Susan and their son Colin, who later starred in the movie Orange County.
I met actor Charles Durning in a New York hotel lobby. I couldn’t remember his name, but I shook his hand vigorously and told him I loved his work. That same trip I saw Tony Randall in a bookstore, and watched Pia Zadora and her billionaire husband enter a deli on the Upper East Side. The door of the deli held a sign that said “Chopped Liver Sandwich $45.” This was in 1982 dollars.
I auditioned for the role of a French waiter in a Club Med movie, and read with the star Charles Grodin. Later, the producers told me they were disappointed with my audition, and thought I seemed angry. I was merely flustered by not being able to remember Grodin’s name.
In 1984, at Forest Lawn cemetery in Los Angeles, I stood for hours in line with 100,000 other people, most of whom were African American, to view Marvin Gaye’s body. When I finally entered the small chapel and saw his body lying in the coffin, a cowl of leopard skin behind his head, I burst into tears. All that waiting in line had built up a certain tension that found sudden release. He looked like an African prince, and was wearing a satin band uniform, like the ones the Beatles wore on their Sergeant Pepper’s album cover. Others in line sniffled, as well. I found comfort in the fact that others shared my grief.
Speaking of funerals, I attended the wake of Junior Wells, the blues harmonica player. The funeral home was in the South Side of Chicago, near the nightclub Wells and Buddy Guy owned. He was small, held a blues harp in his hands, and wore his trademark derby hat as he lay in the coffin. I took a seat at the front, near the only other people there at the time. Later, hundreds of people arrived, and each greeted me, grabbing my hands and murmuring how sorry they were. Only later did I realize that I had mistakenly sat in the section reserved for the family.