"Oh, well, hold on a second," I said, fumbling nervously for a pair of antique, 1950's horn-rims that were in a supergeek eyeglasses case in my breast pocket. I took off my brown, plastic eyeglasses and put on the horn-rim sunglasses.
"Jesus Christ!" Nathan shouted, loud enough for half the dining hall to hear him, "He's even got the right fucking sunglasses! Has anybody ever told you you look exactly like Leon fucking Redbone? You must get that all the time!"
"Well," I said, deadpan, "maybe I would if I ever hung out with musicians. I don't think anybody I know knows who Leon Redbone is. Most people I know just tell me I look like Groucho Marx or a porn star from the '70s."
By the way, for those of you who are curious, this is famed and strange singer/performer/personality Leon (fucking) Redbone:
Aside from the little pussy-tickler on his chin, I have to say, it's a pretty dead ringer for my current likeness. I'm growing out the 'stache to play Captain Hook, mortal enemy of Peter Pan. And the sunglasses, well, they're my sunglasses.
"Nance," Nathan shouted to an obese, waddling woman ambling towards our table in the dining hall, clutching a plate of vegetarian baked beans in her plump little hand, "doesn't this guy look exactly like Leon fucking Redbone? He could win a Leon Redbone lookalike contest in a heartbeat! Now," he said to my wife and I, "please excuse me while I take a bite out of my hog's anus here." As promised, he lustily sank his Canadian teeth into his bratwurst.
And that, pretty much, concluded my introduction to Nathan Rogers, one of the Canadian folk-music scene's emerging stars, so say I. There were some jokes about haggis and how many transcendentalists midgets does it take to turn on a lightbulb, which I mostly just smiled at wanly-- not really my kind of humor.
Meeting celebrities (I doubt that's how he would refer to himself) is funny. It's a situation fraught with such tension and awkwardness-- for both the apathetic celebrity and the admiring dolt-- that I can't imagine it ever goes particularly well for either party. Even celebrities fuck up meeting higher caliber celebrities. Take Carol Burnett, for instance. When she was introduced to Cary Grant for the first time at a party, she almost had a panic attack, tried to leave the party with her husband before Grant could approach her, and then she ended up blurting out, "You're a credit to your profession."
"Why couldn't the floor have opened up under me?" she mused in her charming autobiography. Well, because then we wouldn't have had this time together, Carol.
In honor of Carol Burnett, I almost shook Nathan Rogers' hand and said, "You're a credit to your profession," but I couldn't even think quickly enough to intentionally embarrass myself before he launched into his enthusiastic and very loud Leon Redbone monologue in the dining hall of the Northern New Jersey Folk Project. This was my wife's surprise 30th birthday present to me. Finally getting me to see Nathan Rogers, who mostly performs in Canada. Finally surrounding me for an entire day in the music I've loved for over fifteen years. Finally getting me to... play my banjo in public.
"Your banjo is in the trunk," she said to me after I'd put the car into Park at the festival's campground."
My toes immediately curled up inside my shoes and I felt my bowels try to release.
"The festival organizers told me to bring your banjo, that there were all kinds of workshops here and jams and stuff."
I squirmed around in the driver's seat like a child who has just been told it's time to kiss Nana and thank her for the hand-embroidered vole sweater.
"No. I can't. My banjo is retarded," I protested.
"Okay, okay," my long-suffering wife said, rolling her eyes. "You don't have to play it, but you at least have to take it out of the car, it's too hot to leave it in the car all day."
"Deal," I said. "But I don't want to play with anybody, and I don't want to talk to anybody, especially Nathan Rogers," I said firmly. "I just want to be here, go to the workshops, sit in the back, and listen to the music."
"That sounds like lots of fun," my wife said, smiling.
And so I took the banjo out of the car, slinging its case over my shoulder and we walked to the sign-in table, milling around with a bunch of thoroughly odd looking hippies with stringy, long hair, no shoes on, varying degrees of Asperger's Syndrome, incredible facial hair (the men, mostly) and a startling array of socially inappropriate clothing.
One of the festival's organizers greeted us enthusiastically-- she had exchanged several covert emails with my wife.
"Sir," she said to me as I hid my banjo in between a guitar and a mandolin on the floor of the dining hall, under a table, far out of sight, "would you mind filling out your name tag while I have a quick word with your wife?"
I was immediately filled with another strong desire to defecate. I knew exactly what was going on instantly, but I wandered over to the table with the little stickers and the Sharpie markers, and dutifully filled out my name, inserting the phrase, "My Banjo is Defective, Not Me" in between my first and last name.
My wife came over to me after a minute or two.
"If Nathan Rogers sings 'Happy Birthday' to me at one of these workshops," I said calmly, rationally, and slowly, holding my wife gently by the shoulders, "I will have to kill you."
"No, it's okay, I told her you would absolutely not want that."
Once I stopped being an insufferable baby, it was a wonderful day. We went to engaging, exciting workshops. Nathan Rogers taught us Tuvan throat-singing, which sounds like what Tom Waits would sound like if he had swallowed a toad with throat cancer. During the last workshop of the day, Nathan led a singalong where he sang "Arthur McBride & the Sergeant," an old Paul Brady tune that is one of my favorites, and my wife and I were the only ones in the room besides Nathan who knew the whole song-- all eight-ish minutes of it. He sang a few songs that his late, great father, Stan made famous, and he concluded with what is arguably his father's most famous song, "Northwest Passage," and the whole room passionately sang along, some people even standing in honor of Nathan's dad, who passed away when Nathan was only three.
And, in between workshops, my wife and I sat outside in the gorgeous sunshine, far, far away from anybody else. I took my banjo out of its case, tuned it for probably fifteen minutes (Nathan: Q: "How long does it take to tune a banjo?" A: "It's never been done yet.") and I played.
Not like Leon, of course. But I played-- for my wife-- the only audience and the only fan I'll ever need.