Thursday, January 29, 2009

Meeting a Hero

me and Martin Mull

Here's something different—a personal post.

I've sometimes been asked, usually in some internet or email questionaire, to list my "heroes." My personal definition of "hero" has always been someone who does something extraordinary, out of the line of duty, something exemplary, but I never actually knew anyone who did such things, other than my parents, and that's not really what such a questionaire is usually looking for.

It occurs to me that there is a guy who might qualify as a different kind of hero, just from the influence his work has had on me. This is a guy who wrote songs that I dearly loved, the kind of songs that I'd hear and think, hey, that's the kind of song I'd like to write! And, coincidentally, this guy is also a terrific visual artist, if by terrific one means someone with high technical skill and the ability and imagination to create striking and original images, and, what's just as important to me, ones I like. And two things I've been interested in all my life are music and art.

When I mention this guy to most people, the reaction I get is, Oh, you mean that guy who played the talk show host on Fernwood 2nite? Or, you mean Rosanne's boss? Well, yeah, I mean that guy, but not because of his acting, which is all most people are aware of.

I got a chance to meet that guy last night, when my friend Gordon Lustig invited me to join him and his brothers on a trip to Cobb's Comedy Club in San Francisco to see a Fernwood 2Nite reunion with the men who played the host and his sidekick on the show, Martin Mull and Fred Willard. I found the reunion show hilarious and even charming. Seeing that I'd brought my camera (despite numerous posted warnings against using recording devices or cameras) one of Gordon's brothers asked the bouncer if we could take some photos of Martin and Fred, and he went upstairs and asked them. He returned in a while and said, Martin will be down in a bit, if you want to wait.

We waited, as did a few other folks. When he appeared he seemed genuinely touched, and a bit shocked, that 30 after the reason for the event, Fernwood 2-Nite, people would want to meet him. He eagerly posed with us for photos, and chatted a bit. I told him that I played in a band, California Zephyr, whose older members told tales of playing a show in some midwest dive where Mull was the opening act. I didn't mention that I always cite his music, with that of Randy Newman and Neil Young, as a major influence on me. I used to play his first album over and over, and play along with it on my guitar, which I was just learning how to play. His tunes are very sophisticated, with tricky progressions, in a wide range of styles. And the lyrics are very clever and sly.

I could argue that I developed what passes for my style by playing along with that record.

I asked Gordon to take that photo of Martin and me. Bonnie saw it and said, Oh, don't you look proud! I guess so.

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