Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Airport Food, a Baby Taylor and a Magic Moment

A few months ago I was staring at a wall of impressively unappetizing menus at a LAX food court and wondering why I can never seem to avoid eating at airports. I'm usually just in a rush to catch a connecting flight or, as was the case that day, I didn't want to chance getting caught in traffic and missing my flight home. So I took one of the last available seats along a counter. There was no room to even open a newspaper. After opening the box and gazing upon my tepid miniature pizza and its greasy pools of peperoni, I just wanted eat quickly and get to my gate.

As I was about to dive in, the seat next to me opened and a man slipped in to take it. A bit older than me, he was bald with neatly trimmed goatee. He wore a casual black shirt and jeans. In close quarters and no hurry to catch our flights, we defaulted into airport chat.  He asked me what brought me to LA and after learning I was a lawyer, he wanted to tell me about being called for jury duty and how fascinating it was. He seemed distinctly uninterested in talking about himself. All I knew is that he used to live in LA and now he lived in Nashville. "And what do you?" I finally just asked.

"I'm a songwriter."  My ears prick up. I resist the urge to clarify that I meant day job.

"What genre?"  As soon I say this I think it sounds stupid, but I'm not sure what would have been better.

"Oh, a variety," he said. "A little R&B, soul, pop and mainly country now," hence, I astutely deduced, his move to Nashville. At this point, I'm beginning to suspect he may actually be a songwriter, as in making a living doing it.

"Anything I might recognize?" Great, another insipid question. Even if he's well established, how in the world would he know what I would recognize?  This is really an indirect way of asking are you famous and, if so, how famous?  I start looking for the turnip truck that dropped me off in LA.

"I wrote a few songs for Diana Ross," he shrugged and then rattled off a couple of other artists who had recorded his material. "And then a song called 'Maniac' for a movie."

Shit. He is famous.  Who doesn't know that song from the film Flash Dance playing over Jennifer Beals' and/or her body double gyrating under a spray of water (where did that come from anyway)? I tried to appear nonplussed.  I know who wrote "Maniac"--his  name was on the tip of my tongue but I just couldn't recall it. My flight impulse kicked in instead. "Oh, wow, I know that song.  Well, it was great to meet you.  I'd better get going to catch my flight."

We wished each other well and I called my wife. "Who the hell wrote Maniac?" "Um, why?" While I was explaining my story, she hit Google. "Michael Sembello," she said.  Doh. I knew that. Well cool beans. I met a highly successful songerwiter who just seemed like a normal guy stuck at an airport.

It turned out that Sembello's flight home to Nashville was leaving from the gate next to mine.  We exchanged nods. There was no place to sit so I leaned against the wall and starting going through emails on my Blackberry.  A young woman sat cross legged on the floor next to where he was seated.  She had a Baby Taylor in a gig bag behind her.  He leaned over and asked if she would mind letting him play it.  She smiled and handed it to him. After tuning it up and some small talk, he played an amazing R&B song that I didn't recognize (sorry, Micheal).  He handed the guitar back to her, thanked her and picked up his coffee to go stand in line for boarding. It was one of those magical, small moments that you never forget (thank you, Michael).
Michael Sembello Being Awesome

Her attention turned back to her laptop.  After hesitating a few moments, I walked over and knelt down beside her.  "You know who that was don't you?" She shook her heard no.  I said, "that's Michael Sembello.  He's written songs for Diana Ross and played with Stevie Wonder.  Someone pretty famous just played your guitar."

I mean, duh.  Who wouldn't know that.

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