So often, we’re asked questions like “If you could have coffee with any person, real or fictional, dead or alive, who would you choose?” or, “If you could meet your favourite celebrity, what would you tell them?” And then, when you actually do meet them (like last weekend when I met my favourite author, Heather O’Neill, at Calgary’s WordFest) you say some of the stuff you want to say, but it comes off as fan-girly or fan-boy-y, and then you awkwardly sidestep away from their sight line and move on with your life – you, taking away piles of meaning, significance and change from the encounter, and them, thinking “it’s just another fan saying ‘I’m your #1 fan!'”.
When I met (sort-of) Ryan Adams, it was July 29, 2007 and I was in Vancouver alone at 20 years old, for one night only, to see this concert. I didn’t know anything about the city so I stayed at the airport which seemed like the best idea, and I took a $60 cab ride to Granville St. and loitered around the Commodore Ballroom where the show took place to kind of start lining up (it was general admission). To me then, despite having lived in a city for 3 years, Vancouver felt like Hollywood or New York. It felt big, iconic, scary. All I knew about Vancouver, or thought I knew, was: it had a large population of Asian-Canadians, and I also knew about drugs, Robert Pickton, and East Hastings. I had to reconcile these two stereotypes in my mind, but the latter few made me feel uneasy about hanging out in a downtown full of young transients with scraped-up guitars and sleeping bags and feral dogs and cats, sleeping under the marquees across the street. I didn’t know I’d end up living in Vancouver someday and looking back at all this and laughing about it.
This was my first of what would be many times seeing Ryan Adams live (then with the Cardinals touring the album “Easy Tiger”) and I was at the peak of this obsession I had/have(?) with Ryan Adams’ music. I had a technical writing student internship that summer and spent lull days in the cold basement where my cubicle was, being irresponsible and lazy and sometimes hung over, making a definitive list of my favourite Adams’ A and B-sides, listening to all his albums over and over again, thinking deeply about lyrics like “If I don’t believe in love, then I don’t believe in you, and I do.” It was romance and sadness before I had ever experienced the romance of sadness, or what it means to truly be heartbroken. I had never dated anyone, never been in love, and never truly understood the feelings of this music. But Ryan Adams made me feel like I did. I could grieve with him as I listened to his self-proclaimed “sad bastard songs”. And then, just like that, I got a ticket to see him live. And it was incredible.
After the show, I attempted to meet Ryan Adams. I did this a lot back then, as it had panned out for me a few times at smaller gigs I went to. I would wait by the back doors or the exclusive entrance, bring a sharpie and a CD jacket, and rehearse what to say. And I met a few bands this way such as: Travis, Kasabian, The Trews, Bright Eyes, Yellowcard, and JET. I waited for Ryan Adams for a long time, with people I had met while in line for the show. He did eventually come out the doors and was swarmed by silly drunk people. When my new friends and I approached him we were aloof and sat on the curb, and we then ended up going to 7 Eleven with him, making small talk, and being thanked by him for coming to the show. I wanted to say so much. I wanted to freak out. What prevented me from freaking out was wanting desperately for the fan girl inside to not be the fan girl outside. I wanted to be cooler than that. I didn’t take photos or ask for an autograph or gush about how I was “his biggest fan!” I was too afraid, and too shy, and in the end, my friends and family know of this encounter as this strange and hazy personal legend. It happened, though there’s no proof.
If this could happen again, I would do my best to find a moment to say something real to the person whose music has been the constant and almost in some ways biblical emotional force of my solitary life. Words are never really enough to convey this unless you have hours to sit down and hat and ask all the questions you’ve ever wanted to ask. I always think about why that is. Perhaps it’s because we interact with the music we love individually and compressing that experience into the phrase, “I’m your number 1 fan!” seems trite and impersonal. But telling the person in great detail how/why you love them is also a strange thing to tell someone all this who’s standing right in front of you.
Meeting your favourite celebrities does this strange thing where the lines blur between reality and fantasy, between what plays out in your head and what is an actual person and an actual moment. We all want it and then when it happens, we don’t really know what to do. Except try and savour the moment. Maybe try and sum up how significant that person has made us, despite that they’re not in our life.