On Monday, I had the great privilege of meeting Georgia Warren. Ms. Warren was a member of the Tennessee Mountaineers, a local congregation choir who recorded at the 1927 Bristol Sessions. She was 12 years old at the time, and her father, George Massengill, was the leader of the group. But most importantly, Ms. Warren is the last surviving artist from those historic and important recordings.
I met her when she came to the Birthplace of Country Music Museum with her daughter Nancy Taylor for a pre-opening tour. It was wonderful to be with her while she experienced the museum, listening to the music that she recorded all those years ago and hearing her own words telling us what it was like to be a part of these hugely influential recordings in the oral history exhibit. Having the chance to meet Georgia Warren was an amazing experience -- that personal connection to the rich music history in this region and what my new job is all about was very special indeed.
And this experience got me to thinking about the other "famous" people I have met throughout the years. We live in a celebrity-obsessed culture where OK! and Star and In Touch tell us about the lives and loves and hurts and hates of celebrities from A-list to Z-list. Many of these magazines -- and many internet sites too -- have a section where "ordinary" people share their photos with their favorite, or at least recently encountered, celebrity: "Here I am with Kim Kardashian!" or "Look, I ran into Johnny Depp at the grocery store and he's just like you and me!"
Don't get me wrong. There are definitely some celebrities that I would be pretty over-excited to meet. Norman Reedus from The Walking Dead comes to mind, and I have a fantasy (or delusion, call it what you will) that if I just met Sandra Bullock, we'd actually become real friends and hang out together.
And I've actually met quite a few "famous" people. But my celebrity meetings are more an eccentric cast of characters -- not eccentric in the sense that they are oddballs, but more that they are niche celebrities and probably not on the radar of OK! or Star or In Touch (thank goodness). Here are just a few:
1. Gary K. Wolf, author of Who Censored Roger Rabbit?
Years ago, I met Gary K. Wolf through my friend Susanna. They lived in the same building and had become friends, built on fun personalities and likeminded interests -- he an established writer and she a budding one. Gary's book was later turned into the 1988 movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, executive produced by Steven Spielberg. (Now that is a wonderful two degree connection for Six Degrees of Separation.) We all went out for dinner and drinks one night when I was visiting from England, and at the end of the night he gave me a copy of his book, stamped on the inside cover with an image of Roger himself and the speech bubble: "You're a 24-carrot gal, Rene!" Beyond cool.
2. Terry Jones of Monty Python fame, think "He's not the Messiah! He's a very naughty boy!" from Life of Brian
I met Terry Jones at English Heritage's 3-day history event, the Festival of History. I was working the book tent; Terry had written a book -- Medieval Lives -- we were selling and he was there to do a reading, Q&A, and book signing. He gave my friend Adele and I a huge bear hug in the photo we took with him. He was hilarious and very cuddly.
3. Earl Spencer, as in Princess Diana's brother
I met Earl Spencer in similar circumstances: the book tent at the Festival of History, where he was talking about one of his most recent history books. He was tall and handsome, and very, very posh. He was also incredibly polite. There was very little time to speak to him because he was mobbed by little old ladies, all eager to hear about his noble family and his sister.
4. Charles Vess, local comic book genius and artist extraordinaire
As an avid reader of comics and graphic novels, many of which tend towards the more surreal side rather than the typical DC or Marvel, I am a very big fan of Charles Vess. And so I was thrilled when I got the chance to meet him a couple of years ago at an exhibition of his artwork. Just getting the chance to talk to someone I admire so much, whose artwork is a real joy to me, was a wonderful moment in my life. And to walk away with a signed book -- of Stardust, a long-time fave, no less -- and a beautiful print was even more special.
5. Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn, one of my all-time favorite books / movies
I met Peter S. Beagle at New York Comic Con in 2012. I didn't realize he was there beforehand, and so finding him in the artists' hall was an undisputed high point in my life. He was there promoting the comic book version of The Last Unicorn, and had various versions on his stand. I left with a signed copy of the first comic, a goofy grin on my face, and a story I still tell of meeting my childhood hero and the excitement of talking unicorns with him.
The thing about the "famous" people I've met is that they are all interesting people. Much more so than the most recent supermodel on the catwalk or LA's bad boy du jour. And I've just realized, after writing this post, they all -- except for Georgia Warren -- have a literary connection. It's still all about the books apparently...
Looking back on these encounters, I can truly say that it was a list of characters worth meeting, and I'm glad I had the chance to shake hands and talk with each and every one of them.
Photo 1: Georgia Warren looking at the wall of Bristol Sessions records, including the two she sang on with the Tennessee Mountaineers.
Photo 2: The movie version of The Last Unicorn. Awesome on every level, from the soundtrack by America (gloriously cheesy) to the beautiful animation.