Performing Takes a Toll

by Tony Albano

I think it was 1976 when I went with my friend, Ed, to see one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Eric Anderson, perform at a little nightclub. Anderson was a contemporary of Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs and a whole host of other great performers who came out of the 60s and early 70s singer/songwriter movement. He was never world famous or a household name, but he did have a strong following. One of my favorite songs of his was called “Thirsty Boots,” written to his friend Phil Ochs.

So Ed and I went to this nightclub where I was very familiar with the layout because I also had performed there. I was thinking that after the show, I said to Ed, “Wouldn’t it be great to go backstage and tell him what a great job he did and how much we admire him after all these years?” This was especially because he had dedicated “Thirsty Boots” to Phil Ochs, who had just passed away.

Ed didn’t think it was a very good idea, but I had a couple of drinks in me, and I pushed: “I want to go meet him. He needs to hear that people still love him, you know, especially because he’s past his heyday.”

Anderson was probably 35 at the time, maybe even a little older, but he still looked great. Even though Ed didn’t want to, I was hell-bent on going backstage to meet him. I knew that all that separated the audience from the backstage were some little shuttered saloon-style swinging doors. You just push them in and you were there. I told Ed I knew how to get backstage very easily. He was hesitant.

After the show, I said, “Watch this. Follow me.” And he did. We went backstage and the minute we did, Eric Anderson was there. But before I could say anything, he held up his hand and said, “Oh, could you just give me a couple of minutes to myself?”

I thought wow, that wasn’t a good reception at all. Ed said, “I told you I didn’t think it was a good idea.” So we went back out to the bar. I felt a little dejected by being put off, and with every drink I downed, I was getting more annoyed. Who the hell did he think he was? He wasn’t Bob Dylan. I just wanted to give him a compliment. Ed kept reminding me it had never been a good idea. That didn’t help my mood. He never came out.

We left that night and I was more than a little pissed off at Eric Anderson. Fast forward 20 years, I had my own little local radio talk show. At the time, I didn’t have any guest host, so I used to do the whole hour by myself — all 60 minutes including the commercials; talking the whole time. And I have to say that after that hour, I was physically and emotionally drained.

One day, I was doing my radio talk show, and just as I was about to sign off, I saw through the studio window that there was this girl waving at me, all excited. When I signed off, I came out, and this girl started telling me, “I heard you on the radio. I just had to speak to you.”

I held up my hand, I said, “Could you just give me a moment?” Then I went into the back room and hid there long enough so that I realized, “Oh, my God. This is how Eric Anderson felt that day I walked in on him.”

I got myself composed and went out to the lobby and I spoke to the very lovely young lady. I also admit that I was flattered by what she had to say to me. More important, I finally knew how Eric Anderson had felt. For now I was his age, and here was this young lady, a fan who was as old as I was then, and she had no idea how performing can physically, mentally and emotionally exhaust you. It was a great eye-opener and reminder of my experience with Eric Anderson so many years earlier.

That day, I learned how to respect people’s boundaries.

From the Book, Life is a Bumpy Road–smoothed out by the people and the dogs you meet along the way.  Can be purchased on Amazon and at Books & Sounds in Oldtown Salinas

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