One afternoon, I stopped to have lunch at an outside cafe on Sunset Boulevard with tables so close together that they touch. I sat down next to a pleasant-looking older guy and ordered a sandwich. A couple of people immediately stopped to ask the guy for his autograph. I didn't recognize him, so I assumed he was a TV actor. I haven't watched TV since I was a kid, so I'm way off the grid when it comes to recognizing TV actors.
I forgot about the guy for a minute, because my mind was on a song I was writing. I was mentally repeating a riff over and over in my head so I'd remember it when I got home. But I couldn't ignore the guy for long, because more and more people kept stopping for autographs. He was kind to everyone, even though they were interrupting his meal every three seconds. It's gauche to ask for autographs in L.A., and it struck me as odd just how many people were doing it. I glanced over a couple of times, and the guy smiled at me, but I didn't say anything, because I didn't want to intrude on his space.
Halfway through lunch, I hit on a really great ending for my song. I grabbed my cell phone, planning to go into the restroom and record it before I forgot it. I stood up and accidentally dropped my phone on the famous guy's lap. I apologized and explained that I was going to the restroom to record a song. I realized that this probably sounded weird, but he didn't seem to think so. I remember exactly what he said. He looked at me and said, "Is that so?" with so much interest and friendliness that it made me grin.
I squinted at him for a few seconds, trying to figure out who the heck he was. It occurred to me then that he might be a musician instead of an actor. Since I don't watch TV or read magazines, I rarely know what musicians look like, even if I love their music. I recently saw a DVD of Led Zeppelin for the first time, and was shocked that Robert Plant was blond and, well...flamboyant. I'd always imagined him dark, brooding and serious, and this new image gave me a mind-spin. The same thing happened the first time I went to a Neil Young concert. I was devastated that this geek with hideous mutton chops was the force behind some of the most brilliant, haunting music I've ever heard. (That said, it was still the best show I've ever seen. Neil Young in concert is f*..*ing awesome.)
Anyway, I went to the bathroom and called my home number and sang the ending of my song to my machine. I recorded it a couple of times, to make sure I got it all. When I came out of the bathroom, I asked the waitress if she knew who the famous guy was, and she squealed, "That's George Harrison, you idiot!"
George HARRISON!!?? My heart lurched to my throat. George Harrison was my HERO!
OK, so he's everybody's hero, but you've got to understand, I'm a sitar player. The sitar is the love of my life - I love it more than my computer, more than my '62 Telecaster, maybe even more than my orange tomcat who brings dead things into the house all the time.
I bolted back outside with a smile splitting my face open. There were so many things to talk to George about! I spend a lot of time in Rishikesh, India, right where the Beatles stayed when they were there. The Maharishi's ashram is abandoned now, and totally overgrown by jungle. When I'm in India, I trek in there every day and sit on the roof of the house the Beatles built. (It's the only house on the property. The rest of the buildings are little beehive-shaped meditation huts.) The roof overlooks the Ganges River, and I sit there -- right where George probably sat dozens of times -- and play sitar and watch the mist float across the mountains and the monkeys swing in from the jungle. It's a magical spot - truly beyond description -- and it's easy to see how the Beatles wrote so much incredible music there.
I wondered if George had ever been to the secret caves in Rishikesh or discovered the hidden, white sand beaches down the river. I was curious whether he'd encountered wild elephants and if he the big, jungle apes had ever stolen his shoes.
Also, I was bursting with sitar questions to ask him. I wondered which tunings he used and if he installed pickups. I wondered how he dealt with the feedback problems sitars have when miked. ("Real" sitar people won't even discuss the idea of pick-ups. Sitar is meant to be played acoustically. Playing rock and roll with electric instruments, as I do, is an apocryphy.)
I even had the wild thought that I could invite George over to my house to play the new custom-made sitar I'd just brought back from India. Maybe he would even sign it or sign the case or something. Or if he didn't want to go to my house, maybe he'd wait for me to bring my sitar back to the caf and sign it there.
I bolted back outside to his table, but when I got there, he was gone! I looked up and down the sidewalk. No George. I did see a car pulling away from the curb, and I ran towards it, but it merged into traffic before I could see if he was inside. I sprinted down to the parking lot behind the restaurant, but he wasn't there. He must have been in the car that pulled away.
I felt ill - literally ill! How could he have done this to me? I love his music so MUCH, and I admire what he stood for so immensely. The person he'd become is such an incredible inspiration that there are no words to describe it.
Now that he was gone, his face snapped into recognition. All the pictures I'd seen of him were from the 60s and 70s. But now I easily put that younger image together with the older one, and I can't imagine how I didn't recognize him before, especially with the BRITISH ACCENT and the AUTOGRAPH HOUNDS!!! The waitress was right -- how STUPID could I BE???
As I drove home, I consoled myself with the thought that I still might meet him someday. Sitar players have a way of finding each other. People have introduced me to a couple of India's giants -- there was still a chance I would run into George someday.
But that never happened. Sadly, he died very soon after. I'll never get to tell him how much I loved his music, never get to thank him for bringing the sitar to the west, thank him for enriching my life. I had the chance, and I was too polite to grab it.
Lesson learned. If I ever run into Neil Young or Eddie Vedder, I'll jump straight into their laps.