Meeting Your Idols

My dad was a great guy. Not that he’s dead or anything, he was just a great guy in the past, especially when I was growing up. He encouraged my interests and never let me think I was incapable of anything. Even in my youth, he was convinced I had greatness in me and he helped me see that in myself for a long time. As I got older, he began to get less and less enthusiastic about my future and for a long time, I thought this was just what happens with dads. The older they get, the less they seem to care. Of course he would attend my performances on stage and go to my graduations but there was a certain point when I wouldn’t see a certain gleam of pride in his eyes that I remembered before. I hadn’t seen it since I was about nine, then I remembered something that happened around that age. Something I had forgotten for one reason or another.

An important thing to know about my father is that he has an almost religious obsession with 60s music. Even though he was no older than five in the 60s, I’ve always associated him with that era, as if he’s lived in it eternally. It's because of this that he was so supportive of my singing as a kid. When everyone began seeing that music was where my heart lay, he was the first to show me all the greats: Nancy Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, the lot. He wanted me to be inspired by them and see how important music is, but more so, he wanted someone to share in his love for the sound of the era. We enjoyed it together for a long time. I can still sing all the lyrics to ‘Sweet Thing’ from memory. In fact, I liked it all so much that dad took me to see our favourite musician, Ronnie Cooke. It was a gift for my ninth birthday, but it was mostly a gift for my dad. Growing up, he never had the money for concerts or any luxuries, this show was a celebration for him, of all his hard work, determination and our combined passion for 60s rock. The show was in London, I remember we drove for five hours to get there. We even arrived early, so we could eat a fancy meal in the city. I ate scallops and prawns for the first time and dad told me,

“When you’re a famous singer, you can eat like this everyday.” He used to start sentences like that all the time, ‘When you’re a famous singer’ not ‘if you’re a famous singer.’

After dinner, we went to the stadium and filed in with hundreds and thousands of people, all of them talking to one another, hoping for this song or that. It was the first time that I found out other people could be as interested in this music as we were. I thought we were the only people in the world who could share in it. How comforting to know we weren’t alone. I was worried we wouldn’t hear the music over a crowd this big, until dad led the way to another queue on the other inside of the stadium and presented our tickets to a man stood before a door labeled “VIP”. On the inside was a plush, fully furnished room with a balcony overlooking the stage, as well as a kitchen with complimentary snacks and water bottles with Ronnie Cooke’s logo on it.

“Is this a happy birthday or what?” He asked, so incredibly proud. Even as a nine year old, I knew this would have been a hefty hit on his savings but he was still smiling so brightly. The room was more luxurious than anything I’ve experienced to date and having it to ourselves seems almost absurd now. We had the best view and the best amenities anyone could ask for at that concert.

As the opening acts played their sets, we made ourselves comfortable scoffing chocolates and singing along, but we didn’t need to concentrate on them, we were only there for the headliner and everything else seemed inconsequential. It was ten minutes before Ronnie was to arrive on stage and dad popped open a bottle of champagne. As a secret treat, he let me have a quick swig. I didn’t like it at all. It was like it started something in my stomach. As though the bubbles were reacting with my gut. I told dad and he took me to the room’s private toilet, only to find it was out of order. Less than ten minutes to go and we had to sprint for the stadium toilets.

We entered the cubicle as a unit, prepared to quickly get this over and done with as people were steadily coming and going in time for the show. What proceeded was a mass evacuation of my intestines and stomach. Routinely switching from barfing, violently defecating and occasionally both. In fits of tears lying prostrate before the stained porcelain, I was physically and destroyed. Unaided by my father’s increasingly impatient support, which eventually became a seething silence, broken only by distant echoes of cheering fans and the rattle of endless diarrhea. Against his better judgement, dad stuck with me, missing the whole concert. We emerged from the two hour debacle into the empty stadium corridors, no longer a unit. We took our things from the VIP Suite and dad grabbed one of the labeled water bottles. A memento.

After similar incidents later in life, I narrowed the outburst down to a severe shellfish allergy. The scallops. Not that any diagnosis would bring back dad’s chance of seeing his most revered artist, since it wasn’t long after the gig that Ronnie Cooke named it his last concert due to medical reasons. Other than the smell of a violated toilet, a plastic water bottle would be dad’s only memory of what should have been the greatest night of his life. We didn’t listen to Ronnie Cooke or any 60s music after that. In fact, we didn’t listen to anything together again and although he was always there to see my singing career grow, behind all his smiles and congratulations, I would look in his eyes and see a man who’s night was ruined by his pooing child.

Now, by no stretch of the imagination am I famous. I’ve had a few brief stints with backing singing and I’ve done the rounds on the west end. Along the way, I’ve met a few well known names but fame has never been a goal for me. I just want to make a living doing the thing I love and meeting people I look up to along the way has just been a bonus. I’ve worked on a musical for a few years that was cycling guest lead-actors and managed to make a few industry connections this way. Some of them got me onto other shows, some became good friends but one of them in particular did me a favour I could never return. During his time in the show, Rod Stewart was talking to me about his time spent with Ronnie Cooke. I can’t remember exactly why it was but I told Rod the whole story of the concert, vomit and all. Perhaps I felt guilty seeing the pain in my father ever since. Although I didn’t ask him to, Rod called Ronnie the next day and next thing I knew, I was buying my dad a plane ticket to California for a private meeting with his idol.

It all happened so fast and when I told dad, his face lit up, just like how I imagine mine did when that door opened to that VIP Suite. He hugged me. He hadn’t done that for years. Straight away, he packed his bags, removing the labeled water bottle from it’s handmade display case and into his luggage. Three day later he was on the plane, ready for a weekend that would change his life far more than any gig ever could. He went alone, like a pilgrim to the church of music, partly because I couldn’t make it and partly because I knew my presence would unsettle him, as though my being there would cause some cosmic catastrophe, like I was cursed too poo at every inopportune moment. It cost me a lot of money to fly him out and rent him a beach house, but I figured it was the least I could do. I wanted him to live like a star, even better than our VIP suite. On the morning of his second day, he drove to the Cooke Estate where the famed musician had resided for some 16 years. The gates were opened for him, my father was expected and welcomed into the gorgeous manor that overlooked the Hollywood Hills. Once inside, a personal assistant told my dad they were all happy to have him here and that everyone was excited to fulfill his lifelong dream. Mr Cooke was currently in his room, where he seemed to spend most of his time. After all, he hadn’t have made a public appearance for what must have been ten years. He’d become somewhat of an enigma, making dad feel all the more fortunate to be in his home.

In the musicians chamber, a now withered, frail visage of what was once a verile, energetic showman lay bound to his bed by old age. Ronnie welcomed my dad warmly.

“Hey there, Alan isn’t it?” He was still as charming as ever, like what the young man we watched in the documentaries, just older. Nonetheless, dad was starstruck and as I’m told, they spoke for a very long time. Ronnie told stories about the early days, answering questions and saying things you wouldn’t have heard in interviews. For the first time ever, my father spoke of the incident at the gig, all those years ago, much to Ronnie’s amusement. After a while, a nurse came in to check up on Ronnie and straighten the bed that the decrepit singer lay in.

“Sam,” Ronnie said discreetly to the nurse, “the pot.” On this, his aide reached under the sheets whilst half rolling the singer onto his side, revealing a bedpan, clearly full of a murky brown fluid, mixed with stale, wretched urine. Ronnie smiled uncomfortably to my father and as my dad awkwardly smiled back in silence, the singer began spluttering with a cough that lasted some thirty seconds and allowed many squeaks of incontinent farts to release. All of this broke the illusion of Ronnie’s showmanship on my dad, who now only saw a poor old man, clinging to his dignity. Not a single rockstar in sight. Where was Ronnie Cooke, notorious drug fiend, philanderer and visionary? Was this all that was left? He knew this was a natural part of life but it wasn’t how he wanted to remember the man he thought the world of. I think it hearkened back to the stadium toilets and shook my father’s core. So he set out to leave with the memory of their laughter still fresh in his mind, that’s all he needed to take with him.

After standing and shaking his hero’s hand, my father remembered the bottle from the concert, the thought of which seemed almost funny now. He presented it to Ronnie who held it to look at the label. Apparently he read it for a moment, with a marker pen in hand, ready to sign, when he started laughing abruptly. It was funny after all, the journey my dad and this bottle had taken. Dad laughed too, he seemed to understand. How strange life could be, to take us so far in fulfilling our dreams and how strange are we to find meaning in such things as music in our ears or words on a bottle. My dad stopped laughing, the singer was coughing now. Hacking and choking and, as my father put it, in an instant, he died. Quickly, in came a troupe of nurses, before long there were paramedics and soon enough, nobody.

The plastic bottle was pried from the hands of the singer before he was declared dead on the scene and stretchered away. A massive heart attack killed him instantly. My dad left soon after to catch a flight home two days early. Upon his return I saw that same sadness in his eyes, only this time there something missing. I think it was hope. We go through life in search of experience and to fulfill these goals we make for ourselves. I think if we go too far in this search, life can bite back. Be it with diarrhea or a heart attack or even both.