This is the third edition of my “It’s Because I Write” series featuring me talking about some of the greatest things that have happened to me since I’ve started writing. So far, I’ve talked about meeting great people via my O.P.U.S. blog and living out a lifelong dream of publishing my own magazine with Bourbon Zeppelin (even if my “magazine” is an online newsletter).
Today I’m going to tell you all about the time I got to meet one of my heroes… thanks to my writing.
I will tell you right away, I am still a “heroes” guy. I know celebrities are people just like us, but, even in adulthood, I’m still the type to get starstruck by someone who has accomplished something of interest to me in the pubic eye. That’s what makes this little tale to much fun. I got to meet someone I’ve always looked up to based largely because I had become a writer.
It all started with a business trip to London for a trade show. This was the winter of 2013, shortly after my father passed away. I was in a small pub enjoying a few beers with a colleague. With our American accents, the waitress asked us where we were from. When we told her St. Louis she had never heard of it. As we were having this discussion, Johnny B. Goode came on the radio. Since we were having the discussion where we were from, and St. Louis meant nothing to her, I thought I would at least make the point it wasn’t in the middle of nowhere by pointing out Chuck Berry was from St. Louis, too, so I said, “Hear this song… the guy playing it is also from St. Louis.”
To my surprise, she responded in her way cool English accent, “You are from where CHUCK BERRY lives? Oh my god!”
A woman who hasn’t heard of St. Louis knows Chuck Berry?
When I asked her about this, she went on-and-on about how everyone knows Chuck Berry and how influential he is.
I thought I would really get her going by saying, “Get this, Chuck is not only still around, he plays once a month at a club called Blueberry Hill. It’s just a small intimate place where you can see him play for about 30 U.S. dollars.”
I thought that would really get a fan going and fill her with envy of how cool my colleague and I were as well as how great of a place St. Louis must be.
Instead, she got me with this line. “That is so great. How many times have you gone and seen Chuck play there?”
That’s right, despite being a big fan, I never had gone to see Chuck play. It’s just one of those things where you always plan to do it… but you never actually have the time.
These comments where like a defibrillator zapping my heart. With the sudden death of my father only 2 months before, things had changed in my life. I no longer was going to have eternal “to dos” that never get “to done.” (That makes no sense but sounds kinda snappy, doesn’t it?)
When I spoke to my wife later that night, I told her to buy some tickets to the next Chuck Berry show at Blueberry Hill.
The next night, when I spoke to her, she confirmed she got the tickets for Chuck Berry, but then she said, “You know that one guy you like, Dick Dale, he’s playing there a few weeks later.”
Dick Dale? The King of the Surf Guitar. The guy who was friends with Jimi Hendrix. A guy I would pattern my own writing career off of (stay independent, retain the rights to everything you create, don’t let others make decisions about your work for you). The guy who can play the guitar like no other. The man who created the sound of one of my all-time favorite movies in Pulp Fiction with his song Miserlou.
Yes, that Dick Dale.
So the wife and I agreed to also get tickets to see Dick Dale as well.
At this same time, I had already started to write a book about my father. Ultimately, it would become the book, Life with Akester (my Dad’s nickname) that included a biography and some of the favorite stories I had collected about him (I always wrote these crazy stories about the stuff he would do… and then share them with friends and family, including him. This was the best of those).
Since I was going to be writing the book, I thought I would write Dick Dale to make sure it was okay to write about the experience of the concert in this book about my father. His wife Lana responded and put me in touch with their lawyer. I was pleasantly surprised to have their representative quickly sign off on my idea.
I continued to email back-and-forth with Lana as the show grew near. We would share personal stories about our lives… me talking about my father and her talking about things from the life of her and Dick (I’m not going to share personal correspondence, but it was really cool).
The night of the show was incredible. We got there early and ended up in the front row (there is no assigned seating at Blueberry Hill).
In his late 70s, a multi-time cancer survivor, the guy can still rock. The band has no setlist either. Dick Dale just starts playing and his band follows him with whatever he’s doing.
The show ended with Dick playing Miserlou.
I’m not kidding when I had goosebumps watching that guy play that song. It goes fast… and then faster… and then explosively fast. I’ve seen a lot of shows in my life, I don’t think any moment from all of those shows tops watching DD shred that song.
After the show I got to meet Dick and Lana. He’s a cool dude and she’s a sweetheart.
My book came out a few months later. I shared the story of grief and how a couple of things, like the Dick Dale and Chuck Berry shows truly helped me at that time. I was so down. The enjoyment of those shows demonstrated you could still have guilt-free happiness even in the face of something as traumatic as losing your father.
I stayed in touch with Lana and Dick for the next year or so after that. We even exchanged Christmas cards later that year, but, over time, the communications became further-and-further apart. I wanted to maintain contact with them, but never wanted to force communication so finally it just kind of faded away.
My enthusiasm for Dick Dale and his work has faded a bit, though. The guy is still a hero of mine and I would love to see him play again one day.
All of this came about because I write!
Write Steve Write! is a weekly blog by author Steve Akley. Typically it is posted on (most) Sundays and features insight about his writing… though there is an occasional movie review or random thought post. It should be noted it’s posted as a live feed… no editing, no planning beforehand, it’s typed out on Sunday morning and the “publish” button is immediately hit. Apologies for any errors but you get this just as Steve thinks it!
Coming Sunday: We’ll be continuing on with my “It’s Because I Write” series next week!
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