So, the controversy on Facebook today is all about the Confederate flag. This, of course, is a direct response to a person who murdered 9 innocent people in South Carolina. (please hear my sarcastic tone!) My response to all of the controversy concerning the flag is this; I met Johnny Carson once.
When I was with Buddy Guy, we did a lot of TV; Austin City Limits, Good Morning America, QVC, etc. One of the high lights for me was doing the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I grew up listening to Johnny Carson from my bed as my parents watched from the den. When I was old enough to stay up, I watched Johnny Carson in his plaid pants, wide lapels, Ed McMahon, Alpo commercial glory! I even owned a sport coat from the Johnny Carson Collection!…It’s funny to me that as you grow up, some things just become part of the fabric, part of the lexicon; Bugs Bunny, Leave It To Beaver, Friends, The Sopranos, Letterman…but let’s get back to Burbank!
We were promoting Buddy’s new record, my memory fails on which one it was and a quick search of YouTube finds nothing but it really happened! All day we’re at the Burbank studios, blocking shots, timing the song, sound checking the levels. The build up to a “live-to-tape” show is exhausting! “Live-to-tape” means that we shoot the video at an early hour on the West Coast so that it can be played at the normal hour on the East Coast but we shoot it live so there are no fixes or changes. In other words, you screw up and it’s stays! Pressure! Not to mention, you’re there from 9:00 am until show time (5:00 pm?)
We sit at the DESK and get our picture made, we take pictures of Johnny’s parking spot (Corvette!!), we hang out, we peak in to Family Feud’s set (?).
My whole story comes to this; We played the song, 10 hours of waiting for 3 minutes of pressure. We’re done, the “Good Nights” are said and I find myself standing by the stage door waiting for our guitar tech. I look up and there’s Johnny! Johnny Carson is standing right in front of me. It’s the classic celebrity moment;
1.I’m standing in front of someone who has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. 2.He has no idea I exist.
3.I feel compelled say something meaningful.
Mr. Carson is standing there adjusting his tie, I’m standing there doing nothing, it’s just the two of us, I say “Mr. Carson, it’s a real pleasure to meet you sir and it was an honor to perform on your show.” I extend my hand, like my mama taught me…nothing…no response, almost to the point that you think, maybe he didn’t hear me…I stay…hand out…I’m looking North, he’s looking East…no eye contact…then suddenly, never making eye contact, he extends his hand, grasps mine, firm shake, he mumbles “ummHumm”…and walks away.
I could have thought, “what a jerk!” but what I thought was “WOW! There’s a guy shyer than me!” Maybe being in show-business gives me a different perspective on the game but I know how scary it is to put yourself out there and know that some are going to hate you, insult you, criticize you. You can be the king of the castle and still be stung by criticism. Shyness is our main disease!
I got to meet Johnny Carson once, I shook his hand, did he embrace me or fill me with his wisdom?…NO…was he my “Johnny Carson Experience”? YES! I can carry that with me for the rest of my life and he didn’t have to carry it with him through the doorway. Something so significant to me, that wasn’t significant to him…kind of like everyday life…different stuff means something to different folks. Ramadan, Passover, Christmas or Kwanza; Blues, Rock, Country or Soul; FOX, CNN, MSNBC, CSPAN…What did I get from Johnny Carson? Courtesy. He didn’t ‘leave me hanging’…he shook my hand. When something is important to you, I should be aware and sympathetic. The reverse is true too though: when something is important to me, you should be aware and sympathetic. 7 billion folks, lots of opportunities for “offense”, lots of chances to get it “wrong”, then again, lots of opportunities to make it better. I know you’re scared, insecure, hiding…shake my hand…you’re ‘second’ might be my ‘moment’…err on the side of love…