Brush with Fame 1 (or, I Don't Care If You Believe Me Or Not; It Really Happened)

It was on one such rainy Sunday afternoon I ran into Brian May, guitarist for Queen.

I used to work part-time at a store called Media Play. The store had four distinct departments: books, videos, computer games and software, and music. My better-than-average skills in things musical put me in the music department where I spent my nights helping customers find what they were looking for and pointing them in the direction of music I thought they'd like. I was good at it, and customers would return seeking my help any time they needed the right song.

When I started my master's degree in literature, I had to reluctantly leave Media Play behind; I didn't have the time to spare, what with my studies. But, like a criminal who returns to the scene of a crime, I dropped by the store at least once a week to "see how everybody was doing." It was on one such rainy Sunday afternoon I ran into Brian May, guitarist for Queen.

The "M.O.D." (Manager on Duty) that day was Gloria, a rock and roll grandmother whose sweet and unassuming looks and demeanor got her backstage for many a photo op with the likes of Aerosmith and other Big Acts that came through Chattanooga. It's important that you know Gloria was all but nonplussed by her ability to move so easily in these circles. The only artist over which Gloria lost complete control was Barry Manilow. Gloria was the president of the Chattanooga chapter of the Barry Manilow Fan Club, and she and a tightly knit group of women would pile into a van at a moment's notice and drive non-stop for days on end to see their idol. I knew Gloria was serious about Barry when she returned from one such trip with her arm in a sling. She had broken her arm clapping for Barry. She had broken her arm clapping for Barry. 'Nuff said.

Media Play opened at 1:00 p.m. on Sundays, and it must've been around 1:30 when I sashayed into the store where Gloria and a couple of checkout clerks were draped across counters talking. After a bit of small talk, Gloria asked me, "Do you like that group Queen?" to which I replied, "Duh! Who doesn't?" Ironically, the very CD in the player in my car parked outside was Queen's Greatest Hits. "Well, the guitarist for Queen—what's his name?—is in the store shopping," Gloria said, just as calmly and nonchalantly as she might quip, "They're calling for more rain tomorrow." "Oh, he is not, Gloria!" I countered. "He sure is," Gloria replied, still calm, sure, "Go look for yourself."

I figured it must be someone who looked like Brian May, and that was enough to set me off methodically checking the aisles. Sure enough, in the video section was Brian May. Unmistakable. He looked just like he did on a recent VH1 Behind the Music segment. He was tall, and his characteristic jacked-up and cascading curls were casually/perfectly coiffed. He wore a colorfully printed button up short-sleeved shirt (Hawaiian? Can't recall!). I pretended to flip through the VHS tapes (this was pre-DVD) about four feet down from him, swiveling my head to gaze in disbelief. When he turned and our eyes met, he nodded, friendly like, and went back to searching. What was I going to do? What was I going to say? I couldn't let this moment pass!

When I screwed up enough courage to finally speak, the irretrievable words hung in the air like a bad joke: "Is it really you?" "Well, it depends on who you think I am!" was the not-unpleasant reply. The accent was clearly British. "Are you Brian May?" I asked, incredulously. "Last time I checked!" he smiled. Then came my next dumb, star-struck question: "What in the hell are you doing in Chattanooga, Tennessee?" I stammered. "Well," he said, "I have a good friend who lives here, and I'm visiting her." Made sense. How to follow up? I didn't want this magic moment to end just yet, but I didn't want to scare him off, either. "I won't bother you any more," I squeaked, "but I would like to say how very much I've enjoyed your music over the years." "Thanks ever so much," Brian May said smiling, and he resumed his search.

I sidled away as unobtrusively as possible and beat a hasty retreat to the front where Gloria stood with her "I told you so" smile playing on her lips. "Oh my God, Gloria, it really is Brian May!" I gushed, "And he talked to me and everything!" Gloria was kindly unimpressed. This is why they always let her backstage. Her age and sangfroid was irresistible.

"I didn't get an autograph!" I quietly shrieked, the realization slapping me in the face. "I shoulda asked for an autograph!" "Well, go back and ask him for one," Gloria calmly suggested. "I can't do that! I've already thanked him and said goodbye!" I lamented. "I don't want to bug him!" Then it hit me. "Gloria, would you get his autograph for me?" I begged. This was her area of expertise. "I have Queen's Greatest Hits out in the car! I can give you the CD booklet and go grab some lunch or something . . . come back in an hour or so! Whaddyathink?"

Gloria agreed, and that's exactly what we did. I treasure the signed CD booklet made out specifically to me, and time has made me a bit less critical of myself for my stupid questions and lame behavior. Nowadays when I tell this story to my students, I can tell some of them don't believe me, but that's okay. I was there. It happened.

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