Thursday, July 1, 2010

Taking the Dork Bullet

I took the dork bullet for Don Dixon.

I’ve always wondered if it’s possible to meet someone famous and not seem like a dork.

I’m not talking about when you work with famous people (in which case you’re collaborators or at least colleagues and there’s less inequality). No, I’m talking about when you meet someone and you’re the fan and they’re the artist.

It’s always made me feel weird.

What can you say?

I’m a big fan. Well, obviously.
I’m your biggest fan. A) Creepy, and B) probably not true.
I love your work. Better, but it drips of phony show-biz.
I loved XX. What, you don't love anything else they did?

So I generally try to avoid the situation. Because, no matter what I say, I feel like a dork.

But when Don Dixon rolled into town a couple summers ago, I took the dork bullet.

If you don’t know, Dixon was one of the hot producers of the 1980s, bringing what’s now called “jangle pop” to the masses. Dixon, along with Mitch Easter, produced the first couple of REM albums, along with records from Marshall Crenshaw, Dumptruck, Marti Jones, the Smitherens, Chris Stamey, Kim Carnes, Hootie & the Blowfish, and many, many more.

He was also a great songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, sometime member of the Golden Palominos, and a singer with an intensely emotional voice. For years, he was part of the legendary band Arrogance and, after REM’s success, he signed as a solo artist with Enigma.

For his first album Most of the Girls Like to Dance But Only Some of the Boys Like To, he wrote, arranged, and performed everything. It's a great record, anchored by one of the finest singles that should've topped the charts (but somehow didn't).

After producing the first Marti Jones album, Dixon married Marti Jones. For a while, they were the King and Queen of alt-rock, superstars in waiting. It was just a matter of time. (The Chi-Town Budget Show, a live album they released together around that time, remains an absolute joy.)

In the early 90s, I saw Dixon and Jones several times. Small venues, packed houses, great shows.

But the superstardom never quite happened. Dixon continued recording and performing (as well as doing producing gigs -- rumor has it, he was tapped to produce Nirvana's Nevermind, but lost the gig when he asked for too much money), but grunge took over and jangle pop fell out of favor.

In an alternate universe, Don Dixon may have been a superstar, but here he faded from prominence. Never quite gone, but nowhere near as almost-famous as he'd been in the 80s.

And then, years later, I saw a notice that Dixon and Jones were playing in L.A. I bought tickets and dragged my friend Tom with me to the concert. Great show, amazing music, small but devoted audience. (Link for Gmail subscribers.)

I brought my vinyl of Most of the Girls Like to Dance... with me. Afterwards, I waited patiently on line and got him to sign it. I shook his hand. I thanked him for the great music he'd made (and produced), told him how much it meant to me, and shook his hand. It was dorky, but I meant every word.

And then I went to get Marti's autograph. On my way out, Dixon called out to me by name and waved. (Maybe it's okay to be a dork as long as you're a sincere and grateful dork.)

All the way home I thought I couldn't have taken the dork bullet for a nicer or more talented guy.


asiangrrl said...

I have never heard of Don Dixon. I love the first song, and the second strongly reminds me of Elvis Costello (a good thing).

I think I would be fine meeting any famous person I like except one: Alan Rickman. He would immediately reduce me to schoolgirl blathering in two seconds flat. Other than him, though, I think I could hold my own. I'm pretty good with the small talk, and I think most famous people like genuine appreciation for their work.

thingy said...

LOL. Is that what it is? I think I've eaten the dork bullet several times, here.

Nice post.

From a fan. : )

Alex said...

A couple Popdose links for Dixon:

Dixon talks about his songs

Popdose Guide to Don Dixon

Holly A Hughes said...

Aw, I'll bet you made Don Dixon's evening. Especially a guy like that, who deserved to be a MUCH bigger star, got all the respect of his peers, and never quite hit the heights. He no doubt needs to know he's got fans out there (and he'd probably love to read this post as well!).

There's one thing worse than sounding like a dork when you meet an artist you admire -- and that's sounding way cooler than your hero. Let the star be the star, and you be the drooling fan. That keeps the universe aligned.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it great when you find out that your musical heroes are really nice & cool?

I'm sure you know that Dixon had a huge heart attack (and quintuple bypass surgery) almost 10 years ago. Great and quick care saved him. Sadly, he had no insurance at the time, but that's a different topic...

Anonymous said...

How I loved Don and Marti and enjoyed them with you!

Yep, I know just what you mean about being a dork. I have struggled with this many times, and usually just ogle from afar and then feel dumb.

magkfingrs said...

I feel the same as you about Don (...I've listened so long I feel I deserve the first name familiarity, though in the real world unwarrented!). So many of his songs spoke directly to my soul. (Example: Oh Cheap Chatter about the kid whose girlfriend goes out with a jerk, while you think the world of her).

Holly A Hughes's is completely correct...well said.

Thanks for keeping the Dixon fires going