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.
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