I spent last week in Miami at the book fair. The highlight, which will surprise no one who reads this blog, was that I got to perform on stage with the Rock Bottom Remainders. RBR is an all-author band. When I started writing seriously about ten years ago, I made a goal. It wasn’t money, or fame, thankfully, because those haven’t panned out. I wrote One day I will get invited to play a show with the Rock Bottom Remainders.
Fast forward a decade or so and I’m strolling along the walkway at the book fair when I see the World Stage, where I would be playing with the band a few hours later. My hair stood on end and I thought How is this possible?
Surely it was a dream. But no. In the author’s hospitality suite later I ran into Sam Barry, part of the band. He grabbed me and said “Hey, you know Roy Blount Jr., right?” Um, no. I didn’t. However, I knew that he was one of my favorite authors. So suddenly I’m shaking hands with Mr. Blount and grinning hard enough to realize that I don’t practice smiling enough.
“So you’re playing with us tonight?” said Roy.
And again, I thought, How is this happening? But I nodded.
A few hours later I went to the stage, showed my badge, and was suddenly back behind the stage. I was practically hyperventilating. The chairs were full of people waiting for the show. The techs were up doing sound check stuff. Then I realized that’s not a sound tech, that’s Greg Iles. Oh, and that’s Ridley Pearson.
Then Mitch Albom walked by.
Then I turned around and this happened.
She walked right up and shook my hand and smiled and I thought…That’s Amy Tan. What am I doing here?
“Josh! Come here!” I turned and Sam Barry was waving me over to introduce me to…Dave Barry, Pulitzer winner, guitarist, one of my favorite writers, hilarious guy. I’m not really a starstruck type, at all, but I’d never had these folks coming at me from all angles. I was getting fidgety and wild. So I had to grab him as well.
“Will you do something for me?” he said.
“Will you not be so fucking tall?”
“Yes! I’ll try!” I tried. It didn’t work.
I heard someone talking about The Good Lord Bird by James McBride, which had just won the National Book Award. I turned around to say “I know that book! I love it!” But I stopped because James McBride, National Book Award Winner, was standing there. So I just screamed and shook his hand and then I had to go get some water.
But that didn’t help, because Scott Turow was in the tent, along with Erasmo Paolo, an incredible saxophone player.
“HI SCOTT TUROW!!!” I bellowed. Good grief, he was so nice to me.
Then it was time to go on stage. We each got introduced one by one and the first song started. But just before it did, a good looking man standing next to me said “Hey, do you know what we’re supposed to do next?”
“No,” I said. “They just said ‘get up here’.”
“Okay, me too,” he said.
“Who are you?” I said.
But then the song started and we were all dancing really hard. I’m the giant fool on the left, standing next to James McBride, National Book Award Winner.
And that was when I looked over at Amy Tan, who wanted to do the hip bump. And I thought that’s Amy Tan. And then James McBride was right next to me playing a saxophone solo. I’m not a very good dancer, but I do commit.
“Great moves!” said the aforementioned man when we left the stage.
“You too,” I said. “Who are you?”
“Brian Boitano,” he said.
A few songs later I got up to actually sing.
Amy Tan appeared backstage, having changed outfits. She had a cop’s hat, a riding crop, and dark sunglasses. She spanked me when she walked by. I’m fine with Amy Tan spanking me.
For the final song, everyone got up and sang Wild Thing.
I have never had so much fun in my life. And I’ll never stop thinking What am I doing here?
To the Rock Bottom Remainders: you all said that playing with you was a lousy dream. But it was my dream, and I got it, and it was better than I ever would have imagined. Thank you all so much, and I will continue to force your books on everyone who comes to the library.