Growing up, especially in small-town America, many of us couldn’t really fathom the concept of “fame.”
We all thought we wanted fame, but we didn’t really know what it meant. And we certainly didn’t have many opportunities to cross paths with a member of the rich and famous.
Of course, the irony is that I would eventually be a part of a college vocal group featuring Sheryl Crow and ABC News’s Elizabeth Vargas would ultimately appear on my brush-with-future-fame dance card as well. Kate Capshaw (aka Mrs. Stephen Spielberg) was a teacher at my high school, and country music’s Sara Evans is forever stuck calling me “cousin” because of her mother’s decision to marry into my extended family. But there was a time when they were all nobodys like me.
Let’s hear it for obscurity!
In 1979, a petite powerhouse vocalist from Lindenhurst, New York, burst onto the national rock music scene. Her debut album, In the Heat of the Night, soared on the Billboard Chart largely based on the strength of her breakthrough hit, Heartbreaker.
Patricia Andrzejewski Benatar had arrived and I, for one, was mesmerized.
When it was announced that the incomparable Ms. Benatar was scheduled to kick off her Get Nervous Tour in my hometown of Columbia, Missouri, in November of 1982, I immediately knew God had decided to Treat Me Right that year.
I grew up never realizing I had, what would prove to be, an “entrepreneurial spirit.” Most of the adults I knew worked for someone else. Frankly, I never thought I was smart enough to run a business, but it was Pat Benatar who I have henceforth credited with stimulating my very first serious entrepreneurial display—of taking a fresh, new idea and helping realize its potential no matter what obstacles I faced.
Because if Pat Benatar was coming to my home town, Pat Benatar was going to love me as much as I loved her. Period.
As Benatar’s visit corresponded to my singing telegram days, I concocted a scheme whereby the “Town of Columbia, Missouri” would send Pat a singing telegram as a warm and welcoming display of Benatar love. Better than the more traditional (and boring) Key to the City, Pat’s highly personalized musical welcome would, naturally, be delivered by moi.
So yes, in 1982, I had the balls to decide to represent my entire town in a narcissistic effort to get me some Pat time.
And it worked.
Several persuasive phone calls with University of Missouri officials later and I had the official green light: Operation Best Shot was underway.
Though I was never really one to tell an overt lie, it is possible I intimated I was the mayor’s nephew.
As the fateful evening approached, two words, “Get Nervous,”would serve as the soundtrack for my life—as well as an ironic metaphor for the events that lie ahead.
On November 9, 1982, my entourage and I arrived at the stage door at the agreed-upon time—complete with six dozen balloons and a special song penned by yours truly. I nervously knocked on the huge metal door only to be greeted by a less-than-jovial face peering out from behind.
If you’re wondering if I was having an arriving-at-The-Emerald-City-slash-Wizard-of-Oz-inspired moment—yes, I was. But in this case, it was more like a nightmare due to the requisite curmudgeon who would inform us that we would not be granted admission.
And here I was sans dead-witch broom and having left my ruby slippers at home.
While I may not have been aware of having any sort of entrepreneurial spirit, I was well aware I was Nell Jones’s spirited son and one simply did not say “no” to me or my mom—especially after one had already said “yes.”
Though this learned or inherited characteristic may drive some people crazy, it must be said: Thank you, Mom.
Despite being dressed for my telegram delivery as Prince Charming, in light of these new unpleasant circumstances, I was forced to assume the role of a not-even-remotely-cowardly Lion while my balloon-handling “Tin Man” and “Scarecrow” colleagues stood awkwardly silent.
Even if it was Benatar who would musically maintain that Hell is for Children, on that evening in 1982, “hell” was reserved for the door-guarding moron who thought I blew up 72 helium balloons for no reason whatsoever. To this day, it is best to never try to deny me access to anything even remotely Benatar related.
Finally, and without explanation, Mr. Curmudgeon opened the door and we were in.
As the opening act, Saga, delivered On The Loose for those in the audience who were not in my preferred position backstage, I was on my way to Patland and a new saga of my own.
My heart was pounding with greater intensity than the Saga drums as, having traversed two more hallways, our escort pulled back a curtain to reveal the great and powerful Wizard of Applause herself, Pat Benatar.
Oz metaphors be damned—Pat Benatar was literally the woman behind the curtain!
Okay, as a performer, you basically have an instinct that must kick in each time you find yourself in a performance situation—especially one involving improvisation, rock stars, helium balloons, singing fairy-tale characters, famous-film hallucinations, and wildly revised Hit Me with your Best Shot lyrics.
Yes, I had the nerve to rewrite the lyrics to that outrageously famous song to sing for the woman who made it outrageously famous. I suppose, in my own way, I wanted “to put another notch in my lipstick case.”
But I was “on” and there was no looking back. Benatar was mine! Even a falling house wasn’t going to stop me.
When Pat expressed concern that, if she took the “seat” I offered, her tiny body would do damage to my Prince-Charming knee I exclaimed: “Oh my God Pat, you weigh three pounds—just sit.”
When I outrageously suggested that Pat, due to her likely familiarity with the lyrics to Hit Me with your Best Shot, sing along with me on the final chorus, she enthusiastically complied while I bounced her up and down on the aforementioned knee.
Still, nothing broke—including petite Pat.
After suggesting it would be nice if she would autograph my extra copy of the telegram, she declined only to insist that I sign her copy first.
Can you say “class?”
And finally, after subtly begging for my confiscated camera to be returned because “Without a photo, no one in Prince Charming’s kingdom will believe Prince Charming was here,” the camera magically reappeared and the requested photo op was completed.
Before being politely ushered to the door, the lovely Pat and I exchanged a hug and a two brief kisses (first hand, then cheek). All very P.C.
“Prince Charming,” that is. We didn’t know what “politically correct” was back then.
For six months afterwards, nothing could get me down:
√ Cliffs Notes for King Lear sold out the day before Intro to Shakespeare exam – fine;
√ Having to settle for Nina Blackwood when I’d prefer to watch Martha Quinn on MTV – okey dokey;
√ U.S. President Ronald Reagan calls for an international ban on chemical weapons – whatever…
If I have one wish for everyone in small-town America, it’s that each can discover their own little rock-star muse such as the one I found that evening in Pat Benatar. Especially those who feel the concept of going after their dreams are somewhat geographically beyond their grasp.
What Pat Benatar did for me that night went far beyond gracious behavior or fan appreciation. Pat proved what inspiration, perspiration and, yes, borderline humiliation could accomplish and, without ever knowing her impact, has continued to serve as a catalyst for my overcoming any number of bumps in the road as I have traveled through young adulthood into middle age.
Even at 53, as I try to reinvent part of my professional “creative” life by beefing up my role as a humorist, editorial writer and speaker, sitting on my shoulder as I press the keys on my laptop, stand before a crowd, or perform my one-man adaptation of her Love is a Battlefield video, is a miniature Patty B. urging me forward each and every time:
“Come on; hit me with your best shot. Fire away.”
Marketing guru, business humorist, professional-courtesy advocate, branded-content writer, creative-development consultant, and entertaining motivational speaker Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of RediscoverCourtesy.org and the president of MindZoo, a marketing communications firm in Naples, Florida.