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They are a bunch of buzzkills. And that’s ?precisely why I don’t spend much time listening to them.
Last May, I was sitting in a window seat on a plane bound for L.A., desperately trying to forget another warning I’d heard them say so many times: Never meet your heroes. See, I’d been assigned to — OK, I’d begged, pleaded and practically bribed the powers that be to let me — write a story about Jon Hamm (“The 5-Year Plan,” Sept. 1, 2010), who plays the dashing Don Draper on one of my favorite shows, AMC’s Mad Men. But as soon as I got the green light, a nervous knot formed in my stomach that wouldn’t let up. Weeks later, as I sat in that window seat, the knot had only tightened. But it was too late. My seat belt was fastened. The cabin door was closed. The wheels were literally in motion: I was going to meet one of my heroes, whether I liked it or not.
This was going to be a disaster, I was sure of it. There was no way this guy would — or could — live up to my mile-high expectations of him. He’d probably be some jerk too busy fielding calls from Spielberg and Scorsese, telling them to have their people call his people, to give me the time of day. And I’d be disappointed.
Even if you’ve never experienced this particular brand of disappointment, you know what I’m talking about. It’s like when a friend tells you to taste her steak because it’s the best steak she’s ever had in her life. And you taste it, and it’s an OK steak. It might even be a good steak. But your friend had hyped it up so much, there was no way you wouldn’t feel a little shortchanged.
My Jon Hamm Experience, when it inevitably went bad, would ruin Mad Men for me. I’d never be able to read another entertainment magazine or watch another award show again for fear of seeing him and being reminded of how horrible it was. You know when you’ve been looking forward to trying a restaurant for months, and you finally get a reservation, and then you find a hair on your plate and never want to go back? It’d be like that. Or like when I was a kid and choked on the string of a banana, and then I didn’t eat another banana for 15 years.
What I’m trying to say, based on my choice of metaphors, is that I probably spend a little too much time thinking about food. But also, that one bad impression can have a lasting effect for the rest of your life (or at least until you grow up and realize that you can simply peel the strings off the banana).
But here’s the thing: The interview wasn’t terrible. In fact, it was great. As soon as Jon slipped into the booth at the restaurant where we had agreed to meet for breakfast, he was charming and generous and all-around fantastic. He asked where I was from. He entertained my bone-?headed questions without letting on that he’d heard them a million times before. He apologized for kicking my foot when it was totally me who’d kicked his. By the time he offered me a piece of his bacon, I’d completely written them and all of their silly warnings off. I had met one of my heroes, and — shocker of shockers — he was wonderful.
For Adam Pitluk, my editor and the man whose words you usually see occupying this space, interviewing celebrities is old hat. He’s worked for People, Time and has written a couple of books, including one about celebrity boxer Jesus “El Matador” Chavez. But for this issue’s cover story on legendary rock band R.E.M., he got to get up close and personal with one of his own heroes: Michael Stipe.
Adam kept a much cooler head than I did in the weeks leading up to his face-to-face meeting with greatness, but I knew he couldn’t help but have some of the same fears that I did: that his hero wouldn’t be the perfect being he’d imagined him to be, but would, in fact, be a person — a person who has quirks and sour moods and bad days — and might just ruin the impenetrable facade he’d built up for so many years.
If you turn to page 42, you’ll see the results of the interview. I think it’s safe to say it went well. And it’s safe to say that Stipe’s everyman qualities are what, in fact, make him extraordinary.
So forget what they say; you should meet your heroes if you’re lucky enough to get the chance. But you probably should wait a few minutes after eating before you go swimming. That’s just good sense.