Thursday, December 6, 2012
A Day With IZZY STRADLIN
This is an update to a blog that I posted several years ago, a true story about a magical day I spent hanging out with Guns N Roses guitarist Izzy Stradlin in 1988.
November 23, 2012
It took over 24 years for the stars to align in such a way that Izzy and I would end up in the same place again. Quite honestly, I'm surprised it took that long, with me always traveling back and forth to many of the same cities he's known to frequent. I always imagined that when the day came that I would cross paths with him again, it would be in a casual situation where I could pull up a chair and smile and speak quietly and naturally. Unfortunately, that's not how it went...
Right before Thanksgiving, I received an email with a PDF attachment from a generous Christian friend of mine. It was a ticket to see the last show of Guns N Roses residency at the Hard Rock Hotel. He refused to let me pay him for it, just said he couldn't go and wanted me to have the ticket. Knowing Izzy Stradlin makes random appearances to jam with Axl now and then, I had no doubt he would show up to one of the Vegas shows. But which one? When this free ticket landed in my lap, I just knew. I woke up on Black Friday to a Facebook post from the Hard Rock Hotel announcing that "former GnR guitarist Izzy Stradlin" would be joining for the last 2 shows of the residency. I immediately went there and bought a ticket for the other night as well. I rented a room and decided I was just going to revisit the past and have a Guns N Roses vacation weekend.
Later that evening, I was sitting in a lounge talking with my friend Mel. When I looked up, there was Izzy in the distance--suit, white shoes, fedora--I recognized him instantly. Mel said, "Go! Go talk to him!" I was just going to let him walk by; he was too far away to catch in any kind of casual way. I don't chase rock stars. They chase me. This wasn't how I pictured our second meeting to happen. Before I could decide, Texas Mel jumped up and ran after him. He was walking quickly, head down, talking on his cell phone. Mel yelled at him, "Izzy! Cari from Indiana is here! Please stop and say hello to her!" I did not hear this, as I was still far behind walking casually. According to Mel, he stopped, eyes wide like saucers and said to her, "Cari from Indiana? I'll be right back." That's when she waved to me to hurry up. There was no turning back now, I had to just go with it.
We followed along to the backstage door where I decided to take the lead and speak up. "Izzy," I said in a whiney tone of voice, "Could you take a photo with me?" He stopped and waved me over. I smiled and greeted him and he looked down at me and said, "Cari from Indiana." I was thrown into a spiraling vortex of confusion. Was he expecting someone else he knew from home with the same name or did he know damn well who I was? You see, for many years after meeting Izzy in 1988, I sent him ridiculous, immature letters, photos and even a gift or two. (I know someone received them anyway, because they were never returned to sender.) In my defense, I had gotten myself into a long term relationship with an insecure, controlling, mentally/emotionally abusive mate. Izzy's home in Lafayette was only 2 hours away from where I lived and I often taught classes there. So many shitty "men" had paraded through my life by this point that Izzy stood out as the only one who ever treated me so sweetly, so respectfully--even if it was only just for one day. I purely and innocently wished to just simply be his friend, and I didn't think that was a tall order, especially since he was out of the limelight by then. More than likely, I probably came across as a creepy stalker! Or perhaps he didn't remember me from my crazy letters but instead knew who I was because my author friend Pamela DesBarres wrote about me in her eBook called One Night Bands. All these thoughts were swirling through my head in that nanosecond as I tried to figure out where he was coming from. I nervously said, "It's so great to see you again. I spent a whole day hanging out with you in Michigan back in '88." I went to put my arm around him to pose for the photo Mel was taking and he was as stiff as concrete, not the warm, cuddly, bouncy, flirty Izzy I remembered. And then he said 3 words that continue to echo in my head, "Was it good?" Pausing to process this, I said, "Yeah it was good. It was great." I knew he was late so I told him to go and thanked him for stopping for me. He said he'd see me later...and I really believed I would see him later. After all, we would both be hanging around the same hotel for 2 days. But! I only saw him later on stage.
"WAS IT GOOD?" Maybe he was just being funny. Nonetheless, I learned a lesson. Regardless of whether or not he really knew who I was, it occurred to me in the moments that followed that I would never again write about another human being without thinking first about how that person would feel if they read it. I never once thought past how *I* felt and what *MY* experience was. It was never my intention to exploit Izzy nor to be disrespectful of his privacy. I simply wished to hold onto a magical memory as tightly as I could. When someone makes you feel wonderful, you cherish it, you want to never forget it. Since Izzy never welcomed me back to his inner circle, writing was the creative outlet I chose as my coping mechanism. (Especially since I failed miserably at playing guitar.) So, first I wrote the stupid crazy letters to him, then a starry-eyed online blog entry and haphazardly allowed my friend, the queen of groupies, to publish an incomplete version of it. If Izzy does know who I am, he probably fucking hates me!
Forgive me, Izzy, for blabbing about you online, etc. I'm harmless. I'm honest. I'm a sober, Jesus-loving little Indiana girl who still thinks you're the coolest guy on the planet. Thank you for having such a positive influence on my life because I really like who I am! And until we meet again....YES, IT WAS GOOD.
Below is my original blog post from years ago, a true memoir, re-written with detail as it should have been the first time:
~Hey lady you got the love I need, maybe more than enough, oh darlin darlin darlin walk a while with me, oh you've got so much~
July 30, 1988
In the summer of 1988, a few friends and I took a long road trip to Val-Du-Lakes Amphitheatre in Michigan to see my new favorite band, Guns N Roses, who were the opening act for an old favorite band, Aerosmith. We arrived very early and wandered around the grounds in the sweltering heat. I walked up a hill with a friend hoping for a better vantage point to view the area where the bands' tour buses were parked behind a tall fence. At that moment a bus door opened and someone came out. The next thing I knew Guns N Roses' guitarist Izzy Stradlin was propped up over the top of the fence pointing at me and wiggling his finger to come over. I looked all around me in disbelief but he really was pointing at me! I ran down the hill to the spot where he instructed security to let me through. We spent the afternoon talking to each other through the fence. Security wouldn't let him take me to the other side without a pass so he sent a crew guy to find one. Izzy kept running back and forth from the bus doing a show and tell, displaying clothes and jewelry he'd bought on tour and telling me stories about some of the places he'd been. We had to tilt our heads slightly to see each other clearly through the fence. I was entranced by his eyes, glowing with the most magical olive and amber tones I had ever seen, as the glaring sun reflected down into them. I remember at one point he asked a road crew guy to help him rip the tag off his brand new pair of black jeans. His personality was bouncy and uninhibited. We could pass things back and forth through the fence and hold onto each others hands but it was frustrating... like a tease or foreplay buildup...that neither of us was allowed to go to the other side. Finally, right before he had to be on stage, one sticky pass was found and given to me.
My friends and I went out into the crowd and watched the show. It was a typical Guns N Roses live performance for that time--really bare bones, raw and raunchy sounding. This was only a short time before GnR Lies was released and they tried out a few songs none of us had heard before called "One In A Million" "Used To Love Her" & "Patience". The crowd, which was much bigger than the venue anticipated, went nuts and began tearing down a chain link fence that separated the VIP section from the GA section. It was scary. My friend Jynni and I were in a crush of people and had lost track of the friends we came there with. The agreement was for the car to be our meeting place if we lose each other. When the time came for me to go meet Izzy backstage, I was really scared. I was taking a big risk leaving my friends behind--we didn't have cell phones back then, you know!
Izzy was there at the fence waiting for me. As he was digging for the bus key in his pocket, he unknowingly dropped guitar picks in a trail behind him (and I tried to be sneaky and pick them up). Something about that was incredibly adorable to me. This must have been during a short sober faze because he had no drugs or alcohol and he offered me a 7up to drink on the bus. I think Aerosmith had a strict no drugs policy on that tour perhaps? He showed me more stuff he'd collected on the road and some live photos of Guns N Roses in LA. He had me pick out a photo and on the back of it he wrote "to Cari with lust...Izzy." He kept playing with my hair, piling it all up on top of my head then leaning back to look at me. Was he trying to see how I would look with an up do?? So playful and lovable, that Izzy. He had just cut his hair short and told me he might stop dying it black too, seemed on the fence about it and asked me what I thought. Being an earthy hippie girl at heart, I was all about everything natural so couldn't understand why he would want to dye his hair if it was already dark to begin with. Of course "grow you natural hair color back" was my vote. He told me his real name and that he grew up just a couple hours south of where I was from in Indiana. He had just gotten the newly released Cinderella tape "Long Cold Winter" and put it on. We were having some serious music and philosophy talk and he said that I'm not like the other girls he meets on the road, that I actually have a brain and was really cool to talk to. He had me write my contact info in an address book for him.
At one point he started to kiss me but I was chewing gum and had yet to master the art of making out with gum in my mouth, so in a very parental way he put out his hand for me to spit it into and went to throw it away. Hello awkward moment! I couldn't have felt less sexy. Then again, what does a 17 year old really know about sexy anyway? For the sake of Mr. Stradlin's privacy, I will refrain from sharing the intimate details of our sexual encounter. I will, however, say that I was a clueless, naive little Indiana girl who had no idea what I was doing. Izzy, on the other hand, being almost 9 years older than I was, knew exactly how to do it right and I learned a thing or two. Izzy was a vision of perfection, with such smooth skin and a youthful god-like body, wide shoulders and a narrow waist. It was while he was laying back that I noticed for the first time his beautiful mouth, delicate, sweet and angelic, curled upwards slightly at the corners. Izzy and I had a lot of fun and even took a little nap as the summer heat had worn us out. We kept getting pestered by Steven Adler (whom he endearingly referred to as "Stevie"). Steven was jumping around excitedly, pounding on the bus windows yelling that there were 14,000 people in the crowd! This must have been one of the biggest crowds they'd ever played for at that time.
It was dark by now and Izzy changed into some running pants and a jean jacket and we went outside for a walk on that perfect, magical, warm summer night with the full moon over our heads. We stopped by the hospitality tent for some pizza and there were Slash & Duff, kickin' back on a sofa having a deep conversation about drugs. Ok, now I was starstruck, and I stood there staring like a dumbass.
Duff: "You still have that shit man? What are you saving it for? If I had that *sssssnniiiiifff* it woulda been gone a long time ago!" Slash: "You can't do that much, man. You only need a little bit." I interrupted with "Slash, dude, you are so cool." (Somebody shoot me! I'm an idiot!)
Slash said thanks and Izzy dragged me out of there to the side stage to watch Aerosmith's encore under that amazing full summer moon. I'd never seen so many people in one place in my life--a sea of faces as far as the eye could see! Standing on the stage just a few feet from Joe Perry, I could imagine how it felt to be a rock star. Suddenly I realized in that moment that out of the 14,000 fans in that crowd, I was the only one backstage. Why me? And that's when the magic feeling came over me, showering me like fairy dust...Why not me?! I was different. I wasn't like anyone I knew, not family nor friends--no one I knew saw the world the way I did. I realized that for the first time, I was amongst my peers there backstage. And if I had the privilege of spending a day with the hottest band in the country at age 17, someday I would be doing a lot of other cool things all the while making my own dreams come true too!
Izzy asked me to ride on the bus with them to Cincinnati, but in the days before cell phones, I had no way to reach my parents back home nor my friends who were waiting in the massive parking lot to make the 3 hour drive home with me. What if I ditched everyone only to have the band's management say "no way, this groupie is not riding the bus with us!" and then I'd be stranded in a field in the middle of nowhere. What if I ditched everyone and they thought I got abducted and called the police? I can only imagine the deep shit I would have been in from every angle. I was helpless. He begged a security officer that was on a horse to escort me to the car--maybe I could tell my friends and then go back to meet him--but the "mountie" was a jerk and he refused to help us. I had no choice but to say goodbye and that's my biggest regret to this day. I'll always wonder about all the "what ifs".
My friends and I headed back to our little Indiana town. The phone woke me up the next morning and it was Izzy. It sounded as if he were whispering. He said, "Listen...." I heard him press the play button on a tape player and then heard a clip of "Over The Hills and Far Away" by Led Zeppelin, a band we'd talked much about the night before. Then he clicked the tape off and said, "Bye...." and I never heard from him again.
That one magical summer night is what led me down the path to becoming the independent, confident, dream chasing woman with rose-colored, heart-shaped glasses that I am today. I'd like to thank Izzy for making me feel so special...he might not remember me but I'll never forget him and how for one day I was "one in a million".
~Many have I loved, many times been bitten, many times I've gazed along the open road.~