His Number One Fan
by David Lee Beowulf
This break in David Lee Beowulf’s “official” writing hiatus brought to you by a, no, make that the World’s Most Important Tenor. And I don’t mean Pavoratti.
About a month ago to the day (I’m typing this in on Monday, 23 February 2004), I received a phone call from my youngest sister (I have two, both younger) explaining that my mother, David Lee Beowulf’s Mom, Ph.D. was in the hospital, Intensive Care, after undergoing emergency stomach surgery.
A month earlier, after my not-yet-long-suffering wife prodded me almost too much, I called my mom. I should mention that my parents moved down to sunny Florida, land of Ink Nineteen, sun, retirees and their doctors, drug dealers, etc., a couple of years ago from New York (land of few Ink Nineteen writers, snow, retirees about ready to hit Florida, medical students studying hard so they can set up shop in Florida, drug dealers, etc.).
“Hi, mom. It’s David. How are you?”
“Hello, Daaave,” replied my mother; she always adds a few extra a’s in there, has for quite a while, though this time her voice was softer than usual.
“How are you, you sound like you have a cold.”
“I have the stomach flu.”
“Do your joints hurt? And are you all achy?”
“Then you don’t have the flu.”
“Well, I’m sick.”
OK, so we’ve established that my mother is sick. I’m not a doctor, but anyone who’s had the flu (I have) would, you’d better agree with me that you have headaches in your shoulders. And the flu really knocks you out, like for a solid week, at least. Like all of us, my mother has had colds, nasty viruses, gout, consumption, yaws, well, maybe not yaws, but I digress. She’s pretty tough, so even at 68, I correctly reckoned that she’d weather this one with a week in bed and…
I continued, “But you’re still coming up here [New York City] in February [the conversation was in early January 2004], right?”
“Yes, to see the Queen of Spades…”
With Placido Domingo, ‘natch. At Lincoln Center, double ‘natch.
“You and your fellow groupies…”
My mother is a genuine groupie. Genuine in the sense that rock and roll bands have groupies, only these are opera star groupies. The opera star in question is Placido Domingo, the greatest tenor of them all. My mom’s been at groupie status for roughly 30 years. You think Led Zeppelin had groupies? You’ve got to experience these people. Women of all ages – then and now – stalk this dude all over the world, spouses or no spouses, families or not; their worlds revolve around this man. And they’re vicious, too. There is no mean number of media critics out there with prices on their heads courtesy of a few not
so-nice words about Maestro Domingo. They’re possessed, these women, possessed, I tell you! If you saw my mom run to catch a performance’s curtain, you’d think she’d been training for a masters 100 yard dash. Not to mention that she’ll come home at all hours of the night – on work nights, too. What’s up with the adults these days? And the stuff they save and exchange: newspaper clippings, magazine clippings, the photographs, the stage bills, everything. My mother’s “office” is filled to the brim with yellowed newspaper clippings, old photocopies of reviews she already has, bags of photos, etc. And she’s one of the “normal” ones!
Now, these are groupies with class. My first impression is that they’re unresourceful; I mean, look, if you’re into the music or whatever, figure out a way to see the show, get the records, tapes, whatever, for free. Or even better, get paid for seeing the shows. Start your own ‘zine or mailing lists or something. Oh, no, my first impression was 180 degree off the mark. They pay. These people are customers, not media parasites like myself, er, fellow “music journalists.” They pay for every performance, and they see ’em all. They buy all the recordings, all the videos, all the bootlegs, all the serialized comic books, everything. They even go so far as to tape entire radio broadcasts (classical stations broadcast a lot of live music, another reason they thrive no matter what else is going on in pop radio land) and exchange them amongst themselves.
These women also, as one can imagine, hang out backstage after a performance. They hang out at his restaurant(s) – and actually buy food, too. They’ll wait for hours after a performance simply for a glimpse of the Great Man.
They call each other on the telephone and arrange meetings months in advance. They buy special clothing for the occasions. They plan “vacations” around his performances. They subscribe to magazines in languages (my mother doesn’t speak Spanish, French, German or Italian – well, a smattering of each I suppose – yet the mailman must thing she’s a polyglot) they do not speak just in case Placido is mentioned somewhere. And he is mentioned, yes indeed.
These women, in short, are nuts, bonkers, whacked, crazy.
(By the way, this essay has a happy ending…)
Moving right along, my mother had emergency surgery on her lower plumbing. Serious emergency surgery. Serious enough that what worked for nearly 69 years (her birthday was 4 March, send her an e-mail Birthday greeting or just a get well message! – note: spam her and I will hunt you down and kill you) isn’t going to be with her for the remaining twenty or more yet to come. Serious enough that there were complications involving peritonitis, pulmonary embolism, opportunistic infections, you name it. Serious enough that she would not make it up to New York City for Placido Domingo in the Queen of Spades and the other performances, including the dinners at his restaurant, the desert discussions (hen parties, really) about last night’s performance, etc.
But thanks to four excellent doctors, several excellent nurses and a lot of friends praying for her (it works), David Lee Beowulf’s Mom, Ph.D. Is sitting in a chair, eating cottage cheese with fruit and a bowl of chicken noodle soup, sipping hot tea and reading the paper – after nearly a month of lying in bed, drifting in and out of consciousness, barely being able to express herself – and my mother likes to express herself, especially when reading about Placido Domingo.
She’s had a good string of visitors, including family and friends from the old high school days (my mom actually grew up just outside of Miami, so she’s got for-real ties to this area), and several friends who’ve been in the area, either for vacations – coincidentally – or who’ve retired to about the same location. And the phone calls: all the other Domingo groupies miss her so much, and they’re upset about missing her and that’s she’s sick and get well soon.
Well, one of the groupies made it down here, husband in-tow. Nice folks, really. They’re from Connecticut, in my parent’s age group, opera fans.
I need to digress a bit before concluding, and as you’ll see, it’s necessary. See, Placido Domingo’s groupies are real fans. And they want nothing more than to see him perform – and maybe drown him in a sea of flowers. They have day jobs to support their habits and they don’t want to be a part of “the scene” – we “music journalists” might say that we want to be part of “the industry” or something like that, you know what I mean, eh? The Domingo groupies are fans first, their own pursuits come second and rarely cross paths with all things Domingo.
Placido Domingo knows this. He knows it and he embraces it. He loves his fans. I’ve seen him perform live a couple of times (my mom “forced” me to drive her to a John Denver/Placido Domingo double-bill in New Jersey one summer, amazing crowd…), I’ve seen the performances on TV (he does Wagner, no explanation needed), and of course I’ve heard all the recordings – and seen the movies; Domingo is the Great Man. He’s probably the greatest living showman I’ve ever seen; the only rock and roll performers who’d compare are, no particular order and I invite argument, Rob Halford, John Cougar Mellonhead (OK, I saw Farm Aid in Virginia, get off my case), Manowar, and Ronnie James Dio. Those guys know how to put on a show and do their absolute best to be the best they can every time. They also know they have fans who expect nothing else (they also know that the show must go on – if their records are to be sold). I’ll note that I’m offering such a comparison because Ink Nineteen is from a rock and roll perspective, I’m positive there are non-rock performers out there who’d compare – but I’m also positive none would compare with Domingo in terms of talent (Domingo’s a conductor and actor, probably a chef for all I know) and the ability to perform night after night. He has aged extraordinarily well; young women – like, of nineteen – like him, and no further explanation is needed…
I didn’t mean he loved his fans that way, but, if it’s thrown at you, maybe one can’t avoid getting hit. Not that anyone, especially, the army of groupies to which my mom belongs, would so much as hint at the idea that he’s anything but loyal to his wife of 40+ years, and his kids, too.
Placido Domingo, true International Pop Star, loves his fans and knows them well. In fact, he knows my mother – and the rest of the bunch, by name. I’ve seen him come out after a performance and chat with her (and them). He’s a real decent guy, too. He’s friendly, cordial and interested in hearing what his fans have to say. He reads their letters and often replies. He replies to official and unofficial websites, blogs, even. He smiles a lot, too.
End of digression. So, this couple from Connecticut (Marge and Gene, lovely people) show up in the ICU – nice ICU, admits guests – and pay their respects in the manner that such people do.
And they hand David Lee Beowulf’s Mom, Ph.D., a personal get-well card from Placido Domingo (yep, that’s what that picture is!).
Talk about Babe Ruth moments… This first-born and only son doesn’t mind getting upstaged by the Great Man, no sir. Didn’t even cross my mind.
My mom’s high school pal was in the room, too (five visitors in the ICU? A miracle of modern medicine, I tell you!); ’twas fortuitous since she’s a teacher of Spanish (turns out she was in on the plan for Placido to get the message to Placido) and translated.
“What a lovely card,” said my mother. We were all speechless.
Nice guy, this Placido Domingo.
My mother might have missed The Queen of Spades, but thanks to PD Groupie Wilma (who called my mother every night), I found my way to the Met’s stage door and thanked the Great Man in person. Like I said, nice guy, this Placido Domingo.