“I ventured into this place called Rare Records on John Dalton Street in Manchester, I went into the basement and I remember to this day it was like a sea of future happiness.”
— Johnny Marr, MOJO Magazine (January 2009)
After seeing him play in Portland, Oregon, Johnny Marr held my hand, and I told him about my novel. I told him how he had helped me write it, and in that moment, I felt the world ahead open up in that surreal and blinding way when everything seems possible. Here's how it happened:
April 16, I took the #9 bus to The Aladdin Theater. Inside, I could hear Marr sound-checking “The Right Thing Right,” and I lingered around back near his bus and thought about what I might say to him. Coming just six months from meeting Noel Gallagher in the same city, my brain had convinced itself that if I could meet one of my favorite people in the world, then surely one more would be no trouble. A man standing nearby, a fan, told me that Johnny had arrived not long before and told him that he was “running behind.”
That's fine, I thought. No point waiting in line out front when I can hear music from this spot. Eventually, the opening band, Alamar, wandered inside for their turn, and another man (who I'd later recognize as Marr's drummer), came out to retrieve something from the bus. We all nodded hello.
Once inside, I managed to walk right up to the front of the stage. Though there was a sizable open floor area, much of the crowd chose to use the theater's seats. I don't know if it was because the crowd skewed older — and therefore, they were more immune to the charms of front-row gig-experiences — but like hell was I going to grab a seat. Forget the sciatica, the burgeoning head cold, and the blister on my heel that plagued my day — On this evening, my body could pretend to have the same boundless pit energy I had at sixteen. This was Johnny Fuckin Marr, and the swirling brilliance of rock 'n roll can heal all.
Alamar's set was pretty good. The two women played alt-fuzz-rock, if you'll forgive the multiple hyphens in trying to describe them. Guitar, bass, laptop drum machine.
Oh, but then … Then out walked Johnny. He is a rather pint-sized man — probably around 5'6” and a size small — and he did this hip-swaying move while playing that was dead sexy. He engaged the crowd, walked around stage a bit, and when he played Smiths songs like “Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before” and “There is a Light That Never Goes Out,” I may have temporarily died from happiness. Though he played much of his album and those few Smiths songs, he also did one Electronic song. The encore brought us “I Fought The Law” and “How Soon Is Now?” where I died all over again. I cheered, danced and sang my ass off during the whole gig, tiredness be damned.
Along with a few of the other people I'd spoken to in the crowd, I made my way to the back entrance of the building and waited once more for Johnny to arrive. I'd been preparing myself — None of this blurting out the first thing that come to mind! About three people were ahead of me once he did come outside, and I waited calmly, ready.
When it was my turn, I held out my hand. “Hi, I'm Sara,” I handed him my CD and my purple Noel Gallagher-used Sharpie. “I came prepared.”
He smiled. “Is that Sara with or without an H?”
My brain made various nonsensical !!!!!! thoughts.
“Are you from Portland, Sara?” He looked up from signing the CD, and it became very clear that when Johnny Marr is talking to a person, he is talking only to that person. No hurrying me along.
“No, I'm from Montana.”
“Montana!” People are always impressed by Montana as though it's Mars.
“Yeah, I got in on the train this morning. And, I have to tell you something.”
“Yeah? What's that?”
“Something you said in an interview about Rare Records in Manchester helped me write a part of my novel.”
At this, he brightened up considerably. “Really? What did I say?”
“You said you'd go down into the basement — ”
“With all the singles, that's right!” Full on grinning now.
“Yes, and when you'd take the new records home and listen on headphones in the dark, that you knew you were going on a little journey.”
“Wow. I was just a kid.” He grabbed my right hand and held it there in his. We stared at each other, after I took the half-second to glance down and confirm that, Yes, Johnny Marr had willingly and excitedly grabbed my hand, before he said, “That is so wonderful that something that was so important to me so many years ago made a connection with you now.”
“You were tremendously helpful,” I said. “Really.”
I realized that the line behind me was getting anxious to have their own moment. “I won't monopolize more of your time,” I said, “but … you have my Sharpie.”
I took my signed CD and my Noel Gallagher/Johnny Marr purple Sharpie and stepped aside so the woman behind me, Jane, could talk to him. She'd asked me before I spoke to him if I would take their picture when it was her turn. He agreed to a photo, and she says to both me and Johnny, “Can we move into the light? Here, move over here.”
She directed us closer to the lighted area by the stage door. “Jane is a bit bossy,” he said, laughing.
I took a photo, but it was a bit blurry — probably because my insides were still all !!!!!! They had a conversation about the buttons/badges on her coat, and she gave him one that her friend made. While they were talking, I scribbled onto one of my business cards, You helped me write my novel.
“I don't have a pen for you to sign anything,” she said to him.
“Oh, here.” I handed her my Sharpie, along with her phone. To Johnny, I gave the card. “So when the book is out in the world and you see it, you'll remember who I am, maybe.”
“Sara is prepared!” he said. “Thank you.”
After signing one of Jane's buttons, she and I started to walk away when he called out, “Good luck with your novel, Sara.”
And then I died again — But not before I answered, “Thank you!”
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Johnny. Even if the second time, I never got my Sharpie back.
(View the rest of my photos from that night on Flickr.)