(Illustration by Alex Fine)
WHAT IT FEELS LIKE WHEN THE BAND YOU LOVE HATES YOU
We all have bands we hate, really hate — you know, with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. You hate REM, I still hate Journey. There’s a lot of that going around. But how many people can say a band hates them? Tin-eared soundmen, people who jack the gear out of their van while they sleep, and the played jokesters who still yell “Freebird!” — and that’s about it.
And when you narrow it down to people who are hated by their favorite bands, well, it’s a very elite club, my friend. Membership is pretty much down to me and Mark David Chapman, homicidal Beatles superfan. Misery usually loves company but I have no sympathy for my cohort — he killed John Lennon. Motherfuck him.
My crime? Well, I wrote this pretty candid piece about Wilco for Magnet back around the time of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Everything I wrote about — the band members forced to walk the plank, the messy divorce from Reprise and the handshake drugs that were bought downtown, as well as the fact that Wilco had became the Great American Band — eventually became a matter of public record, in the documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart and the frank interviews Jeff Tweedy gave in the wake of his rehab stint last year. I contend, your honor, that my only crime was writing an honest story about the band before they were accustomed to people doing so.
Be that as it may, Wilco hates me. I know-boo-hoo, right? Sure, journalism isn’t Friendster. It’s not my job to be buddies with the people I write about, but it kinda sucks when you happen to admire them.
Last year I wrote a story about the Terror Dentist, aka Anand Rao, a 33-year-old Rittenhouse Square dentist and Wilco super-fan who was visited by the FBI after somebody, possibly a patient, made an anonymous tip. A few weeks before then-Attorney General John Ashcroft held one of his curiously timed be-very-afraid-terrorists-walk-among-us press conferences. One of the cold-blooded killers possibly hiding under your bed or mine was named Adnan. And Rao’s first name was Anand. If that wasn’t suspicious enough, Anand is of Indian descent and, to a nearsighted or paranoid elderly patient, could pass for an Arab.
The whole thing ended happily, with the FBI agent asking Anand for a dental appointment. In the accompanying photo, Anand posed in his beloved Wilco shirt, purchased off eBay for a princely sum and rumored to have belonged to the drummer.
Somehow Wilco sees the story and links it on their website, for like the whole summer. At one point, their Web master got a hold of me, saying the band wanted to invite Anand to see them perform at Radio City Music Hall. Free tickets, backstage passes, the whole nine yards. We’d become friends by this point, and Anand thought it was only fair that he take me — or maybe I said that, I’m a little fuzzy. I definitely told him he couldn’t tell them who he was bringing because it might queer the deal.
So the big night rolls around, we stroll up to the box office at Radio City and … no tickets. Come back later, they say. The band hasn’t turned in the guest list yet. That’s odd, I think. It’s less than a half-hour to show time. We go out front and a couple people in line recognize Anand. “Aren’t you that Terror Dentist guy?”
Anand tells me he feels like a rockstar. With the clock dwindling, we agree to drop a $100 pair of scalper tickets just to be safe. We’re not going to come all this way and miss the show. As we head back inside, we check at the ticket booth one last time. No dice. We explain the whole Terror Dentist saga to this sweet old lady usher, she goes backstage, finds Wilco’s road manager, explains the deal, comes back with two tickets. Don’t worry about the passes, she says. Just go to the backstage door after the show.
Cool, we think. We go inside, watch the show. In a word: transplendent. But you already know that, and if you don’t you can check out Kicking Television, the just-out live album recorded over four nights at the Vic Theater in Chicago. How is it? It’s fucking great. They’re my favorite band. What do you think I’m gonna say?
So after the show we knock on the backstage door. A smiling security guard opens the door and asks us if we’re here for the party. Yes, very much so, we say. He looks for our names on the list and when he can’t find them he stops smiling and slams the door in our faces. Just then this guy walks up. British accent. Looks like he’s in the Strokes.
“Blimey,” he says. “You’re that Terror Dentist bloke, ain’t ya, mate?”
Again, rockstar moment for Anand. Turns out he’s Wilco’s road manager and he’s gonna get everything sorted. We follow him inside and up the elevator. He tells us he’s got to make preparations for the party downstairs, so he’s gonna escort us up to the band’s dressing room. “Wait till they see you!”
The elevator door opens up, and we’re deposited in the tiny hallway outside their dressing room, crowded with the band’s inner circle: manager, publicist, a few Nonesuch bigwigs. I turn around and I’m standing face to face with Jeff Tweedy. Last time I talked to him, he asked me to never call him again. Tweedy gives me the hairy eyeball and retreats into the dressing room and slams the door shut. Up walks Wilco’s manager, Tony Margherita, who kinda looks like his name sounds.
“I’m gonna take you guys to the party,” he says. We get on the elevator and head down, the door opens and we get out, you know, to go to the party. And then we realize we’re back at the backstage door and spin around to see the Tony Margherita still in the elevator as the doors close in our face. We’ve just been kicked to the curb. Anand was pissed. But me, I remember thinking I would die if I could come back new.