I Just Met Anthony Kiedis
On Friday February 1, 2013 a dream became reality. I met Anthony Kiedis.
Johannesburg. Maboneng Precinct. 7:30pm. The Chalkboard on Fox Street.
I was there with Zola to see “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” Bioscope tickets are sold next door at The Chalkboard and we were waiting in a short line in the empty-ish bar. The movie was sold out and Zola was talking seats with the till-tender. I was looking around.
A handsome, tan, dark haired, worn out looking fellow is at the bar talking to a young woman. Double take. He looks familiar. Triple take. He looks like Anthony Kiedis. Staring. That is Anthony Kiedis. Could that be Anthony Kiedis? Yes. Maybe? Holy… the Chili Peppers are playing a show tomorrow night… That is fucking Anthony Kiedis.
“Zola, Anthony Kiedis is sitting at the bar. Holy fuck. That’s Anthony Kiedis.” Turns around to check one more time. “That’s fucking Anthony Kiedis.”
“Who?” She’s trying to make sense of my excited panic.
“The singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I’ve dreamed of this since I was twelve years old. I can’t believe this is happening.”
Stares at me in amusement. Continues looking for a solution to the sold out movie.
I consider a napkin or paper bag for an autograph. I lurk and try to gauge the conversation for when they may be done. Is it an interview? Is that table in the back in his crew? Does the owner of the Chalkboard know what is happening? Wow, that girl is young. What do I even say?
I tell Zola, “I always said I would have no idea what do if this ever happened and I was right. I have no idea what to do right now.” I am completely flushed. I am bright red. I cannot breathe normally. My mind is blank.
We sit at the picnic table at the end of the bar and I can see him easily as he faces the door. He is speaking so softly. I can’t tell if she speaks or what she offers him because her back is to me. The knees of his black jeans graze her crossed shin. The holes of her black jeans lend her a charming unfinished look that is only sexy by virtue of her extreme youth. She wears a short, grey v-neck tee shirt – the kind sold in a three pack in the children’s section – with no bra, and her small breasts offer him pert nipples that make eye contact even when she does not. He wears a white, aged tee shirt with some writing on it. The sentence is too long for me to make out without staring. He stands up to receive bottled water from the owner.
He is not tall. He wears black and white Nikes. The sleeves of his shirt are longer than I’d like so I can’t see the face of the Native American on his left bicep. He has a long jaw and forehead. His hair is thin and blacker than I imagined but his bangs offset the lack of volume. His eyes are huge and glimmer black in the overhead light. Only his seriously held lips bring his eyes into balance. His face becomes increasingly familiar the more glances I accumulate.
I’m trying so hard to hear him. The timbre of his voice is available but his words are not. He feels very serious this evening. She is holding her surprisingly generous hips tight on the bar stool and if not for his body slowly pushing into her space and her weight perfectly fixed to the seat, it could be interpreted that she isn’t interested. But he looks every bit the rock star he is and she looks every bit the version of the woman he’s slept with for the last three decades and so it is clear what is happening, just not when it will happen or how long it has been in the works.
Zola has found another movie we can see in Rosebank in an hour. Leave? While he’s still here? What? What are you saying?
I have to act. I’m stuck to my seat, keenly aware of how insignificant I am to his present experience while he is the entirety of mine.
I have to say something.
“Zola, I have to say something. I’ve played this out in my mind so many times before. I’ve got to say something.”
“Well what do you want to say?”
I want to tell him that he has been formative to my definition of lyricism, beauty, art and poetry. That I’ve loved the band since I discovered music. Thank you for being spectacular.
But this won’t do.
She suggests I simply say, “You’re music has meant so much to me and I want to say thank you.”
Short but sincere and if said correctly will tell him of all the ways their music taught me about living. He will look me in the eyes and know the truth of what I’ve said. He will smile.
Zola offers to take a picture and I could die that I have such a shitty camera phone. I hesitate – the idea of standing shoulder to shoulder with him seems impossible. I imagine making that picture happen and it feels imposing and out of balance. But I’m into the idea well enough and working on my nerve because they could leave at any moment. They have no drinks and seemingly no tab.
I marvel that no one has talked to him the entire 15 minutes I’ve been sitting here. Maybe no one realizes who is he. Or maybe they’ve been here so long that the throngs already came and went? Jesus, when are they going to pause? He seems to be constantly speaking, their vibe is getting stronger and the longer I wait the more of an interruption I will become.
A group of three guys in their late twenties stumble in from outside, iPhones raised. I miss their opener but hear the request for a photo. His body weight is now leaning back and away from them. He says no. Something like, “I’m just here” (or ‘being here’) “and I don’t give pictures because they…” (something about distorting or ruining).
The guys push and the one closest to me says, “Come on, that’s not cool,” to which he says, “No, what’s not cool is taking a photo of…” something longish and douchey sounding about – “It’s bad for the spirit to just take something from someone,” as he touches his bridged fingers to his solar plexus. I can’t make it all out even though I’m head-on watching the interaction. His response boils down to ‘I’m an artist, a person enjoying my night and you’re not entitled to take anything from me.’ The guys go back outside and I go back to looking away.
“Good thing that happened first,” Zola says. I agree.
Though this is exactly what I would expect from him, I feel they’ve ruined it all for me. Like tourists who climb over a wall in some ancient ruins and the site is shut down for the rest of forever and everyone misses out.
But I am going to talk to him. I will never forgive myself if I don’t. The proximity is great and there is a straight line between us. But they’ve crashed the conversation and I won’t do the same on their heels because they’ve tainted whatever kind of reception I could hope to get from him. They confirm what I already suspected – our interaction will be tenuous and un-warm despite the deepest sincerity I carry in my heart.
So I wait.
But we need to go.
We step outside and it really hits me. I cannot walk away yet. I confirm with Zola the simple lines I am to say.
I walk in there with sway in my hips, looking his direction. When I stop next to his guest and face him square on he will know I wish to say something to him.
I plant my feet and look at him and start with, “Sorry, excuse me” – all I see are his eyes looking at me – “I’m sorry to bother you, after you were just harassed by those guys…” Eternity. “…But, I had to tell you how much your music has meant to me. I just want to say thank you.”
I guess he reaches out his hand at some point and I guess I reach back because suddenly I am feeling the shocking softness of his hand. I don’t even know how our palms ended up touching. I have no idea how long it lasts. I know I saw his elbow move up and down at least once. I think. I know he is looking straight at me. His eyes are huge. But his mouth is hangs open like someone is telling him his bill is short. I am not sure if he half smiles as he says, “Ah, well, thank you.”
I was not ready to walk away but he offered nothing more in return. My mind was not my own to control. I started rambling into his face – into his eyes more specifically. I think I said something like, “I tried to get tickets to the show but it was sold out” to which he said nothing. Grasping the incredible lameness and irrelevance of the statement I’m shaken momentarily to my senses to say something coherent.
I ask, “Is it your first time in Joburg? Is she your ambassador?” He asks me to repeat myself, using what phrase I don’t know, but he did address words to me because I turn to include her in the conversation. “I mean, is she showing you around Johannesburg, as your Ambassador to the city?” He says with an ambivalent look on his face, “We’re each other’s Ambassadors,” he is leaning back and gesturing his hands in a pedal motion between them, “she’s from Australia but has some South African in her.” I have no idea what to say and she smiles tightly in a glance over her shoulder. I don’t have any reply to this failed effort to extend the conversation so I wrap up and say to him, smiling huge, “Well… I’ll let you get back to enjoying your evening. I just wanted to say thank you.” He nods, maybe gives a slight smile but maybe not, I can’t be sure. He is looking right at me but I realize nothing more is coming and turn to meet Zola outside. I’m in shock for the next 30 minutes and my breathing isn’t normal until we are on Jan Smuts in the suburbs.
During the drive out of the city I tell Zola that I can’t believe this just happened. I say I now know I am living my life right and am fundamentally a good person because this happened. I now know why I am in Johannesburg. I know this is an absurd conclusion to draw but as I say it I mean it. Everything feels significant toward the weight of this moment.
I am in glorious, euphoric shock. I am mortified by the weakness of my words, my spastic comportment, the insignificance of the moment for him in contrast to the moment for me – a chance to convey the unwavering depth and duration of my affection. I couldn’t find a way to make the moment mutual. I know this is unrealistic. He’s had fans for decades. Intellectually I know this is true and this is okay, but I feel like I failed on some level and it is bringing me down.
I get Erin on the phone briefly.
“I just met Anthony Kiedis.”
“I just met Anthony Kiedis.”
“WHAT” – processing – “What are you even saying right now? I don’t know what you’re saying. WHAT.” String of incoherent sounds, shrieks, questions.
“I know. I have to go, but I will tell you all about it tomorrow.”
Her shared disbelief shakes me to see that this stands on its own merits as something singular and wonderful. This is visceral and real, and this is what matters.