It’s no secret that I love Regina Spektor. From casual conversations to internet comment sections, I constantly remind anyone who'll listen how important she and her music are to me. It started years ago, when I was in college in Colorado. I would go to class during the day and work the late shift at a local seedy motel. At midnight, I’d clock out and walk the 20 blocks or so home because I didn’t have a car. This meant I’d usually get home at 12:30 a.m., just in time for Late Night With Conan O’Brien. These weren’t really the worst of times but they weren’t exactly the best either. Often, that show was the best part of my day. And one day, Regina Spektor was the musical guest. She played “Fidelity.” I remember thinking, “Who is this girl with the weird vocals?” Over the next few months, I saw this episode over and over again. It seemed like every time they needed to air a re-run, they'd play it. In the show, at the end of the song, Conan came up to her after and said, “That was one of my favorite performances in a long time. By anybody.” Afterward, her music was always in the back of my mind.
Life happened for a few years and I heard about her here and there, but I didn’t fully connect until I moved to Portland in 2008. I was spending too much time alone and looking for new artists whose catalogs I’d always wanted to explore, so I picked up Begin to Hope. As the saying goes, it’s been on ever since. I’ve listened to all her albums religiously and spent extraordinary amounts of time tracking down vinyl releases for even her most obscure songs.
I was lucky enough to see her perform live in 2009 when she visited Portland, and the hoodie I bought there is easily my favorite piece of clothing. I wear it regularly but cautiously, always afraid that I’ll spill my drink or brush up against an errant tree branch that'll ruin the last clothing item I want ruined.
When her newest album, What We Saw From The Cheap Seats, was announced, I was sure to monitor all the appropriate websites daily for any hint of a US tour. As soon as I saw a Portland date, I immediately emailed my friends with a link. “Are we going!? We’re going, right!? Yeah, we’re going.” Tickets were secured and I spent the next few months getting psyched.
And then, a few weeks ago, the day of the concert came. I’d been thinking about how I’m always walking past the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall — the venue — and how there’s always a tour bus parked out back. I made a deal with myself: after work, I would head back to my apartment, grab some of her records and take them with me to the show. If I felt up to it, I would see if I could hang out by the tour bus after the show and procure an autograph. Nothing fancy, just a signature on my favorite records. This wasn’t a commitment, it was just a precaution in case I wanted to be bold.
This wasn’t weird, right? Every now and then I’m stuck defending some of the pop culture I love. I don’t have a decent explanation, honestly. I hate to use such an abused phrase, but the heart wants what it wants. Spektor came into my life at a time when I was ready for that kind of art and it just made sense. It doesn’t hurt that the musicianship and writing is impeccable, but it’s more than that. I’m not a huge fan of the female singer-songwriter pianists to whom she’s so often compared — they always struck me as esoteric for the sake of being esoteric, without having much real substance underneath. And, sure, Spektor is often weird in many ways, but the songwriting is always there. At any rate, one of the good things about growing old is that you stop giving a shit about explaining yourself to people. My love for Regina is completely unabashed and it’s not my fault if you don’t get it and I really don’t have time to explain it to you.
Still, I hid the records (and a Sharpie, of course) in my messenger bag so I wouldn’t have to explain to the friends I wen to the concert with why I was going to wait outside the venue for an autograph. One of the things about being someone's big fan is that within the exact demographic to which you’re sexually attracted you often get joked about as a “stalker,” and I didn’t want to go through the whole routine of telling my friends that I just wanted an autograph because I like that kind of thing and it’s important to me. Not everybody’s a kindred spirit. Whatever.
Hoping for a new hoodie, I quickly queued up at the merch table because I’d arrived a little early and had time to kill before my friends arrived. Almost immediately, there was a tap on my shoulder. It was a co-worker.
“HEY! I can’t believe you’re here! Are you a Regina Spektor fan!?”
“Yeah. Huuuge fan. Such a huge fan.”
“When I first saw you, I was like, ‘Oh, does he work here at night? No, he must’ve just come in to use the bathroom!’”
We spoke for a little while and, of course, I did the little Explaining Myself thing. Unfortunately, there were no hoodies. I did get a nice poster (what of it?) and a t-shirt, though. When I asked for a t-shirt, the vendor (a woman) looked at me and said, “In a men’s size?”
We had pretty good seats. Lowest balcony, four rows back, center. Of course it was a great show; I don’t need to tell you that. She’s always perfectly charming and humble. She reacts to every round of applause like it’s the first time anyone’s ever clapped for her. She curtseyed because she is adorable. Like always, every song was played flawlessly. Lots of really young-looking girls who made me feel old and lots of boyfriends in gingham shirts.
After the encore, we filed out and talked about the show for a little while before my friends decided to call it a night. I waved goodbye and then slowly made my way to the back of the building.
A small crowd had already formed near the tour bus, and the road crew was loading up the instruments. I stood on the outside of the group, trying to look inconspicuous, but it was difficult when I was among a group made up almost entirely of teenage girls and their boyfriends. For the first few minutes, I was reluctant to pull out the records I had in my bag because I didn’t even want to signal to strangers that I had planned this whole thing. Then I started thinking, “What if she just flies out of the door!? What if there’s no time to reach in my bag!? I stick out like a sore thumb here; what if a bodyguard sees me reaching into my bag and thinks I’m going for a gun? What if I get arrested?” As I’m escalating the tension in my own head, I see another dude with a record and a Sharpie under his arm and figure it’s probably not a big deal if I have them as well. I’d brought the two full LPs I own along with several 7” singles and 45s. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed greedy to ask to have all these things signed. She would probably be tired and on her way to the next show, so I didn’t want to ask for too much. I decided to just try for the two LPs.
After about half an hour, I grew tired of looking down at my shoes and acting like I had something to do on my phone, so I decided to make conversation with a stranger. The other guy with a record looked to be the only other person there not accompanying a girlfriend. He had earbuds in. I tapped him on the arm with the rolled-up poster and said, “Hey, which record is that you have there? Is that a live album?” He showed me his copy of Live In London. “Oh…” I said. “I don’t have that one. I’ve seen the performance but I haven’t gotten around to getting the vinyl yet.” I showed him the records I brought and then just decided to keep the conversation going, because whatever, I’m out here and who knows how long I’ll be waiting. I've got nothing else to do...
I sometimes have a problem making friends with other men. I grew up pretty anti-social, and with moving around so much, I often found that the guys I wanted to be friends with already had their core group by the time I arrived and weren’t interested in keeping things going after I’d left. Friendship in adulthood is tricky enough on its own but between men it’s a unique problem because most men only stay friends with the guys they know from high school or college.
But it turned out this dude and I got along like gangbusters! He’s from Louisiana originally (me too) and he’s always trying to explain his love for Regina to his friends (OMG, me too!). We talked about our favorite songs and performances and general Portland lives, but we were always peeking around the corner for a glimpse of Regina. I asked him his name (Gabe). I gave him mine. We shook hands because WE ARE MEN. About an hour in, they’d loaded up the musical equipment and brought in new trucks to pack up the lighting gear. Gabe kept telling me he had to catch the last bus before TriMet shut down for the night, so he was hoping he could get his autograph soon. I looked at him like he’d just told me he had to hurry home to feed his cat. “What are you gonna do," I said, "tell people you got this close to meeting Regina but then had to go catch a bus?” He said, “Yeah, that’s true,” and stopped checking the time on his phone.
At this point, people were shuffling in and out of the tour bus. I looked up at a break in the conversation and saw her stepping on the bus. “There she is!” I didn’t panic, though, I figured she was just setting some things down and would come back out to greet the 20 or so people still hanging around two hours after the show. “I didn’t even see her!” Gabe said, and we formed a line with everyone else. She came back out and stood with a security guard who promptly instructed everyone that if they wanted to take pictures they would have to just take them because Ms. Spektor didn’t have time to pose with each fan.
Gabe was ahead of me, and after he got his autograph he started walking away. All the teenage girls were asking for hugs (she obliged, of course) and most of them were crying. It was almost my turn! I wasn’t even paying attention to anything else when Gabe said, “Hey, it was nice meeting you man.” Oh, no! But! Wait! I was going to find a totally not-weird way to ask for your number so we could hang out later! Don’t goooooooooobacktoRegina. I held out my two records, and the security guard gave me the side-eye. “ONLY ONE ITEM PER PERSON, GUYS!” He said it to the group, but it was meant for me. For half a second I thought about asking her, specifically, “Just two? Please?” But decided I should just be honored by her presence and take the one autograph. I held out the record. She signed it.
People often tell you that you should never meet your heroes. They will disappoint you. Or you will disappoint them. It’s best to keep the fantasy alive, where they can be perfect. These are the same people who won’t get off the bus 10 stops early because they made eye contact with the most beautiful girl they’d ever seen and just had to talk to her. I can’t live that way. Although there is some wisdom to their sentiment. Entertainers are notoriously rude. They will let you down. But I think you just have to know your idols. I, for one, would never want to meet Kanye West. He is hands-down my favorite artist of all time but I just know he would make me feel terrible. But not Regina! She’s delightful!
You feel different when they’re that close. They’re real. Two of my strongest celebrity-encounter memories involve marveling (separately) at how short Mos Def and Nas were. These men are icons in my mind, and I’d always just imagined them to be eight feet tall, but my slightly-above-average height easily towered over them. This didn’t shatter my images of them or anything, it was just more, like, “Whoa. They’re real people.” And Regina was real… impossibly tiny, sure… but not for a second was she anything less than you’d dream her to be. Always grateful to have fans and always, always, always looking happy to be there.
She signed my album and then looked up at me. Directly in the eyes. She said, “Thank you!” like I had given her something. Like it was my albums she’d listened to when she hadn’t spoken to another person in days. Like it was me who’d written songs that said everything she could never find the words to say. Like it was me that made her so happy she would grin like an idiot on the bus because my songs had so much joy in them. She smiled her goofy-but-warm, several-million-dollar smile. And for a split second, I lost that defensive edge of cynicism and sarcasm that I’d been developing for years. This woman was real and she was happy because of me. I smiled uncontrollably back and said, “Thank you.” in the most normal way I could.
It wasn’t exactly magical, but it was far from disappointing. I walked home wondering if there’s such a thing as Missed Bro Connections.
Reginal T. Squirge is a man for all seasons. He can be found on an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.