Friday, October 31st. Everything was perfect. Dressed in my hippie-chick best, barefoot, my hair as big and curly as I could get it, I set sail in my VW Beetle to the local club to see a rockshow.
As anyone who really knows me knows… I am the biggest Wings fan in the world (as in Paul McCartney and Wings), and tonight, Denny Laine was in town, and I was going to have a chance to do a meet-n-greet and finally meet him in person. For those of you who don’t know, Wings was essentially a trio at its core, Paul, Linda and Denny being there from beginning to end, and the other 2 members were ever-changing, which contrary to the criticisms leveled agains the band, was for the best, as each incarnation of Wings was significantly different than the last, and each album a departure… which is, once again, contrary to the myths generated by assholes in the rock press. These personnel changes brought about a tension, energy and forward motion that kept them fresh. And, for those of you who don’t know, Wings was a killer band… and if you don’t believe me, it’s because you haven’t REALLY listened to them. Clear the pop-press and cool-guy pretension from your ears and really dig in and discover Wings, I promise you you will be surprised at the amount of amazing stuff they did. To tell the truth, I tend not to trust people who claim to hate McCartney and Wings, as they have usually been brainwashed by critics, and are often trying to prove something about their “hipness.” Hey, babe, if you think you’re too smart or too hip for Wings (which you aren’t)… you’re too “hip” for me.
What I didn’t know until I was waiting in line outside the Highdive here in Gainesville for the meet-n-greet was that I wasn’t just going to get to see, hear and meet Denny Laine, but another member of Wings… a twofer! I was outside the venue when, at some point, I overheard someone say, “Steve Holly is going to be here tonight.” I went breathless. Shit, I was gonna meet Denny Laine AND Steve Holly! Then, of course, hear them play. my energy level went all electric in an instant. My favorite Wings album was their last, “Back To The Egg.” In that line-up Laurence Juber played lead and Steve Holly/Holley drummed. See… this wasn’t just any member of Wings… this was a “Back To The Egg” member of Wings.As I got in line at the meet-n-greet, I didn’t really know what to expect, but there he was, Denny Laine, standing in front of the table getting ready, and older or no, he was still Denny fucking Laine! And there, off to the side, was this smiling mid-sized bear of a man (and I mean that in a “Balou The Bear” sorta way) just hanging out on a bench in the back… I looked through all the years (about 38), and saw clearly who it was, THAT was Steve Holly! So, I broke away from the line and walked up to him, asking, “Are you Steve Holly?”
“Yes I am.” And he stood up to talk to me. About all my nervous self could do was sputter out, “‘Back To the Egg’ is my favorite Wings album… McCartney doesn’t seem to like it all that much, but the rest of us love it.” We talked about the possibility that they might play a couple songs from “Back To The Egg” that night. I requested “Spin It On,” and “Old Siam Sir,” to which Steve said he doubted they’d do “Old Siam Sir” as it’s a really difficult song to play. That said, Wings killed on it live back in ’79. From there I realized I didn’t have any “Steve Holly Era” Wings stuff in my bag (though I had a poster in the car), so we agreed to fudge it a little. Steve Holly was in the “London Town” videos even though he wasn’t on the album, so he signed my “London Town” press kit (a rare collectible). When he went to sign my press-kit he asked my name. “Justine,” I said.
“Is that the French spelling of Justine?” he asked.
“Yeah, just like the Marquis de Sade.”
I told him I have been looking for years for a complete concert on video from 1979 era Wings, and asked if he knew of any, even bootlegs. This launched him into a story about how all of his personal memorabilia, what he called his “whole life,” was stolen while he was in New York! It was pretty sad, actually, but I guess some guy just stole the bags with all his memories, but just this year some guy sent him files full of stuff, so after all these years he has all of what he lost back, his whole life. He laughed as he told me about the guy who gave him the files and said, “It was probably the guy that stole the stuff.” From there he talked a bit about this and that before he broke away to talk to the line that was building once the others started figuring out who he was. What initially struck me was how incredibly at ease and open he was, and how genuine. It was obvious that he loves talking to the fans, and that it brings him as much joy as it does us. Though he did excuse me to talk to others, I in no way felt like he was brushing me aside, he was just trying to be polite and give everyone a chance to talk with him. Not for a minute did I feel he was eager to brush me aside.I got in line for Denny Laine, and was stunned… I mean he has been a Rock God to me since I first saw him all lit up in “Rockshow’s”glorious green,blue, pink and purple light; the great lighting being a huge part of what made “Rockshow” so damn cool. Shit… there was Denny Laine! McCartney’s collaborator, the guy who played on “Band On The Run,” the guy who, with Paul, co-wrote many of the best damn pop and rock songs of the seventies. I talked to him about “London Town,” as that press kit was what I had in hand, and asked him about “Deliver Your Children,” which I admitted I couldn’t recall if he or he and Paul wrote that one. When he told me he wrote that one, I came back with, “It’s the best song on the album.”
“I like this girl!” Denny called out in a sudden burst of enthusiasm, as he, of course, did write that one… and it’s one helluva song, too.
But he wasn’t quite as open as Steve Holly, very kind, but a little more standoffish. I asked him one other question, just because we were standing there waiting as he also signed my Concert program from the 1976 tour (which was before my time). Anyhow, I asked him if he ever got melancholy or nostalgic when he thinks back on that heyday of fame and sold out arenas. He said, no, he doesn’t live in the past and he’s happy doing what he’s doing now, which was a genuine and well-adjusted answer. I kind of regret the question, not because I hadn’t wanted to know, but it’s not a question so much as the sort of thing that would have been best discussed over dinner or something.
I then went along my way, out to dinner with my friend Miriam (first generation Beatle fan) because there was so much time between the meet-n-greet and the show. We returned well before the show started, but, almost 2 hours after my little chat with Steve Holly. Not really paying much attention to what was going on around me, as I was headed to the restroom, someone said, “Hi Justine.” I’ll be dogged… it was Steve Holly! I just sort of touched his shoulder as I passed and said, “Hey, Steve.”
What? He’d bothered to remember my name? Two hours later, after meeting a line of fans… and he knew my fucking name! My heart melted, I just thought, you know, what a sweet and kind guy. Or, perhaps, just perhaps (dare I think it), he found me memorable. Well, I’ll never know which it was, but regardless, we were now on a first name basis… at least for the moment.
The show was great fun, watching two members of Wings play was a delight. Denny started off a little loose, then got tight and really nailed it, especially on “Time To Hide,” which is a number that really pleased the Wings fans, all of us remembering it well from “Rockshow,” which is, for my money, the greatest concert film ever… period. It’s everything a rock concert should be, dark, moody, hard-driving, at times silly, energetic, and bathed in colored light and pyrotechnics… oh, and the clothes! The glorious glam clothes. It’s a fabulous example of 1970’s excess, right down to the horn section and double-necked guitar Denny played… and who could forget the airbrushed action shot of Wings that was in the gatefold of the tripple album “Wings Over America.” But Denny Laine’s a little older now, and around about the middle of the set he got a little raw, but got his mojo entirely back by the end (“Spirits Of Ancient Egypt” being especially hot). And all the while, Steve was spot-on with the drumming. He was not only proving to be a sweetheart of a guy, but was still a wicked-cool drummer. Being a Wings fan I have lately found McCartney’s Beatle-Paul nostalgia shows to be a bit of a drag, so it was a delight to hear so many Wings songs in one evening… songs like:Again and Again and Again,
Spirits Of Ancient Egypt,
Time To Hide,
Listen To What the Man Said,
Band On the Run,
Deliver Your Children,
Live and Let Die,
Mull Of Kintyre
And a bundle more.
The show was very informal and easygoing, they played like a beloved local act, it was actually really warm and loose. To tell the truth, I was more into it on that level, the band took the attitude that we were all just having a little private party among friends. On a personal level, I was enjoying dancing around barefoot in the club, which I had managed to get into without any problems… but the big bummer of the night was that I had forgotten to smoke any grass. As much as I loved the show, it was after the show when I really experienced the high points of the evening.
A few minutes after the show, at least two more hours since last we spoke, Steve came right out to greet the fans who had waited, and I got right up to him… and he actually hugged me, kissed me on the cheek and greeted me by name again!
Yeah… THE Steve Holly from Wings hugged and kissed me! And remembered my name all night! Well, this is especially prescient considering that he’s the first guy in five fucking years to hug and kiss me AT ALL! But, I guess if a girl’s gonna get hugged and kissed it might as well be by a rock-n-roll hero.
This was the first hug of the night, and it took me totally by surprise, and a delightful one at that. Right, I know, I’m being all giggly-fan-girl on you guys, but Wings really is my favorite band, other than the Beatles, in that I probably play more McCartney solo than I do Beatles, and I grew up in the Wings era, not the Beatle era. That music got me through some pretty hairy stuff and a lot of lonely nights. This was not only the music of my childhood, but music I grew into and carried with me into my adulthood. That music has been my constant companion, literally the soundtrack to my entire life. I mean, I have literally been into Wings since forever, and I’ve been seeing Steve Holly on TV since high school, especially back then when MTV would show clips form “The Concert For Kampuchea” all the time. Steve Holly was, to me, another part of the mythology of the Beatles. He was “one of them,” and to my mind one of the Gods… he may as well have been on Valhalla… and here I was on a first-name basis and getting a hug and kiss! How could I not dig that? And I had just seen Denny Laine play from like six feet away. It was really really grand!
When he got to talking with someone else, I dashed out to my car and grabbed the Wingspan poster I had that was a photo from the era in which Steve was in the band, a killer, and extremely cool and edgy shot, that anyone who has actually bothered to follow them knows is what they were, cool and edgy, as well as melodic and catchy. The fans were oohing over this poster, then when Steve caught a glimpse of it he just stopped and went towards it. he first kissed Linda, then began telling me how rare the poster was and began telling me all about the photo shoot. He just stood over it, with a couple fans, and reminisced. He said the photographer had asked them not to shave and to stay up for 3 days to get that haggard edgy look. He said it was for the “I’ve Had Enough” single cover. But Steve would not sign it with my pen, as he was afraid of damaging it, but as he walked off to find a felt-tip pen, he gave me another warm hug and kiss on the neck, but this hug a little longer and a little warmer. I figured he was never going to get to a felt-tip pen, as he was giving each fan his full attention, so I went off to find a felt-tip while he talked to other fans. For a while I listened to him talk to a young drummer kid about working with John Bonham on Rockestra, at one point Steve leaned in and told the kid some drum secret from that experience. It was so generous! I realized that probably everyone who had the opportunity to talk him went home like me, feeling as though he had been willing to be open and connect even if for only a brief few moments. I’ve known a lot of charming people, but this went way deeper than charm. He made me feel special… and it seemed he did the same for everyone.
I got his attention with the marker and walked him back to the poster, and he really dug it again, tapped a kiss to his fingers and pressed them to Linda, giving her a second kiss before signing the poster. As things wound down, he gave me a delicious cradling bearhug that was so kind and generous I realized that I no longer just loved this band and this music, but this kind, fun, generous guy. The hug was real, and it was like hugging a great big koala bear, he gave me another peck on the cheek as the hug released, and said, “see you down the road, Justine,” but his tone was not that of tossing off a cliche, but of meaning that we would indeed see each other down the road.I walked out having made two connections with Wings, and an extremely memorable first-name basis connection with Steve Holly. It was a night I will never forget… and one that will warm my heart for years to come, if not a lifetime. And, I get to add it to my fabulous firsthand stories about my favorite band. I mean, at this point I have met Denny Laine, have been kissed and hugged by Steve Holly 3 times (as well as having been on a first-name basis), and McCartney himself talked about a video I had made in “Radio Times,” so I have essentially made real connections with 3 of the 5 “Back To The Egg” members of Wings. As I think on it, it’s actually a pretty remarkable accomplishment.
Yeah, Steve, I do hope to see you on down the road. But until then, I guess I’ll have to settle for watching the old Wings footage and melting every time it hits me that “THAT GUY” in Wings, the drummer, and I were on a first-name basis, and that “THAT GUY, STEVE FREAKIN’ HOLLY FROM WINGS” hugged and kissed me 3 times. And that THAT guy is real, and even if for only one night… we connected.
Am I being silly? You know, I don’t really care, it’s a warm kinda silly. Yeah, I am a bit embarrassed at the thought that there is some tiny chance Steve Holly might read this… as I will have totally blown my cool with all this gushy crap… but hey, if you’re out there, Steve… thank you so much! Yes… I will see you on down the road, and I hope to hell you are as happy a man as you seemed that night. You’ve given me a real and joyful connection to something I truly love… and I wish you all the best… you are adorable!
Justine, I’m so glad that you got to meet two of your heroes, and that it worked out so well for everyone. Congratulations!
Yeah, it was good… it usually is. Most of my “heroes” have proven to be lovely.
That was an awe-inspired post! I grew up loving Wings, also. Glad you were able to connect with some of your idols in such a positive way. Cool!
Thanks, Michael! For me, it was one of the great nights. Now everytime I watch any of the Kampuchea clips… I get an electric tingle of satisfaction and I keep thinking… “I hugged that guy!”
What a terrific story! I’m glad that Steve was so warm and generous with his time, and I can understand Denny’s “aloofness” – as you point out, he was there for all of the Wings run – a collection of GREAT albums all…thanks for sharing!
Thanks, and thanks for your piece on BTTE.