Here is a slide show of pictures my friends Rita Soto and Tom Hartman took from the day. The Brian photos come a little later on, so be patient!
So I took the Amtrak train down yesterday morning to see Queen guitarist Brian May, someone whose music and I have loved since I was 9, 10 years old, and whose personhood I have come to truly love and admire, someone who has been a big part of my life, talk about his love of stereo photography. He came with his co-author, art historian Elena Vidal, to talk about his book, A Village Lost and Found. I bought it when it came out around Christmas, and now May and Vidal are doing a short lecture tour around the States.
Last night was at the Free Library in Philadelphia and, because of my own schedule–he’s talking tomorrow at the Barnes & Noble in Tribeca on Thursday and the Met Museum on Friday, when I am seeing Rush perform Moving Pictures at SPAC–I decided to cannonball on down there, my old hometown, meet up with old friends and meet one of my biggest idols.
It was surreal. There were were, in this small auditorium of about 400 people–maybe bigger, but not much–and out comes Brian May onstage. The place was filled with psycho Queen fans like myself–you could tell by the buttons, the t-shirts, the fact that everyone had a camera to take pictures of him, and the in-jokes gotten when Brian started to speak. The woman in front of me was from Valley Forge. She had her tour programme from the 1978 Jazz tour when she saw them play the Spectrum. Her daughter and nephew sat next to her. I recognized a couple people from meetup-type things before the five Queen + Paul Rodgers gigs I went to in 2005, though I don’t know to many people personally. It felt like one big spastic Brian Mayniac family.
So May and Vidal come onstage, we’re allowed to use flash camera for that first, like 30 seconds flick–and they start to talk about stereo photographs. We all don these 3D-type glasses to view them on a silver-something-or-other screen. And the images were pretty fantastic. I don’t do too well relaxing my eyes ever, let alone looking through the stereo viewer, but I am getting better. But with the glasses, no problems. My childhood friend Tom Hartman, with whom I met for drinks beforehand at this cool place called Parc on Rittenhouse Square, who used to love to take the piss out of my for my Queen fandom while at the same time empathizing with me for my music nerd-dom and listening to the Jam, sat to my left; Rita Soto, whom I met as a college freshman at Rutgers-Camden more than 20 years ago and who used to hang out with me after English classes and argue about movies and books, and we still do, and who took me to Village Whiskey for lunch before meeting Tom, sat to my right.
And I was sort of sat between them, more floating on the seat, really, watching these stereoscopic images, trying to stay calm, trying to be in the moment, trying to fight the impulse, as I always seem to do these days, to stand outside the experience I am having, and genuinely enjoy it. I guess I was anxious because I knew there was this book signing thing afterwards and, if things worked out, I could get his autograph, shake his hand, look in his eye, say Hi. But the images themselves were arresting and odd; one was of a girl our oldest daughter’s age, who fell asleep standing up, her head resting on a chest.
Rita and Tom left before the Q and A ended and held a place in line for me. I met up with them after weaving through everyone in the mad dash to get in line, and took out my book.
Before I knew it, I was in front of Brian May.
“Hi Brian, I want to introduce myself. My name is Daniel Nester, and a few years back I wrote these books about your music. They’re called God Save My Queen. It’s a real thrill to meet you.”
(Some backstory: when the second God Save My Queen book came out, I had started to email with Greg Brooks, the Queen archivist, and I sent both books to him, along with, at his suggestion, another set for “one Mr. May,” who collects all things related to the band as well. That’s one indication I have had that maybe, just maybe, my favorite rock guitarist might have read or looked or knows of my books. Another time, one of the higher-ups in the fan club organization mentioned the books, and I think Brian said, “oh yeah, the book guy.” So I have some reason to think he might have known about me. A sliver of an indication of a reason, but one nonetheless.)
Brian was really nice. I don’t think he knew who I was, but he was gracious, took up a Sharpie. I didn’t need to tell him my name again, I remember as I write this, some hope that maybe he did know me. I went to Elena Vidal and said she “did a great job holding your own on stage with this guy.” Laughs.
Then I said I thought his readings of the little poems he did–these stereo photographs appear on cards with writing on the reverse, often little verses, and Brian read them along with some of the images–were really “affecting and lovely and bravura.” Pause. “I’m an English professor,” I said, as Brian said “oh, I see.”
“I know these things. You get an “A.”
Laughs. I say goodbye. I almost walked right by Elena Vidal. I was sort of embarrassed. But I got Vidal’s signature. And just like that it was all over.
I walked away with a wide grin. I don’t like to smile all the way out wide in public, because I look insincere. It hurts my face. The muscles hurt when my mouth goes that wide (that’s what she said, I know). Last night, I didn’t care. Tom, who had his camera the whole time, took a picture of me with Brian’s signature. And a wide grin.