I’ve written about the fickle nature of memories in S2E4: Memory is Overrated and S2E46: What Will I Remember?, but today I’d like to address the flip side of that coin: indelible memories.
The recent heart-wrenching announcement that Roberta Flack has ALS and can no longer sing brought up a fond memory of my brief encounter with the superstar in 1977.
I was the manager of Newark Symphony Hall, a 3,285-seat historic landmark theater in downtown Newark, NJ. It was a Saturday and the show that night was two up-and-coming soul artists: Phyllis Hyman and Peabo Bryson.
There was a rumor going around that Mick Jagger and Roberta Flack might show up as they were both just across the river that night in New York City and were friends with Phyllis Hyman. It was just a rumor and I didn’t think much of it.
The show began a little after 8pm. It wasn’t a sell-out, but there was a nice crowd of around 1,800. It was about 20 minutes after the show had begun, the audience was seated, and I was talking with the doorman at the main entrance to the theatre.
Suddenly, a group of patrons presented themselves at the door, having come down from the balcony, probably trying to move to better seats in the orchestra section. It wasn’t all that unusual for people to do that and there were plenty of available seats, so it wouldn’t be a problem to accommodate them.
The doorman stopped them from entering and they were giving him a hard time, so I stepped in and tried to mediate. I told them that I’d let them in but they first had to show me their ticket stubs from their balcony seats.
Directly in front of me was a heavy-set African-American woman with her hair in dreadlocks wearing a floppy beach hat, enormous sunglasses and a white print muumuu. She kept shaking her head and saying, “I don’t believe this! I don’t believe this!”
I was in the middle of explaining it again when I heard the elevator from the balcony open and another group of people presented themselves. I looked up and saw Mick Jagger.
OMG! I immediately realized that I had been standing there arguing with Roberta Flack!
I apologized profusely and led them all into the theater. She was kind enough to tell me not to worry about it and that it was no problem.
Once they were inside, I rushed to find my partner, Roberta, whom I had hired to be our house photographer, to tell her to be on the lookout for them and to get some pictures. She found them all backstage and took the picture of Phyllis, Roberta and Mick at the top of this post. (Note: email subscribers can click here to see the picture.)
But that’s not where the story ends. During Peobo Bryson’s set, Roberta ran into Mick standing all by himself, leaning against a colonnade at the back of the orchestra section, watching the show.
With all the confidence in the world, she went right up to him and asked if she could take some pictures. He said he was really tired, but she begged him—I mean, literally begged him—for just 1 minute of his time…and he agreed!
For 1 minute, it was just the two of them: he posing and making faces; she snapping photos as fast as her index finger could go. It was the dream of a lifetime come true for Roberta, albeit a dream she had never even dared to dream.
After the concert was over, she was packing her camera bag and getting ready to leave when she discovered that she hadn’t had any film in the camera during her exclusive photo shoot with Mick Jagger. She was inconsolable for days!
Two years later, Roberta and I were married on that same stage. There were no famous performers in attendance that afternoon, but the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra was and they played Mendelssohn’s Wedding March for us.
It’s now 43 years after that event and Mick is still performing, but Roberta passed away in 2010, losing her 3-year battle with cancer. Yesterday would have been the 49th anniversary of our first date which we always celebrated as our ‘traditional’ anniversary.
As I said, some memories are indelible.