It was 20 years ago (not today… still have a couple of weeks to go for that).
Disregard the fact I was recently single twice-over (my first real serious girlfriend had broken up with me just two weeks before my 21st birthday and the rebound relationship was just a poor choice for both rebound chick and me), or I was starting my senior year of college that fall, or Kurt Cobain (an artist I had, and continue to have, a great affinity and respect for) had killed himself in April. Disregard the fact I was clearly on the precipice of true adulthood and had reached the points where I had the ability to see my decisions had ramifications and that it was time for me to take responsibility for them.
Disregard those as they were things I was disregarding at the time. Had I not disregarded them, and been more introspective, perhaps it would have been more obvious to me I was at a special point in my life (and, later in the fall, such introspection might have saved me, and the girlfriend it was aimed at, the most stupid and hurtful relationship meltdown I ever caused… alas, I wasn’t, and it didn’t).
I was 21, after all. I had long hair, flannel, ripped jeans, an earring, a goatee, Chucks and combat boots (not at the same time, of course), and a grudge against the world because I couldn’t keep a girlfriend and my grunge muse had just offed himself.
A legend in my own mind. I was all that and I was performing at Lollapalooza (you can keep your bag of chips).
No, I wasn’t touring with the show or playing in a band. It was a single day and I was performing poetry.
Now, had you not been alive in the early-mid 1990s (or blinked for about ten minutes), you might have not seen the influx of spoken word artists (poets, only a little less rhyme-y) that flashed (and just as quickly disappeared) on the national scene. We were rock stars without a band (and, in most cases, a competent signing voice) and we wanted our art to be heard! It even made its way to MTV in the way of a few specials and some videos by the likes of Reg E. Gaines and Henry Rollins. I mean… it had to be cool, right? Henry Rollins was on MTV performing spoken word.
Do not get me wrong — there were (and still are) some wonderful performance poets, slam poets, and spoken word artists out there to this day. The Nuyorican Poets Café (one of the epicenters of this literary upheaval) was founded the year I was born and is still going strong. In all seriousness, if you have any interest in American poetry, you need to check this scene out.
But I digress.
My interest in the scene was likely due to the fact that I had some modicum of talent (not much in terms of the poetry, but more in terms of the performance) and there were girls all over. Had I been promiscuous and not a serial monogamist, I likely would have tried to get into dozens more panties (after all… I was 21 and single).
I had beaten back others in a qualifying poetry slam at Planet Ant in Hamtramck earlier in the month and was now performing at Lollapalooza. A surprising (and, in retrospect, humbling) amount of friends came out to support me at Planet Ant, and a good deal of friends, colleagues, mentors, and would-be lovers went to Pine Knob with me that day.
No, I wasn’t on the main stage. Or the second. And the third hadn’t been established yet.
We were squirreled-away in “The Revival Tent of the Rev. Samuel Mudd’s Little Spoken-Word Armageddon”… which meant we were in a fenced-off area of the parking lot. And it wasn’t a cool day. It was late July on an asphalt parking lot in metro Detroit. Thankfully, water was cheaper to buy at Lollapalooza that year than it was the year before, but I digress.
Regardless of all of that, I was performing on the same stage as Maggie Estep.
Now, to understand that sentence, you need to understand the context, which means you need to understand a bit about me.
There are two key parts to the sentence. The first is “performing” and the second is “Maggie Estep.”
I’m rather the introvert.
Some assume this is not the case.
As I mentioned earlier, I have some modicum of talent when it comes to presentation and performance. I estimate I’ve presented, performed, or spoken to a rough total 40,000 people in the past 22 or so years. That, alongside my strong embrace of social media, likely makes people assume I’m heavily extroverted to the point of being an exhibitionist (as evidenced by the fact I’m writing an essay for my blog about my experience at Lollapalooza the summer after I turned 21) and that it’s only a matter of time before I appear nude on Rolling Stone in some sort of parody or salute to the famous John Lennon and Yoko Ono cover (the one where she’s fully clothed and he’s nude, entangled around her and giving her a kiss on the cheek).These people are wrong.
If you know me (and I mean truly know me), you know what my idea of a good time is (a handful of friends, good discussion, some music, some food and drink). You know I’m a brooding type who likes to have his space. You know I absolutely hate talking on the phone. You know that I get very nervous each time I have to take a stage. The confidence and swagger is a ruse.
But… girls. There were girls. My thought process? “I might be able to sleep with one of those girls.” (I was 21… stop judging me!) This was enough to get me past introversion and stage fright. Especially when you consider one of those girls could be (in my wildest dreams)… Maggie Estep.
I loved the look. The attraction was not solely about the look, but I loved the look. The slightly disheveled hair on the front of the CD, the black tights, combat boots, the lips (oh, those lips!) mixed with the Jersey/New York accent, all accentuated the mind inside that head of hers. Her work spoke to where I was (politically, mentally, and maturity) at the time, and I knew the mind had to match.
The attitude on her face made it clear if you, consumer of this CD, could somehow get past the disdain and manage to work your way into her panties and not have her tear you into tiny pieces verbally, the work getting there would be paid off in the sweetest damned reward (not just physically but mentally)…
She was not just the sex goddess of the western hemisphere, but she was the sex goddess of my mind.
It’s ebbed and flowed over the years, but I’ve always had a strong affinity for her work (even if some of it, in retrospect, is fairly immature).
Early in the morning on February 13 of 2014, I learned the news.
I flipped through the feeds on my iPhone as I was preparing for the workday and came across an entry to Neil Gaiman’s journal entitled “Remembering Maggie Estep.”
Now, I remember thinking clearly Gaiman had to be talking about a time in the 1990s he met her, or a reminiscence of sharing the stage with her or something fun… this couldn’t be a remembrance in terms of a memorial. Estep was only 50. She couldn’t be dead, could she?
I read on. She was dead. Died the day before from a heart attack.
The sex symbol of my then-modern literary awareness was dead.
I’ve thought on her death for these past five months. I thought about how my infatuation with her so clearly summarizes my 21-year-old self’s over-inflated ego and sense of self-importance. I’ve thought about all the lessons I learned in 1994 and how they all boiled down to Maggie Estep.
I was performing at Lollapalooza, yes… but I was performing on the SAME FUCKING STAGE AS MAGGIE FUCKING ESTEP!
There is very little memory of that day for me. I missed most of the concerts (not that I minded much, as Nirvana, the original headliners, were no more), rebuffed advances from a fellow poet (someone I really should have explored a bit with, frankly, because that would have been a better relationship than some of the ones I kept putting myself into prior to dating the woman who became my wife… but her age, 27 or 28, had me a bit freaked-out and I kept her at bay), I performed on the stage, took a literal soapbox out with a friend into the venue and perform (we were encouraged to “stand on our soapboxes” and perform for the crowd), sold a single chapbook, and bombed the main slam (likely due to my piece being critical of Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots, who were headlining, and the fact that I didn’t have a stacked audience like I had at Planet Ant).
My main memory is of seeing Maggie, watching Maggie, meeting Maggie, and getting summarily dismissed by Maggie (no getting into her panties for me, it seems… not that I would have deserved to).
The thing that sticks in my mind is, having a literary name (“Geoffrey,” after Chaucer), when it came time to get a CD of hers signed, I told her my name was spelled like the giraffe at Toys R Us.
What did I do that for?
She looked confused, then tolerant, and then I had to move along. I looked at the CD cover she had just signed and what did she write? “I don’t know what your name has to do with a giraffe.”
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. And not in the good way.
If I could have hid in the group of concert-goers at that point, I would have. I would have just disappeared into it, like Liam Neeson does at the end of Darkman.
But, no. I had to keep up the ruse and perform.
My heart wasn’t in it. I was done for. Not only was my piece the wrong one for the venue, and I had precious few people there to vote for me, I just wasn’t up to pulling it off. I was deflated and dismissed. I didn’t even stick around much longer after the competition was over. I just took the swagger and left for home.
Now, had I learned the lesson and accepted the blow to my ego and learned to turn it around, the rest of that year would have been more pleasant, I think. But I choose to ignore it, and sweep it under the rug, and not really think about what it meant for me.
Honestly, Maggie meant nothing by it and was just confused by the clearly twitterpated 21-year-old in front of her. But had I thought on it, I likely would have learned a lesson then that ended up taking me another four to get through my head (but, again, I was 21…).
Five months ago, I realized I would never have the chance to thank Maggie, my combat-booted sex goddess of the performance poetry movement, for the lesson she inadvertently taught me that day (regardless of the time it took me to actually learn it), and I realize I need to thank her for it.
I realize that such a simple, minor thing in her life, and what I then thought was minor in mine, turned-out to be a massive change in the better for me. As overused as this phrase is, it was a true paradigm shift for me… my entire world was tweaked just a touch by that one little encounter. I highly doubt I’d be who I am today due to that.
We never know, do we? We can never tell when some thing or some one is going to make us something better than what we are? Sometimes it take years to realize it. Sometimes we never do.
I’ll never get the chance to tell Maggie. I hope she died knowing she had an impact (and I don’t use that word lightly). At least one of those who was enamored with her look and voice and mind is able to say she truly touched him, too (and it was so inadvertent she likely would have no idea why, much less still not know what my name has to do with a giraffe).
So, it’s too late for you to hear from me, but… thank you, Not Normal Girl.