Friday, November 18, 2011

Sheena Easton: The First Time Ever I Saw Her Face

If only 1989 hadn't happened. That's the year I first "met" Sheena Easton. And oh, how disillusioning it was. She was at a career peak with the success of album The Lover In Me, which led to a contract peddling exercise gear for Bally's gyms. In D.C., where I lived, it was known as Holiday Spas.

When I read that Sheena was going to make an appearance at Holiday, I was beside myself. Imagine: After eight years of near obsession, I might meet my idol.

As we all know, such rendezvous are dangerous. Expectations are off the chart and unless you're willing to make an ass of yourself, you have to play it cool: Smile, say something like "I've enjoyed your music since 'Morning Train,'" and soak up whatever quick-and-dirty conversation may result.

Of course, I know that now. At the time, I had so much anticipation. I was not only nervous as hell, but somehow allowed myself to believe that Sheena and I would conjure some sort of connection in the 8 seconds I stood before her.

I was savvy enough to not carry a stack of shit for Sheena to sign. Keep it simple. I took one 45 cover for her to sign... Not to belabor the meet, but it was horrific. As I stood in front of Sheena, I was dumbfounded. She was absolutely beautiful. I mumbled something about a single coming out the following month—so she at least knew I was a "fan" and not an exercise freak—and got a quick response, without much emotion, as she hastily signed a photo I loathed on an exercise machine.

Call me nuts, but I was... furious. I left the joint and drove away recklessly, cursing and yelling out loud. I got home and tore down my cherished bulletin board of Sheena 45 covers that I had meticulously collected over the years. To this day, I have no idea who I was angry at, or exactly why I fumed so.

Let's just say... it gets better. In 1996, as Radio Editor for Billboard magazine in New York, I made it my mission to meet Sheena Easton. And how convenient: She was appearing on Broadway in a revival of Grease. I pitched editor Timothy White to write a story about how a "fading" pop star had maintained her career through acting... and he loved the idea. In fact, Tim granted a luxurious two-page spread for the piece, leading my Programming section.

After a call to Sheena's longtime manager Harriet, it was arranged that I would interview her at the Motown Cafe, where the cast of Grease was celebrating its 100th or 1,000th show, or something. First, I was escorted backstage after seeing the show... where I was irritated that my damn knees were actually shaking! Despite interviewing dozens of celebs at Billboard, this was, of course, the holy grail... and I was terrified.

Once we got to Motown, however, Sheena and I sat down for dinner—and I watched her eat. Food. Like everyone else. Fascinating. I think I even remember swiping the fork she used... As the questions began rolling, it became  obvious to her that I knew my shit: every single, album, chart position, date. And it became apparent to me that such stats were much less important to her: In fact, I found myself reminding Sheena which order her albums had been released in. It was pretty damn hilarious.

More so, I discovered that the "girl next door" was bawdy bad, filthy funny and an absolute stitch to spend time with. She was no holds barred, telling me exactly what she thought of the business, her ups and downs, trials and triumphs and some gritty behind-the-scenes shit (such as watching industry leaders snort cocaine, while she politely refused... always). Some of the name-brand producers she'd worked with that were pretty much asswipes. Good shit like that.

In all, we spent three hours together that evening. My knees stopped knocking and my dreams came true: At long last, I had not only met Sheena, but had a real-life conversation, asking her everything that had ever occurred to me about the minutia of her career... and I found her refreshingly candid, with not a lick of BS. The love affair remained intact! We even posed for photos, which, of course, became among my most cherished starfucker possessions... as they remain to this day, hung on my office wall right here beside me.
After the Billboard story was published, I got a voicemail at work, where Sheena graciously thanked me for the article and told me how refreshing it was to be quoted correctly... naturally, I still have that recording. Talk about precious.

Over the years, I've had the pleasure to see Sheena many times—during her residency at the Las Vegas Hilton, at casinos and small clubs, during her second run in Man of La Mancha, even at tiny outdoor fairs. Almost always, with my Sheena mainstays Alex, Ev and Andy, we go backstage, and often have dinner with Sheena.

She asks about our lives, tells us about her kids... and love affairs... and we always laugh and laugh with her. I can't begin to express what it has meant all these years... Even as Celine Dion entered her heyday of hits in the 1990s, it's still Sheena that I turn to when I travel, in times of heartache or... for no reason in particular.

Hardly a day goes by that Sheena isn't somewhere on my playlist, whether hits of the '80s or my exhaustive "Sheena COMPLEaston" list of 367 titles. Because there is always, and always will be a lifetime of memories in those precious 15 albums and 350+ songs... each and every one.  

And with that, our Sheena series has come to its finale! What a blast.