THROUGH A LENS DIMLY
THE PRESENCE OF GREATNESS
I started this discourse last month by talking about the times in my career when I found myself in the presence of greatness. Sometimes I knew that the person in front of my lens was great. But, more often, I knew little or nothing about the person until later. Sometimes it was only after I had read the story in my paper that I had any indication of who my subject had been. Which goes to show that we photographers often don't get enough information on our assignment sheets informing us about whom we are taking pictures.
Such was the case when I was handed an assignment sheet for an Entertainment Section story one summer evening in the '70's. A writer was going up to Oyster Bay Cove, on Long Island, to interview Billy Joel. Hmmm. Billy Joel? Wasn't he the actor who played the gay son on "Soap," the current hit tv show at that time? I liked the show and that particular character in the show. It turns out that I was thinking of actor Billy Crystal. Go figure.
Kinda shows you where my head is, doncha know. I watch tv like I listen to music on my car radio. I get enjoyment from the sum and substance of the show or the music without paying much attention to the artist.
So, you can imagine my confusion when I rang the doorbell and this stocky guy with a kind of bug-eyed look answered the door. It certainly wasn't Billy Crystal. Maybe he was Crystal's press agent. He showed me to the living room. The Newsday writer was already there. I was introduced to a woman who was Billy's first wife and also his agent. I started setting up my cameras while the reporter started talking with the bug-eyed guy. They were talking about music and recordings and I was grateful that I had learned early on not to blurt out stupid things like, "Hey! When the hell is Billy Joel coming out?" By keeping my mouth shut and listening, I came to realize the extend of my shallowness when it became obvious that the guy talking was the artist I was sent to photograph and not some actor from a tv show. I started shooting as he was being interviewed and I heard something about a hit song called "Piano Man." Hey, I knew that song. I had heard it played many times on my car radio. I even liked it. But, I hadn't the vaguest notion who had recorded it until this moment.
When I got home, later that night, I told my teenaged kids that I had photographed some rock star. I couldn't remember his name, though. I asked them, "Didja ever hear of some guy called Joey Billy, or something?"
My oldest daughter said, "You don't mean Billy Joel, do you, Dad?"
"Yeah," I said. "That's him. He gave me some concert tee shirts for you guys."
"AAAAAGGGGHHH," they screamed in unison.
Damn! I had been in the presence of greatness and I didn't even know it.
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