It was in Brighton, England during The Great Escape festival. Hundreds of bands were buzzing around the city, all of them trying their hardest to stand out, to maybe catch a break and ‘make it’ – whatever that even means anymore. The city was alive. Music pleasingly filled the air on every inch of the cobblestone streets at all hours of the night, the English Channel hugged the miles of picturesque coastline that went on for what seemed like forever. The bar was called “The Prince Albert”. As soon as we stepped in a familiar scent breezed through the room, spawning a flood of remembrance. It’s a scent that only a handful of bars in the world have. It’s the smell of history, of a timeless venue; of different generations, their sounds and ideals. It’s thirty years of the walls and floors soaking up sweat and beer and spilled whiskey, the blood dripped from fights and the lusting fragrance of hormones still sifting lasciviously in the air. It’s the musty smell of mold, cheap floor cleaner, the old wooden beams and broken guitar strings; the puke, tears, joy, laughter, epiphanies, revelations, and the ghosts of a thousand bands past and their infinite burning parade of songs and stories. It’s the most beautiful smell you could ever imagine, it says everything you could ever want it to say and takes you through the strides of a beautiful history. And in the end, when the ghosts of rock and roll surround you and willingly fill you in on all their secrets, it makes you a part of it, too – you’re a part of the history.
It was there that it happened.
We did sound-check, sat around for a bit with a few pals and waited to go on. The bar owner, Billy – an excessively intense, say what’s on his mind kind of guy – approached us. “I don’t mean to alarm you, but…” he said in that fantastic British accent they all have. He leaned forward and grabbed us both by the shoulders, a life’s worth of anticipation hinging on his next words. “SEYMOUR F#$KING STEIN IS HERE!”
“Oh really?” Bruce and I answered simultaneously. Billy’s eyes were glowing, his face exuded all the contentment a man would ever need. He pranced away like a child off to bed on Christmas Eve.
“Who’s Seymour Stein?” I asked Bruce.
“I was gonna ask ya the same thing,” he responded.
With a packed bar and the mysterious Seymour Stein lurking somewhere in the crowd, we started our set. The show couldn’t have gone any better. It was our last gig in the UK and we wanted to sweat out every last drop of energy left in us. The room was full, the applause seemed fit for royalty, everything went the way you always hope it does. Afterwards, it seemed as though everyone in the bar wanted to buy us a drink. Beer, whiskey, shots and whatever else found our hands and stomachs. There was no possible way we could consume the entirety of it. We wished we could teleport over all our alcoholic Cape Breton pals to help us put a dent in it. Our friends from Finland, who we met the day before, were there. They told us about their plans to bring us to their country, how beautiful the women were there. We sat off in the corner discussing plans with our new allies, adrenalin from the show still in us, enthusiasm for the future filling our faces with smiles.
The door burst open and Billy rushed through. “There you are you bloody f@*king idiots!” he yelled in his think British brogue. “SEYMOUR F@#KING STEIN IS WAITING UPSTAIRS TO MEET YOU!”
“Is he?” I asked.
“GET UP THERE…NOW!” He roared.
Judging from the urgency in Billy’s voice, we figured we should probably go meet this mysterious Seymour Stein. We politely told our Finnish friends we’d be back shortly and excused ourselves from the table. We had no idea who Seymour Stein was, but from the way things were going, it sounded like he was at least more important than a pack of Maple Leaf hot-dogs.
We followed Billy up the stairs as he ranted. “I was looking all over the god damned bar for the last forty-five minutes to find you fools,” he scolded. We apologized profusely, as Canadians do in most situations, especially when getting yelled at.
We reached the top of the stairs and Billy pointed down a hallway. “There he is,” he whispered. A man stood by himself leaning against the wall with a cane in hand. He was bald with a little bit of white hair still holding on. He was old, probably older than any tree I’ve ever seen – maybe older than any tree on the planet. And then I realized. I realized Billy’s excitement, the reason for the excessive exuberance.
“Bilbo…” Bruce uttered quietly to himself.
Seymour Stein was the guy who played the old (very old) version of Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of The Rings trilogy. We were coming face to face with a man who stood side by side on the silver screen with the likes of Rudy and Elijah Wood! ‘Holy sweet Jesus’ I thought to myself. Billy pushed us towards him like a friend at a teen dance urging on a nervous buddy to talk to a girl he likes.
“Uhhh… how’s she goin’, Seymour?” I asked.
“Wonderful,” he responded.
I shook his hand softly, as softly as I could so not to break his age old, ancient and weathered Hobbit fingers. We introduced ourselves, told him we were from Nova Scotia. He said that he loved Halifax, that every time he’s there he orders lobster when he eats out. Before then I never met anyone who could afford to order a lobster at a restaurant, but hey, this was Bilbo Baggins, he could probably afford dessert, too!!!
“I just wanted to stick around to meet you and say that I really enjoyed your show. You have a really full sound and a lot of energy,” he said.
That was pretty cool to hear, especially coming from the mouth of Bilbo Baggins.
“Thanks so much, sir,” we told him.
He asked if he could have a copy of our album and said that he was very interested in hearing it. We gave him a copy and he thanked us. He was very kind, as Hobbits typically are. I wondered if maybe he was still in touch with AEROSMITH’S DAUGHTER, the pretty Elven Princess with the big lips from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. That would be cool if he let her hear it! And maybe she could pass it on to her father, AEROSMITH HIMSELF, who could maybe get us a slot opening for his band, AEROSMITH. My mind was abuzz.
We chatted for a little bit and talked about standard things that you’d say to a famous and incredibly old Hobbit. He eventually said that he had to get going. We shook hands, softly, and walked him to the door. He waddled off into the night, cane held tightly in one hand and CD in other – who knew what adventures he’d find, what quests through magical lands he’d embark on?
We walked downstairs, impossibly large grins on our faces. Neither of us could believe we just got to hang out with a big celebrity like Bilbo Baggins. Harrison Ford once accidently stepped on my cousins foot at a bar and JFK asked my grandmother out on a date, but I personally haven’t had many run ins with a celebrity as big as Bilbo.
We felt pretty good: we just met Bilbo Baggins, we played a great show to a great crowd, we were in England and had a table full of drinks in front of us. Not too shabby, wha? We sat back down. “Look up what other movies he was in,” I asked Bruce. Bruce, being the technological wizard that he is, whipped out his state of the art smart phone, tapped into the bar’s Wifi source and began surfing the net with such mastery and grace that you’d swear he was a young Gandalf the Grey, soon to be the leader of The Fellowship of the Ring.
“Uhh… it looks like he didn’t play Bilbo at all!” Bruce said, dejected.
What did he mean? How was this possible? My heart sank.
“But…but…” I stuttered
Bruce showed me the screen. Although older than any tree I’ve ever encountered, although friendly as a real life Hobbit, Seymour Stein was not the man who played Bilbo Baggins. Seymour Stein was in fact one of the most important and influential people in the entire music industry. He was the Vice President of Warner Bros Records, the President of Sire Records and had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He discovered and signed Madonna, The Ramones, The Talking Heads, Depeche Mode, The Smiths and a whole pile of other world famous bands, so we discovered.
“Huh… never woulda guessed that,” I said to Bruce.
“Nice fella though, eh?” Bruce replied.
“Couldn’t get any nicer.”
And so it was in Brighton, England, at a bar called The Prince Albert that Seymour Stein, the guy who signed The Ramones, Madonna, The talking heads, and a long list of some of the world’s most famous bands, stuck around for 45 minutes to meet us two Cape Bretoners who thought he was Bilbo Baggins. The people you meet sometimes, eh?