I Miss Having Someone to Read
Pete and I had our own version of “break a leg.” As he was standing in the wings, before he would emerge on-stage, I would lean in close, put my lips to his ear and whisper “Play fast,” just as he was being introduced. He would always smile and give me a Groucho Marx wiggle of the eyebrows. I initiated this ritual, many years ago, trying to be encouraging and make him laugh before he would go on stage–partly because Pete was known for his speed and clarity of playing guitar. He was so recognized for this, in fact, that one show host referred to him as “Circus Boy” when introducing him. That same person also labeled him a “freak of nature.” We were sure they were meant as compliments but there was also a tinge of sarcasm in the delivery so it vexed Pete a little bit. Needless to say if I ever wanted to tease him, I would call him Circus Boy. He didn’t want to laugh, but he couldn’t help himself.
As someone who has worked with a really long list of entertainers over the years, some of them for a long time, I’ve gotten used to “reading” them. Often they can’t speak their mind or let on that something is bothering them because they are surrounded by people. Sometimes it’s an audience, sometimes it’s just a crowd of fans or media. So I learned to look at their expressions and body language to determine when it was time for me to step in, or offer assistance. I was particularly good at this with Pete. We worked and toured together for 18 years and I was his wife for nearly 10, so I could read every eye movement, face twitch, smirk and I could even read the way he was playing. It was a challenge I absolutely loved.
He thought that I could read his mind and sometimes I think I could, but mostly I read his mannerisms. He would walk off-stage and I would acknowledge his joy over how he played something, his frustration with an audience member, his self-critique over the performance of a particular song. He would shake his head and say, “HOW do you know that? Damn, you don’t miss a thing do you?” I would tell him that I just knew–that I could read him.
I really miss having someone to read. Someone I know so well that I can tell what they are feeling, or how they are feeling, and most of all, someone I can then offer advice or feedback, or just a glass of water, to help them through it.
Pete was an open book on stage. His fans knew him and he would share so many of his thoughts on stage, sometimes more than I would have liked. He let them in on a lot, but there was always one layer deeper that only a manager would know, and that’s the space that I watched.
It’s a really beautiful thing to be able to work with a client long enough to anticipate their needs, their apprehensions, to know what they need even before they acknowledge it. It’s a skill that I take pride in and it’s useful when it comes to problem solving.
If you watched M*A*S*H, I’m Radar O’Reilly. If you watch VEEP, I’m Gary, Selena’s “bag man.” I really miss being Pete’s Radar O’Reilly.
There’s probably someone in your life that you can read with acute precision. Tell me about it. I love reading everyone’s comments!