At the release party for my newest book, Hello It's Me - Dispatches From a Pop Culture Junkie, I had a surprise guest for the crowd: Elliot Lurie.
That name ring a bell?
If not, maybe the name of his old band will sound familiar--Looking Glass.
If not, then perhaps you'll remember the early 1970s hit made famous by them: "Brandy" (You're a Fine Girl).
I was about 11 when that song owned the AM radio charts in 1972, and in my book there's an essay about how that song brought my twin sister and I closer together. But there's also a follow up essay from Mr. Lurie, about how the song changed his life as well, along with the story behind the song.
In the book, it was fun to recount oddball encounters, meaningful relationships, and everything in between with the likes Michael Jordan, Alfred Hitchcock, Jim Carroll, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, John Cheever, Norman Mailer, Zac Efron, Paul Newman, Fred Willard, Stiv Bators, John Waters, Divine, Andy Warhol, Johnny Thunders, Charles Kuralt, and dozens of others.
But it was even more enjoyable to reach out to some of the real-life "characters" in the stories for their reflections on the moments in question--what they remembered--how they felt at the time.
I heard back from Elliot Lurie first, and he graciously offered an essay after reading what I had written about "Brandy." Others followed and soon, the collection grew to include some truly interesting additional voices.
But how surreal it was to have him there in person, with my twin sister as well, talking about his pop culture past and how it had affected all of our lives.
The guy who wrote and sang "Brandy."
That's what pop culture does to us. Our music, our movies, our television, our books--it reflects us and we reflect it. It shapes us and we shape it.
I decided to write a collection of stories about my pop culture experiences not because they're any more relevant than anyone else's, but because I felt like shedding light on so many pop culture icons I had the good fortune to either collide with (Mick Jagger) or become good friends with (Sally Struthers). And then get some of them to share.
Another goal was to write a book that might end up nudging the reader to reflect and remember his or her own defining moments.
So if you read about the most life-changing baseball game I ever saw (Game 6, 1986 World Series), then maybe it will trigger a memory of your favorite game. Or your favorite film, concert, author, road trip--whatever pop culture elements helped shape your life.
I've written a bunch of books that are travelogues; covering North America in search of pop culture landmarks. This book being a collection of about 75 personal narratives, it's very different for me.
But it is connected to my passion of travel, discovery and storytelling. This is a journey of a different sort though, a road trip through life, that I hope tells you much more about interesting people, places and things than it does about me.
Being a journalist, I'm far more interested in remaining in the background as much as is appropriate, reporting to you about some of the things I've had the pleasure of experiencing. And with subjects as compelling as the people in Hello It's Me, I think it would be silly for me to try and write from any other point of view.
As has been the case for most of my life, I am a slave to my pop culture addictions.
I still watch "The Brady Bunch" so having Eve Plumb in our home recently for a piece I was writing was one of those moments that made me feel as if I'd stepped into a "Zelig" sequel, plunked down into yet another pop culture play-lette.
Except it's all real.
Working hard is something I was taught to do, and from that there are natural benefits that emerge. But there is also a large degree of luck, hope and chance in many of the stories, moments when the pop culture Gods simply decided to spoil me.
Writing this book was fun because it forced me to review and reflect on some of my most fond moments. And it made me think that taking stock of one's life, breaking it all down to a series of meaningful stories, is a good exercise.
Not necessarily to write a book--(though I'll tell you, it does make for a fun book) but just to make sense of how we got to where we are.
Reflecting upon our influences, our muses and our points of passion--as we products of the 1960s, 70s and 80s get older-- is not just a way to acknowledge the pop culture that most deeply touched us--it's a way to preserve it as well.
The world is a tough place right now on many levels, and getting tougher every day.
But give me a shot of "Brandy" and I'll be okay.
Such is the fix for this pop culture junkie.