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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

My Dinner With James Taylor

Sweet Baby James

I once sat next to James Taylor for dinner at the home of a close friend who was dating Taylor’s daughter. Taylor is one of my musical icons, and I can honestly say that I listened to his albums thousands of times in my teens. Gorilla, Mud Slide Slim and In The Pocket scored my coming-of-age angst.

Sweet Baby James is a tall and handsome man. He’s not just a world-renowned Grammy winner but a father, husband and recovering junkie. In other words, he’s seen fire and he’s seen rain, like the rest of us. 

He sipped water as we munched our salads. “What are you listening to these days?” I asked, secretly tingling inside. “A lot of Brazilian music,” Taylor said in his quiet voice. The long table clinked with animated conversations, and I started asking him the meaning and inspirations of songs. “What about Gorilla? He smiled and said, “That was about a fight I had with Carly one time, when I stormed out of the house and eventually found myself at the zoo, face to face with an ape.” I felt honored to know such an intimate detail. “What about Lighthouse?” I asked without missing a beat. “Oh … that was just about a lighthouse,” he said hastily, crunching a carrot.

As I began my next song title question, my friend in the kitchen yelled over his sauté pan, “Stu … STOP!” I was officially just another pie-eyed sycophant. Ouch!

Clinton & Bono

Photographer: Bruce Glikas, ©

Bill Clinton sat side-saddle on the the arm of a theater chair, creating a traffic jam and holding court in the aisle, as folks rushed to their seats for the much-anticipated Broadway opening of Spiderman. “You were a tremendous president!” one man said, as Clinton shook his hand with fervent enthusiasm.

My friend CiCi, a painfully shy woman, happened to be right behind this man, impatiently en route to her seat in the second row. CiCi felt flustered by the notion that she would momentarily be face to face with the former leader of the free world. What could she possibly say to him?

CiCi tried to slide past him unnoticed, but before she could move a step, Clinton’s large hand stretched toward her. She marveled at how big a man he was physically. She felt the legendary glow, as a few silent moments passed. Then, reaching for his hand, she finally spoke. “Tremendous!” was all she could muster. 

CiCi, turned away, feeling discombobulated. Tremendous? She immediately stumbled into the back of another theater-goer who turned around. Again, CiCi froze … then said, “You’re Bono.” The rockstar smiled warmly. Again, there was a pause, which CiCi filled with, “I love your work.” 

I’m sure he’s never heard that bit of genius before. What is it about celebrity that renders smart people babbling idiots?


Bounce, acrylic and antique maps on canvas, 5"x25" (5 canvases), Stuart Sheldon

Bounce, acrylic and antique maps on canvas, 5″x25″ (5 canvases), Stuart Sheldon

I do not envy celebrities, particularly now in our 24/7 instant video world. As an artist, I’ve always thought the best fame would be anonymous. Being appreciated is one thing. Being recognized, approached (and assaulted with questions about all your 40-year-old songs) everywhere you go seems awful. Most folks on the street probably would not recognize Arthur Miller, the seminal playwright of Death of a Salesman. But, I’m sure he was constantly surrounded by fascinating thought-leaders seeking his counsel. And he got to marry Marilyn Monroe (for better or worse). That’s the gig I want.

We were instructed not to make eye contact with Michael Jackson on the set, when I was a production assistant for him. That’s one way to mitigate the fishbowl effect of living famous.

We actually did meet eyes once, in the wee hours when he was walking back to his trailer. It was just me and Michael, two dudes working late, crossing paths. “How’s it going, man?” I asked. “Good,” he said. He kept walking before I had the chance to ask him about the lead character in the song, Ben.

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