The adventures of a New Jersey college professor with very strange friends, colleagues, and family members.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Robert Palmer Story

In early 2001, the BeowulfParents and I visited Harrah’s Hotel & Casino for the weekend. I really didn’t have a lot of cash to blow, but I liked the restaurants there so I figured I would go along and at least get something good to eat.

On our first day there, miraculously (in a never-to-be-repeated feat), I won $800 on a one-dollar Wheel Of Fortune slot machine. It was my first big win at a casino, and I was thrilled.

BeowulfDad, ever vigilant, told me that I shouldn’t walk around the casino with that much cash and that it might be a good idea to put it in the safe up in our room. I agreed with him and headed off for the elevators.

Our room was on the 45th floor, and I was the only one on the elevator. I rode for some time in silence until the elevator stopped somewhere around the 20th floor and an attractive man of about fifty wearing a light grey suit stepped in. He gave me a big smile, and, since I was feeling giddy about my win (and he was very cute) I smiled back.

The thing that was really gnawing at me, though, was that he looked strangely familiar. I wasn’t sure where I could know him from; I was new to the area, my friends were considerably younger, and the BeowulfParents have, sadly, no friends at all.

“Which floor?” I asked, since I was the one standing by the buttons.

“Fifty-two, please,” he said.

As soon as he spoke, I knew exactly who he was. He was Robert Palmer.

I started to giggle. I couldn’t help it, and I didn’t know what the hell was wrong with me. From my career in theatre, I had met many celebrities and (usually) held up pretty well, but for some reason the concept of sharing an elevator with Robert Palmer at Harrah’s just made me laugh.

I felt I needed to apologize because he was looking at me like I was insane. “I’m sorry,” I said, between giggles, “I haven’t had much sleep, and I just won $800…Anyway, I just realized who you are. I’m a really big fan.” (I was).

Palmer’s smile widened. “Thank you!” he said, enthusiastically. “That’s always nice to hear!”

I managed to collect myself. “Are you performing here?” I asked. “I didn’t see any signs or advance publicity.”

“No,” he said, “I’m here promoting an album with some people from Island Records.”

“Oh,” I said, happily, “that’s great! What’s the title? I’ll have to pick it up when it comes out.” At this point I was just babbling, wondering why the hell the elevator was taking so long.

“Oh, you don’t have to wait!” said Palmer. “I have some demos in my suite! Come on down, I’ll give you one.”

I thought briefly of the BeowulfParents and wondered what they would say if they knew I was chatting up a famous musician in the elevator. But then I realized that if I did go with him, I’d be able to tell a story to my friends that included the line: “So then, Robert Palmer and I went back to his hotel room…”

We rode to his floor and I followed him doggedly down the hall. He asked me my name and how long I was in town. We eventually arrived at a room and he swiped his card and held the door open for me.

There were two other men (also in suits) in the room, and they were staring at some large photographs collected on a table in front of them. They seemed to be arguing. Also on the table was a large cardboard box. Palmer began rummaging through the box and pulled out a CD case. “Here you go! Wait, I’ll sign it for you.”

I looked at the CD and was confused to see that there was no cover or liner notes or anything. “Where’s the cover?” I asked, confused.

One of the Island Record guys looked up from the table and said; “that’s what we’re trying to decide.”

Palmer came back wielding a pen. “We’re just finalizing the cover art,” he said. He opened up the CD case, took out the CD, and wrote something on it. He indicated the photographs on the table. “Which one do you like?” he asked.

I was stunned. “I…um…I’m an English Literature professor, I really don’t know much about music marketing…”

Palmer looked interested. “What’s your favorite?” he asked.

“My favorite what?”

“Bit of English Literature.”

I blinked. Could I actually be having this conversation? “Well…I did my dissertation on Beowulf,” I said. “I also like Chaucer.”

Palmer asked, “Do you know Peter Gabriel?”

The record executives looked annoyed. “Well, not personally,” I said.

“He studied English Literature, too,” he said.

Well, I thought, if I ever meet Peter Gabriel and we run out of things to say about “Shock The Monkey,” I’m all set.

Palmer left the room and one of the Island Records guys, who was bald and apparently getting impatient, asked me: “Which picture do you like?”

Apparently, I wasn’t going to get out of it. Evidently, they were trying to decide among three different pictures. I could tell by the pictures that the album was going to be called Best Of Both Worlds and was a compilation album. I was pretty psyched to own it, actually. “I kind of like the blue one, with the luggage,” I said.

“That’s the one I like, too,” said the bald man.

“I still like the one with the coconuts,” said the first man.

Suddenly, Palmer came back in holding an Entenman’s box. “Crumb cake?” he asked, politely.

“I—er—no, thank you, I’m—“

“Why do you like the blue one?” asked the man who liked the coconuts.

I waved my hands in a disconnected way. “It stands out, that’s all,” I said.

“It’s very good crumb cake,” said Palmer, pushing it.

“No, really, I’m fine.”

“Tea?” asked Palmer.

“I don’t like the coconuts at all,” said Baldy.

“No thank you, it’s okay,” I said, nervously looking at my watch. “I really need to go because I’m having dinner with my family, but it was really great to meet you.”

Seeing that he wasn’t going to get me to eat crumb cake with him, Palmer showed me to the door. And suddenly, gathering courage, I said: “Can I ask you something about Heavy Nova?”

He looked surprised, but said, “sure!”

“What in the world was up with all that yodeling on ‘Change His Ways’?” I asked. I had wondered about that for years.

Palmer sighed and looked very weary. “The yodeling was a very bad idea,” he admitted.

The man who was still championing the coconuts looked over and said; “don’t blame us for that one…he did that album for EMI.”

After a round of handshaking, I was free to leave. When Best of Both Worlds finally came out (with the cover I liked!) I bought it anyway just so I could have the cover. I still have my autographed demo, though, and when Palmer passed away in 2003, I played it for days.

Had I been a clearer-minded thinker, I would have asked about the “Addicted To Love” video.

Next time: Perhaps something about the extended BeowulfFamily, which is insane.