Got a haircut, trimmed the winter facial growth, tied an ornamental noose around my neck and merged with the internal combustion conga line that connects the rest of Georgia with Atlanta yesterday for the annual Georgia Trend 100 Influential Georgians luncheon.
I’ve been working at Georgia Trend for 11 years now and have edited that section for most of those years. It’s an octopus challenge, like juggling wet bars of soap while treading water in a whirlpool. And it’s probably the most picked-over feature in the magazine every year, generating plenty of feedback (both ‘fer’ and ‘agin.’). I never apologize for the 100 Influential – it is what it is, a subjective who’s who list and every magazine has one or many more. The best places to work, the worst movies of the year, the ugliest children of famous people and so forth.
It isn’t rocket science, certainly isn’t the secret of the universe (42 is, obviously). But readers love them, so we keep producing them. The 100 Influential section inspires conversation, sometimes consternation, and on rare occasions emotional conflagration, like the time several years back when Dekalb County CEO Vernon Jones (a man whose arrogance, ego and shenanigans often could not be constrained by county lines) walked out of the luncheon in a huff because he didn’t like what I’d written about him in his little 100 Influential profile.
Anyway, we met to honor this year’s group of Influentials at the Ritz Carlton in Downtown Atlanta – stuffed chicken, iced tea, lots of speeches. Some years, I don’t look forward to the luncheon because by the time I turn in the section (which involves the work of at least five other writers, a lot of back-and-forth discussion of who belongs and who doesn’t, a lot of negotiating with flacks, and too many list changes for a college dropout like me to count), I’ve had a bellyful of other people’s implied or actual influence. But other years …
We had Chuck Leavell on our list for the first time last year. If you don’t know who he is, look him up. Chuck is a bona-fide mensch, an environmentally responsible tree farmer who also happens to be the keyboardist for the Rolling Stones (former member of the Allman Brothers, Sea Level, etc., etc.). So, I definitely wanted to be there.
This year Chuck made the list again, and said he was planning to attend the luncheon. But this year, Col. Bruce Hampton made our list of ,’notable Georgians’ (the B-team most influentials – I was pushing to get him on the varsity, but just having him in the magazine was pretty cool), and Bruce said he was coming. Therefore, so was I. Time spent with Bruce is singular. There is no one else like him — there isn’t room for anyone else like him, and I’m not talking about physical space. He is who he is, and for those of us who are Bruce’s fans and/or friends, that is very enough.
So on the drive to Atlanta I plug in the I-Pod, which is set to shuffle songs, and the first thing that plays is “Man in the Chair in the Sky,” a song by Jeff Mosier featuring some funny, omnipotent-sounding vocals by Bruce. What’s weird is, I was going to greet Bruce with, “well there’s the man in the chair in the Ritz.” And then here’s the song. One of those weird, meant-to-be, almost scary coincidental kismet things.
Except that Bruce wasn’t there. We’ll get back to that.
On the way I ran the usual gauntlet of 3000-pound bullets on wheels, and saw some interesting sights. There was the world’s most aggressive Type-A environmentalist, some dude driving a Prius, going about 85 mph, shoe-horning into tight spaces between cars, zipping and swerving, cutting people off, giving the finger. Nice guy. There was the Chick-fil-A billboard with cows threatening to push the big red button if we didn’t eat more chicken (nice message, Chick-fil-A – a company I used to admire but now detest because of their inexplicable allegiance with a hate-mongering anti-gay group. Fuck ’em – I’ll learn how to make waffle fries at home). Oh, and if you ever want to test the strength of your sphincter — what I like to call the bowel brakes — just watch a deer sprint across your path and miss you by a few feet while you’re doing 70 on the interstate.
Got to sit next to my friend Candice Dyer, a writer whose work I really, really like. Always have. It has become my unofficial mission to shill for Candice (who writes for our magazine, and a bunch of others and has written a book about the Macon music scene). I always laugh with Candice, who told me two of the most interesting things that were said at the luncheon.
One: Grindr. Its an app that puts ‘gaydar’ in smartphones. Candice spent the previous evening ‘fag hagging’ with an old friend, a gay man who introduced her to Grindr (which utilizes GPS to locate other nearby gay guys; Candice said her buddy pointed to a couple of dudes standing a few feet away, who were identified by Grindr and whose identities manifested on his phone’s screen in the form of their … um, genitalia. So basically, Grindr users take pictures of their naughty bits and those photos serve as their profile ‘pics’ (rhymes with …).
Two: Candice, who knows pretty much everyone involved in Georgia’s music scene, told me how Chuck Leavell began playing piano. “With his fingers,” I thought, obviously. Turns out when he was four or five, Chuck was listening to the birds outside and wanted to imitate their songs, so he started making sounds on the piano.
At one point, between the salad and the main course, I got up to work the room and to look for Bruce. Couldn’t find him anywhere. The man in the chair wasn’t there. Found out later he’d been in a car accident a few days earlier – nothing serious, but he definitely got throttled. But I did go to meet with Chuck.
Now here’s a guy who has seen and done it all, or most of it. A guy who’s worked on the same stage with Mick and Keith for about 20 years, who played with Gregg Allman, who has helped score the personal soundtracks of so many lives, including mine. And he’s got a big grin, he’s shaking my hand, saying how he sincerely appreciates the honor from our magazine, thanking me for my part in it, for doing my job. He’s a musician, not an actor. So I thanked him for doing his job and invited him to Sautee Nacoochee, with or without the piano (but hopefully with).
As the room was clearing following the last speech, I was still a little bummed that Bruce hadn’t shown up and said so to my editor, Susan Percy, who put it all into timeless perspective.
“Well,” she said, “we did get to have lunch with a Rolling Stone.”