…but a book is currently in progress.
Yes. For real.
Every rock fan dreams of one day hanging out with his/her heroes…
It was a few months after my first encounter with the band. I heard Velvet Revolver was coming back to Los Angeles for a gig at the Gibson Amphitheatre. And holy shit, Alice In Chains would open the show.
I knew I had to go. I had to hear these bands play my songs. I bought my tickets, then wondered if I should take Matt up on his offer for backstage passes. Wouldn’t hurt to ask, right?
It didn’t hurt. He remembered me and I was on the list. I called my trusty “plus one” and we set off into unchartered rock ‘n’ roll territory: the forbidden backstage area.
There I was. Fresh out of the hospital, brand spankin’ new leg, and a heart so full of excitement, I thought it would burst. I kept remembering how I had photos of these guys in my locker and on my bedroom walls…and now I was about to hang out backstage with them. Me. A poor little Mexican girl who was just at the right place at the right time.
I get to the door and wait behind an unhappy bunch of people. They didn’t look familiar to me at all. But they definitely looked well off. A young lady with a thick fur coat was cursing at security because her name wasn’t on the list. And it was the first time I heard those god awful words that make me cringe…
“Don’t you know who the f*** I am?!”
As I made my way to the guy with the list, I gave him my name. While he was shuffling through papers on his clipboard, fur coat lady stared me down and scoffed as if I had no business being in the same line she was in. She looked at me as if I were covered in dog shit.
“Solorio? Okay, you’re here.”
Fur coat lady looked shocked. And began cursing again. I slapped on my backstage pass and thanked security.
Hope that coat kept you warm outside the show, sweetheart.
Another guard escorted us to an area behind the venue. It was such a long way. Thank goodness I had my chair. My lungs weren’t fully ready for this.
As we got closer to the VIP area, my heart began to race. I couldn’t believe I was really here.
I always had this image of Slash and the others in my head. I always fantasized about what it would be like to be around them before a show. I imagined Slash would be piss drunk, slurring, and jamming out on his guitar while ranting about what’s wrong with today’s youth.
I pictured total chaos happening backstage. Sex, drugs, groupies…I was about to witness what few fans have before. My god! It’s all really gonna go down tonight!
“Ok, go on inside. Have a good night, miss.” Security guard was so polite. Didn’t he know I had no business really being here?
As we made our way in, I immediately see a bar. I see food and a ton of people mingling about.
I see roadies and more bodyguards. The smell of whiskey and cigarettes hit me like a ton of bricks.
“Finally,” I thought, “here we go…”
All of a sudden, something strange caught my eye. I blinked twice to be sure I was seeing correctly. Can’t be another chemo hallucination. It’s been ages since my last round.
I got a closer look. What the hell was this doing back here?
It wasn’t a groupie’s bra. It wasn’t a joint, it wasn’t anything you’d expect to see at a rock show.
It was a damn sippy cup.
A sippy cup? Who brought their kids to a Velvet Revolver concert? Who the hell let kids backstage?!
Then, it dawned on me. These guys are now sober, married, or have children. It’s over.
I had completely missed the sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll train. I was born too late. What on earth made me think they still partied the way magazines said they did?
In a strange way, the sippy cup relaxed me a little. It definitely brought me back to reality.
I ended up meeting wonderful people that night. From Slash’s attorney to Cindy Crawford. People were just so cool, so nice, and so…NORMAL.
Matt finally came out and made his way through the crowd to greet me. We hung out with a few others in the band and their relatives before the show. It all felt so surreal but casual at the same time.
“Hey, Slash, remember Wendy? You signed her foot…” Matt gave him a quick rundown of what I went through.
“Oh yeah!” he said, “Hey, glad you could come out.”
Hey. Me, too.
When it was time for the show to start, my plus one and I made our way to our seats. They put us in an area suitable for my chair. It was a little far from the stage, but it was safe. Away from the drunkies spilling beer everywhere.
At one point during the show, I got so excited to hear the guys play songs I had forgotten about when I was sick. Something made me jump out of my chair and scream.
A drunk man nearby saw this and flipped out, “OH MY GOD! It’s a miracle! She can stand!”
I laughed hysterically. I couldn’t believe I almost gave up fighting for my life. I would have missed out on so much. I didn’t even need alcohol. The music was more than enough to recharge my brain.
After the show, I returned to the backstage area to say goodbye to the band. We took a few photos and I started heading out.
Matt walked us out to the gates and reminded me to keep in touch.
“Remember. Anytime you wanna come to a show…”
…and we’ve been friends ever since.
I remember not being able to sleep that night. I was too high on everything I saw, felt, and heard. It had nothing to do with being star struck. Someone or something bigger than me was letting me know that better things are ahead if I just keep pushing through. Stick around, and you’ll see your nightmare was all for a reason, Wendy.
I’m definitely on the list. I am a permanent name on the universe’s VIP list. That’s for sure.
I used to treat it as if it were a person. As if it were some sort of entity that wouldn’t leave me alone. Every day it kept wanting to hang out with me. It wanted to follow me to school. It wanted to go to work with me. It wanted to be my date at every family reunion. It wanted to party with me. It wanted to sleep with me.
Grief ain’t the bad guy. Grief is a natural human emotion that simply has a bad reputation. It doesn’t mean any harm. It just wants to make sure it’s there to help you heal. It wants you to know that it has the right to be felt just like happiness and anger.
The more I avoided it, the more trouble I got into. The more I pretended to be healed, the harder it tried to get my attention.
You can’t pick up where you left off and pray your brain magically erases the trauma you’ve experienced. It’ll stay quiet for a while. But then it’ll slap you across the face when you least expect it. (Like, maybe when you’re at a party surrounded by people who don’t even care about what you went through.) But that’s a whole other story…
The day I decided to make grief a friend of mine, I began to really blossom back into the “good” me. I started accepting what I couldn’t change. I took control over everything I could. (And finally embraced being a control freak.)
Gained lots of critics, lost a lot of time, but it was worth it. I learned to make grief part of my emotional repertoire. I will allow myself to feel it when I need to. For the rest of this life.
It’s just like every other emotion. It needs to be felt and then controlled in order to truly make the most out of this weird interval between birth and death.
Everyone has their bad days. Make them count.
October 13th, 2013. I’m sitting in my parked car inside the parking structure at the Beverly Hilton. I only dreamed of coming here someday. I always passed by it coming and going from Cedars Sinai or UCLA Medical Center.
And now, here I am. Dressed up and ready to attend a pretty upscale event to accept the Wendy Burch Scholarship. I worked so hard on that application. I even worked up the balls to tell my story to a camera.
You won. Someone in the industry thinks you have potential. Go figure.
I make my way to the International Ballroom. My legs have still not adjusted to wearing heels. But when there’s a red carpet involved, I’ll fake the funk the best I can.
I’m nervous. I don’t know anyone here. I’m so used to bringing a “plus one” to these sort of things.
After I check-in, word began going around the ballroom that I was Wendy Burch’s scholarship recipient. The Hispanic waiters noticed how nervous I was and definitely figured out that I wasn’t from here.
“¿No eres de aqui, verdad?” (“You’re not from here, are you?”) I replied in Spanish and in turn got champagne brought to me. I love my culture.
Before I knew it, I was mingling with the likes of Jackie Johnson and even Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband. How bizarre. Beverly Hills used to be the darkest place on earth for me.
Red carpet, photos, free gifts…the whole nine yards. I felt more at ease as time went on.
Finally, I meet the wonderful Wendy Burch. She immediately puts her arms around me and congratulates me.
“Harvey is very excited for you, too! He sends his congrats.” Oh, Harvey Levin. I learned so much during my stint at TMZ. Most importantly, I learned how to deal with dirty looks and comments from celebrities when they learn I was once there.
After a few glasses of wine, I began making my way to my table when I am approached by Leslie Miller.
“You do know that you’re going to be going on stage today, right?”
Uh…NO. I immediately grew anxious.
The stage was my playground back in my day. Now, I feel absolutely exposed (and not in a good way) whenever I’m on it. That’s why I majored in journalism. The loud little ballet dancer didn’t want to BE the story anymore.
I learned, however, that once you make the stage your home, that feeling never really leaves you. The anxiety immediately disappeared when they announced my name. I went into performer mode and walked out and waved. I blew my kisses to my lovely Wendy Burch and thanked the crowd.
After the event, I mingled a little more with guests. I decided to head home after Maria Shriver congratulated me.
That’s what I wanted to think about on the long ride home. I wanted to leave with Maria Shriver’s words fresh in my mind. I didn’t want to stare at the buildings while on the 405 and think about those awful trips to the hospital. In a way, I wanted to take back Beverly Hills. I wanted to make that area my own.
As I drove down Wilshire Boulevard, I couldn’t help but compare my two lives. One day, my father is driving me down these roads while I’m in the backseat puking my brains out and wishing for death. The next, I’m driving MYSELF home and remembering Miss Shriver’s words to me.
“Congratulations. I’m happy for you.”
How strange…I think I’m happy for me, too.