It’s not often I am invited to anything, much less anything interesting, so attendance of the Michael Stipe & Friends Christmas party Saturday night was a no-brainer. To give you an idea of the schedule-altering power of celebrity party invitations, we had planned our own Christmas party for the same night but shelved it for the opportunity to attend the Stipe fete. Plus, most of our friends were out of town so our party would have sucked.
We initially fretted over the dress code. The invitation specified several colors. Unfortunately, I have nothing silver, gold or resembling an animal. Nor do I have much in the way of green, white or red. The invite wasn’t clear as to if your entire outfit had to be these colors or just part of it. In fact, the invite didn’t even say what time the party started. I was left to search through a closet stocked mostly with the official colors of New York: black, dark black and light black.
We met some other partygoers at the W Hotel bar beforehand. If the bar has a name I don’t know it. It’s the W Hotel Bar to me. Our friends introduced us around. I met a Fred and later realized he was Fred Schneider from the B-52s. My brain immediately cued up Love Shack. When I meet musicians I have the annoying habit of playing their songs in my head. I’ve done this ever since 1989 when I worked on an TV crew interviewing bands. During a segment with the Beastie Boys, Brass Monkey cued up and stayed in my head for the duration.
We headed over to the party, a stone’s throw from the hotel, and stood outside while our names were checked. Some guy came to the door and called Mr. Schneider in. The guy was dressed head to toe in bright red and made me worry that my burgundy shirt wasn’t enough to pass muster. I think he might have been an R.E.M. guy but I don’t know their names nor do I know what they look like, aside from Mr. Stipe.
Eventually our names cleared and we were let in. There were plenty of open bars. In retrospect I never waited more than 10 seconds to get a drink. That’s good hosting. Food, lots of it, was available in the back room. The wines were good wines, and the bartenders refused to accept tips every single time.
Mr. Stipe was immediately recognizable. He looks the same to me as he did in the summer of 1987 when I was first acquainted with his band and tried to mend a broken heart by deciphering the lyrics from Life’s Rich Pageant. Upon seeing him my brain cued up Exhuming McCarthy as it will do.
The dress code was wildly interpreted. Some folks went all out, others had a splashes of the required colors. Others wore all black. All my fretting had been for naught, as usual.
At a party thrown by a famous person with famous people in attendance there’s a certain energy in the air. Everyone is assumed to be a somebody whom you either don’t recognize or who is a behind-the-scenes somebody. It doesn’t occur to you that, such as in my case, they could be nobody in particular. Folks spends the majority of their time looking around, trying to figure out who’s who. I would be the world’s worst gossip columnist because not only do I not know who’s who, I make things up. When four black guys walked in and were warmly received my thought was they must be famous rappers. I don’t even know what the people in White Stripes look like, but I saw two effete English guys and simply assumed they were famous musicians from that band. A band I know nothing about. I continued to make wild assumptions like that all night long.
On a few occasions I did recognize people. I saw Ed Norton. And the girl from Spiderman was pointed out to me. Even though I never saw Home Alone I immediately recognized an older Macaulay Culkin because my TiVo had recently recorded the E! True Hollywood Story about his chaotic family life. According to one of the security guards I chatted up, he’s a real nice guy.
While I was talking to a dental surgeon about children, I looked over to find that my wife had made an almost immediate new friend of Ethan Hawke to the point where I thought maybe they knew each other. They had a lengthy discussion and she returned concerned that he seemed down. She became very motherly and told him he was too skinny and needed to eat better – so she had invited him over the house for dinner. He told me that he was in Henry IV on Broadway which we had just bought tickets to. I was surprised to learn this, but in retrospect should have kept my surprise to myself. You’re in that? I had no idea! is not what actors want to hear. He was very pleasant, regardless. The wife remains genuinely worried about him not eating well which I find very sweet, if not a little alarming.
Other celebrities were mentioned as being present, rather than me actually seeing them which wouldn’t matter because I couldn’t recognize or name them anyway. Such was the case with the girl from The Secretary and a guy from Saturday Night Live. And there were others. It occurred to me that celebrity types must get upset if they look at a gossip column and aren’t mentioned when everyone else in attendance was. It makes me want to be a gossip columnist solely so I could report on events that P. Diddy was at and deliberately not mention him.
While smoking a cigarette outside I gave directions to Darryl Hannah. My brain couldn’t immediately conjure up her name and instead my inner voice said it’s that lady from the swimming movie. More alarming than the fact I could not remember the name of a blockbuster film and thought it was about swimming was the fact that I was smoking. I don’t smoke. This is usually an indicator that I’m reaching my limit with regard to alcohol. I had, because it was good and it was free, and the excellent service insured there was no delay in getting another glass.
At some point I decided to call and invite my one celebrity friend, John Mayer. I thought it would be cool of me to invite him to something of this nature in a Hey I’m here and you’re not kind of way. As if I were cool. I tried to track down the doorman to have his name added which turned out not to be necessary. When he showed up he simply strolled in and was immediately whisked away to be introduced to other famous people. The cruel irony here is that next year he’ll probably be invited to this thing and I won’t.
After her quality time with Mr. Hawke, the wife decided to adopt Moby. I recognized him because I had seen him on Dennis Miller Live once. He came across as very dry and smart on that show, so I knew I’d like him assuming we never talked politics. My brain cued up Praise You but seemed to be stuck on the dih-dih-dih-dih-dih part. I have since learned that Praise You was actually by Fatboy Slim, so I internally cued up the wrong artist. They talked about something, though I do not believe she invited him over the house for dinner. Probably a good idea, because cooking for vegans is traumatic.
At somewhere around three in the morning she decided it was time to go. I had outlasted her, which is quite unheard of. I had also consumed two bottles of wine, at least. Before we left I ran into a friend I knew from Athens, Georgia who I had not seen in nearly a decade. I had forgotten about his past connection with R.E.M. and didn’t realize he had moved to New York, but the moment I saw him it all came back to me. He introduced me to Mr. Stipe who subsequently had to suffer through me trying to articulate, quite poorly, that I liked Life’s Rich Pageant and had tried to decipher the lyrics. This was something he did not need to know but my brain was running on Cabernet and had regrettably decided it was essential to share the anecdote before departing.
We had passed on all the lovely food offered at the party, but decided that the night was not yet complete without a stop at the not very glamorous, non-star-laden 24-hour pizzeria. We apparently enjoyed our slices on the sofa, where I awoke alone at 9:30, covered in crumbs and with the Mother of All Headaches. The party was officially over.