I was fourteen the first time I heard “Name”. I was in the midst of a depressive episode but woefully undiagnosed and untreated. It was raining and I’d gone to the woods near my mom’s house with my Walkman to cry in secret.
Everything was slick with damp and tears obscured my vision. I stumbled and fell, face down in leaves and mud. “I’ll just lie here forever,” I thought. As I did, thoughts of suicide methods filled my head. Then suddenly the radio started playing a guitar and mandolin song that spoke to my aching heart.
I sat up, brushed off the leaves, and listened. At some point I stopped crying. Somehow the sad words of a sad song made my own sadness easier to bear. I didn’t feel so alone or so strange. I felt understood.
Flash forward two years. I’m now a punk music fan with bondage pants and a shaved head. I’ve bought every Goo Goo Dolls CD I could find and I love their edgier, earlier work. But Name is my secret comfort, the soothing balm I use to heal myself.
My favorite band was coming to town and I couldn’t wait to see them, especially the lead singer who wrote the song I needed to hear. My mom thought I was too young to go to a concert alone, so I had to buy my older brother a ticket so he could be my chaperone.
I’d brought a 35 mm camera with me so I could take pictures, and I’d handed it to my brother to get a few shots of the opening band. Our seats were nosebleeds, high I p in the rafters and far off to one side. Leaning forward snd framing my neck, I could just see the stage.
Goo Goo Dolls took the stage and I lost my voice screaming and singing my heart out. They closed what felt like a slightly short set with “Iris” their big radio hit of the year. Confetti rained down from the amphitheater ceiling and most of the audience left. That’s when the band came back out onstage.
Laughing into the microphone John Rzeznik said, “Now that everyone who just likes Iris is gone. …” and they played all their older, grittier, less adult music. I was in teenage heaven. I felt like the lead singer knew that a True Fan like me was in the audience and wanted to play for this smaller crowd of worthy.
After the encore, the band took their real final bow. I wanted to meet John Rzeznik. My brother, louder, larger, and more stubborn than I was, helped me resist the efforts of Security staff to remove me from the premises. That’s when he walked out.
John Rzeznik started to walk right past. I couldn’t speak. I could hardly breathe. “My sister wants to say hi,” my brother piped up. John Rzeznik came over with a Heineken in one hand. “Hi!” he said. I’m sure my mouth gasped in fan girl awe. I breathlessly told him, “You are my biggest fan.”
He took my flub for a joke and laughed. “Let’s get some pictures,” he said, throwing one arm over my shoulder, nearly melting me through the floor from the heat of my face blushing. Rubbing the top of my fuzzy shaved head he said, “I can’t believe you like my band. You’re so punk!” I could have died happy in that moment.
That’s when my brother learned we’d used up all the film. We couldn’t take pictures. (Camera phones didn’t exist yet.) That’s when John Rzeznik went from music idol to personal hero. He ran backstage to grab his own one-time-use camera. He gave it to me, then posed with me for pictures.
I can’t tell you how much that meant to me. My lyrical hero turned out better than I had imagined, and he was kind to me at a time in my life when I desperately needed kindness.
I’ve met a few other musicians over the years since – Weird Al, Lucky Boys Confusion ; but John Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls went out his way to make my night perfect. It’s been sixteen years, my whole life doubled since then. But I’m still and always be grateful.