Strangers in Space : A Harum Tale
One of the very nicest features of the Palers' Convention was the way in which so many people who had become online friends through a shared interest (if not obsession) with Procol Harum finally got to meet each other in the flesh. For one couple, however, Procoloid e-mail had been the beginning of an enduring romance which, twice catalysed by Gary and Franky Brooker, was publicly cemented in the emotional high-spot of the evening. Read on as Palers' guitarist Richard Beck guides you, in epistolary fashion, through the build-up to that heart-warming episode ... how Beverly swallowed his secrets, how Gary Brooker fuddled his fancy, and how Donna will soon have taken his name ...
A rattling good yarn with an ironic
A riveting ending that's not to be missed
(KR, from Without A Doubt)
I sat me down to write a simple story, which maybe in the end became ... a much longer story.
Sometimes the details of a story becomes secondary to how it is told. I have tried, in my mind, to configure a proper narrative for some time now. A solution presented itself recently, when I finally read a copy of an e-mail which Donna had saved in her computer.
Recalling that I had already shared a part of this story with Roland in another hastily-written e-mail, which poured from my frenzied fingertips in the wee hours before dawn, some two years ago, I then searched and found that it was still on my hard drive. With minor editing I present this story to you, as recounted in two e-mails from long ago.
Hopefully, they convey the romance and destinies of two strangers in space, who found each other through happenstance and a string of good fortune which has remained closely intertwined with the music and personalities encompassing the band, Procol Harum. Sometimes one must let a story tell itself.
Every word is truth.
Subj: A Fairy Tale ...
From: Odysee1 ... [this text was sent to Gary Brooker, with two BtP articles by Richard, a business card, a little hand-written note and a phone number]
Because of Procol Harum, my life changed forever ... my name is Donna and I am 48 ... living in Arkansas, on the Oklahoma border. I am a real estate broker in Arkansas and Oklahoma. I also breed and show rare, hairless cats (Sphynx) I have a 28 year-old daughter, who is a nurse (RN) and she has a 6 year-old son ...
Anyway, my boyfriend, Richard Beck, has written two articles about Procol Harum concerts he attended years ago. They are featured on the website 'Beyond The Pale'. The more recent one débuted on the website on October 8, 1998, and was dedicated to the memory of Barrie Wilson who passed away on that date in 1990. His first article was written last spring and recalls a Procol Harum performance at the Atlanta Pop Festival.
Richard used to be a keyboard and guitar player himself with a band years ago. He is in the printing profession now.
We met by accident online in August 1997. I was going to be traveling to Memphis, Tennessee (where he lives) on business and planned to take my laptop with me. I tried an AOL Member search of people online in Memphis to ask someone what the local AOL access numbers were and was looking for someone that might be near my age who would be receptive to my request, and not a child. I saw the screen name "Procolhrum" and thought it must be someone in their 40s who had similar interests in music as mine, so I contacted him.
He agreed to give me the numbers and did. We continued visiting online every night after that, sometimes "talking" for hours, well into the night. I didn't meet him in person when I came to town that week, but over the next month we continued talking every night online and then progressed to 'phone conversations. In a very short time we came to know each other better than we knew anyone else in our lives ... he was an avid Procol Harum fan ... a real "Procoholic" and A Whiter Shade of Pale became "our song."
After a month, I went to Memphis and we were together in person, at last. We shared a love of old buildings and prowled around the historical and grandly-restored Peabody Hotel that first night, very late. The lobby and mezzanine were virtually deserted. We ventured into the elegant main ballroom and were standing there imagining all the parties and events that had gone on there ... Richard was standing behind me with his arms around me ... we felt ourselves falling in love ... and over the PA system was playing soft music ... and at that moment ... A Whiter Shade of Pale (Annie Lennox version) began to play ... and it was the most perfect moment ... sigh ...
We have been together for almost three years now and will get married as soon as we can figure out how to blend our lives and locations together. We are absolute soul-mates ... We would never have met if it hadn't been for Procol Harum. ...
Subj: Post traumatic shock syndrome
From: Procolhrum ... to RC at BtP
I am sleepless in Memphis and looking for words. I may not sleep again. I can't explain why, but I just had to tell someone -- to make this real. (Someone who might understand -- or better, appreciate this.) So bear with me a minute while I free-associate.
The woman I most adore in the world, in my entire life, is sleeping in the next room and she is the only witness. She drove in from 380 miles away last night to meet me for the Ringo AllStarr concert 30 miles from here. Due to travel conditions she arrived literally seconds before the concert began. Although she is not a big fan of the music, she nonetheless wanted to share in my excitement and pleasure by attending. (She lovingly accepts my obsessive love for all things Procol)
I have decided that enough concert reviews (quite good, I might add) have been posted at BtP and that another would just be redundant, unless there were some new angle or wrinkle to report. The band was very impressive to watch but unfortunately the acoustics were of high school gymnasium quality and I heard little more than a blaring cauldron of noise with nary a single solo passage discernible in the mix.
Very near the end of their set, Ringo said "Now we'll turn it over to Gary again." Following a brief lull Gary could be heard to say, for God and all of the audience to hear, "I would like to play this one for Richard Beck ... where are you?" Seconds later AWSoP began. In a single nanosecond my subconscious recognized the remark and just as quickly dismissed it as a garble that only sounded like what I thought I heard.
Donna smiled and remarked, "This one is for you," to my blank expression. She then asked "Didn't you hear what he just said?" With a teensy glimmer of comprehension mixed with glaring doubt, I replied "What?"
"He is playing this for Richard Beck," said she.
"Yes!" (exchange repeats several times with interspersed expletives added) Said I, "My God, what have you done?" Only the tinted glasses that I was wearing could have hidden the tears in my eyes as the song streamed from the stage.
Roland, this wonderful woman then tells me that she had called the hotel and, upon learning that Gary was booked into the casino hotel for Wednesday night, she then quickly compiled a packet containing downloaded copies of both of my BtP concert memoirs, and an appropriately-adapted copy of one of her e-mails to a friend describing the romantically enchanting way we came to meet on the Internet, which directly involved my ProcolHrum screen name. And then she added a handwritten note politely asking that, as my birthday gift, could Gary please meet me, as it would make me so happy (And HOW!) She even included both of our phone numbers. She then FedEx-ed the package to the Horseshoe Casino Hotel addressed to GB, for Thursday morning delivery.
Apparently Gary and Franky (who had joined up with the tour in California only days ago) opened and read the contents and were so intrigued by what they saw that Gary called my home (he called my f*cking HOME!) and then he called long distance to HER home and left a message on her answering machine. Unfortunately she was long gone and in transit. And my son informed the Commander that I had already left for the show. Donna and I had no way of knowing if Gary had received, or opened, or even read the package contents. Nor could we have known that he had already issued backstage passes for us at the show.
As the crowd was leaving, and we had made our way up to the stage, we were informed that no messages or gifts of any kind would be passed backstage. A fellow approached me frantically asking for a pen to borrow for autographs, claiming that he knew someone backstage who had access to the band. After a brief and blurred exchange, I reluctantly removed my Prodigal Stranger CD and the Sharpie from my coat pocket and showed him the gift box containing a tee-shirt I had brought for Gary, finally handing him the CD, which quickly disappeared behind the stage door. Hoping that Gary would like the special design I created, I looked down and, to my crashing horror, saw the tee-shirt box still in my hand. I had never given it up! How stupid.
Approaching the door beside the stage area, we encountered a hotel employee and a guard who insisted that, without stage passes, we all had to leave immediately. Seconds later Franky stepped out. Without thinking, I called her name and she looked at us.
"Richard and Donna? Come on back, Gary wants to see you." (Oh, I forgot to tell you that the package also contained a photo of the two of us ... Donna thought of every contingency) We just smiled at the security guard as we slipped past.
Roland, I am in shock at this point. Franky then positioned us in the hallway in front of the band's dressing room to wait. At one point the door swung open as someone exited and there were all of these luminary rockers inside, stripped down to tee-shirts, paunches and armpits exposed. It was as if I had peeked into the Superhero clubhouse and had caught Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern in all their sweaty, non-sartorial splendor.
Ringo stepped out of the dressing room with a towel around his neck and planted a kiss on Franky's cheek. As our eyes met with his, Donna and I were too dumbstruck to utter a single syllable. He smiled "Hello!", and off he went.
Next Gary comes out of the band's dressing room, flashing a curious grin -- his twinkling eyes and arched eyebrows betraying a hint of mischief -- and he promptly presents us with Gazza trinkets. Following a few snapshots, Franky rushes off to recover my shipwrecked CD. Astonishingly, she returns with it and my Sharpie pen, which Gary uses to inscribe the words "Happy birthday Richard!!! -- Gary Brooker." I am completely disarmed when he casually inquires, "Do you have time for a drink at the bar?". My reply is an ultimate no-brainer.
Incredibly, Gary and Franky treat us as honored guests for the remainder of the evening. They are charming and accessible and give us their undivided attention (save for the several fans who interrupted for autographs and words of praise for Gary. Then he would turn back and say, "Now ... where were we at Richard?" Knock me over with a feather!) We loitered at the Casino bar drinking, as a band behind the bar played a remarkably quiet set. At one point, I look around, and notice a number of people watching us, their faces betraying a curiosity as to the identity of this goofy fellow standing toe-to-toe with the Commander. I can smell the pipe tobacco and Heineken in his breath.
When you idolize the Maestro for some 32 years, and find yourself in his casual presence for so long, I am afraid that bumping into walls is the unavoidable outcome. Donna had to baby-sit me all evening to keep me from floating off. What a truly gracious pair they were. As you had indicated to me previously, Gary's affable demeanor put me right at ease immediately (but obviously not enough to prevent my gradual onslaught of "flop sweat" which forced me to remove my jacket and to swipe at beads of perspiration in my eyebrows).
Yes, Roland, Glorious Business it was. I would have to say to all and sundry, that we have a Commander of genial and humble bearing; worthy of all the obsessive praise we can heap upon him. I am a studied musician and I believe that I know what I am talking about when I tell you my most disturbing suspicion: I don't think Brooker truly realizes what he has accomplished as a composer and innovator of the rock genre. A few musicians approached him. Stepping back, I could hear each recounting some measure of influence that his music had in their musical youth. (Indeed, Procol was my single greatest influence and the principle reason I chose to study music composition in college).
Roland, this is all just too incredible to believe. Donna and I have been in a state of bemused shock all night. Franky relished the company of such a casual and friendly woman as Donna, and Gary was nothing less than a great English wit and ... well ... a regular guy! Simply unbelievable graciousness and generosity! Nothing ... and I mean NOTHING could ever approach the magic of last evening. We all talked for two hours and a good time was had by all. Something very magic indeed. My brain is a stony glaze.
In closing, I must share the most poignant anecdote of the evening. Apparently aware of Gary's presence at the bar, the band stepped down from their first set of subdued R&B lounge music. The keyboard player approached Gary and said, "It is an honor to meet you, but I wish it were under better circumstances. I feel as though Van Gogh is looking over my shoulder as I do painting by numbers" ... How funny! How telling! How touching!
Thank you for helping to make this all possible by urging me to write for BtP. I must leave you now to shower my Donna with rose petals as she slumbers. I would not trade her for a billion dollars. (Franky informed me that now I MUST marry this woman.) I am still stunned by this unbelievable turn.
Very best wishes always
Star-crossed lovers they spoon and
The laughing gods they just reel them in
(KR from Perpetual Motion)
When I decided to attend the Millennium Concert and Palers' Convention, I asked Donna to accompany me. Getting her to agree to a side trip to Paris was a snap.
In my mind, I had decided to officially propose to her while in Paris. Such an opportunity for creating a memorable and romantic moment rarely presents itself to an average schmoe like me, and it was certainly high time that I took the next logical step in our relationship.
Several weeks before the concert, I made the mistake of boasting of my plan to Beverly Peyton. Apparently she saw in all of this an element which I had failed to see. I surmise that she thought that since Procol Harum and Gary have figured so prominently in our relationship, then perhaps it would be a fitting gesture of symmetry if Gary could have some hand in consummating it.
She suggested the possibility to me when she asked if I would allow her to present an idea to Gary and Franky, claiming that their penchant for romance might tickle a desire to participate in some sort of surprise pronouncement in Guildford. Not wishing to impose a distraction upon an obviously hectic schedule for the Brookers, I reluctantly agreed under condition that the notion would be dropped at the slightest sign of hesitation from them. And that is where it was left. And soon after that, consumed with my own preparations for the convention and the trip, I had all but forgotten about it, assuming that nothing would come of such a capricious plot. My Paris plan was foremost in my mind until the night of the convention.
As I was preparing to start the second set of music with the Palers' Band, I was summoned into the hallway by Franky. Out of earshot from Gary, she asked if I would be amenable to her suggesting to Gary the idea of doing something to get my nuptial ball rolling right then and there. Momentarily embarrassed at my imposition, I could only manage an apologetic assent before rushing back to my guitar. I had absolutely no idea of what was to occur in the coming minutes.
The subsequent scenario witnessed by all those in attendance was totally impromptu and as absolute a surprise to me as it was to anyone watching. For approximately four minutes, this storyteller was existing in the moment, knowing not what to do or what to say. It all, quite literally, just happened.
An unsuspecting Donna had just revved up her video camera when Gary suddenly reappeared and sat down at the piano saying, "Here is hoping that Richard will do the right thing by Donna" as he began to play A Rum Tale. A provocative tease, I thought this was the end of it. But in the coda of the song, as he repeated the last three chords I heard him say my name. Dazed, I strummed along as he repeated the three chords again, prompting me further with, "Are you going to propose?" With sublimely perfect timing he retards the ending, and disregarding my own abashment, I impulsively shout across the room "Donna, will you marry me?" "Yes," came her reply. The room erupted with cheering applause, as Roland gently directed Donna toward the stage to hug me. Tears filled my eyes as I smiled my thanks to Gary, who then waved good-bye; entreating all to "Have a good time." Several minutes later in the hallway, Donna gushed to Gary, "That was so cute, what you did." "Cute?" he objected, "It was WORSE than cute!" The following afternoon, he approached me in Stoke Park and asked. "Well, Richard, have you backed out yet?". "No" I said with a grin, "It was all caught on videotape with a hundred witnesses. Even YOUR best lawyers could not get me out of this." The whole concert, including the proposal, may now be ordered on the official 2CD souvenir
I still wonder if the Maestro and his Lady understand the magnitude of their kind benediction. Donna is still flabbergasted, and I will treasure that good-natured act of generosity forever. They created a special moment in time for us all. It was a mini-event amidst the hustle and tussle of a prodigious and eternally memorable weekend. If I ever appear as a bootlicking Procol sycophant, then so be it. Can you blame me?
Our story comes to a close now. The circle was closed somewhere at the center of the Universe, which for one weekend was located in Guildford, UK.
Thanks Richard and Donna!
In 1998 Richard wrote (see here) "What I will never forget is my first hearing of Brooker's most ingeniously-composed modulation of all time. 'I'm buying an island somewhere in the su..uh..uh..un. I'll hide from the natives; live only on rum'. Immortal. Simply. Let's all pause and go have a listen, shall we?"
He was referring to a concert in his home town, in June 1973. No surprises then, that he was so gobsmacked by the Rum events at Guildford, 27 years later. Let's all go have a listen ...!
As GB may be heard to conclude, 'How about that!'
Order online: the Official 2CD souvenir of the Palers' Band: includes the famous marriage proposal!