Tonight as I was travelling home, serendipity blessed me with a chance encounter, and a life lesson.
As I was boarding a plane, leaving London for Los Angeles, I made my way through the business class section, and found myself face to face with my favorite musician in the world, Joe Henry.
If you don’t know Joe Henry’s music, that’s not a suprise. He is – in my opinion – the most talented, thoughtful and underrated singer-songwriter living today.
In his 30 years of making music, he has produced some of the most uniquely brilliant songs I’ve ever heard. Critics around the world sing his praises and he has a dedicated die-hard fanbase. Despite this, he has has never garnered mass acclaim.
To call me a fan of his is an understatement; perhaps fanatic is a better term. You see, for me, Joe Henry has always represented the epitome of taste, class and cool. More than this, through his music he has displayed a resolute courage to create and contribute on his own terms.
He was already seated on the plane, when I locked eyes with him for only an instant. To him, I was just a guy finding his seat on the plane. Yet, to me he was an important figure in my life, someone with whom I had an almost intimate one-sided connection.
All I wanted to do in that moment was stop walking, introduce myself and thank him for his artistry. Yet for some reason I completely chickened out. Instead of stopping, I kept walking down the plane aisle to my assigned seat.
Being someone who is usually willing to face their fears head on, I couldn’t believe what I’d just done.
Meeting your heroes is an uncommon experience. When you’ve always seen someone from a public angle they have a glow about them that you don’t assign to people you know in real life. Their persona raises their status well above your own, and you find yourself nervous and awkward in their presence.
Somewhat disgusted with my cowardice, I slumped into my seat at the back of the plane. I took a few deep breaths, and resolved that sometime after takeoff I would go back up to the hallowed business class section and introduce myself to him.
After the seat belt sign was turned off, the meals were served and everyone was settled, I cautiously made my way back up towards business class. By the time I reached near to his seat, my heart was pounding in my chest.
I stood in front of him and excused myself for interrupting. In a breaking voice, I managed a few awkward words.
“Mr Henry. I’m sorry to bother you, I just had to say hello. I’m a big fan of yours, and I just wanted to say thank you for all your music over the years.”
He graciously shook my hand and thanked me. We talked for another minute about his current tour and his experiences visiting Australia in the past.
As the conversation closed he shook my hand again and said, “Well thank you, you know, I don’t think there’s a person out there who couldn’t use the encouragement.”
I walked away from him, wearing a smile that felt too big for my face. I’d just met and talked with one of my heroes, and he had thanked me for encouraging him.
It made me realize that the people you admire are just like you. They may have worked longer at their craft than you, and they may have a talent you don’t, but otherwise they are just the same as you. They have doubts, fears and frustrations and value encouragement just like you.
Meeting Joe Henry on an airplane is an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life, almost like a companion to his music. In fact, I feel that having shared a moment with him elevates my admiration higher than ever.
In the world we live in today, when fame is counted via the volume of fans and followers a person has, I am grateful to have someone like Joe Henry. His well-earned, understated fame is what I believe the world needs more of. The quality of his work, his humility, and his determination to be completely himself is what makes me love him madly.
“The fever in my brain
Is leaving smoke behind my eyes
When the part of me that wants to change
Fights the part of me that tries”
Thank you, Mr Henry.