as part of a tour with Matthew Sweet. Together Sweet and Hoffs billed themselves as “Syd and Susie” and were crossing the country performing acoustic versions of covers and originals.
Hoffs and Sweet worked well together and the show was very entertaining, and on the way into the venue I had the good fortune to run into one of the band’s guitar players as well as The Bangles’ manager, a very large man who looked like he was a certified expert on inflicting pain. Despite my initial fears both turned out to be very friendly and, after the show, they were kind enough to invite me backstage.
Once backstage we stopped outside a small room with a curtain. I waited nervously for a few moments and then, like a scene out of the Wizard of Oz, the sash was thrown open only to reveal a man with a slightly crazed twinkle in his eye. It was Matthew Sweet.
Immediately after I introduced myself, Matthew smiled, shook my hand, and began a series of rapid fire questions, an inquisition of sorts, only giving me time for one and two word answers. It was almost as if he was acting as gatekeeper and I had to walk the gauntlet before being permitted to pass. Yet at the same time, he was engaging and inviting. It’s hard to explain. A huge talent in his own right, one can only credit his behavior and ability to carry it off, to star power.
I must have passed whatever test I was being given as I was shown a second curtain against the far wall, on the other side I found a very petite woman sitting on a table, meticulously placing small bits of cheese on even smaller crackers. I told Susanna that I thought the show was “tremendous fun” and, with all sincerity, she replied “Do you really think so”? It was refreshing to meet someone so accomplished and yet so unassuming. We didn’t speak for long as others were clamoring to find their way in, and I was so nervous my mind was going completely blank. An incessant talker, a human yippy dog if you will, for the first time in my adult life I had run out of words. The vacuum in our conversation began to resemble not a pregnant pause but a huge, gaping black hole. Sensing that it was time to go before I said something stupid, I opted for the parachute.
Excusing myself, I exited the premises but not without a signed record, and more importantly, some help from an unexpected source.
Final Stop: Hollywood CA.

John Wicks, lead singer and leader of The Records, co-wrote the anthem of my youth, Starry Eyes. While not a mega-hit, it was huge with the college crowd and appeared on numerous compilations. It wasn’t prudent for me to jump on a plane to LA because, while I was living my rock n roll dream, it was the low budget B-movie version, but luckily Dennis Taylor the Syd & Susie guitarist kindly relayed the details of my quest to John and shortly after I was given his number. I dialed him up.
Phone calls are not easy for me. My first job out of college was as a telephone solicitor, an experience that helped me develop a thick skin. If Nietzsche was right when he said what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, then I had become a Teflon GOD. That was until THE CALL. The recipient of my sales pitch did not hang up, nor did he hurl four letter words in my direction like so many others before him. No, he just laughed. Long and loud and endlessly. How humiliating.
As it turns out, there was nothing to be worried about. Wicks’ laughs were long and loud alright, but they were genuine. We spoke for some time, or should I say HE spoke for some time. I had never met anyone who spoke faster than I, and in Wicks I had truly met my match. But he was friendly, and engaging and really, who doesn’t like to hear an Englishmen wax poetically about music?
The one good thing about phone calls is that they enable one to do some preliminary research, but my amateur sleuthing gave me no hint of the surprises that Wicks had in store. John shared a story about how, as a young musician in England, he had answered an ad in a newspaper for a guitarist and lead singer. Unbeknownst to him, it was none other than Malcolm McLaren on the other end, sizing him up for the job that would eventually be John Lydon’s. The interview went south when Wicks learned that he’d have to cut his hair for the part. He refused, and the rest is history. We closed with a discussion about a more recent Records lineup which included none other than the son of pop legend Harry Nilsson, Zak. Some of the newer Records material is posted to his fan page where anyone can download them.
After an hour and a half he excused himself but not before agreeing to sign my copy of Starry Eyes if I mailed it to him.
There are those who thought my quest irresponsible or at the very least ill-timed considering my circumstances. This has given me cause to think back on the words my crazy uncle (and everybody has one) shared with me only days before his passing. “I don’t regret the things I did during my life, only the things I didn’t….and I had A LOT of fun.” He and I have something in common. Neither of us care to drive the highlighted route.
Richard Rossi is a humor writer and children’s book illustrator from Greensboro, North Carolina. You’ll find his work at his website,