HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE
By Jim Paredes
The Philippine STAR 04/22/2007
I have been in showbiz and a public person more or less for more than three decades now and I have met and worked with many famous people in the local and international scene. Some of them have endured and some were mere flashes in the pan. There are those whose work and presence left a lasting impression. But sometimes, it is the uniqueness of our encounter that has made them unforgettable.
The first international star I met was a big one. In October 1975, I was walking along Rush St. in Chicago with my friend Eddie Munji when, at the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Muhammad Ali and his girlfriend Veronica eating in a small restaurant by the side of the road. Eddie and I quickly approached the door to take a closer look and almost immediately, the waiter put up the CLOSED sign to protect his famous customers. But Ali saw this and he signaled for us to come in and asked the waiter to open the door. We went in and excitedly began to chat with him. In less than a minute, some 25 other people who were outside also recognized him and went in.
When Ali heard we were from Manila, he got quite excited and animated as he talked about his just concluded “Thrilla in Manila” fight with Joe Frazier. He spoke of how difficult that particular fight was and talked and joked a lot about other things. He was truly a showman. Seeing he was so game, I asked him why he was eating in this small restaurant while there was a bigger, more prestigious-looking one on the other side of the street. He looked at me in the eye and said that the spaghetti was only a dollar and eighty cents here. We all burst into laughter.
He then obliged our request for autographs before he walked outside with Veronica to a Volkswagen Beetle parked in front. And as if the night was not as memorable as it already was, his Beetle would not start! We all had to push the car to send him on his way. And as he waved goodbye, we broke into applause.
What a story!
Another really famous person I had a memorable encounter with was Raissa Gorbachev, First Lady to Mikhail who lifted the Iron Curtain and ended the Cold War. It was in the winter of 1990 and I was in Moscow for a conference on the environment that was attended by leading politicians and spiritual leaders of different faiths from all over the world. I was part of a small contingent of artists who somehow got invited to the star-studded event. I saw the Dalai Lama in the conference and shared an elevator with Al Gore.
After the welcome remarks given by Mikhail Gorbachev before the crowd of about 400 delegates, there was a break in the session and everyone went out to mingle and talk. In one corner, I saw Raissa Gorbachev standing practically alone. I rushed towards her to get an autograph but almost immediately, a very smartly dressed group of muscular security men appeared from nowhere to form a cordon sanitaire around her. I didn?t realize that behind me was a throng of people who were also running towards her, and soon enough, they were pressing on me as I pressed on the arms of the security people who were protecting her. The crowd behind kept pushing and soon enough, I broke through the cordon and was pushed towards Raissa. Believe it or not, my forehead hit her head quite hard. We were both stunned and awkwardly stared at each other for a few seconds. When I came to my senses, I pulled out a piece of paper and a pen to signify with the widest, friendliest smile I could muster that I merely wanted an autograph. She looked at me, smiled briefly, and signed her name. And I was politely whisked away.
One of the greatest thrills of my life was spending four days in Sundance, Utah as one of 70 artists invited by Robert Redford and some celebrity environmentalists. When we arrived and settled in the patio to await Robert Redford who was going to address us, we were told politely that we were not to approach him, ask for autographs or pose for pictures. I thought that was quite an unreasonable request considering that it would be our only opportunity to do it. My view was bolstered by an Indonesian artist who needed to have a picture with Redford for his local newspaper that had paid for his ticket to Utah. I gave him my camera and asked him to have it ready and to snap me a nice one after which he would ask the artist-delegate beside him to snap another one for him.
When Redford walked in, he shook hands with everyone within proximity. Luckily I was quite close and I took his hand. And as I introduced myself, I positioned myself for a picture and smiled when I heard the click of the camera. I was so happy and felt a sense of achievement to have succeeded in having a picture taken with him. Soon after, my Indonesian friend came closer to have his turn but just as he approached, Redford was called to the side by the Sundance staff and so he lost his chance. Redford stayed a while longer to give his welcome speech and left soon after. I felt sorry for my Indonesian friend, but I had proof that I met the legendary Robert Redford.
In 1991, I went to Rio de Janeiro to attend the Earth Summit. It was the “We Are the World” of the environmental scene and I felt that I had to be there as one of the founders of the Green Earth Movement in the Philippines. Without knowing anyone in Brazil, I flew halfway across the world and before I knew it, I was hanging out with Brazilian artists and artists of other nationalities. I met Gilberto Gil, who became Brazil’s Minister of Culture, and saw Caetano Veloso, two extremely famous Brazileros, at the summit.
I was invited to perform at the end of one of many meetings going-on at the summit. Since I did not have a guitar with me, I asked my hosts to provide me one. They said that there were other singers there and I could just borrow from them. To my surprise and delight, there was only one other singer there aside from me, and it happened to be a guy whose songwriting I really liked. He was John Denver. What was amazing was after I introduced myself, we sat down and immediately got comfortable, as if we had known each other forever. I could feel that our bond as singer-songwriters who felt strongly about the environmental cause made us bond so naturally. We talked about many things as we waited a good two hours before taking our turns singing. He graciously lent me his guitar but not before he told me that it was a special one given to him that had all the specs he was looking for in a good instrument. You could tell he loved his guitar. I sang ahead and soon after, he came out and did his signature song, I Wanna Live.
I have had the extreme pleasure of spending three days with an author whose works I devoured with pleasure and passion. After I read Conversations With God, I vowed that I would write and ask Neale Donald Walsch to come to the Philippines and give a talk since I felt his message was something people had to hear.
It was unbelievable to sit down with my favorite author and actually discuss his writings. Neale, who has become a friend (enough for him to write a blurb for my third book Writing On Water) is not only a deep, insightful person, he is also funny. He loves to kid around. He is also inspiring and very encouraging of his fellow writers. During one conversation over lunch, he scribbled words on a piece of paper, which he presented to me as possible titles of a book I could write based on phrases I used. He particularly liked my use of the phrase “soul-killing,” which he thought could be half the title of “Soul-killing, Soul Healing,” a future inspirational book.
Once while we were in a car on the way to his hotel, he was quietly reading my second book Between Blinks and he came across passages he liked. He quickly asked for his yellow pad from his wife and wrote a recommendation for my book, which he gave to me to use for future reprints.
Neale is as warm as his writings and as sincere as his soft-spoken voice. I knew I had a real friend in him. Two years after his trip to Manila, my brother Jake who lives in Florida, attended one of Neale?s talks and later introduced himself to Neale. Upon hearing his last name, Neale asked how we were related. When Jake said I was his brother, Neale smiled and told him, “Get outta here. Jim is my brother.”
One thing I’ve learned is that despite my many years both as a denizen in this jaded world of showbiz and celebrity, there is a part of me that can still be wowed and impressed. Anyone can have their 15 minutes of fame, and remain a fan. I think it?s great to be both. When Antonio Carlos Jobim died, Bill Clinton just had to pay tribute to the greatness of his music.
To be inspired, so that one may pass it on, is what it’s all about.