You have to know something about Murphy. Murphy is a salesman, the most gifted I've ever known. He's got a twinkling Irish eye and the blarney true. The man could sell sand to the Saudis. Cars, large appliances, Western wear: name it, he can sell it.
Of course, it's the secret of all great salesmen: he doesn't sell products, he sells Murphy, and people buy. It's a joy to watch him work. Once he's got you in his sights, he's got you. You'll be signing on the dotted line before you ever knew what hit you, and you'll be smiling all the while.
But this isn't about that, exactly.
1988. I am awakened at noonish by a ringing in my ears. Opening one bloodshot eye, I fumble for the phone with one hand, for a cigarette with the other. I answer groggily
'Lo?Man, you aren't even up yet? Sorry. Hey, great party last night.Mm.Get up, get dressed. I'm coming over.Why?Ron Wood's signing books in Harvard Square.Don't hurry.Twenty minutes.Later.
Murphy and I share a passion for the Rolling Stones, so I forgave him the wake-up. Twenty minutes later, I answered the door, showered, dressed, semi-caffeinated. Not exactly daisy-fresh, but ambulatory; that was about my best in those days. Murphy, undamaged by the last night's revelry, brandished a new red Telecaster.
Hey man, I'm going to have Ron sign my guitar.Mm.
I returned to the kitchen and the coffee. For the next few hours, we listened to the Stones, talked about the Stones, picked through some Stones songs, and otherwise prepared for our encounter with greatness. We measured time in beer back then, but we were young, our livers were strong. Ron would understand.
We hopped the train to Harvard Square and made our way to the Coop. I found and bought a copy of Ron's book. We got into a long but not outrageous line. We waited. We talked about the Stones, sang favorite bits of Stones songs, preparing for our encounter with greatness. We were young, happily drunk but still functional. We knew Ron would understand.
A murmur from the back of the room announced his arrival. He was preceded by a burly bodyguard approximately the size of a standard Frigidaire. Red hair, red beard, red skin that suggested a more than passing acquaintance with the bottle. Not someone to be casually provoked. The crowd parted like the Red Sea before Moses.
Ron followed. Tiny, skeletal, his complexion an unhealthy shade of gray. Armani jacket, pegged Levi's, tooled-leather cowboy boots. A dangling earring peeked out from his spiky hair. Despite his frail appearance, he radiated confidence. His eyes were surprisingly alert. Everything about him screamed rock and roll. We came to meet a Rolling Stone and he did not disappoint. He was everything you'd imagine. He was the real deal.
He sat down at a table, his bodyguard behind him to his right, arms folded. The line began to move: a handshake, a few words, an autograph, next. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a very buttoned-down man begin to fidget and pace. Clearly a manager of some sort, concerned that his bookstore was being invaded by long-haired freaky people, many visibly under the influence. He moved toward us, singling people out for persecution.
Then I realized his greater concern. Some of these long-haired freaky people had not purchased the book. They had the audacity to come to his store with a Rolling Stones LP or poster. He was losing sales. He sent a few people away. Then he got to us. I was safe, I had the book. He looked Murphy up and down.
I'm sorry. Mr. Wood is here to sign books and only books.Aw, C'mon man. You're telling me Ron Wood won't sign my Telecaster?Mr. Wood isn't here to sign "telecasters." He's here to sign books. If you don't buy the book I'll have to ask you to leave.
Now manager-man had no idea of Murphy's gift. I could see the wheels turning, though. Murphy had the same look he'd get when we'd be pulled over. In sixty seconds or less, he always thought up a good one to talk us out of a jam. I never saw him fail. I knew he wouldn't fail now. Murphy's eyes glittered. I smiled inside.
Ron Wood's head snapped up.
This guy says you can't sign my Telecaster.
I almost laughed out loud. Perfect. Ron looked up, his bodyguard leaned down. Ron whispered something in his ear. The bodyguard beckoned. Sheepishly, manager-man approached the throne. A brief huddle. The bodyguard took a lumbering step forward.
Mr. Wood wi' be soining books... AND guitars.
He returned to his place and folded his arms. Manager-man retired to his office, defeated.
Score one for the long-haired freaky people. We got our autographs, a handshake, a few brief words and it was over. Next. A bit anticlimactic, really, but cool all the same. I shook hands with one of the Rolling Stones. That was what I came for. That would have been good enough. But he came through for us. He made sure we'd get our sixty second encounter with greatness. And for that, I'm grateful.
You can't always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes you get what you need.