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Paul Muldoon and Steven Tyler (and D.M.C.!) Meet at Last

By Harriet Staff

Check out this New York Observer piece in which Michael H. Miller recounts his evening backstage at an Aerosmith/Cheap Trick concert. With Paul Muldoon.

He opens:

Two summers ago, I went to a reading that the poet Paul Muldoon was giving in a black box theater on the third floor of a nondescript building in Hell’s Kitchen. He read from a galley of his 2010 collection of poems, Maggot, and marked copy errors with a pen as he went along. John Ashbery joined him, reading handwritten translations of Rimbaud scrawled out on a yellow legal pad. There were mice scurrying around and about 20 people in the room, who were polite and subdued. A month later I interviewed Mr. Muldoon, who has been The New Yorker’s poetry editor since 2007, over the course of two days, at Robert Frost’s farm in Ripton, Vt., where he summers. On the second night, we attended a bluegrass festival at the foot of a mountain, which attracted the kinds of backwoods crowds that drive to concerts in beat-up RVs and all-terrain vehicles. We must have heard four renditions of “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” Mr. Muldoon heckled the bands by shouting, “Go electric!”

I was only vaguely taken aback, then, when I received an email from him in June that read: “I think we need to continue our tradition of going to cheesy shows. Aerosmith and Cheap Trick on July 24? P.”

I was aware of Mr. Muldoon’s penchant for what he calls “schlock rock.” After we’d parted ways in Vermont, he had driven to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., to attend a Bon Jovi concert. His poems are filled with as many allusions to pop culture as they are with memories of his native County Armagh in Northern Ireland.

And, then, the fateful meeting(s):

UNLIKE IN AEROSMITH’S younger days, the backstage experience now happens before the show rather than after it because they get tired. Around 7 p.m., we found ourselves in a narrow, white brick-walled, fluorescent-lighted hallway somewhere in the bowels of the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J. We were introduced as “a reporter who works with Jack’s daughter” and “a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet,” a label the very humble Mr. Muldoon continuously blushed at. “It’s hard to explain to people that the Pulitzer doesn’t really matter,” he whispered to me. Mr. Muldoon is almost absurdly low key about his accomplishments—later in the night he told the guy sitting next to us that he does “a lot of things—I teach, I write some,” which seems to be roughly equivalent, at least in this scenario, to Steven Tyler saying, “I sing from time to time.”

Rick Nielsen, the guitarist from Cheap Trick, was wearing a black-and-white checkered bow tie and matching cap and handed us some guitar picks, which is his signature move at concerts; he throws handfuls of them out into the crowd. He also had sunglasses on, which, despite the hallway’s soft lighting, somehow felt necessary and appropriate. We were rushed to the catering room, where we ran into Darryl McDaniels—“D.M.C.” from Run D.M.C. He was so casual and friendly that we both felt comfortable right away.It felt oddly natural when he went right into talking very personally about how at age 35 he found out he was adopted. He had tracked down his birth mother—whom he praised for “getting me out into the world” (he said that with a forward thrust of both his hands)—but that his adoptive parents taught him everything he knows. He was wearing a t-shirt with Jim Morrison on it and looked much younger than a man approaching 50, and he seemed to register some level of disbelief that he was the same man responsible for “Tricky” and “My Adidas,” not to mention raising Aerosmith’s clout considerably by covering “Walk This Way,” a song he would join in on, onstage later in the night. When Mr. Muldoon’s Pulitzer was mentioned, Mr. McDaniels nodded solemnly and said, “Keep up the good work.” He grabbed Mr. Muldoon’s hand and told him “I need some of that poetic energy.”

Down the hallway toward the exit, Steven Tyler was standing near a doorway. He had on a sheer white blouse unbuttoned about halfway and low-waisted jeans that, when you followed the skinny length of his leg down to the floor, frayed out at the bottom revealing a pair of studded flip-flop sandals with socks underneath. The jewelry hanging from his neck jingled and clanged whenever he moved. This was his casual look.

When I was introduced (“This is a reporter who works with Jack’s daughter”), he said “Oh, cool!” with an enthusiasm that was either genuine or so perfectly rehearsed that I couldn’t tell the difference. He shook my hand and I noticed his nails were painted black. “Jack’s in Paris right now. You know, it was nice of our producer to tell us he was leaving the country while we’re in the middle of doing a record.” He smiled. For Steven Tyler, this meant that the bottom half of his face turned into a dark crescent shape.

“And this,” said the publicist who’d been introducing us, “is a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.” I registered a slight grimace on Mr. Muldoon’s end.

“A poet, huh?” Mr. Tyler said, walking closer to him. “You’re kidding.”

As if on cue, the lead singer of Aerosmith began reciting the opening stanza of Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky:”

“‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the—”

He pointed at Mr. Muldoon to finish the line.

“Well,” Mr. Muldoon exhaled, “it’s: ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe; all mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe, or something to that effect.”

Mr. Tyler told Mr. Muldoon that he wished he had become a poet because he would have remembered more. “I don’t remember anything, man,” he said. But, he countered, he would have gotten laid a lot less.

“Not so sure about that,” Mr. Muldoon said. The two exchanged a look of intense—albeit brief—disagreement.

Full article here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, August 2nd, 2012 by Harriet Staff.