AIN’T THAT EASY

Posted by on Jul 15, 2012 in Stories, Uncategorized | 2 Comments
AIN’T THAT EASY

Hello troopers, take a deep breath, open your eyes and watch this Polaroid. Now watch it another time.
Yes. It’s him. I still can’t believe it myself, but the man Polarized here above is none other than Michael Eugene Archer better known by his stage name, D’ANGELO.

If you are not familiar with D’Angelo, something that should be impossible if you are a loyal reader of my stories, but in case you are just dropping by for the very first time, let me be so kind to give you a short but powerful introduction on this incredible artist.(Before you carry on reading, I highly recommend that you catch up on my first story on D’Angelo)

D’Angelo is an American neo-soul singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist & producer. Music has been flowing through the veins of this man since he was a toddler. Word is, he was only 4 when he thought himself how to play Earth, Wind & Fire’s Boogie Wonderland’. D’Angelo, who is the son of a preacher man and a devoted Pentecostal himself, got his musical schooling via church and although he was told that current music was devilish, he let go of the religion just enough to do his own thing with music. His first album was called BROWN SUGAR and had a great impact on the beginning of what is called the neo-soul movement in the nineties and was also a commercial success thanks to the release of singles like Lady (peep Erykah Badu in the remix video) & Brown Sugar.

Personal high lights from that album for me are:

When We Get By

This song is so simple and sweet and instantly takes my heart the minute I hear it. It’s that perfect song for any random day when you are down.  If I ever have the chance to request a song to D’Angelo to play for me, this would be the one. :)

Can’t forget about Shit Damn Motherfucker (here live in Montreux in 2000)

After Brown Sugar he took his first sabbatical that took him almost 5 years before his next album came out. It was the birth of his first son (with singer Angie Stone) that apparently made him go back in the studio and delivered us the iconic album that is VOODOO. Voodoo came out and although Left & Right with Method Man & Redman was the first single that came out, this second single and infamous video gave him the status of a global superstar and with that, his personal share of the good, the bad and the ugly.

Exhibit

This legendary video and song was praised with awards & Grammys ànd the lust of million women around the world which resulted in de transformation from plain Michael Eugene Archer into D’Angelo, thé sekssymbol, a stigma that quickly turned into a curse rather than a blessing. Personal highlights from the VOODOO album for me are Africa, Devils Pie & Spanish Joint. Definitely check out this footage that came out to promote the VOODOO album.

With the album came the legendary VOODOO world tour in 2000, a tour that also stopped in Belgium and that I witnessed myself (catch up on that here) but also the tour where D’Angelo was heavily confronted with some of his personal demons, where he was confronted with the global perception that people had of him, a perception that went beyond the music and sticked to much with the fysical part of his appearance. Drummer and lifetime friend Questlove later stated to the world that D’Angelo said to him that he had enough and that he was going to stay out of the radar, at least for a little while.

And that was it. D’Angelo disappeared from planet earth and stayed away for more than 10 years… When he did pop up, it mostly had something to do with his struggles with sex, drugs and alcohol, rehab stories and mug shots. But when it came to anything that had something to do with music, things remained quiet. A lot of media already stated that D’Angelo was over and out and nothing more than a blast from the past. I knew better. While doing this blog I found out from artists like Theophilus London (who told me he saw him recording in a studio in New York) and a few years later Mark Ronson (who told me his was indeed working on a new album.) that he would come back one day. So I waited.

He did come back, thanks to Questlove who told D’Angelo that the world and the current state of music really needed him to still be out there and make music. My first attempt on D’Angelo in Paradiso failed, and although I was really disappointed, especially because ‘the hunt’ turned out to be long, hard and very very cold, I was really happy that I was able to share the story with my readers and to testify myself that D’Angelo had indeed returned, and although a little rusty, he was still one of the most talented artists I have ever encountered. So you can imagine how thrilled I was, when I found out that GENT JAZZ festival booked D’Angelo on the closing night of the festival only 5 months after my first attempt. I didn’t expect him to come back so fast. I mean…with D you simply don’t know.

So. With no further ado. This is the story behind de Polaroid.

While doing the preparations of this second attempt on D’Angelo, I felt very confident. I found out that D’Angelo is still signed with Sony and you all know that Sony has my back, plus after my story with ASAP, the folks over at Sony kinda owed me one. Of course, that confidence was totally unnecessary and quickly my feet landed back on the ground where they belong. When I contacted Sony to check up on what they could do for me I received an out of office mail from my contact, telling me that he left on holiday. Great. When I contacted the person who replaces him during his vacation it became very clear that I was on my own, and that this person could not help me out because they were not planning on doing any promo since although they know there is new material and his next album might be ‘JAMES RIVER’ there was no official statement of a new record coming out anytime soon. They said I could contact the management myself but they could not provide me with the right email address.

Okay then.

With only two weeks before the concert at Gent Jazz, I feverishly started to look for the right contact mail for D’Angelo’ s current manager which supposedly is Lindsay Guion. I send a few mails to different addresses but it remained quiet. It’s festival season for this blog and this means I need to pick up as much performances that is schedule wise possible, my type of artists don’t come along that often in Belgium, so I need to grasp every opportunity in order to have some content for this blog. After doing this blog for more than 3 years now and collecting most of its content by me myself and I, I learned one thing and that is that festivals take a lot of time and effort if I want to have some type of result. Festivals are simply very hard for this blog result-wise. Don’t forget I do a lot of concerts during the rest of year too and half the time I pay for at least 1 ticket. (I have an assistant) Take transportation, the time you spend at the concert, last minute expenses, the Polaroid film etc, and you might get the picture that it takes a lot of love to do this blog and to keep on doing it.

Les Ardentes was the very first festival who gave me an entrance via a bracelet that made sure that I could enter the festival for free and although I didn’t have an ‘access all areas’, I still had a better chance of getting a Polaroid because it allowed me to hang around and wait for artists when they have to get or leave the stage or leave the artist village. I learned at Dour and Couleur Cafe fest that it might take 8 to 12 hours before I could get backstage with a regular bracelet and even then a Polaroid was not guaranteed and sometimes I ended up going home with nothing. In order to grow and evolve you need to look back and see what points can make a process go better, and when it comes to festivals and this blog it’s simply asking for an accreditation. I have enough content to back up my demand so I would be stupid not to ask for it. Don’t be fooled, I’m still persona non grata and the ultimate ‘quantité négligable” for most labels, something that was made very clear not so long ago when I wanted to go to Couleur Cafe. Every official request  I send out for the artist of my interest for this blog was declined. And to get that – no –  I had to email several times and ask them for an answer. So even with a press accreditation I can’t do much, since the labels don’t support me.  Funny thing is, when you dò have an accreditation you are technically not allowed to approach an artist an ask for an interview or picture without permission from the local label division.You get it?  They want me to play by the rules, but the rules don’t want to play with me.  I really didn’t have any money to pay for 2 tickets for the D’Angelo concert so I asked the Gent Jazz organization super last-minute (as in two days before the concert) for a press accreditation.

To my big surprise, Gent Jazz gave me a press accreditation and an extra ticket for my assistant. That meant I had access to the pressroom (area where you can work on your computer and load up pictures and/or edit a written piece) and the festival. The friday before the concert I still was absolutely nowhere and I was invited by HUMORADIO to talk about my blog and my second attempt on D’Angelo, something that made me even more nervous, because I really didn’t have a clue how to get this precious Polaroid and by talking about it on national radio I only raised expectations and I didn’t want to do that. Meanwhile, my former contact at Sony informed me that she contacted Sony in the States where things also remained quiet and that she asked advice with her colleagues at Sony Holland and that they told her that it was a mission impossible to get close to him without permission from the management. A good connection of mine, a girl who used to work for LiveNation for many years advised me to contact the boss of Ghent Jazz and ask him for help personally and right after the HUMORADIO show, one of the presenters gave me the card of the big boss over at Ghent Jazz and told me: “Look, this man is really a genuine cool guy, he is the one that can and must help you, he has the power to push you into the backstage area so you can do your thing. Mail him!”

So in one day two women told me to mail the same man, and I don’t miss out on any possible angle, so while I was in the car on my way to Gent returning from another festival (Dour) that sunday noon, I send the boss of Ghent Jazz a mail and asked him straigh forward to help me out and explained him what I needed in order to get closer to a Polaroid from D’Angelo. By the time I arrived in Ghent I got an answer back telling me he would give me two backstage passes so I could do my thing and that he loved my blog. Amazing. In less than 24 hours I managed to get free tickets to a D’Angelo concert and 8h later I had some backstage passes. The boss of Ghent Jazz told me that I should call him right after the concert to pick the backstage passes up.

Thing is, I have so much experience doing this blog by now so I knew trying to meet up àfter the concert was a bad idea. By the time we would meet, my opportunity with D’Angelo might be gone already, since it was very likely that he would leave the festival immediately or stay in his backstage lodge for quite a few hours before security will get the order to clear the perimeter so he can jump in a car straight to the hotel. I explained via mail, that it might be better that he would give me the backstage passes before the concert so I could be there right after the concert and work on getting the Polaroid the minute he leaves the stage. He replied back that he agreed and let me promise that I would not enter the backstage area before 10PM because he wants to keep the backstage area as calm as possible before a concert. I gave him my word. I arrived at Gent Jazz very early, around 5:30PM and decided that I had to stay front row in order to get some good concert pictures.

Exhibit

Even though I had a press accreditation, I wasn’t allowed in what I call ‘the photographers trenches’ and for the best because by the time the concert began it turned out that photographers were only allowed to take pictures from the very far left and the very far right angle and boy o boy they were not pleased. I was standing a little left to the middle of the stage, so perfect to take some pictures from the concert.

Larry Graham, responsible for the bass slapping technique or ‘Thumpin & Pluckin’ and former band member of Sly & The Family Stone had the interesting task to warm up the crowd for D’Angelo.

Exhibit

This man is 66 an although some people referred it to slapstick, I could appreciate the highly energetic performance. Give the man a break, he comes from an other era for crying out loud, if you watch something from another period in time, you’re gonna get something from another period in time, and back then, this was the shit. He even takes his wife on tour, how cool is that! Are your grandparents touring the world? I think not. :)

At 10PM sharp, the boss of Ghent Jazz rang my phone and we met up by the ‘photographers trenches’ where I was standing front row. We shook hands, I thanked him for his cooperation, he quickly gave me some bracelets like it was a mysterious drugs transaction, wished me good luck and immediately left. This is the moment where I knew things were getting real and my chances on a Polaroid were officially starting to grow, and so did my nerves…. But first things first and it was time for my third live show from D’Angelo. Here are a few pictures from D’Angelo & his band and from what I personally think was yet another stunning performance. It was somewhat the same as the one in Amsterdam in February, and unfortunately there were some problems with the sound, but all this aside, still a great show.

Exhibits

D’Angelo, ready to roar

Isaiah Sharkey on the rhythm guitar

backing vocal

Pino Palladino on the bass.

Looks like D’Angelo made a bling upgrade on his guitar since his performance in Februari. :)

D’Angelo with Jesse James & Kendra Foster on the backing vocals

Since this show was somewhat similar to his performance in Amsterdam, I knew that to be on time backstage I had to leave the front row rìght after his piano medley when all the band members came back on stage. Immediately me and my assistant left and went into the stream of people who were clearly enjoying the concert. After 5 minutes we arrived at the backstage area, which is located right behind the stage and thanks to our backstage passes we were granted permission to go in there. At first I was a bit hesitant to go to the area where the actual stage was, because I was not sure I was allowed there, but we decided to go for it and went up stage. I was a bit shocked to see so many people standing there like it was nothing. Lol! Plus it was super cool because you could check out the performance standing from the side of the stage behind some curtains ànd from a giant screen. I’ve never seen that before at a backstage, so I was really impressed by it. 

Exhibit

I was really carefull with taking pictures backstage, I was terrified to be sent away so I didn’t take any risks and only used a flash for this track list that was on the floor.

Exhibit

But to give you an idea, this was were I was standing.

Exhibit

After ‘Sugah Daddy’ comes the obligatory encore (an uptempo & funky version of Brown Sugar) and I knew that it would only be minutes now before it was showtime for me. I was super nervous. I mean, look at my face. :s

Exhibit

And so it happened, D’Angelo immediately left the stage after the encore, tightly surrounded by his entourage who literally circled around him in a very protective way. From experience I know it’s never a good idea to ask for a Polaroid right before and right after an artist performs so I took the risk and let them pass me by. A calculated decision but really hard to do, trust me. What if this was my only shot? We immediately tailed and followed them so we could see where they were going but it happened so fast and before we knew it D’Angelo and crew disappeared. We presumed that he was in a tent located right behind the stage but we were definitely not sure.

While waiting for D’Angelo before the concert I always observe the people who set up the stage. I noticed there was one man walking around, and although I still don’t know his function in the group, I felt that he might be the only one that could help me and was approachable. So the minute I saw him walking by I approached him, introduced myself, asked him 5 minutes of his time and quickly pitched the blog & former featured artists to him via my Iphone slide show. After the 4th picture he immediately looked up and said: “We can’t do this, I’m sorry.”
I learned that it is better nòt to beg or insist, but rather accept their decision. I’m not a paparazzi and for me the artists’ consent is very important.

I told him: “Ok no problem, I respect that, however, can I give you my card, in any case you come back to Belgium?”
He accepted the card and because I was so friendly and I did not insist to take a picture, he started to doubt and said: “Look, I hope you understand, D is still working out and he is still not in shape.”
I replied: “Ow…I see..I understand, but the thing is, it’s not about beauty, it’s just about capturing a pure instant moment.”
He then replied: “I get that, but it’s important for him……Look, in any case, if you see him, you can ask him, he might not do it, but you can ask him.”

Now this changed everything. I asked the man if D’Angelo would come out my way eventually, and he said: “Yes, he will definitely come out from there, and I suggest you take your chance and ask him personally.” and that were his last words before he left me standing in the rain. It’s always good to respect hierarchy in a group, especially with big artists, so I prefer to ask somebody from the entourage, and if an inside person gives me permission I know I won’t be jumped on by security the minute I pop the question. My heart started racing, the rain was falling down harder and I had to open up my Polaroid camera so the battery would be fully charged when I end up taking the picture, so while I was trying to cover my Polaroid from the rain my assistant suddenly whispered: “Ouni, Ouni,…. he’s coming! They are coming….” I turned around and indeed, there was D’Angelo surrounded by (from what I can remember) 3 man and 1 woman who circled D’Angelo in the same protective way I saw before.  I looked the guy from the entourage in the eye, he nodded and I went straight up to D’Angelo and asked him very polite and with a little smile;“Yo D… can I please take a Polaroid picture of you?”
I think I was surprised by the question and I heard the security wonder out loud: “A Polaroid….??”
I kept looking in his eyes, scared to lose his attention and said “ …please….pretty please…” and smiled and he agreed!

The minute he agreed his entourage broke the circle and set a step aside so I could take the picture. He looked very straight with open eyes in the camera, I aimed my Polaroid, hoped the framing would turn out fine and nobody would end up walking in the picture. I had no say in this, no white wall, no different expressions, it was there and then, no more no less. I counted till 3, the flash went off and bingo….I had my Polaroid. I immediately pulled away the Polaroid since it was raining, reached my hand to D’Angelo and thanked him with the bottom from my heart because I knew this was really an exception on the rule.We shook hands, he smiled and immediately his entourage circled back around him and left the perimeter.

I was shocked. Did this really happen? It did. My assistant came up with big eyes and said: “I don’t have the exhibit, it went so quick and I was scared to flash, and I only have a blurry picture. I don’t have it.” My exhibits are very important to illustrate my stories and visualize a moment in time, plus my readers love them and it’s the official proof that I and not somebody else took this Polaroid picture. Then again, I’m a perfectionist and I’m already dreaming of my standard white wall Polaroid, with D’Angelo giving me two expressions and the opportunity where I can actually explain the concept of my blog to D’Angelo. So all is not lost, I have thé Polaroid, and who knows, I might try this again one day. :)

I left the backstage area and we went straight to a Mojito bar and ordered a drink.I only had the balls to look at the Polaroid the next morning because I was so terrified his eyes were closed or that the picture didn’t came out good, or …
It turned out, the picture was just perfect.

Doing this blog ain’t that easy. Matter of fact, it’s one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life and it takes a lot of discipline to keep on doing it and combining it with my job and my daily life. This story was possible because of all the other stories I did in the past and the experience that came with them. This story was only possible because it takes persistence, perseverance and permanence to reach goals that are labeled ‘impossible’ for many people. Last but not least. This story was possible because of people reaching out and willing to help. So a special shout out to the following people who all contributed to this story in one way or another: Sabine, Sofie, Maud, Kevin, & Thomas thank you so much. This would not have been possible without your help.

I’m leaving you all with this one.
D’Angelo with a suit on. Swag. :)

Love,
OUNI

2 Comments

  1. Orsii
    July 17, 2012

    Well frickin done! Very happy for you :) See hard work pays off, keep doing what youre doing miss – its truly awesome! x

    Reply
  2. GONE IN AN INSTANT #2012 « No Balls, No Glory; A Polaroid Story
    January 12, 2013

    […] the most epic moments since I started A Polaroid Story. Capturing D’Angelo on Polaroid.
It AIN’T THAT EASY to be in the presence of an artist that is heavily protected by management and entourage. Moral of […]

    Reply

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