Joe Elliot, unaware I had sabotaged his band.
All of us make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes are innocent and innocuous, like say forgetting to turn the lights off or overcooking your popcorn. Sometimes we make big mistakes, like the time my childhood friend told me the gun pointed at me wasn’t loaded, and then shot me in the chest…its ok folks, it was a BB gun. But then there are those mistakes, so monumental, so horrific that it will outlive you and even cement your reputation amongst your friends, being told as a wonderful cautionary tale for all time. Such was the level of mistake I made the first time I encountered Def Leppard.
But before I get to that, let me give you some history. Def Leppard constitutes one of my first memories in life. I remember living in Copperas Cove, Texas, as a charming four year old, and seeing my mother and her friends dance around our living room while “Pour Some Sugar on Me” blasted from our 13 inch television. I know Def Leppard aren’t the most hardcore band in the world for an ardent metalhead to love, but I grew up on the band and to this day, consider their first four albums to be amazing.
I tried several times to attend a Def Leppard show, but could never make it. But then, in 2003, me and a couple of buddies got a job working transportation at Music Midtown, an annual three day music festival in Atlanta, which drew tens of thousands of people and featured artists of all genres. My job basically involved assigning golf-carts to the festival employees and performing maintenance on those golf carts. It was a well paying job, which made it cool, but the best part was that I could use my employee badge to go onstage and watch all of the bands perform. And imagine my joy when none other than Def Leppard were performing that year!
As Def Leppard’s set drew near, I roamed around backstage and learned a couple of things. First, women did, do and will always love Def Leppard, as at least two dozen lovely ladies, looking like they just got off a shift at the Pink Pony, hovered around the band’s tour bus. Second, I learned I was not the only person clamoring for a place to see Def Leppard, as the stage was crowded with at least 100 people hanging around waiting to catch the band’s set….frustrated by this, I found a new place in area between the stage and the band, which held a lot of wires and a lot of security guards. I hunkered down near a structure which led up to the soundman on stage and waited to get my face rocked off.
The set started off with a bang, as the band absolutely tore it up. Say what you will about Def Leppard, these guys know how to put on a show. As tends to happen at concerts, I started to lose myself in the moment. I found myself jumping up and down, singing along and generally acting a fool…and that’s when it happened…
About four songs into the set, Def Leppard went into “Bringin’ on the Heartache,” the massive ballad off their sophomore effort, High ‘n’ Dry. In my excitement to be so close to the band, I never realized I was in a spot all by myself, dangerously close to a large group of cables. I just figured myself to be smarter than everyone else. As I jumped up and down, the sound suddenly cut out. The band proved unaware, as the monitors on stage still worked, so they played on. Yet for everyone in the crowd, everything stopped. I looked on, not quite sure of what was happening, when out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone coming at me very fast. As the fist hit me, I only heard a voice scream “get the fuck off those cables…”
I flew back, hurt and shocked. What just happened? The crewman, who had just leveled me with a vicious right hook worked furiously at the group of cables, where I had just been standing. As my head began to regain its ability to reason, it dawned on me what I had done. I had just unplugged Def Leppard in front of tens of thousands of people! My fight or flight kicked in and I scurried off to my work area to lick my wounds, think about what I had done and swore to myself to never have to confront this dark moment in personal history again….
It didn’t take long for word to get around about the “blonde haired idiot from transportation,” and I became infamous very quickly. My bosses chided me and my co-workers made endless fun of me. I just tried to laugh it off, hoping that I would be able to live down this moment and move on with my life. Little did I know just how far reaching news of my mistake would go.
I continued working at Music Midtown each year and when Def Leppard came back to play the festival again in 2005, I swore to be nowhere near the stage before, during , or after they played. I had suffered enough, right? Well, coincidentally enough, the drummer in my band, Raegan Wexler, happened to work music midtown that year as well. His job was driving artists from the artist hospitality area to the stage. Being the gossip girl that he is, combined with a stroke of luck, Raegan ended up having a conversation with Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen about my little incident on the way to the stage. And so, imagine my surprise when 30 minutes later I was approached by a man saying Rick Allen wished to speak with me!
I’m not normally star-struck. Due to the music midtown job, as well as some happenstance, I had been fortunate enough to meet a lot of famous people over the years and with the exception of Bruce Dickinson (oh god, another story for another day), I had never been star-struck before. Then again, I’d never completely screwed up a major band’s set before. So, it was with a bit of trepidation that I introduced myself to Rick Allen.
“Come here, mate,” Rick Allen told me as he shook my hand and embraced me with a hug. “So, you’re the guy who unplugged us at the last show here, aye?” “Hey Phil, come here, this is the guy they told us about!” Def Leppard guitarist, Phil Collen shook my hand and said, “Ah, you’re the one who unplugged us, huh? Don’t worry about it pal, we sounded awful that night, you really did everyone a favor.” Not only could I not believe how well they took the whole thing, I couldn’t believe just how nice they were to me in the aftermath. I got to speak with most everyone in the band, ask Vivian Campbell about writing “Holy Diver” (“oh my, I was so young then, I didn’t even know what I was doing.”), and the guys gave me an autographed copy of their new greatest hits record. I walked away from the meeting feeling great at having met musicians I really admire and gained an appreciation for being able to make the best of a ridiculous situation.
So, in the end, I messed up bigtime. But it all worked out well and I got a great story out of the whole thing. But I’ll leave you with this final piece of the tale….
About three months after meeting Def Leppard, my band American Devils, were playing a gig in Atlanta. We were doing pretty well for ourselves, playing in front of pretty big crowds and forming a name for ourselves in the Atlanta scene. A guy I didn’t know came up to me before our show, and said, “You’re Matt right, the guitarist from American Devils?” “Yeah man,” I said with the hint of excitement one gets at being recognized, “do you like our band?” His response left me feeling humbled and embarrassed, “Fuck no man, you’re that dumbass that unplugged Def Leppard!” I just lowered my head and walked away….