(Painting: Eric G. Thompson)
There is nothing incidental about an interview with Jon Stone, songwriter and performer. Even the room where I get to meet him seems carefully set up, the chairs placed in just the right angle to catch the light, allow my illustrious guest to stay in command. His manager enters before him. Sal Rosenberg has been working with Mr. Stone for more than twenty-five years now, from the beginnings of his career here in New York all the way to world fame. He greets me with a friendly shake of his hand, offers coffee, and then stands aside to make way for the star.
Surprisingly, Jon Stone does not look diminished close up like so many others. There is less glamor, it's true, but he still seems larger than life, imposing, in control, and he is one handsome man. At forty-six, he is one of those guys who would make you turn your head and bump into doors if you met them somewhere on the street, tall, dark, and with a smile to fry your brain.
He also makes it very easy to start a conversation by chatting about the weather and the coffee, about the restaurant he and his band visited the night before.
"Our last thing together for a while," Jon says. "The tour is over, now we get to relax."
Very neatly, with one statement, he has completely unraveled my well-laid interview plans. His legs stretched out, coffee cup balanced on his knee, he waits for me to speak. There's an amused twinkle in his dark eyes, and I swear I can see the corners of his mouth twitching.
"There is a rumor that this was your last tour."
A moment's thought, then a nod. "Yes, I think that's so. It has been a fun ride, but it's time to move on. I want to do something totally different, find out if I can do more than just write songs and perform them. Last year my wife and I wrote a movie soundtrack, and now we're going to stage the musical we created. Right here in New York, too. The auditions start in two months."
"You will do the auditions yourself?"
Again, that mischievous grin. "Oh yes, I'd not want to miss that for the world. My wife, she can't wait. She's really excited about working on the show."
He watches while I take my notes, patiently sipping his coffee. Sal is visibly bored, he's pushing sugar cubes around on the saucer of his cup.
"You have reached nearly every pinnacle in the music world," I begin, and stop again.
That man has the audacity to SMIRK at me!
"Yes?" Drawled out, full of laughter, as if he knows exactly that I'm about to wilt.
"And now you're going to stage your own musical, too. What is it that is driving you? You could well stop working and enjoy your success and wealth and lead a pleasant life."
Very suddenly, every trace of humor is gone.
"Driving me, " Jon repeats softly, "Driving me. There is something driving me, it's true." He sits up straight and puts down his coffee cup. "When I signed my first record deal I was delirious with joy. I couldn't believe my luck. For two days, I walked on clouds. And then..." A glance passes between him and Sal. "And then I felt it was not enough. I hired a vocal coach, a fitness trainer. Sal and I started looking for a band, and I wanted people who would be good to work with for a long time, who would walk this path with me. Friends, a musical family. But it was not enough."
This is startling.
"Not enough?" I ask.
"No." Jon stretches out his hand, and Sal puts a pack of cigarettes and a lighter in it. "It was a step in the right direction, but it was not where I wanted to stop." The smoke drifts between us, bluish and obscuring.
"I got my first gold record, my first platinum, and still there was this drive to prove something, to prove to myself that I was worthy of something." He pauses. "I've often wondered if this is something all creative people feel, the need to be more than just a normal human, leave a mark on this world, do something that makes a difference."
His gaze wanders toward the door and he falls silent.
"So this new project..." I prompt him, and he shakes himself out of his reverie. Again I get one of these dazzling smiles. No wonder he has so many female fans all over the world.
"Yeah, I can't wait! Working with my wife is the best thing that's ever happened to me. She's writing a book now, a novel, would you believe it." His voice grows soft talking about her, dark and velvety like molten chocolate. Listening to him gives me shivers. He isn't Jon Stone for nothing.
"She is so talented, a real artist, a wonderful poet."
Oh, now that makes me want to snicker. Here is the famous rock star, and he's raving about his wife like a teenager. Not sure his fans would like that.
Sal taps his watch, and Jon nods. "Time for me to go. My wife is waiting, I promised to take her out for lunch today. One more question."
"Your wife." Uh oh, this may be the wrong direction. His brows draw together. "She is the heiress to the Carlsson Hotel emporium, right?"
His hand comes up to stop me. "Yes, yes, but she has decided not to work in the family business." With a sigh, Jon rises from the couch. "She is my wife, and she's my writer. There's no time for all that, and I'd hate for her to be away that much." The chin comes up. "We have many plans, and they don't include the Carlsson estate. We'll end this now."
Suddenly, the air in the room seems a lot cooler. I know I've hit a wall, and the interview is over. They leave, Sal and Jon, talking to each other, their minds already somewhere else, somewhere in their own world, and I'm left behind with cold coffee and an untouched plate of cake.