Sometimes, a simple question is all it takes to achieve a dream. Brian McCauley is living proof.
Legally blind since birth, the result of retinopathy of prematurity, the 22-year-old Massachusetts resident recently lived out every rock and roll head banger's fantasy: singing onstage with the artist you've long worshipped through wall posters, CD purchases and iTunes downloads.
In McCauley's case, that artist was Gene Simmons, bass player for one of McCauley's favorite bands, Kiss. So how did McCauley end up singing the Kiss classic "Calling Dr. Love" alongside Simmons during the rocker's Feb. 16 solo show in Lynn, Massachusetts?
"I asked," McCauley said, when I messaged him on Facebook.
Having seen a video of the two together on McCauley's Facebook page — we've been social media friends since July 2014 — I had to know his methods. How many times have I fantasized about crooning "Hungry Heart" alongside my idol, Bruce Springsteen, in front of a packed stadium audience? Or trading verses with Bono on "With or Without You" while his U2 bandmate The Edge looked on approvingly?
Sure, YouTube is full of videos featuring audience members who were pulled onstage to sing because they won radio contests or held up signs begging for a chance to share the spotlight. However, McCauley, whose musical tastes run the gamut from Dolly Parton to Ellie Goulding , formulated his strategy months in advance.
"I met Gene at Comic-Con in Rhode Island last November," McCauley recalled. "He was there signing autographs, hanging out and talking to people."
The subject of a duet never came up; but, after leaving Comic-Con, McCauley tracked down Simmons' guitar player, Ryan Cook, and asked if he could join the band on stage. Cook could only promise a meet-and-greet at the Lynn show.
"So, it was a big conference room, and I said, 'Gene, can I sing on stage with you tonight?' and he said, 'I'm gonna make that happen,'" McCauley said.
Then Simmons dipped into a box of chocolate chip cookies received from another fan, handed one to McCauley and added a sprinkle of guidance.
"He said, 'Give them everything you got. Just don't give them your cookie,'" McCauley said.
Strange advice, but maybe not so strange from a guy whose onstage antics with Kiss included breathing fire and spitting up blood nightly. But McCauley realized, at that moment, his dream was about to become reality.
"I knew I was going to get up there. I just didn't know when," he said.
Concert security escorted McCauley and his dad Pat backstage just a few songs into Simmons' set. Once onstage and conversing with Simmons, McCauley announced to the audience he was blind.
"Did any of that prevent you from taking life by the scruff of the neck and owning it?" Simmons asked.
"Let me tell you something Gene," replied McCauley. "Life has endless possibilities."
And then McCauley, not Simmons, counted off the band. The opening notes of "Calling Dr. Love" blared through the arena and McCauley gave it his all, while Simmons played sideman.
Later, back in the green room, Simmons playfully asked a uniformed police officer to arrest McCauley.
"For stealing my show," he said.
Now McCauley has other projects, and concert appearances, on his radar. In addition to shopping a cable talk show, "Talking Smack with Brian Mac," he hopes to share the concert stage with another rock and roll legend, Jon Bon Jovi . He's targeting the band's April 2 show at TD Garden in Boston and has already conversed, via email, with Paul Korzilius, Bon Jovi's longtime manager.
"You just gotta ask," he said. "How many people are too nervous to ask?"
I can think of one. A guy who has been harmonizing to "Hungry Heart" in the shower for years.
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