Barry Smith: Getting `personal’ with Matt Groening |

Barry Smith: Getting `personal’ with Matt Groening

Barry Smith

About five years ago, while visiting Los Angeles, I noticed in the paper that “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening was scheduled to sign books at a nearby bookstore. I stopped in the store a few hours early, only to be informed that “Matt” had already come by earlier and signed a bunch of books.

If, however, I wanted a PERSONALIZED signature, then I should buy a copy, take a number and come back when the event started. Well, of course I wanted “Matt” to write “Barry” in my book, otherwise why was I willing to stand in line for three hours?

I bought a book and was given a number. Number 16. Woo hoo!

I’m not really an autograph collector or anything, but I’d be willing to guess that everyone has someone that they’d wait in line to get an autograph from: musician, author, athlete, porn star, whatever; surely everybody has one. Please tell me you do …

I returned to the store 10 minutes before the signing was due to commence. It was packed the way I’d expected it to be earlier. I slipped into the line of about 300 people – right between where I estimated numbers 15 and 17 were. I held my number high to prove that I actually had a right to be there, as people in California will shoot you for lesser offenses than taking cuts.

After just a few minutes “Matt” walked by. Everyone said, “Yay!” He took his place behind the desk and the signing began. The crowd went absolutely mild. It was a guy writing his name, after all. How excited can you get?

“If you have a picture in your book already, please do not ask for another one!” the security guard barked from the front of the line. “Mr. Groening will only personalize it for you. No special requests, please!”

He yelled this about every three minutes. Really, really loud. This was like an autograph factory, no time to dillydally.

I knew that my time with Matt would be limited to the time it takes one to write “For Berry,” but I wanted some quality time with the “Life In Hell” creator. How could I pull this off? It would have to be something beyond, “Dude, Homer is like … funny.” I had a plan.

I happened to know that Mr. Groening and I have something in common: We are both Frank Zappa fans. I’ve read in various interviews that Zappa was a huge influence on Groening. If you’re enough of a freak to really dig Uncle Frank, it doesn’t matter which side of the autograph table you’re on, there is an instant bonding. Or so I hoped. The trick was to convince Matt that I, too, was a serious fan, and therefore he should, you know, like me.

Finally it was my turn. I handed my book to one of the handlers at the table, told her that it was for “Barry – with an a,” and as Matt began to write, I made my move:

“Thanks for being a Zappa fan,” I said. Not particularly eloquent, but I had to act fast. Plus, I was sincere.

He looked up.

“Are you a fan?” he asked.


“Really?” he looked at me carefully, obviously trying to determine if I had only heard “Valley Girl.”

“A fan in the truest `fanatical’ sense of the word,” I replied, actually proud of such a thing.

He reached up and shook my hand. The hand that breathed life into the formidable nostrils of Homer J. Simpson touched mine. I was in!

“D’oh,” I whispered to myself.

“There’s some new stuff coming out, you know?” he said to me, as if there weren’t a huge crowd clamoring for a piece of him.

“`200 Motels’ in August,” I answered.

“No, after that,” he said. “Some stuff he did with his ten-piece in ’72.”

We were now speaking the cryptic language that only Zappa fans know. He was visibly excited (well … n See Barry on page 15

n continued from page 8

he put his pen down) at meeting a fellow obsessor. We exchanged a few more lines of code.

“OK, that’s nice!” said the woman in charge of keeping things moving. She handed my book to me and plopped the next batch down for him to sign.

The whole exchange lasted 45 seconds, but I felt oddly satisfied. I softly hummed “The Illinois Enema Bandit” as I was shuffled away by the handlers.

My point, if you want to call it that: I like Frank Zappa, and am willing to go so far as to do some weak name-dropping to prove it.

The good news, apart from the fact that my story is over, is that I now get to share (inflict) my Frank Zappa obsession with (on) you, the potential radio-listening audience.

Yes, lovers of the bizarre rejoice, as I am honored to announce my weekly guest appearances on Steve Skinner’s morning show on KSPN! Every Friday Mr. Skinner presents – get this – “Frank Zappa Friday,” from about 8:07 until approximately 8:26 a.m. I’ll be bringing in my portfolio of Zappa CDs and selecting some of what may possibly be the strangest works of genius that you’ll ever hear on commercial radio at 8:14 a.m.

This is a dream come true for me (I don’t sleep well), and I’ll continue to help Steve Skinner provide this valley with the Zappa it needs right up until someone who can do something about it finds out. So tune in early and often.

Soon you’ll be humming “The Illinois Enema Bandit,” too.

Barry Smith’s column runs in The Aspen Times on Monday and Thursday. His e-mail address is, and his very own Web page is at

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