The Union Square Barnes & Noble has long been the main stage for the larger names in New York City book signings. Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, and Stephen Colbert have all headlined at the four-story reading/Nook/knick-knack/Starbucks mecca to autograph their texts before eager fans who’ve waited hours for a fifteen second interaction with their favorite celebrity. Even the upcoming set list of book authors is noteworthy, highlighting acts like Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Nye, and James Franco.
This isn’t at all similar to the midtown location of B&N, which is less like the main stage at a music festival and more like the one closest to the parking lot with the bands that you forgot about. Far be it to call Mick Fleetwood a B-tier act, but his bookstore audience of less than 100 was hardly smashing through the entrance for an autograph.
“This is just another day at the office,” said Mike Knight as he reached down and inched forward his two green bags brimmed with Fleetwood’s autobiography, Play On: Now, Then, and Fleetwood Mac: The Autobiography. “I’ve got 15. There aren’t many people here, so I’d be pretty happy if I could get $85 a piece for them.” Mike, who makes his living off of such signings, was poised to earn a handsome profit from the $25.50 copies. Several of Mike’s neighbors in line exhaled disapprovingly at the thought of such exploitation.
A hardcore, but muted handful arrived at 5 a.m. to ensure their spot in line. Mike, 33rd in line, arrived 45 minutes before 1 p.m. event.
“I’m getting these signed for my family,” said #34 as he smiled upward at Mike who was busy playing with his phone. Once he notices the eager grin, Mike smirks in return upon the shorter, older man. Bill is his name. “My son couldn’t be here and we’re all big fans. I’m just happy to be here.” Bill eagerly clutched three books at chest level, front covers folded open for signing, ready for the strokes of Fleetwood’s Sharpie.
“Bill Clinton I met a few times,” said Mike as he thumbed through photo albums of book signings on his silver HTC. The middle aged man poked at his silver hair and picked at his orange oxford shirt. Mike’s voice was deep and, like his appearance, was eerily similar to that of Anthony Bourdain—who he’s also met. “These signings never get crazy, but some are busier than others. The Clintons, KISS, Muhammad Ali were all nuts.”
The sleepy line barely wrapped around the corner onto 46th street. Swap Fleetwood Mac’s formerly explosive fan base for one with aching knees, a bedtime south of 9 p.m., and a fancy for Reader’s Digest, and you’ve nailed 80% of the attendees. Most of the patrons under 40 sought autographs for their parents. A man named William sat first in line and was the lone fan that brought a folding canvas chair for the event. The second man in line stood awkwardly close to the seated William. Perhaps an appearance by Lindsey Buckingham would have gathered more lawn furniture.
Half asleep and embittered ushers in cheap, black suits herded the line into the store and up the escalator, and instructed them to wrap around the fiction section in a cramped, but orderly line. The Michael Buble store soundtrack was abruptly stopped and “Go Your Own Way” began to play. The three men behind Mike yawned in unison.
At 1:14 p.m., an employee announced that Fleetwood wouldn’t be personalizing his signatures. The lone woman in line, #31, humphed and muttered something about her father’s name in Mick’s handwriting. A few others rolled their eyes.
“If he’s not doing that, I wonder how he’ll feel about signing fifteen books for one person,” Mike whispered as he flipped his investments to their cover pages. “It said this was an unlimited book signing, but you never really know what these guys will do or how high maintenance they’re going to be.”
The line lurched forward and Mike began to crane over the line to catch a glimpse of the Fleetwood Mac drummer. He fidgeted with a point and shoot camera and hurriedly ushered his books forward, hitting the heels of the ponytailed man in front of him.
Mick Fleetwood’s appearance is exactly what you’d expect from a rocker now past his heyday. His black jeans, white button down, and plaid red vest were hardly indicative of a rock star. Even though Fleetwood was balding, his remaining white hair was tied into a short ponytail. Couple this with a paper white beard and Fleetwood looked less like a rock star and more like Santa Claus before the Christmas rush—although Santa never had a polite British accent and flirted with readers about his home in Maui.
Mike snapped rapid-fire pictures on his small camera and almost completely missed his turn. Fleetwood’s publicist cheered and nodded at the sight of Mike deadlifting his bags of books toward the drummer. He pointed from across the small space and smiled, “Now that’s what we’re talking about.” Mike breathed a sigh of relief as he was ushered in front of Mick.
Fleetwood, sharpie in hand, mouthed, “wow” and began tackling the first book.
Mike glanced at Fleetwood’s matching red sport coat on the back of the chair. “That’s one hell of a jacket.” Fleetwood looked back, temporarily pausing his signatures. The three metal wristbands on his signing hand jingled loudly.
“Oh thank you,” said Mick, “It’s a hand-me-down from Rod Stewart.”
A long awkward pause ensued. Mick puckered his lips and moved swiftly through the pile. Mike fiddled nervously with his jean pockets and rocked back and forth on his heels. Eye contact wasn’t necessary. Mike and Mick both understood what was happening. This was a business transaction. Nothing more. Nothing less. Mike did his best to distract Mick.
“Is there anyone else from the era that you’d like to play with anytime soon?”
Fleetwood finished signing the fourteenth copy. “Hmm, I think it would be pretty cool to get Rod and Ronnie Wood together to play a show.”
“That would be cool!” said Mike as he grinned uncomfortably.
Fleetwood signed the fifteenth copy. “It’s all about getting the guys together to do something pure. It’s not always about the money.”