When the phone rings and a rock star is on the line

I’m not sure Tom Higgenson’s grandmother realizes exactly how famous he really is.

In February, we at the Daily Herald copy desk eagerly awaited an email from him asking us to include his grandson – the frontman of the DuPage-born rock band Plain White T’s – in our lists of birthdays on the last page. She reminds us who he is, what his band has been up to and what his favorite songs are.

I had several opportunities to chat with Higgenson; he’s warm, affable and genuinely genuine, but the fact that he’s always in the middle of a crowd at shows makes it hard to forget that he’s an internationally renowned celebrity.

And even though we’ve struck up a friendship over the past few years, that doesn’t mean “celebrity anxiety” doesn’t start creeping in when we’re about to make a call or video chat.

When I started writing music for the entertainment section of the Daily Herald a few years ago, my goal was to shine a spotlight on the local scene. But the job also allowed me to phone some of the biggest names on my playlists as they prepared to come to town.

*Cue the famous butterflies*

Last December, when actor Zooey Deschanel and his musical partner Matt Ward brought their “A Very She & Him Christmas” to the Chicago Theater, Ward was the more grounded of the two after a full day of press calls. Deschanel, on the other hand, was bubbly and lively – exactly what you’d expect if you’ve seen her in one of her movies or TV shows, only amplified by candy canes and the Christmas spirit. .


Violinist and rock dancer Lindsey Stirling was the same way. In a good mood I can spin like a squirrel on an espresso, and it matched Stirling’s energy perfectly as she enthusiastically and charmingly answered all my questions, and then some, telling her story, her struggles and the projects on pandemic hiatus that she was about to release on tour.

But not all interviews went so well. Sometimes it’s all about finding the right button to open the door.

Jared Followill seemed happy to be back on the road with Kings of Leon last summer, but I could tell he was also exhausted from a day full of interviews. But when the conversation veered to their previous successes, he perked up and his passion for his craft came through clearly.

Months later, actor and musician Dennis Quaid spoke candidly about returning to the stage with his guitar late last year, until he stopped at the gate of a pitch golf course and report to security personnel. I heard the interaction, and when he answered me, I teased him that he probably wouldn’t have to tell people who he was. He laughed and peppered the rest of the interview with jokes and funny stories from his past.

And sometimes the interviews are lovely reminders about perceptions — they may be famous, but they’re not much different from the ones we type in our pajamas.

Dan Konopka, drummer for the Chicago-born indie rock band OK Go, loved talking about his family and how his kids were going through the early days of the pandemic. Rising Northbrook pop star Jordy and his mother are always thrilled whenever he sees his name in the paper. And Better Than Ezra frontman Kevin Griffin chatted with me from the parking lot as he picked up kids from school and gave them snacks.

So for Tom Higgenson’s grandmother, he’s probably just Tommy, the grandson she loves to brag about.

“His own PR guy,” he joked, when I once asked him about it. But you better believe the “famous butterflies” were there when I did it.

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