This morning I woke up semi-groggy from the aftermath of Brittania karaoke and a hugely successful improv show, vaguely remembering that yes, today was the day I was supposed to meet Wyclef. Still skeptical and shocked that the whole thing was possible and reeling from a day full of friendly jokes about the situation, I shot out of bed and stumbled to the shower unsure of what to expect. One of my comrades cleverly suggested that I was about to be punk’d, that the whole thing was a scam set up by Ashton Kutcher’s twitter account. I brushed those thoughts aside, threw on my best Mr. Sparkle t-shirt and headed toward Sunset. I remembered that Jay, Wyclef’s assistant, had told me the place was right near the House of Blues. (At this time I am willing to divulge that the secret location of our meeting was in fact the perfect place for Wyclef’s new worldwide social movement: the international house of pancakes!) I dropped my car off at the meter and strolled by the Comedy Store to ask a guy where the iHop was. He pointed down the long hill south on Olive Street. It seemed wrong, but the guy worked at the Store so he had to know the area fairly well. Time was running short, and Wyclef had just sent a message to his followers saying “don’t be late!” I headed down the hill and after asking a supermodel-ish brunette for further directions, I found myself on Santa Monica right near Barney’s Beanery. There stood the glorious iHop, and I headed inside.
The place looked deserted. Aside from a few dining families, there was no sign of an international hip-hop sensation. I asked the hostess if there was another iHop in the area. She said that there was, but that it was on Sunset and Orange. Something triggered in my memory, and I recalled that Jay had mentioned Orange Avenue. “Is it in walking distance?” I asked. “No. Not that place,” she replied.
Like a bolt of lightning I shot back up the hill on Olive Avenue, sweating and panting like Chris Farley on a treadmill. Through asthmatic puffs of breath and beads of sweat dripping down my glasses I managed to jog uphill while Google mapping the intersection on my phone. Most disappointingly, the real iHop was even closer to my home than the one I’d just visited. Sweltering from the heat and my own physical inadequacies I surmounted Olive Avenue, jetted back down Sunset, popped in my car and cranked the A/C. Last night’s late night drinking hadn’t helped my hydration any, and I was definitely feeling it now. I called Jay to let him know I’d be a few minutes late (the clock had just hit 10:00 AM on the dime). Jay seemed laid-back and let me know he’d pass the message along to Wyclef. I felt a little more at ease.
When I rolled into iHop (the one across from In ‘N Out near Sunset & LaBrea, NOT the closest one to the House of Blues, although I can see how an out-of-towner could easily make that mistake) I was a sweaty mess. My Simpsons shirt was clinging to my body like a baby marmoset, and I was dripping beads like a slutty girl at Mardi Gras. I walked inside and saw a long table of about twelve people. There at the center, like a hip-hop messiah at his own last supper, sat the man himself, Wyclef Jean. He was looking slick in a white button down shirt with close-cropped hair and I looked like I’d just been on the Rotor at Geauga Lake. I sidled up to the table and strangely enough, Wyclef recognized me from my twitter picture. I reintroduced myself and shook his hand. They added some extra spots at the table and I sat down next to some adorable little girls, maybe six and eight years of age. Wyclef came over briefly to inquire about my background. I gave him a little run-down of my travels from the past four years and told him that I was sorry I was late but I had to run uphill to get here. He was calm cool and collected, as you might expect, and seemed to have little need for apologies or formality. The more time I spent in his company the more I realized he was a man who respects honesty and generosity of character, that no amount of schmoozing could ever win this guy over.
After downing five glasses of water and meeting a few more people, the lady in charge of Wyclef’s new website started broadcasting a live streaming video of our breakfast. I briefly got to do a shout-out to the web where I pimped my blog and stated my appreciation for Wyclef’s approach to Twitter and social media. I wasn’t sure if we were broadcasting live at that point, or if I was being recorded for a future video montage, so I apologize if I seemed unprepared, awkward or incredibly sweaty. According to most people, I am less sweaty in person, I promise.
Wyclef bought us all breakfast and I got to chat with a guy named Grafiki about his idea for a new webisode series. It sounded pretty cool so we exchanged contact information and promised to keep in touch. Noticing Grafiki had left his seat across from Wyclef to talk to me and had now sidled over to a nearby table featuring two very attractive ladies, I took the opportunity to pop closer to Clef and ask him a few questions.
Me: So what’s the next step for this online community?
Wyclef explained that gathering more support, followers (or Warriors, as we like to be called) and creating a real community is the next step. Wyclef envisions a world where artists and fans can interact directly without big business getting involved. While labels and traditional marketing companies have been helpful throughout Clef’s career, there have been times when they have failed to promote certain events correctly or have misread his intentions. Clef dreams of cutting out the middle man and connecting to people directly, so that the true fans can share their messages and stories with the world and also experience the music firsthand. He wants to create more autonomous flash-mob style events rather than big corporate stadium shows.
Me: How do you feel about file-sharing? Has it affected you directly?
Wyclef replied, “With the economy the way it is, you can’t expect people to buy something without giving something away for free.” Yesterday Jay sent me some of Wyclef’s newest tracks. Not only were they incredible, it was a great taste of the things to come on his latest album and they definitely made me hungry for more. Wyclef believes that if you let the people sample the music, they’re more likely to buy the album when it drops.
Me: I think people really respond to your honesty on Twitter. I follow a lot of celebrities, but most of them just crack jokes and you don’t feel like you ever get to know them as human beings. That’s not the case with you.
Wyclef thanked me and said that for him “Twitter is a lot like a psychiatrist…sometimes you’re feeling sad and you don’t want anyone around you to know that you’re sad, so you just- [pantomimes typing on phone]”. We laughed and it was clear that many people at the table could relate. It was interesting that he thought of Twitter as a cathartic release, a form of expression. I didn’t get to follow up on this point, but I would have assumed that his music was his primary form of catharsis. Perhaps the nature of the music industry, big business and traditional marketing had changed the nature of music in his eyes, that what was once performative and expressive had become a full-time job. Twitter and Clef Zone seem to be Wyclef’s method for combatting that stagnancy and despondency that often follows the stress of work. Now he can connect with fans all the time, whether or not his album is getting press.
I asked a few more questions, but the answers were mostly covered by Wyclef’s toast at the end of the meal. He thanked everyone for coming and for their support (especially the wonderful woman who constructed his new website and ran the webcast) and then reiterated that anything is possible with this sort of grassroots movement. He used to ride a donkey in Haiti and now he lives in a McMansion in the states. Anything is possible, but it all starts from communities like the one sitting around him at the table and the gathering masses online. He envisions outdoor shows in parks and creating new content for the streaming video on his website so that it runs twenty-four/seven like a real television channel. Clef suggested that everyone records everything, films whatever they see and shares it with the world (a sentiment echoed by my newfound friends at Found Magazine).
We took a few photos and said our goodbyes. As we were parting I asked the question I’d been dying to ask since I’d started chatting with the man: When are we going to see another Fugees reunion? Clef cracked a slight smile and said that I should look for it sometime next year. Yes. God Yes. I’ll be blaring Fu-Gee-La all day, every day until it happens! Thanks, Clef!
If you haven’t already signed up for Clef Zone, started following @wyclef (or me: @shorester) on Twitter, I suggest you do so now. If this isn’t a story about the magic and wonder of Twitter, I don’t know what is.