Adam Chester Loves His Mom, the Crazy S@#! She Says, and Being Elton John's Surrogate
In 1981, Adam Chester had just graduated from Miami Beach High, and was living in Los Angeles for college. He was over 3,000-miles away from his mom, Joan, but even though an entire country separated the two, Chester could not escape mom's unsolicited words of advice.
After over 30 years of collecting his mother's post-marked letters, Chester's written a book, S'Mother: The Story of a Man, His Mom, and the Thousands of Alltogether Insane Letters She's Mailed Him,
about his mom and the crazy shit she's written him. Tonight Chester and
his mom will sign copies of the new book at Books & Books. Cutlist recently caught up with Chester to discuss the book, his mother's quirks,
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and how piano lessons landed him the coolest job ever.
Cultist: How long has the book taken from conception to right now, your book tour?
Adam Chester: About 40-years (laughs).
So basically since you left for California?
Even before that. That's the story my mother's going with, that it all started when I moved to California, but that is so not true. If you check the book out, there's a story in there about the junior high school locker room. That's pretty much where things started to get out of control.
I'll tell you the story. It was a typical humid day in Miami, and I was in junior high school--I think seventh grade. We had just had Phys Ed, and it was one of those overcast humid days, but still nice. Phys Ed is over, and I'm in the boys' locker room. Me, and all my friends, are changing in that hurry to get back to class when I hear this voice coming from outside the locker room somewhere in the distance, and it was just saying, "Adam. Adam?" It started coming closer, and my mother ended up walking into the boys' locker room not only followed by my coach, but by all the girls from the girls' locker room.
What was the panic? It wasn't something tragic; she wasn't coming to school to tell me something horrible had happened. The big urgency was that I had forgotten my sweater. She was convinced I needed my sweater because it was going to rain.
You must've gotten so much shit for that from the kids at school.
The shit didn't end for years--people still talk about it! This is why I'm so excited to come back to Miami for the book signing, because there will people there that have RSVP'd that were in the boys locker room. I haven't seen these people in 30, 40 years. I just cannot wait to come back to Miami.
Are you an only child?
Yeah. No brothers, no sister. I have a close cousin who I talked a lot about in the book. But I don't think we're that close anymore. She's not returning my phone calls after the book came out. I think some people in my family are a little pissed off.
But the book doesn't have any malicious intent; you just wanted to get your story out there.
There was no malicious intent whatsoever. I don't hate my mother, I love my mother. But she's bad (laughs). All these stories were a secret for so long, you know, it's been sort of cathartic to let it out. Everybody just needs to relax, and realize it's just funny. Even my mother thinks it's funny, and she still writes me letters.
What was your family life like as a child? Was dad around?
My father passed away when I was 8. He died of pancreatic cancer, at least that's what I was told. I'm not really sure. I don't what's the truth anymore, but I'm pretty sure he's dead.
We moved to Miami to be near my grandparents, my mother's parents, and that's where I grew up when I was eight years old on.
Did your mom ever remarry?
She did once, and that lasted for about a month-and-a-half.
Why so short?
I think she said the guy was just after her money, which ironically, she doesn't have any. He seemed like an okay guy to me. I was 13 when she remarried.
She's dated an awful lot, and she still keeps me informed of the various men who are interested in her. That could be someone she meets at a mixer-type thing for older people, or the barista at a Starbucks who just have to have a piece of her. Everybody wants my mother.
You're mom lives down the street from you, basically, but she still writes you letters?
She's about 20-minutes away, but she still writes letters because in a way the letters are her catharsis. They're her only way, she says, to really spend some quality time with me (laughs).
Does she send them certified mail so she makes sure you're getting them?
There were several back in the college days that definitely came certified. There had to be a signature with some of these warnings. I think the "please don't eat sushi" letter came certified.
Do you ever write back?
I think in my years of having lived in a separate location from her, which is like, always, I've written maybe one letter back. I feel bad about that, but I don't have a lot of time (laughs).
She doesn't write e-mails, doesn't have a computer, and more importantly, she does not have my cell phone number. She is not allowed, and anybody I know, including my mother-in-law, is strictly forbidden to hand that number out to my mother.
You have children of your own now; does she write them any letters?
Yeah, but I'm trying to think if they were addressed to them, or to them care of me. She's not writing them directly, she writes me letters of warnings of things that the kids will do, or if I don't follow, the kids will get in trouble. She warned me about how I should park closer to the elementary school, and I need to get there a whole lot earlier than she's seen me get there when she's accompanied me.
An interesting fact about you is that you're a surrogate Elton John, you sit-in for the legendary musician with the band during rehearsals. Can you tell us more.
I get to sit-in as Elton, and play and sing his songs with the bands. If you knew me as a kid growing up, you're mouth would be hanging open. I was the geek that had Elton John posters all over my room. I even had them up in my college dorm room at USC. The fact I landed this position is crazy cool.
How long have you had the gig?
I met Davey Johnston right after I graduated college, and Davey has been the lead guitarist for Elton since 1971. In 2005 Davey asked if I would sit-in as Elton for their rehearsals--Elton really didn't have time to be at the rehearsals. I was like, 'sure.' They made a CD of the rehearsal we did for the Captain. Fantastic and Brown Dirt Cowboy Reunion Tour, and I guess Elton got a hold of it. They invited me to Boston and New York to rehearse the band there for the shows, and then they asked me to sing in the choir. I was in the choir at Madison Square Garden, we did four shows there, and it was a dream come true.
In 2007, I got to arrange and conduct for his 60th birthday concert at Madison Square Garden. That was amazing. It was great, another dream come true.
How much of a role has your mother played in your musical career?
She was the inspiration for me to play piano. She though it was very important, so I started playing piano when I was five. When my dad passed away, I just got very close to music. I've been writing music since I was a kid. It's always been a part of my life. I work a piano store during the day. It's a very low-key
kind of life when I'm not at the garden.
Catch Adam Chester and his mother, Joan, at Book and Books in Coral Gables (265 Aragon Avenue, Coral Gables) tonight at 8 p.m. The event is free.
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