“The meet and greet’s outside, girl,” the waitress said to my sixteen-year old sister. “You better run.” And run she did. To whom? The Jonas Brothers? Noah Centineo? Nope. She ran in high heeled boots, up the ramp, all the way to…Rex Smith.
Readers, meet Rex. Former 16 Magazine hunk, rocker, actor, broadway and operatic star. If you’ve already met him, good for you! Because he’s just as impressive as his list of credentials makes him out to be. I found out for myself while attending Confessions of a Teen Idol, the ‘third act’ of Rex’s career in which he shares surprising and remarkable anecdotes from his forty-some years in show business, shows footage from his archives, and sings the roof off. This particular performance at the Irvine Improv had a varied audience, and there was no clearer sign of variety than the sight of my teenage sister in a homemade Rex Smith T-shirt cheering her head off. This girl has loved Rex Smith since the first grade. So, you know…since Rex was about 55.
Strange, you say? Not at all! In fact, it’s a family tradition. My older sisters worshiped The Monkees. When asked if I’m single, I say I’m dating Neil Diamond. (But that’s a story for another day). There’s a reason some of us millennials, members of Generation X, Y, Z, et cetera, become adoring fans of the slightly graying. Their work began in a time of variety, of showmanship. The days of simply entertaining entertainment.
There’s a reason some of us millennials, members of Generation X, Y, Z, et cetera, become adoring fans of the slightly graying.
“It couldn’t be done again. I’m not saying that in an arrogant way. It would be impossible to do. You couldn’t follow that journey.” Rex said this in a quick, candid interview in his dressing room. “The room where he DRESSES,” as my sister so aptly put it. Rex spoke with us about the music business and the unique nature of his career. And it’s a pretty stellar saga.
It all began in the ’70s with a couple of hardcore bands. One of them named – you’ll never guess – Rex. Then the record deals and then, the game changer. A made for TV movie called Sooner or Later. It’s all about growing up and falling for a (slightly) older man. Rex’s character in this film – a sweet, feather-haired guitar teacher with tight pants – sang songs written by Stephen Lawrence and Bruce Hart. These songs were placed on the Sooner or Later album in 1979 and they literally sent adolescent girls crumbling.
Back in the present, at Confessions, Rex shows news footage from a long ago concert. So many thousands of girls came out to hear “Simply Jessie” that a few fainted and were taken out on gurneys. Seriously. Paramedics. Oxygen masks. The works. And these times are not quite long gone. My sister, watching the reel of collapsed teens with air tanks, leaned in and whisper-shrieked, “That’s me right now!” And so it continued throughout the show. Rex covered his TV show Streethawk, his role as the first film representation of Marvel’s Daredevil, his contribution to this brilliant production of Pirates of Penzance, and his crazy impressive Broadway belting. My sister was teary-eyed. Giddy. On top of the world.
I asked Rex if he expected to have a sixteen-year-old fan at this point in his career. He simply said, “I hope so. Boys and girls. Just people interested in the arts.” To him there was no question of my sister’s adoration. Music is music, all fame is fleeting. And young people ought to be free.
Rex covered his TV show Streethawk, his role as the first film representation of Marvel’s Daredevil, his contribution to this brilliant production of Pirates of Penzance, and his crazy impressive Broadway belting.
And so they are. Now more than ever, actors and musicians from way-back-when are the recipients of internet praise. My sister has loved Rex since the first grade. But she became a fan when she found Sooner or Later, Streethawk, music videos, and TV spots all through the power of Youtube. Today’s teens live fearlessly proud of their own unique taste. No magazine on earth can tell them what to do.
I mentioned this phenomena to Rex and he admitted, once again, that the business is changing. This may be the clincher of all my sixteen-year-old sibling’s love. Why talk about a one-trick, pretty boy pony, handsome though he may be, when you can gush about this dynamic, adventurous, hilarious man who wears a thousand hats ? Oh, and who still rocks a pair of pants, by the by. When asked hypothetically, my sister said she would take Rex to her prom. Sure, the other celebrities I mentioned were hot. But the other girls would be all over them! “I’d have Rex all to myself,” she said. “No one would bug us and we could dance like idiots.”
Times are changing. Youtube grants entrance to a world of fading stars, Instagram is awash in the faces of the downright awesome and, more often, the dead. Even Rex’s own idol, Errol Flynn, has a large handful of Insta-girls leaving flowers on his grave site. That’s what this generation is all about. Creating a ring of fame in which nothing truly ends. Time stands still. And moments that are nostalgic for some become newly gripping in the eyes and hearts of teenage avengers. Rex asked me to include a related message in this piece. So here it is:
Parents, support your kids. If they have a dream, let them make it happen.
So, if people in their fifties and sixties keep coming up to your daughter or sister, saying, “How do you know him?”, let it happen. If she’s hyperventilating after meeting her ’70s/’80s idol, acclaiming paradoxically, “I am living! I am dead! I can’t believe he took a selfie with me!”, let it happen. It’s a sign of courage, independence, and a new regime in the world of fan-girling. Let old school artists reign. Let freedom ring.
If you have the excellent taste of my sister Patricia, make sure to follow Rex on Instagram! And look out for any performances of “Confessions of a Teen Idol”. You will be delighted and duly impressed. You might even get a signed shirt and a selfie.