Saturday, August 20, 2005

Bona fide cool moments

If there was ever any risk of my growing less enthusiastic about living in New York, I think I've fixed it for a while.

For starters, I spent yesterday evening at dinner and drinks with Russ, which is always a joy. It was especially great for two reasons: 1) I had the opportunity to try (and fall in love with) Ethiopian food, and 2) I found a bar that succeeds in matching my ideal color and aesthetic palate... the place was doused in red velvet curtains (red everything, actually) and enormous Boticcellian-style paintings, complete with velvet throne chairs and candelabras... truly, there can be nothing better in all the world than walking into this place, or at least there wasn't just then.

If that hadn't been enough to solidify my general good feelings about moving to New York, it would shorty be a complete non-issue.

After a few days of deliberating and searching frantically for a good excuse, I bit the bullet and went to the NY Songwriters audition at CBGB today. My fears were good and bubbly by the time I headed out the door of my apartment, Jane's guitar affixed to my back inside my guitar backpack, but my nerves settled the instant Jane bid me farewell with a statement that seemed for me to radiate from itself a golden halo of wisdom (note the Canadian accent): "Don't be nervous aboot it... if it doesn't work oot, you'll at least have a PhD to fall back on." We shared a laugh, and, feeling much better about things, I made my way to the east village.

After getting lost and wandering around like a moron for 30 minutes, I found the historic CBGB venue, where five or six people would at any point be standing outside, taking pictures of the famous facade. Auditions were taking place from 3 to 5 that afternoon, and it was already 4:40, so I was cutting it pretty close. I quickly made my way into the building, where I saw, upon walking through the door, about thirty people watching a gorgeus young woman singing and playing a guitar on a stage directly ahead of where I stood. I made my way to the audience area, finding and signing a list of auditioning hopefulls on my way to a seat at the back. The girl on stage was really something... the voice, the looks, the instrumental ability, the lyrics, the melody... everything about the performance was top notch, really beautiful. She finished, and the room filled with applause. Another girl followed her onto the stage and began her song. Same thing... amazing everything. Compared to these girls, I was fat, homely, and tragically guitarded.

Another performer got on stage, this time without a guitar. She had her own professional track, and she did a hip-hop song that had the whole room bobbing their heads to the beat and smiling at one another by the time she had gotten through the first seven or eight bars of the song. She finished, the room came alive with applause, and a man sitting at the front, by the stage, turned to face the audience. "Is that everyone?" I raised my hand a little, then felt all the eyes in the room converge on me at once. It was also at that point that I felt my ass become unconditionally fused to my chair. "Aha! A late-comer," I heard the man at the front say. "Well, come on up and let us hear you. Did you sign in? Oh, here you are! Okay, this is... Emily, everybody!"

Light applause filled the room, then died away almost as quickly as it began. I heard the applause, then felt myself go into autopilot... I got the guitar out of my bag, walked onto the stage, set a chair in front of the mic stand, sat down, set the guitar on my knee, and pulled the mic down to my mouth. Only then did I look up at the audience, at which point I realized I hadn't yet chosen the song I would sing.

I told myself I'd choose the song once I got there, assuming I could feel out the rest of the performers and then come up with something appropriate. The requirement for the audition was "one original song," so I had a few to choose from. Sitting on stage, ready to sing, I had neglected the choice altogether, and felt a warm panic begin to creep over me. Then, in an instant, I felt myself call upon the powers that be, and Violet seemed to answer. I thought to myself, "Come on, Violet. Give me a hand here. Let's do this." I found my chord, strummed the first few beats of the intro, and found myself again. The lyrics came out of my mouth as easily as a song I might have known all my life... I didn't even have to think about it.

I hadn't performed her song in public since her funeral in early July. When she'd heard the song, it was a recording I'd sent her, and I never got the chance to perform it for her while she was still living. I had to settle for singing it to her coffin and her family, and, in that capacity, I filled a role in a ceremony and a grieving family. This time, I felt like I was finally singing it to her. I forgot anyone was there... it was just me, with a hint of Violet floating around me. I strummed my way through the verses, the choruses, the bridge... I sang against the occassional lump in my throat, feeling the urge to cry take hold of my lungs and attempt to bring me to silence. I closed my eyes, and I saw Violet, and I heard her telling me it wouldn't be very professional of me to give in to emotion like that... that thought makes me smile even now. Me, the artist, and Violet, the sensible matriarch, sharing this moment in my mind, in front of these strangers. I have to be honest... it felt pretty damn good.

When I finished, I was back at CBGB, and everyone was clapping. A voice or two came out of the audience with shouts of 'yeah' and 'woooo', etc. I was just a performer again, but I liked that, too; it felt good to hear the song was well received, or at least enough to get a response that was as loud as the amazing talents that preceeded me. I smiled, said thank-you, and made a b-line for my guitar case. One or two people approached me to say they liked the song, which was a little bit of a shock, and then I made my way out of the audience section and back to the front door of the building and the harsh sunlight beyond. Once outside, I turned around, pulled out my phone, and took this picture of the outside of the place:

After that, I crossed the street, sat down at a table outside of a cafe, and called John. I was shaking a little, which I couldn't understand... I decided that it must have been due to some left-over adrenaline. But hey... I had performed at CBGB... it was officially something I could now say I'd done, something I never thought I'd say. Not in my wildest realm of dreams, even. But I'll take it, though, no question. Now I just have to wait to hear from the NY Songwriters people to see if I'm good enough to make the cut. And if I'm not, I at least got to perform at CBGB. That, and I always have my PhD to fall back on.


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