Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Drowning butterflies with beer

I just got home from the CBGB gig. And... yep... still got a pulse.

The last two days have been fitfull, to say the least. I spent all of yesterday cloistered in my room, practicing for hours and still feeling utterly unsatisfied. Between songs, I worked on finishing another one, just to get my mind off the stress of making the other ones work. By the end of the day, I had practiced till I could no longer feel my hands, and the new song was complete, which was an unintentional yet welcome biproduct of my masochistic practice marathon. I slept well enough... exhaustion from nerves and day-long self-loathing at every mistake you make can do that to you.

Today began much in the same way as yesterday did; I played my nubs down by another layer. By mid-afternoon, it dawned on me that I might want to decide what to wear to this little hoozegow, which brought me to the realization that I hadn't done laundry in way too long. Laundry gave me a respite from working on the songs, so at least that, along with long-needed clean clothing, came out of the deal. When I got home, I was getting ready to take a shower when Jane arrived, handing me my latest edition of Opera News as she walked through the door. I thumbed through it a little, seeing a face or two that I recognized from singing in Dallas, then headed for the shower, thinking about opera.

I haven't really sung an aria since who knows when. I haven't had to re-audition at Dallas Opera for a while, so I've really had no reason to prepare or sing one in a couple of years. Besides, these last couple haven't been so great for me health-wise (which also equates to voice-wise), ruling out any major classical singing endeavors while healing up. And healing up, of course, took up the majority of my time. When I got into the shower, I got the strangest thought that I ought to sing an aria, just to warm up. I'd basically concluded that if I could get through an aria, I could sure get through my gig.

Naturally, I had to pick Una voce poco fa. For those not familiar with it, it's the big mezzo aria in Barber of Seville. Anyway, that was my... hmmm... what would you call it... signature song... and my swan song, come to think of it... while I was still a voice major, during my undergrad, before the stupid cancer thing came and screwed up all of my fun little hopes and dreams and such. It's always been a little weird singing it since then. When I get through it okay, I think, "Huh... and I could've been singing this professionally by now... you know... if it wasn't for damn cancer." Still, it always makes me feel good when I can get through the thing, because it's not an easy one to just pull out of your pocket. It's got lost of runs, and the runs go up, down, sideways, and everywhere else. But I thought, hey, what the hell. If I could get through, great... good omen for the evening's performance. If not, whatever... at least I wouldn't have to sing any arias at CBGB.

So I sang it, while flinging shampoo everywhere. I'd been singing all day long, but my voice wasn't too tired; in fact, it actually felt pretty okay. I got through the first big run, and it went fine. I sang softly, so I wouldn't freak Jane out or annoy her with the racket. Second big run... fine. Third big run... fine, too. "Huh..." came the usual thought. Then I thought a little more. Here I was, in my shower, singing my old friend, in New York. I live in New York now. And I was singing an aria as a warm up for my gig at CBGB. And as for the CBGB gig, I'd be performing my own music. And playing it on the guitar. My guitar. One of several. Yeah... if you had asked me ten years ago what I thought I'd be doing by now, you might have gotten the New York part from me, but none of the rest of it. And I really like the rest of it.

I came out of the shower feeling better than I usually do after an aria. Or a shower, even. Jane saw me come out and said, "Hey... nice singing in there, by the way." I laughed... that was about as funny as things could get for me just then.

I chose my clothes for the evening, then looked at the time... eight o'clock. Reuben would be driving a few of us over to CBGB at 9pm, so we didn't have to worry about dealing with the busses or the subway, and that was rather a relief, given how much my nerves were already getting to me. Once I was dressed, I turned on the computer and logger on to the live webcast feed of the show, which had already been going on for an hour at that point. I had a moment of panic (several, actually) at the terrible fantasy that, while watching the broadcast, I would hear them call my name and, thinking I just wasn't coming, skip my slot completely. I watched two of the early performers, and I thought they were pretty good. Jane listened in and thought they were good, but that there was something missing from their performances... something about them not owning the songs, or of not quite finding their sound, or something like that. Anyway, I think I understand what she meant, and I instantly began obsessing about whether or not I owned my songs, or if I'd found my sound. Then, another moment of panic... the guy who was singing on the webcast just then had just begun his fourth song. Fourth? We can do four?

I ran into my room, and flopped down in front of my computer. I grabbed the guitar and pulled the time/date window up on my screen so I could time my songs. I played through the three that Russ and I had agreed on the night of the party, and I looked up... it came to just under thirteen minutes. Was there time for one more song? Should I even consider it?

I ran through a quick mental inventory... what song could I do? Almost as soon as I began to ask the question, I had one in mind... a shorter, upbeat rock-out sort of song that I always pulled out for my Dallas gigs because it was fun to play, and, more importantly, I seemed to always remember the words. But then I thought it over. Something was nagging at me, and I hated to even think about it. It was that new song, the one I had just finished the day before. Bad idea, of course. The king of bad ideas. I mean, it was too new... way too new. Did I even know the words? I went to the living room and asked Jane to lend me some time, then played the two songs for her. Baffled, I sat staring into space while she told me that not only was the new song better, but that she really liked it as a song in general, and that I should do it. Great. Let's throw a little more stress on the pile.

By then, it was time to leave. Detecting my nervousness (and how could you not... at that point, I was trotting around like a chihuahua), Jane handed me a glass of wine, which miraculously disappeared. We then made our way downstairs, where we met up with Reuben and Miraj. We drove a little way to pick up Josh, then ended up at CBGB a little too soon for my liking (though, at that point, I can't say I'd ever have wanted to get there). Once we arived, it was only a moment before Aunt Jenny and my cousins, Mark and Jane, met us at the door. We went downstairs to the lounge, and I started getting ready.

The guy that was playing when I walked in seemed pretty good. My head wasn't really set on listening to him, I'm sorry to say, but I can't say I heard anything glaringly bad coming from his direction. The nerves were only getting worse... the wine hadn't done it's magic. I pulled my guitar from its case and sat down in a chair about halfway to the stage. We all got comfortable (which is relative, of course, to my state at the time), and watched the next few performers. One guy was... well, okay, he kinda sucked. Still, he was pretty solid on the guitar, which is more than I can ever say. Hey, at least he knew real chords. The guy that went up after him was from Austin, and he was really good; great guitar work, nice low voice, good lyrics, solid all around. After him, there came a guy from Kansas who played beautifully, but, once again, wasn't so strong on the vocal end. Then it was my turn.

While I'd been watching those going before me, I'd had a beer. A Corona, to be exact. It made me think of the gigs in Dallas, where Jake would play bass with me, often managing to hold a beer, smoke a cigarette, and play beautifully all at once. Bastard. I got a second beer to take to the stage; I may not be able to hold it while I played, but I could at least have it there for a sip between songs. That, and I could kind of channel the spirit of Jake while I was up there. I got to the stage and did a quick sound check; unlike the rest of the people who played, I decided to sit on a chair rather than stand... I'm a wuss who can't play standing up. Or maybe I can, but I haven't performed that way yet, and, in appropriate wuss fashion, I wasn't about to make this the first time. I sat down in the chair, plugged the guitar in, set the beer on the floor, and took a deep breath. No turning back, right? Well, really, where on earth would I rather be?

They announced me, and I began. The first song was the most upbeat of my set. It's about two weeks old, but it felt comfortable. Towards the end, I felt the crowd... that was nice. The second song was prefaced with a word of thanks to everyone and a disclaimer (for my aunt's benefit) about how it wasn't me who I was going to be singing about (which, of course, was a bold-faced lie). The second song, also about a week or two old, felt fine. Good reaction from the room. Almost done.

I had saved Violet's song for third. She's been my good luck charm through this whole thing, so I wanted to give her the good seat. I took a moment to dedicate it to her before I began, then, rather unconsciously, looked up. I'm not sure why I did that. I don't go for the whole "watching from above" spacial principle a lot of people tend to when thinking of their dearly departed. But I looked up, and I don't know why. Ah, well. I got to see the ceiling of the lounge. I sang through the song, and it went smoothly, no goofs. Looks like the practicing might have actually paid off. Or maybe I had just gotten so tired from the stress that I gave in and just let it all happen. Or, likely most probable, I was nursing that second beer. Whatever it was, the third song was over, and the applause came. Then, in a moment of absolute genius on my part, I waved, said thank you, and left the stage. No fourth song. Frankly, it felt like I'd been up there long enough, and Violet gave me a good finish.

When it was over, everyone was very kind to me about it. All my friends told me I did well, which you sort of expect. They did seem genuine, though, and that felt good. A few random people also came up to tell me they liked what I did, and a couple of folks asked for a CD (which I didn't have, of course) and a business card (which, suprisingly, I did have). Larry, the guy who runs NY Songwriters, seems to really like what I did, and he wants to give me another gig soon, this time at The Bitter End, another pretty popular live music venue in the area. That was especially nice to hear. I mean, I'm grateful for anything nice that anyone cares to say, but having it lead to another gig really helps keep the ball rolling.

A familiar buzzing came from my cellphone on the trip back to the Bronx; John was calling. He, Chuck, and a few others had been watching the webcast and having something of an impromptu pizza party to celebrate the occassion. I also got calls from a couple of other people who managed to watch, as well as one or two emails once I got home. Wow... I asked people to watch it, sure, but I didn't really think anyone would. Seriously! I mean, who cares, right? I thought I was turning into something much like a bride preparing for her wedding... she's the only person in all the world who gives a rat's ass about the thing, but she makes it a point to tell everyone everything about it as though they should care just as much as she does. Well, I guess I have a few folks out there who were rooting for me of their own free will. Even now, that makes me feel better than I have in a long time. Which is saying a lot, because I've been feeling pretty damn good lately, except for the nerves. Nerves are a big, necessary part of it, though. They make the other end of things seem so much more fantastic when you get there. So yes, I got through my New York debut unscathed, and pretty happy with the outcome. Stomach-wrenching butterflies be damned... as long as there's beer around to drown them in, I should be fine. And how could I not have been? After all, I'd gotten through that silly aria. Huh...


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