One New Year’s Day, probably some ten years ago, I made a seemingly simple but life altering resolution- I would sing in front of one other person. Sounds pretty easy, but this task would not be fulfilled with half heartedly crooning “Auld Lang Syne” with a bunch of drunken well wishers. I needed to sing by myself, to the fullest of my ability. I never gave it my all when I sang, so that if my voice was not well received, I could comfort myself with the fact that I was not trying very hard. Wuss of the highest order.
I had always wanted to sing, yet was terrified to use my voice. It seems silly when I reflect upon it. At the time, I was surrounded by musicians. I had attended countless jam sessions where some jerkoff determined because he had the strength to grasp a guitar pick, he must possess the god given talent to play the guitar. Meanwhile, l scurried to the darkest corners of the house, lest I be asked to shake a tambourine. Why was I so scared? The worst thing that could happen is I sound terrible, big deal. Yet in my mind, the idea of sounding terrible took on mythic proportions. I might be the first person to literally die of embarrassment.
A few years ago, I read a book that might have very well helped me through this predicament. It was called “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy,” by David D. Burns. Ok, I didn’t read it so much as I perused it. Reading it made me feel like I was starring in a bad Lifetime movie. But one piece of advice stuck out. If you are obsessing about something, obsess all the way- follow it to the end, and you’ll most likely see the outcome is not as bad as you imagine it to be. Ok, if I sang, and I sounded horrible, then what? What is the worst that could happen? Most likely, I would be embarrassed. I might get made fun of. I might get teased about it for awhile. Would my friends no longer like me because I sang terribly? No. Would I be forced to sing again, and embarrass myself further? No. Would I face dire consequences from my bad performance? No. The worst thing that could happen is that I couldn’t sing. That was it, that’s all. Why let it be more than that?
So, I sang. The first time, I was so nervous, I practically couldn’t finish the song. But I did it, and the person I sang for did not run screaming from the room. He also didn’t gush with astonishment on what a fantastic voice I had. He simply thought I sounded ok. The second time was easier, and I sounded better, but still I wasn’t the second coming of Janis Joplin. I sounded ok, and I was alright with that.
Before long, I started a band. That’s how these things work- one day, you sing for the first time in your existence, the next day, you start a band. We christened ourselves “Katty Pants and the Jumpsuit Brigade.”
I grew up worshipping at the feet of bands. My room was wallpapered in Circus magazine posters. I would lie on my bed and fantasize about being the girlfriend of a famous musician, going on the road with my man, being the inspiration for a famous song, maybe being so lucky as to have someone snort coke off my tits. At no point did I think I could be the person penning the corny ballad, motivating concert goers to ignite their lighters and sing along to my words. I never envisioned myself center stage, demanding “show my your balls!”
The Jumpsuit Brigade changed that. We played exactly one show. Ever.
We hid behind our alter egos, which is the perfect way to tackle any fearful encounter. I was Katty Pants, the ultra confident, mega tough bitch leader of the band. I was backed by Jeffe Captain of the Flying Bisquits, Corporal Chaos, and Xpando Calrisian. Our costumes were ridiculous, our songs bordering on absurd (We penned a track titled “Charro is a Robot” detailing why the actress never ages). The entire show had the feeling of one long gag, but underneath it, were the makings of an after school special.
All the years I spent longing for the attention of musicians would have been better spent becoming a musician. As soon as I was able to say “here’s my CD, check it out,” I had the attention of guys who never gave me the time of day. It was as if I was accepted into their collective. I didn’t just look cute, I could talk shop. I had cred. Seriously ladies, there is no faster way to get the attention of musicians than by becoming one.
But I didn’t need their stinking promises of free merch and all the take out I could eat (So what you work at Arbys? I’m more of a Taco Bell girl). I didn’t have to kiss their boots, they could kiss my ass. There is no greater feeling than being a hero for yourself.
A couple of days ago, I spent the evening with Ben’s aunt and her twelve year old daughter. At some point, her mom said “you should play your saxophone for them.” I waited for Rosa to roll her eyes and whine “Mooooom. NOOO!” before stamping into the other room. But she happily retrieved her instrument and played song after song for us.
Over dessert, I remarked to her mother how confident Rosa seemed. I confided that at her age, I would have thought performing in front of relatives was a form of torture. Her mother thanked me for the compliment and said she hoped that Rosa could continue to maintain her secure attitude. Like me, she had read how adolescent girls begin to lose confidence and quit excelling at activities as they get older.
She started telling me about Rosa battling to obtain the first chair in her band, an honor she proudly won. Apparently the flute section has not had a battle in some time. It is of course all female. I think men actually burst into flames if they so much as touch a flute. But among the group, the girls did not want to battle because they didn’t want anyone to get their feelings hurt. While it may be considerate to look out for the feelings of others, it does not encourage anyone to achieve their best, nor does it assist them in resolving conflict in a positive way. The best you can offer someone is challenging them to seek the best in themselves. (God, I am sounding dangerously like Ayn Rand. I gotta stop myself.)
On the last day of this year, I was reminded of my journey into singing. I took my son, Kellen, to the doctor. He woke up wheezing and coughing. I worried he was having trouble breathing.
The doctor wanted him to complete a breathing treatment with a nebulizer, to be repeated at home for the next few days. In the office, the nurse showed me how to set up the machine. She advised Kellen had to breathe through the mask for about sixteen minutes until the medicine was gone.
I was not prepared to entertain a squirming child. There was no movie to watch, no toys on hand. Just me and Kellen in an office. I put the mask over his nose, and he started to cry.
One of the first words that Kellen learned to say was “song.” On long drives, he would say “Song! Song!” until I obliged and sang to him, sometimes having to sing for an hour at a time. So in the doctor’s office, I started to sing, knowing full well the patients in the next room and the nurses in the hallway could hear me.
Kellen is now old enough to make requests. He wanted me to sing “Wheels on the Bus,” and got particularly fascinated with the line “the money on the bus goes ching ching ching.” I sang that one line probably thirty times before I was done, but I didn’t care. We made it through that sixteen minutes, most of it spent cuddling and crooning. When it was done, he smiled and began to run circles around the room.
Singing is not about ability. It brings comfort, joy, community, peace of mind, release, and a host of other emotions that far outweigh the need to be good at it. I sing because it makes me happy, because I feel good when I do it, and because sometimes it is the thing that gets me through the day. It seems I have one fan out there, and that is enough.
On last picture and note. I found this drawing last week. I probably drew it when I was around ten or eleven years old. At the time, I was infatuated with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics. I wanted nothing more than to be the first woman in the NBA. At that time, I couldn’t even conceive that women could one day have their own league. Tell your little girls to dream bigger. Let them know they can be the stars, not the support.