I’ve been getting my ass handed to me all over the place over the last few years. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Lately things have been cheerful. I’ve accepted that my ex-partner is not the stellar friend or even human being that I once believed he was and I’ve stopped trying to bridge the gap. It’s been interesting to finally understand how skewed my thinking can be when I am viewing things through the muddy glasses of self-doubt and recrimination. I was so convinced that I was unworthy that I couldn’t see anything but my own flaws, and I overlooked way too much and accepted way too little as a result. Now I’m not asking for things that will not be given, nor am I planning on giving any more. Sometimes the rear view mirror reveals more than expected.
I’m also clear that Sam, while remaining one of my closest people, has much to experience in his life that cannot always include me, and vice versa. We’re still attached at the hip most days, and I don’t foresee that changing any time soon, but it is not a relationship in the normal sense of the word.
Anyway, this is not another relationship blog. Yawn to that. I’m just saying I’m in a pretty independent space right now and that information is coming in hard and fast from all different places. Exes and onstage alike.
So I was asked to sing at the last Sally Can’t Dance party that happened on Sunday, this one a tribute to the Stones “Some Girls”. Sam and I were supposed to sing a duet at the Cramps one a few months ago but we bailed bc he was going to be out of town and I didn’t think I’d be any good at a Lux vocal. And we love the Stones and listen to that album constantly, so it seemed appropriate. We picked “Lies”. It’s short, Sam could sing an easy back up for me and then do his own song, which was one not on the album – “Happy”.
I would never compare myself to Fergie, but the fact that she’s having a bad week musically has not escaped my attention after my own night. I like her, she’s sexy and cool and seems down to earth and fun in interviews. And now she’s had her ass handed to her over her noodley version of the national anthem. Lots of ass-carrying in this life, whether you’re famous or not.
So here’s how mine went down. And then I’ll tell you what I learned from it.
I can carry a tune and I am comfortable with a microphone in my hand. I’ve had lots of experience onstage so I’m not shaky about it. But I am fully aware that my voice is limited and I am not a “real” musician. I have no desire to be in a band anymore and prefer working behind the scenes. I’ve never played an instrument and I do a lot of counting in my head to know when to come in on verses or choruses. I can’t harmonize for shit. BUT I have charisma and I’m fun and I’ll dress up and that makes up for the not always stellar vocals.
Because I am not someone who jams or sings regularly anymore, I try to prepare as much as possible ahead of time for these one and done guest appearances. I’ll listen to the song over and over again, counting bars and writing the lyrics down until I know exactly what and when I’m singing. “Lies” by the way, is a mumbly mess of lyrics.
I thought I had it down pretty well. It’s not a standard verse chorus verse chorus arrangement, but it’s a two minute song where you’re primarily yelling. Two verses, two sort of choruses, a lot of repeating the word “lies” over and over again and then you’re out. Easy peasy.
When I did Motorhead’s “I’ll Be Your Sister” last year I walked into rehearsal and we banged it out perfectly in two takes. The musicians were all friends of mine and everything was nice and tight and to the recorded versions.
This time I didn’t know anyone. And while they were all excellent players–professional, friendly, well-respected in the business–they were much looser with the songs, which is appropriate for the Stones, not as appropriate for me. I don’t do loose very well and after the beginning verses I couldn’t consistently tell when I was supposed to come in. We ran through it twice, sloppily, and though I felt nervous, the band leader assured me that he would cue me and I figured we’d be good as long as I kept my eye on him.
That night one performer after another got up and pretty much killed it. Everyone was on point and I still thought I’d be fine. I always am, in one way or another. And I had really good eyelashes on, a present from Zoe Stark. They were so big and lush that Sam said, referring to his transgender sister, who is gorgeous– “You look like my brother!” High praise indeed. It’s hard to go wrong when your makeup is right.
But onstage things go at a much faster pace and you can’t pause to regroup. Sam and I got up and made it through the verses okay. Then the rest of it collapsed in on itself. I had no idea where to jump in and I kept looking around for the cues that didn’t come. Sam was following me so he was equally flummoxed. I stood there gaping at the band in confusion and then, boom, the song was done. They just hammered through the second half without any cues or vocals.
I did what all good singers do after a bad show. I drank ALL the tequila and cried to anyone within earshot. Sam reassured me that we could make people delete the video and then we’d just have awesome photos left behind. Dina Regine, who you should be listening to if you aren’t already, told me it was fine and to own it un-apologetically. I nearly burst into tears when she said that because she’s so talented and kind. Erik Toast, one of my favorite frontmen ever, reminded me of the creative and slightly confusing way he butchered “Ace of Spades” at the Motorhead Sally. Which, btw, I thought he did on purpose, so I guess owning it really is the way to go.
And then I had yet another drink with Mick Stitch, who is family to me. And before I continue, can I acknowledge how lucky I am that all of these amazing people are around to comfort and advise? Best rock and roll life ever, even when it’s not.
Mick and I have known each other for a very long time, since we were kids really. My sister and I have a nickname for him that resulted from seeing him passed out naked in my apartment regularly when he went out with her many years ago. I have promised not to use it in public anymore but I will tell you that it has something to do with the fact that he has a great ass.
Mick did an impeccable version of “Respectable” that night. It was snotty, sexy, and on point: one of the highlights of the show for me. Talk about owning it; he made that song his bitch. I told him that I just didn’t hear my song live the way I heard it on the album and that it threw me, hard. I told him how embarrassed I was at the performance, in that packed room and bookended by so many spectacular renditions.
Mick told me he had the same experience in the rehearsal, but he made the band repeat his song over and over again until he felt it was right. He told me that you have to claim your space of leading the band when you’re singing. That was the rubber mallet of “Oooooh” hitting me over head.
DUH! That hadn’t even occurred to me as a possibility. Once again I was so insecure and worried about taking up space, about not being good enough, that I handed over my destiny to strangers who could not possibly anticipate my needs and had very little stake in my success or failure. I knew instinctively what would work for me and I never thought to ask for it.
I always do this to myself. I do it in relationships, I do it in jobs, I do it onstage. But why? Why am I always willing to subvert imperative, yet simple things in order to appear more pleasing or to acknowledge that someone else is better or more worthy than I am? The band wouldn’t have cared if I made them repeat the song a few more times. At worst it might have been annoying. It was my own fear that put me in that difficult position. I’d rather take a chance at sucking in front of a packed room than merely annoy a few talented musicians.
I think this is something many women do, and definitely something most women my age were trained to do. We are afraid of taking up too much space. I was taught to “be nice”, to the point that it crippled me and got me date raped and caused me to confuse abuse with love. I was never taught how to say “no” gracefully or to hold my ground with ease. So I’ll accommodate and accommodate and then out of the blue explode from the pressure and cause unnecessary damage and/or scare the crap out of everyone.
Anyway, beyond the actual lesson, very much a two minute tempest in a teapot, especially now that I’ve had a couple of days to process. Sam dropped me off at home at the end of the night and I went upstairs and cried into my favorite cat until his white fur was smudgey with mascara. Cleansing for me, not so much for him. The next day I retreated into my personal comfort zone of video games, spaghetti, and early 70’s Todd Rundgren. My girlfriends all texted very kind messages. They love me and would cheer wildly if I opened a bag of potato chips onstage. Jesse Malin called because he’s the greatest ex-boyfriend in the history of ex-boyfriends, knows me well, and wanted to make sure I wasn’t spiraling into my standard overly-dramatic hole.
I assured him I wasn’t. I’m great and grateful. Sometimes you’re gonna blow your two minutes in the spotlight and that’s okay. No one died or got fired; I didn’t have the entire NBA smirking at me like a bunch of dicks.
Life goes on. But I did think it was worthy of noting for anyone who operates the same way. It doesn’t have to be about music; it applies to all interactions in life. It is okay to ask for what you need. It is okay to receive what you need without apologizing. There is enough for everyone and making yourself smaller to appease other people or because you are scared of asking deprives both you and the world of your bigness.
This is, IMHO, the reason that some women get strident and rageful later in life. They said yes one too many times and now they’re gonna kill you if you ask them to pass the salt. Subverting ourselves either crushes us into dust or turns us into monsters. And the world desperately needs all of our bigness right now. There’s no more time for false humility or petty bullshit. So next time I’m gonna rehearse the shit out of it until grown-ass musicians are crying into their beer and waving cues at me from across the room.
But check it: great photo from Jeff Smith–eyelashes on fleek. Don’t worry, I took them off and put them back in their box before smearing the cat. I am a professional, after all.