Chick Singer Pt. 2: It’s Only Rock & Roll But, Damn…
If you ask almost any person what talent they’d wish for, out of any and all they currently don’t have, in most cases you’d hear: “I wish I could sing!”
Which is understandable.
Because there’s just nothing quite like it, singing. That physical, visceral explosion of sound and emotion that transforms the human body into a conduit for something passionate, aural, and chill producing. An art form that’s truly as endorphin rushing as good exercise, the perfect roller coaster, great sex and full participation in The Sound of Music Sing Alongs (which has to be a high point for pretty much anyone).
Beyond just the act of singing is the performance of it. That’s a whole other layer of experience that’s not only hard to beat, but somewhere near 11 on the scale of 10 when it comes to classic wish fulfillment. Standing onstage pouring heart and soul into a microphone to the beat of a drum and the fierce, pounding intensity of a band in motion does rate high on enchantment, whether it’s singing Etta James at a B.B. King’s club, doing a stripped down version of your original set at the Good Hurt, or crooning 40 minutes of “Let’s Stay Together” for the money dance at a local wedding. I, for one, consider my abilities in the form a worthy tradeoff for missing out on high cheek bones and a sense of direction.
I started this article about seven months ago; last summer, after a long-time friend and musical collaborator who I’d not seen in a long time got in touch to invite me to sing with his band. This was a deep and tremendous boon; it’d been years and I feared that part of my identity had abandoned me altogether. So when I got the call, excited and anticipatory, I was inspired to write about it, feeling as though a new/old chapter had opened in my life which surely merited some prose. But for some reason I put the celebration on hold back then; don’t know why. Prescient, perhaps?
But some of you have asked recently, “Hey, what happened to your band?” so I decided to finally wrap up the article in response. Besides, I like stories to have an ending. So read on, all questions will be answered.
As noted in Chick Singer, Part 1, my life as a vocalist began with a gentle foray into folk music, then bum-rushed its way to rock & roll and blues for pretty much the rest of the ride. While certainly the 80′s, part of the 90′s and a good chunk of the early 2000′s remained focused on this “calling” and the attendant ambition wrought by my laser-focus on being a successful singer/songwriter (more on that journey in later chapters), in the last five years – a tad weary and out of options – I packed up my microphones, therapied through the subsequent five stages of grief and got on with the rest of my life.
For those who’d suggest, “Couldn’t you keep doing it even as a fun hobby?” – YES. I could. And here’s what happened as I went through months of auditions simply trying to find a guitar player (damn me for not learning to play well enough to ever want me to play with me!):
1. “Love your music but I don’t want to actually play songs, I’d rather just jam.” Hello, you had my CD, those were songs.
2. “Wow, you’re great but I was hoping for something a little more developed.” Remember when I told you it was just me?
4. “I only work in the West LA area.” Then why are you here?
5. “How old are you?” Nope, not goin’ there.
6. “If you sang on a Jefferson Starship album, wow…you’ve been around a while!” Yep…see #5.
7. “I bet you were hot in the 80′s.” No comment.
8. “You’ve got a great bluesy thing goin’ but no one wants that anymore.” I hate you.
9. “I only work with people I can do a full chart on before we work together.” If you mean astrology as opposed to a music, pay for your Starbucks and take a hike. (It was the astrology kind.)
I could go on and on. Seriously. On and effing on. If you put it in a movie they’d say you were flogging cliches but it was like one of those bad audition montages, just without the quick-cuts and perky soundtrack. I think it was after #9 that I finally snapped and took the road less traveled. Until I got that call from my friend last June.
What followed was a buzz of identity integration, as if all my parts were once again coming together to form the full, cogent ME. Yes, I am a writer, a photographer, a mother, wife, sibling, and friend but I am also a singer and, hallelujah, get the band bag down, the microphones dusted, the stand out from behind the luggage and those vocal exercises crackin’ tout suite…we’re in a band, sister!
I felt more excited than I had in a while, particularly to be working with a dear, old friend who knew me – my chops, my style, my taste in music, my work ethic – as well as knew the stated criteria: great players, great tunes, sane people and no agendas. I figured if I’m going to bother at this wizened stage of my life, with ambition tempered and a goal to simply experience the pleasure of performance, it’s gotta be good, it’s gotta be fun. No other reason to do it. He agreed and we got started.
I spent a month whipping my voice into shape and, let me tell you, it was exhilarating to discover it was still there…one never presumes. Over the next four months, I spent hours researching material, printing lyric sheets, learning songs, driving the 50 mile round-trip to rehearsal and back, gelling beautifully with my new “band of boys” and getting nothing but positive feedback. And it was FUN!! At a time when writing demanded solitude, work required pavement pounding, and family life could be challenging (see Empty Nest Pt. 3: See You In November!, Cowboy Strong and Poetry Sweet…Love In the Age of MTBI & The Mother Of My Reinvention), there was something basic and pure in this endeavor; I was singing, hanging out with musicians and eating mixed nuts…how cool is that?
But like any good story there had to be a plot twist, an inciting incident. And there was. Just as we finally got four sets worth of classic and hand-picked blues/R&B/jazz/rock material worked up, including one of my own tunes with more to come (per a request from my band leader buddy), there was a short break in the momentum. The drummer had to move, work schedules got challenged, and the keyboard player quit. “No worries,” my buddy assured, “Everyone else is still onboard and I’ll just find someone to replace him.” Before long he had a new guitarist in line to replace the keyboard player, a guy who apparently sang really well, too (“you guys’ll sound GREAT together!”), the buzz resurfaced, the keyboard player even re-emerged and, yippee, let’s get this new guy worked in and the party started!
That was October. And then came the the third act.
By December, no rehearsal had forth come. After repeated emails, texts, a few phone conversations (in which I was always assured things were still on track), and despite the unfortunate hiatus, I kept the faith…with obvious reservations. During my last phone call my buddy promised: “I’ll get a group email out to get this going again.” OK, great… nice holiday gift to look forward to, right? It never happened. Merry freakin’ Christmas.
2012 arrived and on one bright sunny day I got an email from my buddy: “I finally had a discussion with the boys in the band and the general consensus was unhappiness with the musical direction that the project had taken on.” He went on to explain that originally they’d been more jazz/funk oriented and when I came in the direction shifted to more blues/rock. And though he still thought I was “a soulful singer and hope to work with you again in the studio or live,” no mention was made of the fact that he’d approved every song submitted, that no one indicated unhappiness with anything, no one had pushed for different material and not a mention was made of simply adding more jazz/funk into the mix (which he knew I could cover with aplomb). It appeared, for whatever reason and without preamble, I’d been summarily voted off the island.
When two of the players later contacted me it was made clear, independently and by both, that neither had been involved with any consensus or discussion; they were as surprised as I was. So it seems this was all on my buddy. Or not. Who knows? Smoke was being blown somewhere, I didn’t know where or from what direction, but I did know I had a #10 to add to the list:
10. “Yeah, you’re great and we’ve been friends for a billion years but I found a jazz singer I like better/I don’t want to do any blues/I would rather work with a guy singer/I’m too much of a chicken shit to be honest/Yes, I wasted your time/ oops, there goes the bus I’m throwing you under, thanks…bye!”
Yep. #10 takes the cake.
So that is my latest foray into rock & roll. Am I feeling a little bruised? A little sorry for myself? Yeah, a little. I didn’t deserve that. I’m a kick-ass singer, I showed up with a full plate of goods, I laughed at their jokes even when they were stupid, I was happy to carry equipment to the curb, I love swear words, I even brought mixed nuts. I know how to be a good Chick Singer.
But I tend to believe every story has a point, regardless of the tale. Even a sad and sorry debacle such as this comes with the gift of at least some learning. And in the good column?
1. My voice is still there. That was precious to discover. For whatever reason. Future reference. A sense of still having something I cherish. Whatever, it was good to know. I slay ‘em in the shower.
2. I was reminded of how much damn fun it is being in a good band with great players. No better fun…seriously.
3. I got to sing some of my favorite songs during rehearsals and that was an absolute blast. The audience was implied.
So the moral of the story is: It’s life. And life is unpredictable. People can disappoint you. Projects can involve emotional whiplash. Not every dream comes true. There are some mountains high enough. I’m not fond of bad communicators. Rock & roll can still kick my ass. Harmony is like good frosting. The drummer makes the band. Mixed nuts are a fine snack.
And I’m doing OK…really. Thanks for asking.
All photographs courtesy of Lorraine Devon Wilke