Thursday, January 13, 2011

What Are You Going to do With That?

            Every once in a while, on a Thursday night, I set my mommy duties aside and head out to a local bar that hosts Country Night. There are a surprising number of country fans here in New England so the place is usually packed. Sometimes they have a mechanical bull. Other weeks they host a country line dance contest. Once in a while they have a live band. I usually show up for their “Country Idol” contest. I don’t get to sing as often as once did and this gives me a little fix. It isn’t the kind of music I’m used to singing—I’ve been in lots of choirs and Broadway style musicals and I can do one hell of an Ave Maria. So, while country music may seem easier, it’s outside my comfort zone. I’m used to singing with live musicians—karaoke scares me. But I must be doing okay. I’ve made it to the semi-finals on two separate occasions.
            So last Thursday I put on my favorite jeans and my lucky boots and picked up Jessica, my number one fan and headed over for Country Idol. There were a few folks I work who just happened to be going out for drinks that night, so I had a little cheering section.
            The DJ announced the line up and I was the fourth singer out of ten to perform. That’s a pretty good spot. I’ve done this often enough to know that going last is absolutely the worst. You have all the time in the world to 1.) freak out over the competition, 2.) drink way too much and therefore 3.) accidentally say something unkind about someone on-stage within hearing distance of his or her family and friends. So I was pretty happy with my placement.
            I stayed in the comfort of our booth and chatted with my friends while the first two singers performed. Then I made my way through the bar so I’d be near the stage when it was my turn. I was close to the stage when singer number three started up. Her music came on and I recognized Martina McBride’s “A Broken Wing”. Here’s the thing about that song—it always wins. Those two times I made it to semi-finals? I sang “A Broken Wing”. And it isn’t just me—I have been beaten by less talented singers singing this song.
            Well, there was nothing less talented about singer number three. She nailed that song. She is one of those women you look at and say, “I’d like to look like her in ten years—hell I’d be happy looking like her now.” Mature, gorgeous, soulful, looked good in a pair of jeans—and did I mention she could sing? She added a cool raspiness that to “A Broken Wing”.
            It isn’t the first time I’ve had to follow someone better than me. It tends to relax me (because when you know you can’t win, the pressure is off) or I freak out a little. Sadly, I did the latter on Thursday. I sang Jo Dee Messina’s “Because You Love Me”. I did’t sing nearly as well as when I practiced it at home—but I am a pretty tough critic of my own performances. I made my way back to our little group. A woman at an adjacent booth thought I did a great job, “You have a wonderful voice!”
            “Thanks!” I said. I love getting fans.
            “Now what are you going to do with it?” She asked me.
            “Um. Well.” I fumbled. “I do community theatre. And sing at weddings once in a while.”
            “You need to get out of Bridgewater.” She insisted. “With your talent you should go to New York.”
            A number of thoughts ran through my head at this point. It was a country song—shouldn’t I go to Nashville if I’m going to run away? I’m almost 40—it’s a great time to start a writing career—a performing career not so much. How much has this lady had to drink?
            “Why not take a chance?” She said. “Are you married?”
            I held up my left hand and said, “Yup. For almost fifteen years.”
            “Oh. Any kids?”
            “Uh huh. Two boys.”
            “Oh.” She said. “You must look a lot younger than you are.”
            Well that was nice to hear. Maybe it was the dim lighting. Maybe she had a few too many. Maybe it was because the folks at my table with me are young enough to run away to New York. Or maybe I really do look younger than I am—that’s the one I’m going with for now.
            I thought her choice of words was interesting: “What are you going to do with it?”  I briefly flirted with the idea of trying to make a living as a performer when I was younger. One time when I was home from college on break, a casting agency was hosting a “cattle call” (an open audition where gazillions of actors hope to catch the eye of someone who can help them with their career).
            I typed up a resume, dressed up, and lined up for my big chance. I had an interview with one person and was then sent on to a smaller room to speak with an agent. I was beside myself that I had made it to the next level—some folks were sent home at that point. I had a very nice chat with an older, balding man. He asked me, “Do you know how heartbreaking this businesses can be?”
            “I know,” I told him. “But someone has to make it.”
            He smiled at me, shook my hand and told me he’d be in touch.
            A few weeks later there was an article in the local paper. The whole thing was a fraud. This “casting agency” didn’t exist. There were no connections to anyone in Hollywood or New York. When some folks went to the rooms they were conned into forking over thousands of dollars for photo packages.
            They never mentioned money to me. For some reason they didn’t try to scam me. I have often wondered why. It can’t be the fact that they didn’t think I’d fall for it. I was about 19 or 20 and had the word gullible stamped on my forehead. Whatever the reason, they let me off the hook.
            That small incident isn’t the main reason I never pursued a career as an actor or singer. While I love to perform, I’m just not that ambitious and I have a crazy need to know where my next paycheck is coming from. I remember a conversation with my dad many years ago and he said something about me being an amateur. I bristled at that word. Me? An amateur? He reminded me that the word amateur isn’t the opposite of professional as so many people use it. The word amateur comes from the Latin and it means one who does something because he loves it. Latin gets me every time!
            So I am an amateur performer and proud of it. I don’t need to go to New York to sing. In fact, I probably get to sing more since I’m not trying to get a paycheck out of it. What am I going to do with my talent? Sing country music in a crowded bar, participate in a Halleluiah Chorus sing at Christmas time, play Rockband and Singstar with my family, sing Ave Maria and Panis Angelicus at the wedding of any cousin or friend who asks, and sing “Sweet Baby James” every night to my own sweet baby James until he decides he’s too old. That, is what I’m going to do with it. What I’m going to do with my writing skills is another question altogether.