Monday, August 08, 2011

I'm With The Band (And Other Things Currently Scaring The Shit Out Of Me Right Now)

Whenever someone comes along and rips my heart out of my chest, then stomps it into mush, scoops what's left into a glass jar and puts the jar on shelf in a display case to keep as a trophy, I always react in the same way - by immediately engaging in a series of terrifyingly out of character behaviors that outwardly appear to be exciting new ventures but are really half-assed attempts at self-destruction. If I ever tell you I have taken up skydiving as a hobby, have decided to study entomology, or wish I had more opportunities for public speaking, you should probably assume I am actually just very sad and suggest moping about the house in sweatpants eating ice cream out of the carton as a safer alternative.

In news that may or may not be related to the preceding paragraph, I have recently joined a band and taken up burlesque dancing.

I signed up for burlesque classes in what can only be described as a fit of rage - reading through an awful e-mail (!) for the hundredth time, I suddenly went all Right Said Fred, decided I was too sexy for your party, and googled "burlesque lessons chicago" which led me to the fucking brilliant Studio L'Amour and the associated Everleigh Social Club, where after about 15 minutes into my first class, I decided I was going to become a Starlet as soon as possible. Then I actually saw the Starlets perform and thought "Holy shit, I will never be that good". Then I went home and decided I damn well will be that good even if it kills me because there really is no way I'm disco dancing, so I'm just going to have to shake my little tush on the catwalk. Now, I know there are a few people out there who don't know me as well as they think they do, and are wondering why I think taking my clothes off in front of strangers is out of character. I assure you that none of these people have ever seen me naked, and anyone who has knows that this is, in fact, very out of character for me. I'm just saying to watch out, I don't want you to trip over the irony. The point is, I'm doing that.

Almost immediately after signing up for the burly class, I got a message from my dear friend TTN Jon inviting me to audition for a band he was playing in called the Newburys. The singer they had sort of quit unexpectedly, and with a gig coming up they needed someone to fill in pretty quickly. I went to the audition and they liked me, so I started very quickly learning songs since all told we had precisely four rehearsals (including the audition) before the gig. So here's the thing - as much as I like to pretend to be all punk rock n' that, I've really only been to rock shows as a spectator. I've never actually been in a band before. Ever. Sure, I've been on stage singing loads of times, but classical music is an entirely different experience, one that seems custom made for me since having a personality is largely frowned upon. Fronting a rock band, however, almost invariably means talking to strangers, which falls squarely into the bucket of Things Amber Doesn't Do. Another problem - the friends who were coming to see us have all been in rock bands before and know what they are doing and I quickly developed a massive complex about sucking in front of them. I was also wholly convinced I was going to forget all the words, which terrified me until my amazing roommate pointed out that the songs were originals and no one in the crowd actually knew the words, so if I forgot them I could make something up and no one would know the difference.

I spent all day Saturday freaking the fuck out. I would frantically go over songs for an hour, then become worried I was over-preparing and start worrying about something else. Such as what to wear - I walked to Taboo Tabou and bought a corset because I obviously did not own one single thing I could possibly front a rock band in, which I then didn't wear because it seemed like I was trying too hard. Then I got worried I didn't know the words and went back to frantically going over songs. This cycle repeated itself until I finally just said "fuck it" and got in a cab before I could chicken out of the whole thing. This was my best move, really - I had a posse of supportive friends around me who kept me from disintegrating, plus the door guy who gave me some advice on my way in and lifted me off the ground in a giant bear hug on my way out.

I did ok, mostly. I remembered all the words, stayed on pitch and faced out at the audience, where Scott was taking millions of photos for me with my camera and holding my purse (he's a great purse holder, you can tell he's married) and Phil was standing down front giving me a thumbs up and mouthing encouraging things every time I looked at him (which was a lot). What I didn't do was sing particularly loud, move around very much or talk to the crowd really at all. The volume thing was mostly mechanical - many of the songs were at the far end of my range, and all the air in my lungs was being used up to hit the pitch correctly. The lack of movement was less stage fright and more a function of performing really depressing songs. Even with a catchy melody and an upbeat tempo, dancing around to a song with lyrics about spousal abuse seemed fairly inappropriate. Not talking to the crowd? Ok, that was all on me, but for real I HAVE NEVER DONE THIS BEFORE so, you know, lay off me. We did well enough that the crazy guy with biking gloves on dancing in front started screaming for ONE MORE! which was really the only time I managed to speak to the crowd. "Oh thanks, but we can't. Seriously. We genuinely do not know any more songs. Really." This was not a lie. (Later crazy guy would say I was good and ask me to "touch" him. I put my hand on his shoulder and he thanked me and left.)

The one thing I hadn't thought to prepare for was that after our set, people I didn't know would come up and talk to me. I really have no idea why I didn't think of that, and it wound up being by far the most frightening part of the whole experience because HOLY SHIT PEOPLE ARE TALKING TO ME. Overall, though, I didn't die, which was where I had set the bar so I win.

Next up on the tour of Shit I Shouldn't Be Doing: I'm going to Baltimore to run a 5K while being chased by zombies. FYI - I don't run. Ever.

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