Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bad Lounge Singer

Last night I got to play the part of the bad lounge singer. I was tired, a little cranky, needed a hair cut, and had a sneaking suspicion that I wouldn't be able to hit the high notes to several of the songs I was about to sing. Fortunately, it was one of those nights when no one seemed to be listening anyway. The lounge was filled to the brim with thirty and forty somethings in cheap business suits, drinking the two for one drinks, sopping up the mess on the table with stale crackers and yellow dip, and chasing hot leads that just came off the Briggs and Stratton lead sheet.  Now, coupled with the notion that I thought it was Monday and not Tuesday, (post Holiday snafu), honestly? Everyone of us in the lounge were about to play out a very bad movie scenario. You know, the kind of scenario that several of the actors from the Airplane movie series are in but you don't know their names?  Now don't get me wrong, I loved the part I was playing, (a little like that lounge singer character that Bill Murray used to play in Saturday Night Live!) and although I play a guitar instead of a piano, I was perfectly cast last night, (except I didn't have a torn tuxedo shirt with a lose tie). It was a beautiful disaster.

Now when I say disaster, don't get your palms sweating for me or conjure up images of me running from the room crying after the first note of Moon River came out unbearably flat, (and it did). I say beautiful because no one had the first inkling of the disaster, because I was the only one who seemed to be aware that this was even happening. After years of playing in front of people, there are lots of tricks you use to cover what is not happening that night. Further, this was a night when I could have played Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star for an hour and no one, (honestly) would have known the difference. In short, I could not only get away with what I couldn't do, but I could get away with just about anything I wanted to do badly, and I did. And, that my friends, is a rare night. So, I take some creative license, why not?

I always have the songs that I have learned that, play, well, loungy for lack of a better word, and well, Moon River, Summer Wind, All of Me, The Night Life, etc., are just a few of the songs that I like to conjure in my mind as being loungy sounding.  The thing is you can actually take these songs and render them as beautifully ambient, or you can take the phrasing and turn them into actual parodies. Yup. Parody night at the lounge, all around.  The song, Crazy I did as a man, trapped in an institution, The Night Life I did as a drunken buffoon, and The Summer Wind I did pretending I was Frank Sinatra Jr. instead of Frank himself, (which will make sense to some of you).  Now, as I'm telling you this, it may not be clear so much in your mind, but you have to put yourself into the ambience and audience of the brassy and too loud lounge. You are talking to Jarrod, who you have just met, and you are talking about all the money you are going to make—and at the very bottom of this conversation, an insane man is singing Crazy. Or better still, On the Road Again is coming out sounding like Courtney Love on steroids. Subconsciously, you are making a deal, and are on the road with Courtney and her entourage, and it's working! Now, I'm probably stretching the actuality of what was really happening, but some nights, the entertainment package has to get creative.

There is definitely an advantage to coming at singing with an actor's perspective, or, what entertains without a naturally gifted voice, (the jury is still out on this for me) can also be the character of the singer, (more on this later) the interpretation of the phrasing, like, using something literal, (try singing Cowgirl in the Sand interpreting it as a girl who has her jeep stuck in the sand on the beach, it comes out really funny!), or symbolic, ( so many songs have this element anyway, Hotel California for lack of something else here) or mystical, (this covers everything else!). I definitely take advantage of the many hours of stage time that I have, it never, never has to be boring. I was always interested when I would hear rhetoric on a singer's phrasing. In that respect, it is just like acting. For example, Christopher Walken, (the actor) takes out all the grammar in his dialogue or speeches when he gets a script, which has a profound effect on how his words come out, (betcha didn't know that!). Willie Nelson's phrasing, (in my opinion) comes from trying to catch the lyrics up with the music when he fell behind for so many years. He began to stylize it once he became a better player. Tony Bennett's phrasing drives me crazy because I feel it too stylized, and there are no teeth in the words. Frank Sinatra's phrasing to me is a marvel, as is Judy Garland. Like actors, every singer has a history of how their sound developed. Further, sometimes an early bad habit, with continued persistence, in the end, becomes the hybrid of originality.

I remember listening to an interview of Bono from U2, who says if he didn't have that rock star character that possesses him when he gives concerts, he could never naturally hit the notes he has to sing. He says there are many times in rehearsal when he can't hit the notes, and there are many singers that have the same issue. I think the great singers have a combination of both what is real inside them, and what they perceive themselves to be as a character. I know for myself, after my father disappeared and I came to the realization that he was not coming back, I spiritually felt him passing his music to me, in a profoundly collective way. Because of a certain insecurity I always had as a singer, it was very valuable because it was a gift bestowed to me from him when he died, letting me rely more on him than myself. Powerful!

Usually, whatever trepidation or issues I'm having on a given night while singing, by the end of the night, with patience, they gradually subside and I find that I have had a great night connecting to the audience. Last night was one of those rare nights when I never recovered from the great parody, but I came away, once again, astounded by what I had learned. Each night is an opportunity to find what is there, and last night was no exception.

This journey at becoming a singer is filled with rewards at every turn. Even though my academics in the profession are sorely lacking, I'm beginning to understand the difference between that low end trill of what I've mimicked from Johnny Cash, or that deep bravado that comes from Kristofferson, or the casual delivery of experience on the road that comes from Willie, and occasionally now, I can hear my own voice rising into the song, knowing that it is me, and no one else.


I had to delete the murder trial information until the trial gets opened and moving forward. (in case the prosecution is listening) Last night, we worked on the very first  moments of the opening statement, and I can only tell you that it is a brilliant move by this heroic defense attorney. I am very fortunate to get to work on this trial. And, I WILL eventually write more about this, as it is profoundly moving.

June, (As in Johnny Cash and summer)  I know you are out there, Honey. If you are anything like the beautiful woman I danced with the other night, I can't wait to get to know you. I have, however, put all notions of finding love back into the songs, and I will patiently wait for you. In the meantime, Baby (my dog) says "Hello." She can't wait to get to know you either. Love will find a way…

I have written a few notes down about people and relationships, I will get to that soon. So many of my complaints I'm realizing have more to do with me than with you. Wished I could have learned these things sooner.


I talked with the producer in Los Angeles about my play, Under the Desert, which is going up for six weeks starting mid-July. He is very excited about the production, and I am too. And, once again, I have had the play out working on it. It is an amazing thing when a play gets to the point when you are just changing a 'word' here and there. However, I've also opened up the Pandora's Box of changing the ending. Oh. My. Stars. In Heaven. And elsewhere.

I am feeling fortunate and  excited to have the life that I do.

1 comment:

Gerry said...

Good writing here, I thought. I was entertained. I envy you being able to sing well enough that you can be a bad lounge singer some nights and can come back again the next night and be a better one. I am always very interested in the analyzing of singers since so few singers write!