Jul 14

What Are You Doing Musically At The Moment?

It’s been over a year since I sang in public. It was last Easter for my bandmate’s leaving gig, at what used to be Medusa but is now something else. I sang two songs I wrote and one cover, wearing a Def Leppard t-shirt and some heavy eyeliner my bandmate applied to my face while we were squeezed into the ladies’ toilet together. It was super awesome fun in every way.

It was familiar, too—I had a party for my fifth Wellyversary at Medusa, I have been to heaps of shows there and sung there several times. Always a friendly crowd comprised of mostly my friends, and always songs that I either knew very well or had actually written my damn self.

But my bandmate lives in Australia now, and the last time he came for a visit we didn’t even talk about having band practice. I haven’t written a song for several years. Over Christmas he said he wanted to leave his acoustic guitar with me and that I should learn how to play it; it’s sitting in my lounge as I write this, but I still can’t play a note. Medusa is a different kind of bar now, and I haven’t been there for ages. I’ve got a bit more back into listening to music this year, but haven’t really thought much about making any of my own, or even singing anyone else’s. I think about other things, mostly—though you’d never know it, as I don’t write online anymore either.

For this past birthday, in addition to seeing Neko Case play down the road from my house, I had some friends round on a Saturday afternoon for tea and biscuits and cucumber sandwiches. What with one thing and another, it just worked out that several members of Sophie And The Realistic Expectations came over after their band practice. They all commented on G’s various musical instruments now liberally festooned around this tiny flat, and several asked what I was doing musically at the moment.

“What are you doing musically at the moment?” some kind guitarist or saxophonist would ask.

“Nothing!” I would say, and pour myself another cup of tea.

“You should sing with us!” said the saxophonist.

“Ha ha! Yeah, nah, I don’t think that will ever happen.”

This band is very good, you see. They have a four-person horn section and play Motown covers and compel you to dance your face off when they get going. I would never presume to ask to sing with them. I wrote a song about being cold in winter, you know—I’m not really sure that I can easily make the transition to Aretha Franklin.

But they were gearing up for a big gig at Bodega. And somehow we got to talking and I said to the singer that I wanted to duet Let’s Get It On with her, and she said “Let’s do it!” And I went to a couple of their band practices, and felt simultaneously very comfortable, because they are all so cool and funny and nice, and very uncomfortable, because I have no idea what I’m doing and they do cool band things like yell ‘One two three four!’ while the drummer hits the sticks and we never did that in my band because there were only two of us and only one of us could play an instrument and it wasn’t the drums.

But I went to practice and I sang in the shower and made sure I knew my words and when to sing the harmony. I bought a new lipstick to wear with an old dress. I showed up for sound check on Saturday and asked if we could run through it one more time, and they had to tell the sound guy to put my microphone up because I was very shy and scared. Bodega is a big bar, a Wellington stalwart, and I had literally never sung on a stage that had a backstage before—at Medusa you just hopped up one step and that was it.

I was terrified to get up there. I felt very stiff and wooden, the opposite of charismatic, and forgot one of my harmonies. My voice sounded like that of a well-meaning understudy for a local community theatre production of a Disney Princess musical, whereas Sophie’s voice can, I’m relatively certain, power small cities with its fortitude and excellence. My legs were actually shaking and I was deeply grateful that I couldn’t see anyone in the audience because the lights were so bright.

People were nice though—lots of buddies were there because they’re all friends with the band too, and they were nice enough to compliment and hug me. Mostly I was just glad that my bit was over and that I could get out of my heels and into my flats and proceed to dance my face off for the rest of the night. I probably sang louder from the floor than I did on the stage, and had just a ridiculously fun time on a Saturday night.

It feels strange to write about this one little thing in my one little life—I sang a song with a band I like!–when Gaza is happening, right now as I write this, and refugee children being turned away from the Texas border is happening and racial profiling is happening and the Arctic ice sheets melting is happening and only 55 Maui’s Dolphins left is happening. I have never been able to figure that out very well: how you hold the good and the bad together in one understanding in one mind, how you can know the world is wretched and treacherous while making new friends and singing new songs.