O.K., so I’m sitting there at a table beside the stage at the Cavern club in Paris last night at the open vocal jam session after I played at the Highlander, when up comes this perfect woman who sits down at the table opposite me. She has a perfect face, perfect lips, her eyes are covered with glasses, but I guess the eyes are perfect too – and I can only imagine she has a perfect body as well. So I had to talk to her, right? I mean, there was a little potential awkwardness because she had not sat down at my table because of me, but because of a friend of hers, another woman, from Quebec, with whom I had spoken a little before the perfect woman arrived.
“Do you sing too?” I ask, as her Quebecoise friend sang, and was very good.
“Yes,” she said.
“Are you going to sing tonight?”
Not one to know much about making moves, I make my moves slowly, carefully; but nothing will stop me.
“So, what do you do, I mean, do you perform?”
“Yes, I play guitar and sing.”
“Oh, me too. Are you mostly a singer or a guitar player?”
“Mostly the singing.”
I won’t give more details of the conversation, but let’s put it this way. We spoke, she told me her name was Sarah, and I learned that she was working on her singing and performing career, she was tempted to sing on the stage last night, but was not sure what to do. Moreover, she seemed pretty nervous about it. She did not want to go immediately after the break – during which time we had been speaking – and really was not so sure what she could do.
When the break ended, Guillaume, the bass player of the house band, asked if she wanted to go up. She said not just then, and looked very nervous. A little later, please….
So the house band played a song. Then Guillaume asked for another singer, no one presented themselves, and he saw me at the table and knew I had performed there a few times and asked if I wanted to sing. I DID! But I had been also discussing with Sarah about how I found it really difficult to sing with a band without my guitar in my hands, and I had not much experience doing that and that it was really like karaoke and you had to do the songs just the way they were normally done, without much room for interpretation – or free flowing personal whatever….
But I wanted to sing to finally break through my incessant failures at the Cavern. And I kind of wanted to show Sarah and her friend that I could sing! After all, I had just come from the Highlander where I had done three songs different to what I usually do there – “Unchained Melody,” my “Except Her Heart” and Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son,” and it had gone over wonderfully. I was still basking in my success but ready for the blow of failure at the Cavern.
So I got on stage and did “Wicked Game,” and it was pretty much a fuck up from beginning to end. Oh, it was better than the last few times. But I still did not let loose, get into the musical groove and do what I am capable of doing with my own guitar in my hands. It feels like riding a bicycle with no handlebars to hold onto – of course, I do that on my unicycle, but it’s not the same…. Anyway, so fresh from my latest failure – and noticing during the song that neither the perfect Sarah nor her Quebecoise friend had actually listened to me, I rejoin them at the table.
It takes several minutes, but finally the Quebecoise and then Sarah, say of my performance, “Oh, that was good.”
I say to Sarah, “No Sarah, it was not good. It was nothing. Really, you KNOW when you have flattened your audience, knocked them onto the floor, killed them,” – and I might have added, You know yourself when you have reached the emotional pitch you are capable of, the flow. And you know when you are putting the audience to sleep, and singing “outside” the song. “That,” I say, “was putting them to sleep. It was not good.”
She looked at me with her eyes intent perhaps for the first time. We left it at that, and after a few other performers did their thing, Guillaume got Sarah up on the stage. He said to her that she had better go now – because she was still shy about it – because otherwise people suddenly all wanted to play at the same time at the end of the night and there was no more time.
So up goes Sarah, and she still had not decided what song to do until she was right on the stage, looking at the blue book of lyrics. Then she says, “Creep.” And I’m thinking, how is this perfect young quiet and shy girl going to pull that one off.
She starts out real slow, quiet, but I hear a beautiful and interesting quality to her voice. And then slowly, bit by bit, perfect Sarah explodes vocally and physically on stage. She is brilliant. The best of the night. I am entirely subjugated, hypnotized, as I realize that Sarah has a perfect voice too. Sarah has a truth and and edge to her voice. For a moment as she is singing, I’m saying, hmm, behind the light softness of this perfect girl there is a Nina Hagen boiling inside too. No, she is not a Creep. But that perfect body and all of that stuff that she calls out for in the song, well, it’s there. That bit about not belonging? She DOES belong there.
And so after she comes of stage and rejoins me at the table, I take a few minutes to calm down, then I say, “You see, YOU killed me! Destroyed me.”
She thanks me, and a few minutes later, when the Quebecoise goes up to sing, I turn to Sarah again and I say, “There is no competition here in this, but you were by far, far, far the best one here tonight.”
“Yes, but you know that,” I added.
“No,” she said sitting back and smiling.
I tell her I have a blog and would like to put up the video, and I give her my card with the blog address. Then I ask if she has a myspace I can link to. So she gives it.
I’m so totally destroyed that I leave for the evening in the middle of the Quebecoise’s song, and tell Sarah to say goodbye for me.
I get home and I look on the Internet for Sarah’s myspace and I discover that this quiet, shy, nervous and wildly talented singer was a star of X-Factor, that Sarah is now playing in Sister Act in the Theatre Mogador in Paris, that she is indeed a young singer starting out, but that she already not surprisingly has a history of success and subjugation. Just take a look at the crying judge on X-Factor when she does the Adele song. The man obviously had the same reaction as I did.
But more importantly for me, I know nothing about this and may be wrong, but I think that participants in things like X-Factor, the Voice and all those other music reality shows, probably end up having a hard time shaking the reputations they get on those shows of sugary, middle-of the road teen idol kinds of singing and have a hard time breaking out of that mold into something with more of an edge and truth to it.
I saw clearly that Sarah has that edge lying beneath the perfect everything. She just is not a creep, that’s all. She did not tell me anything about her TV stardom, her role in Sister Act, she was just another musician trying to make her career. And knowing full well I wanted to use the video on my blog, she had no objections – as more and more rising performers I have met do for fear of hurting their “careers.” This was REAL. (Too bad I was sitting in the shadows beside the stage without a good perspective for my camera either for the sound or image, but it still shows and allows for a hearing of enough to know it was a great performance, growing better as it progressed.)
Anyway. My apologies for the outpouring, but it was very cool, and my own failure faded into the background. But I must learn how to sing with a band without my guitar, for God’s sakes! Or for Sarah’s sake!