Wednesday, September 11, 2013

When Was YOUR First Time?

The only time I have ever truly gotten stage fright was the first time I performed in public. Oh, sometimes I get a little nervous before a show, especially if I haven't played out in a while. Or festival gigs, especially when they are running behind, and we're there on time (who'da thunk it?). Or the heavily promoted headlining show. Or maybe, you know, when I'm sittin' in traffic at a long red light!

I was a sophomore at Nettleton High School and our Speech class was producing a talent show for the end of the year. I was in the class and therefore ineligible to enter, so I volunteered my "stellar guitar talent" to entertain the attended while the judges deliberated the contest. Never had I played outside of my bedroom, but I had my first "Official Gig!" I practiced and practiced, not thinking about the fact that I'm doing a song that has vocals (I had only sang in church once before, and it was not received very well) and I might need to practice singing and playing. I still remember the song, it was "Last Kiss" made popular by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers in 1964, and my Uncle Steve taught me how to play it and the lyrics. Pearl Jam covered it in 1999. Yeah, that song, and I was performing it, in public, a good 12 years before Pearl Jam (take that, Eddie Vedder!).

I had convinced myself that I was good, and that I was going to perform the song so well that I would receive a standing ovation that would last at least 45 seconds (I've never been short on confidence), and my parents would see that being a musician was a viable career choice (I still haven't convinced them).

We had our first (and only) dress rehearsal the weekend before the show, and we spent so much time going over the props and our wardrobe (where I was informed my leather jacket and ripped blue jeans were NOT appropriate) that I wasn't able to practice my spot. What a sin!

The night of the show finally came, and, of course, I was there early. I was excited. I was finally going to play my first show. I was already thinking of ways to explain to my mom that I would have private tutors on the road, so I would still graduate high school on time and get  my diploma. My dad would be proud, because he would finally realize that I was good for something. And I looked good! I wore a new pair of Levi's (this was before pre-washing, people, so it was the hard denim that didn't bend well and made noises, kinda like corduroy, but not quite, when you walked) and a long-sleeved white button up shirt (some habits never die). I borrowed my dad's ostrich skin boots and his wool-lined Levi denim vest to complete the look. I had my 3 color sunburst Sears Teisco Del Rey electric guitar tuned and 10 watt Gorilla amp plugged in and was ready to go.

I don't quite remember everything and everyone there, because I was in my own little world. The stage fright was beginning to kick in, and I was focusing on the lyrics (that I hadn't practiced) and remembering what the chord changes were. As the last entrant was on the stage, I was summoned backstage to get prepared. Stage fright level 2 by now. The announcement that the judges would be leaving to decide the outcome. Stage fright level 3. I'm pushed onto stage to get plugged in as my name is announced. Totally freaking out right now.

As the stage curtains are drawn, I go blank. What am I doing on this stage in front of all these people? What is this big piece of wood hanging on my shoulders? I can't play the guitar! As I stand in front of the microphone in total silence for what seemed like a million forevers, a fellow classmate, Dean Hudson, screams, at the top of his lungs, "Roy Orbison!" The resulting roar of laughter from the crowd assembled brought me from my state of paralysis and pushed my fingers into a C chord. I played that chord, walking down to the A Minor, up to the F, and on to the G7 chords that would lay the foundation for the melody line of the song. As the first verse came around, my body stepped forward, pushing my mouth into the grill of the microphone and forming the sounds that would become the words:
We were out on a date in my daddy's car
We hadn't driven very far
There in the road straight ahead
A car was stalled, the engine was dead.
 I made it through the song, with only minor embarrassment, my stage fright actually helping me through it, giving me the adrenaline rush needed to overcome the situation. A group of black girls sitting in the front row tried to heckle a little early in the song, but a well formed "flip-off" shaped chord got them to quieten down. I didn't get my 45 second standing ovation, not even a standing ovation, but I did get 15 seconds of enthusiastic applause from their seats, and that was good enough for me. I also didn't get to quit school and go on the road as a famous rock star, which was quite a bummer, so I finished high school and graduated on time, to my mother's delight. I still haven't convinced them that music is a viable career choice. I'm having a little trouble making myself believe that these days. I've about decided that music is more akin to an infection, but that's the subject of another blog altogether.

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