Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Hard song

It surely shouldn’t be so surprising that the daughter of the man who taught Frank Sinatra how to sing and Gene Kelly how to dance (or was it the other way around?) is poised on the brink of musical stardom.
And why not?
Why should a complete and utter lack of ability, training, talent, pitch, range or rhythm preclude such a career move?
I’m poised I tell ya – poised.
It all began yesterday with an early morning audition for a radio commercial; I went in knowing neither the product nor the pitch. (Not as much of a drawback as you may imagine: they give you a script, they tell you how they want you to read it, they record it, they shout “Next!” Nothing simpler. Just keep moving. And forget validation for your parking… or your performance, frankly.)
But I was surprised yesterday morning as the receptionist at the studio handed me the script to see it printed on the page in what looked like stanzas.
“Poetry, eh?” I thought as I shrugged off my coat and sat down to read the script and await my turn at the mike.
But anyone could see it wasn’t poetry. It was a song. A song I recognized; two verses, a chorus and a ‘bring it on home’ flourish of a finish.
There had to be some sort of mistake.
“There has to be some sort of mistake,” I said to the receptionist, my voice thin with rapidly growing anxiety. “I’m not a singer. Did they tell my agent they wanted a singer? I am not,” I paused for emphasis, “a singer!”
“No, no,” she calmed. “They want real people – people like you.”
I just looked at her. I didn’t know her – she didn’t know me – so how could she possibly understand just how ‘real’ I really am? How could she – or the casting agent – possibly gauge just how much ‘real’ the producer and recording engineer were prepared to be bombarded with when I went into the studio and started being ‘real’ at the top of my lungs?
No false modesty here. Besides writing, I pay the bills with voice recording. I was the voice of CTV for three years, the voice of the Life Network for another three, and over the years the voice behind countless hundreds of commercials selling everything from fried chicken to Fords. You have probably heard me tell you that if you know the extension of the person with whom you wish to speak, please enter it now, or press pound to return to the main menu, or nine to hang up. And thank you for calling.
Oh – and have a nice day.
I have a nice voice. Real nice.
But I cannot – not one note – sing. I mouth the words to Happy Birthday to You, rhubarb and mumble my way through hymns and Christmas carols, and never, ever sing in the car unless I’m alone with the windows tightly rolled up, saving any actual singing for the shower (where I do actually sing) grinding and creaking my way through the Top 40 with a sound approximating a cheap, untuned violin played by a toddler with a broken whisky bottle.
I’m really that bad.
I suck. I stink. There may be someone who sings worse than me, but if there is, I surely don’t want to hear them.
Whatever genetic talents were passed on to me by my father (who confided his musical mentorship of ‘ol’ blue eyes’ and ‘ol’ happy feet’ when I was six... and who would lie to a kid?) the actual singing gene was left unspliced, rendering me tune-free and tin eared – and happy that way. I’m fine knowing my limitations.
What I am not fine with is sharing them (recording them! for eternity!) with strangers. There’s knowing your limitations – and then there’s exhibiting them, loudly, with the potential for ‘sharing’ them with potentially millions of innocent citizens.
I could feel the flop sweat starting to trickle, I felt warm – too warm, open a window somebody, please! warm – and was just beginning to consider ways and means of getting out of there with the minimum of humiliation and the maximum of speed (I just couldn’t think how to credibly break my ankle without at least a stair or a step, or a reason to climb on a chair and deliberately fall off) when the producer came in and called me up and walked me back to the recording studio like a French aristo dragged through the streets of Paris to the guillotine.
(Curses – not a slippery area rug or even the teensiest of uneven floorboards from which to launch myself hospital emergency room-ward.)
I was feeling nauseous by the time he set me up at the music stand, adjusted my mike and handed me my headset. (Are you getting a picture of just how bad this was going to be?)
Back in his own safe (safe!) little booth, the producer told me he’d play the musical track for me a couple of times so I could hear where the verses began and when the chorus came in; I ignored it – I had just enough time to shoot a prayer heavenward before the engineer asked me for my levels and launched me musically hellbound.
After all, I didn’t need to listen to any lead track; I’d heard this tune a million times – each and every time I’d watched Singin’ in The Rain.
“Good mornin’, good mornin’,
It’s great to stay up late,
Good mornin’, good mornin’ to you!”
…and so on.
Singin in the Rain. Great movie. Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor and… Gene Kelly.
Gene Kelly!
Was it possible? Could this be a sign of some sort? Gene Kelly? Student of my father? (Odd, as my father was born more than 20 years after Gene, but – geez, have you never heard of child prodigies? Infant prodigies? Embryo prodigies?) And Gene, let’s face it, when compared to his dancing and acting was actually pretty crap as a singer.
And I am crap as a singer! (Granted, a whole different, appalling level of crap – but crap none the less.)
“When the band began to play,
The sun was shinin’ bright.
Now the milkman’s on his way,
It’s too late to say goodnight!
I started to feel a little better. The nausea waned ever so slightly, my heartbeat regulated, the little hairs standing straight up on the back of my neck went from attention! to at ease.
I took a deep breath, adjusted my headset, nodded at the producer, waited for his hand signal, then I belted that song into that mike!
I experimented with key changes and tones and volume – I may have executed at tremolo – I sang like some warped, oblivious-to-their-abilities contestant on American Idol. I even, so help me God, stuck out my arms and waved them around a little bit.
I sang and I sang.
Then I sang it again. Three times altogether. And each time, my confidence grew. It was complete crap – but it was my crap. They wanted real – and they got it. And I didn’t care. And I brought it home with a flourish.
I wafted out of the studio and floated down the hallway to the reception area, where three other women were taking off their coats and staring at their scripts, and clearing their throats and fingering their collars like they’d suddenly gotten unbearably tight.
I smiled at the assembled women, slipped into my coat, grabbed my bag and as I was about to bid farewell to the receptionist, it occurred to me that I didn’t know what product or service this musical mess was supposed to be selling.
“So what was all that in aid of?” I asked – though I didn’t care. I didn’t care if I got it, I just cared that I finally got it. I had discovered a new skill – one that could take me heaven only knew where. Singing badly – with verve! With passion and excitement and tremolos! Me! Singing!
“Viagra,” the young lady replied, looking up at me with a sly smile.
Oh. Okay. Now I want it. I want it bad. I won’t just be in on the joke – I will be the joke!
Viagra. Priceless. My cocktail party icebreaker requirements are taken care of for the next decade.
So it’s on fellow crappy singers. I’m sitting by the phone, waiting for my agent to call. Hoping and praying and humming “Good mornin’, good mornin’!”
And I’m thinking of taking up dancing…


Sheena said...

So.. like... did you get it?

Storm said...

NO! Clearly, I now realize I was too good. It's a burden...