On Addiction

I am a junkie. It has now been exactly one year since I first tried my drug, and escalation is becoming obvious now.

I am hopelessly addicted to public performing.

It doesn’t matter what kind of stage it is (I’ve yet to experience what it feels like to be on a literal stage; the closest I’ve been to it was a dance floor). It doesn’t matter what kind of audience it is (I’ve sung in front of guests of a wedding, my friends, random passers-by and an empty park). It doesn’t matter if they like it or hate it (I haven’t been officially boo-ed off anywhere yet, but asked to keep the noise down once).

I just want to sing.

It started, indeed, exactly one year ago, on the fifteenth of May, 2010, when Batty’s wedding was drawing to a close. Most of the guests have left or were in the process of leaving, and the party DJ was taking requests. I for the life of me cannot remember where the idea to get up on the dancefloor!stage came from. It could’ve been the tiredness. Just now, I have a vague memory of seeing the clock on the wall – the party was meant to end on whatever the hour was going to be, and the time was some twenty minutes to it. Until that moment, I was already quite eager to see the end of the party and get some rest. And then the thought came.

The thought was immediately followed with the kind of thoughts that chase after any idea that is more novel than ‘I’m going to get a cup of coffee’. I am going to look stupid, I can’t sing (fact of life at the time, to be honest), I am going to look stupid, Adrian may be against it. That last one could’ve become my excuse. The new husband just recently earned himself heaps and heaps of cool points by requesting Welcome To The Black Parade from the DJ in the midst of otherwise boring music, and causing myself, Bat (back then still known as Emma), Meda and his sister Cassie to scream, shoot each other shocked looks and then summarily proclaim our love for the genius Mr Adrian Young, at that moment the coolest guy on this half of the planet. That was a few hours before my own singing idea, but nevertheless – it was a wedding, so it was all about the newlyweds, so it would be simply impolite of me to rain on Adrian’s parade (pun self-indulgently intended).

But I knew I would despise myself forever if I chickened out. Right now, looking back, I’m not even sure what would’ve happened, had I indeed chickened out. Maybe the stage drug would’ve caught up with me later. It probably would have. I think I have just enough narcissism that is required of a performer (‘you expect people to watch you as you prance in front of them making loud noises; of course you have to be narcissistic’, in the words of Bat), regardless of the slowly rising degree of its justification. I got kicks out of singing in front of Bat even before that. So I’d like to think that the stage would’ve caught up with me eventually, regardless. But a tiny part of me just got frightened out of its wits imagining if it hadn’t.

I would ask Adrian, I decided. If he minded, fair enough. If he didn’t… I’d burn that bridge when I got there.

He was standing next to the DJ that very moment. And he didn’t mind. And the DJ had a few more MCR songs in his library. And he said it would be okay to karaoke one of them. So I picked one – Famous Last Words (it was that or Ghost of You, which I wasn’t sure I would’ve managed, or I Don’t Love You, which didn’t exactly strike a wedding chord). And then stared ahead of me as I realised that I’d forgotten the lyrics.

It should be said that I never forget lyrics to songs. That was the one thing about singing that I never had a problem with. I’m normally word-perfect on any song that I’ve liked enough to look up the lyrics once, and often have trouble stopping myself from going Lyric Nazi on anyone who’s singing along and getting the words wrong. I also never have mind blanks. Stress can affect me on a physical level, complete with cold hands and dry mouth, and it also makes me talk faster than usual (therefore, rendering me all but incomprehensible, seeing as my usual talking speed is rather fast) and in a higher pitch (which is just unpleasant). But it doesn’t make me forget stuff. I have a sickeningly efficient brain in that respect.

Except this time, the beginning of the song has fled my head completely. Fortunately, I had another song and a half to get my bearings. That time was enough to:
– remember the lyrics;
– decide that I needed some alcohol inside of me pronto;
– get back to my table where I remember leaving a glass with something that tasted foul and was therefore left previously undrunk, but the taste didn’t matter now;
– find the glass gone, and myself with no means to buy myself anything at the bar (buying oneself drinks at a wedding came as a bit of a cultural shock for a Slavic girl in Europe, I had to say);
– run over to the bathroom and drink tap water; it wasn’t alcohol, but it would stop my mouth being so dry, at least;
– stand just outside the room, leaning on a banister and taking deep breaths;
– confide in Adrian’s mother about my intentions when she saw me standing there.

It’s amazing how much you can manage in five minutes or so, isn’t it? All it takes is an emergency like this. About a minute before my actual performance, Adrian did ruin a bit of the surprise by telling Bat that I would be singing. It didn’t matter too much. I sat at my table as the song-just-before-mine was finishing, and then strode up to the DJ, who announced that ‘El would sing now’. According to Bat’s friend Natalie, my walking up on the ‘stage’ was best described as ‘being on a mission’. I remember my line of thinking being that if I’m indeed going up on the stage, I’d rather march onto it than slink.

So I took the microphone, and I sang along with Gerard Way (one day… one day I will write that sentence again, but it will have a different meaning; this I swear). You know when I said I don’t have mind blanks? That was a second one in those five minutes or so, albeit of a different nature. I didn’t forget any of the lyrics. I was fully aware of my surroundings – as in, ‘this is the microphone, you sing into it’, ‘this is the microphone wire, you try not to trip over it’, ‘you’re wearing a long party dress and your almost-waist-long hair is almost-loose, so do not attempt headbanging, it will not go down well’. I was also dimly aware of the fact that Emma had rushed up onto the floor with me, moments into the song. I tried sharing the microphone with her at first, but very quickly realised it would end up with neither of us being heard, so I hogged it back while she sang and danced along nearby. I was also aware that Mrs Riddle (also known as Emma/Bat’s mother) had a camera in her hands (as I found out later, the batteries died before she could film me, but a few pictures were made). But there wasn’t a single conscious thought in my head that had anything to do with anything but that moment.

When the song was over, I wasn’t even conscious enough to say ‘thank you’ – I just bowed and handed the microphone back to the DJ. Funnily enough, I switched it off as I handed it over, by some weird instinct. Apparently, I knew my gear a bit even when I didn’t know my stage manner.

For the few following days, I flew so high it was a miracle I didn’t cause any civil aviation problems. I was due to spend a few days in London, and I even looked up what the city’s law was on public performances. Both fortunately and unfortunately for me, you couldn’t just sing anywhere you liked in London, so the tentative plan to put the music through the surprisingly loud dynamic of my trusty old Nokia and proceed to happily make an idiot out of myself in front of passers-by had to be abandoned.

Then I returned home, and normality resumed, I guess. I don’t remember many music-related events between mid-May and late June, when Rosie and I were chatting in a coffeeshop, and the talk drifted to music, and as a result, I came home whining that I want to sing in front of people again. It didn’t matter where, it didn’t matter how. I just needed it. Among my plans was to sing in some park a year from then, but a year was such an awfully long time. I whined and I whined, and my husband suggested that if a year is too long to wait, I could just go and sing now. It was, I believe, a Thursday, and on Saturday, we went to a nearby park, our equipment consisting of a microphone and an old stereo.

Halfway through my first song, a passer-by stopped and watched me, and then filmed my second song on a video. In a true cinematographic nature, he turned out to be among the administrators of a website dedicated to promotion of street musicians, and asked if he could upload the video there. I gave the permission, of course, under the condition that he would send me a link. He did so, and I found myself on the internet that very night. In a true real life nature, this did not lead to any fame and/or fortune whatsoever, because one thing I was not at the time was a good singer or a talent in disguise. I was a struggling amateur with a stage addiction, and simply indulging it was more than enough for me at the time.

Then there was a small house concert gathered mostly at the request of a school friend of mine who was in town and couldn’t believe that I was (a) into rock music, (b) actually singing. I sang at home, in front of her and a few more friends. (I must say that my delivery of the line from MCR’s The Sharpest Lives – ‘so why don’t you blow me [significant pause] a kiss before she goes’ went down especially well with someone who has always known me as a straight-A student and then a hyperresponsible employee of the financial industry… ah, the memories.)

Then there was a house concert with a bit more preparation that consisted of setting up a semblance of a stage area in my kitchen and invaluable help of the visiting Bat as backup singer and sound engineer. Then there was another house concert scheduled to take place before Valentine’s Day, which didn’t happen then, but instead happened on the ninth of April, dedicated to the birthday of Gerard Way. That one featured some fully live performance, with my husband playing a piano cover of The Sharpest Lives, my own piano cover of Demolition Lovers, complete with singing, and a performance of my own song, with accompanying bad guitaring. It also featured live web broadcasting, with Bat and Meda watching me over webcam.

Then there was the first open-air gig of this year, which was covered in detail in the first post on this very blog. Then there was another open-air performance, which went a little pear-shaped because we found that the stereo didn’t survive the rain of the previous concert as well as we’d hoped. A valuable lesson learned was to check equipment before leaving house. Nevertheless, I sang some acapella, earned as much as the previous time (one local currency unit, equivalent of ten eurocents) and got one amusing bit of audience interaction. A guy walking by with a phone was probably asked what the racket was, from the other end of the line, because he extended the phone in my direction, and was rewarded with a particularly spirited delivery of a line from The Dresden Dolls’ Good Day. His comment as he walked away was ‘to stop singing and get a job’. Been there, done that, mister. I’ll keep singing if it’s all the same to you, thank you very much.

Now, what with the equipment half-dead and no good reason to buy some new stuff (seeing as it would have to be dragged across Europe in just some months as I move countries), I am contemplating performing in an underpass, seeing as those places normally have very good acoustics and therefore, small speakers may suffice…

May 15th, 2010
June 29th, 2010
July 4th, 2010
November 20th, 2010
April 9th, 2011
May 1st, 2011
May 14th, 2011

Can you see the decreasing intervals between my shots of whatever that substance is that is produced during public performances (a delightful mix of adrenaline with something else that I can’t quite isolate)? Escalation is obvious, and while I would be the first one to admit that I do have an addiction, I refuse to ever refer to it as a problem. Let alone want to get rid of it.

It’s Sunday, and there’s work needs doing, but I’m pretty sure that at some point during the week I should be able to pop by a few underpasses for a sound check…


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Filed under Art and Music, Rambles

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