The Livingston Avenue Review Of Zines

Thursday, August 6, 2009

On Having No Talent (1997)

For several months about fifteen years ago, I used to sing in public regularly. A bar not far from my apartment in Indianapolis had "open stage" nights four times a week, and I performed in most of them. My act was me and my guitar; about half a dozen songs by me, plus covers. Folk rock novelty stuff, I suppose you could say... I've never been real good at identifying musical genres.

One comment I got pretty often was "it's different"—which of course, generally means, "it's terrible, but I don't want to hurt your feelings". Fair enough, too; my flaws as a performer were (and still are) glaring. The worst two, unfortunately, are my singing and guitar playing. My stage presence leaves something to be desired, too.

For all that, I'd have good nights sometimes. The crowd would pay attention and show signs of liking what they heard, whereupon I'd start feeling great—this was what I lived for—and it set up some sort of feedback; the crowd would have more fun because I was so obviously enjoying myself, and so on. Anyway, I came to believe I had it in me to be a pretty good entertainer, even though I certainly wasn't much of a musician.

I played few auditions for actual paying gigs but didn't land the jobs. Two went particularly well. For the first one, there was just a committee of about four or five people. They seemed to get a kick out of my stuff and I thought I had a pretty good shot. Nope. At the second one, I had one of the best nights of my life. There was a good crowd and I made a big hit. I vaguely knew somebody from one of the other acts and she was openly envious and sure I'd be invited to come back. But no.

I talked to the guy who booked the shows several weeks later and he told me why he hadn't hired me: bad musicianship. He offered to play me the tape. Well, no thanks... I already know what a bad singer and guitarist I am... but doggone it, the crowd was for me, and that seemed like it should have been the point.

Well, OK. I had moved back to Bloomington and started school again in the meantime and gotten a girlfriend besides. So I had a lot less spare time and anyway, there were no regular open mike nights around here. I started playing a lot less and quit writing new songs. Most of whatever skill I had faded very quickly. It was to be eight more years before I hit another peak as a singer.

I've always felt sort of guilty for not sticking with it. Most of the time, I'm able to live up to the motto: "If at first you don't succeed, try again, then quit; there's no use being a damn fool about it." But in this particular instance, again and again, I find myself feeling envious of singers and songwriters whose work I admire and have this feeling that I should be doing something like that and that I quit much too soon.

The nearest I ever got to a paying gig was playing for beers in the bar car on a cross-country train trip. I got plenty drunk for nothing over the course of several hours and everybody seemed to be having a good time. I'm also proud to be able to say that there was a time when I could stand in a park in the middle of the night singing and people would stop to listen; I consider this one of my greatest accomplishments in life. There's nothing like it and I miss it a lot.

I try not to blame the people who didn't hire me on those auditions. They were probably even right and I wasn't ready for the pros. You need a heck of a lot of persistence in show business and cast-iron ego that laughs at rejection. I have to admit that I never developed these for the same reason I've never kept up a habit of practicing several hours a day except for a few periods of a few months: it just wasn't that important to me.

1 comment:

  1. the second i posted this...
    before i even had a chance
    to look at it and edit it...
    google showed me a video ad
    for video guitar lessons.

    so *somebody*'s reading this stuff.
    too bad it's a robot.