By Ray Lesser
First, you find yourself singing in the shower. You can really rock the shower, so you start strumming some chords on the guitar to accompany yourself, and pretty soon you’re hanging out with a bass player, and then you find a drummer who has a basement you can practice in for the talent show. You’re going to sing a Beatles song just like the Beatles sing it, or maybe even better than the Beatles, because they’re old and they’ve burned out their voices and yours is still young and fresh.
The girls will love you because they love the Beatles. Then you’ll do a Stones song and the girls will love you like they love the Stones. You’ll be able to approach Jill or Julie or Janet or Jane and any one of them will be awed by being in the presence of a rock band guitarist and lead singer and they’ll be happy to go with you behind the dumpster in the parking lot where nobody can see what’s going on, and make out and maybe they’ll even let you feel them up. Whatever feeling someone up is.
Now you’re really motivated to sing, the future is becoming clearer and clearer. You’re going to win the talent show, then you’ll go to the High School Battle of the Bands and win that and get to play live on the radio station and then a talent scout will hear you and sign you to a major label and you’ll go to a studio and make a record and become famous and rich and have any girl you want, even possibly Claudia Schwartz, the girl that sits behind you in Algebra.
Then after all the practice and prep and planning, you wake up on the morning of the talent show and you try your voice out and it sounds like a bullfrog’s. You take your temperature and damned if you don’t have a fever of 102°, but you can’t be sick, not today. There are no postponements or do-overs — you have to go out and win this talent show or else you’ll never become rich and famous. You’ll wind up like all those losers who used to play in rock bands in high school that you see working at the Gas and Go or Burger World. You drink hot tea with lemon and honey and take some aspirin and try not to talk out loud so your parents won’t notice how bad you sound. You drag yourself to school, but all day long you feel worse and worse until by the time eighth period comes for the talent show, you are sweating and shivering. Your band mates see you and ask if you’re OK. “Yeah, sure,” you say, “I’m just excited.”
You go backstage and tune up and there’s no use in trying to warm up your voice — you’ll just save whatever you’ve got for the one song that’s going to launch you on your way to stardom. When it comes time to go on, the spotlight hits you, or reasonably close to you. (I mean, it’s Richie Dibler running the lights, and you feel lucky that he at least figured out how to put on the blue filter you asked him to.) You’re out there, center stage, and the drummer counts out the beat and you play your guitar intro without screwing it up and then you start to sing and all that comes out is this kind of raspy croaky wailing sound. Oh my god! You sound like your dad. You sound like a guy who’s spent too many hours after work drinking whiskey in a smoky bar or at home shouting at children who don’t listen to him. Then you begin to sound worse than your dad — you start sounding like your grandpa. Your voice has morphed from a beautiful baritone into a broken tuba. You’re singing “Back in the USSR,” and it sounds like your grandpa singing it, and he really used to live in the USSR, so you feel almost like you’ve had your body and voice taken over by a poltergeist or something. The band keeps playing and the bass player sings his harmonies and it sounds like honey poured on top of sauerkraut. It’s the weirdest combination of voices you’ve ever heard, but there’s nothing you can do but keep going, finish the song and then go somewhere to puke — because you really need to puke, but you’ve got to hold it until this thing is over, which only adds to the weirdness of the way your voice sounds — and then finally it’s over, the most horrible performance of your lifetime, the worst the band has ever sounded, worse than the first time you played together when you couldn’t even figure out how to get the bass in tune with the guitar.
You stop and there is a moment of complete silence and then all of a sudden the kids in the audience start to clap and cheer and whistle wildly, louder than they have for any of the other acts, louder than they did for Gloria Bell when she came out wearing that sequined outfit and twirled three batons, louder than they did after seeing Robert Dorffman do his magic trick of making Mr. Mull, the gym teacher, disappear from a wooden box, replaced by a monkey wearing his ball cap and blowing his gym whistle. These are your people and your people loved it. They love you! You think you might be hallucinating, but you bow and run backstage, and almost make it to the boys’ room before puking all over the hallway. But you don’t even care. Nothing can spoil this day! You will be a great rock star someday, now you’re sure of it. You’ll just have to figure out how to always sound like your dad or your grandpa when you sing, without having swollen glands the size of plums and snot dripping out of your nose.