The song is haunting me – no – it’s taunting me. It taunting me at 7 am this morning in those grey moments between waking and resolving to rise, it taunted me while I made my boys breakfast and packed their lunches, it flooded my brain while I dug out my minivan from the snow (with the help of a kind neighbor/stranger named Swan, a black guy, for those keeping score), it teased me while I dropped the car at the mechanic and walked the mile home, and it lingered while I finally had my own breakfast, four hours after waking.
The song is “Love Wasn’t Built in a Day” by Ari Gold. It has an infectious groove and I loved it right away. It had been sent to me by Ari a week ago via email and I had committed to learning it – well, really just 12 lines of it – to sing at Ari’s Birthday Celebration show at the famed Joe’s Pub in NYC this past Monday.
I first met Ari 30 or so years ago when we recorded a duet for a kids album “Cabbage Patch Dreams,” produced by my uncles Tom and Steve. We were both little kids, playing the parts of “Cabbage Patch Kids” kidnapped by the evil Cabbage Jack, and our song was a poignant duet entitled “Get Back Home.” I admired little Ari’s poise, ability to maintain the harmony part on the chorus while I sang the basic melody, and the fact that he’d gotten the gig through bonafide child professional channels rather than nepotism like myself.
Now Ari was all grown up and then some. He’s a gym-chiseled, charismatic heartthrob, especially renowned among the NYC gay community where he’s become a leader and inspiration; a fine singer and songwriter, and an able showman. He’d assembled a cast of fabulous people to sing his songs with him at the show, and their voices, skill, style and easy camaraderie all left me feeling a bit out of place at our midtown rehearsal last Saturday. Put me in a room of Brooklyn progressive jazz instrumentalists or local food justice advocates and I feel confident and informed; put me in a room of show-biz pros like beautiful award-winning drag queen Pepper Mint and multi-talented singer/producer Adam Joseph and I just feel frumpy and folky and ill-prepared.
And ill-prepared I was (frumpy goes without saying, especially in this weather) I knew the “Get Back Home” verse cold from childhood, but now I was singing the harmony on the chorus so that took a little review; and I was determined to memorize the words and phrasing of my “B” section on “Love Wasn’t Built” but didn’t quite have it together by the weekend. Nor did I nor do I have my R&B diva sound and ad-libs together, so I was left to flail a little as Ari, Adam, and the talented Mila Jam made the song soar.
On the day of the concert I sang the song walking the boys to school, doing dishes, at my laptop, in the shower.. trying to make it become second nature. But I knew that up in the lights is another matter. I hate this feeling, which happens once or twice a year, when I get invited to do a guest appearance with another artist and learn a new song or songs and I want to do a great job and then do, well, okay. I listen, I memorize, I try different permutations of sound and tempo – this is my job! I am a professional singer. But almost invariably I find that whatever time I take was not enough, and I am less than perfect onstage. It takes me a while to own a song, whether I wrote it, have passively enjoyed it for years, or even devote a week of my conscious and subconscious mind to it. A recent live review cited my “dependable, middle-range voice,” which doesn’t sound like much of a complement, but to me it was. Yes, dependable! I just want to get the job done, well. Count on me! I’m your trusty neighborhood singer! I’ll hit all the notes in tune, and the words, in any style! Or not.
Maybe I need to be a real diva and put aside the rest of my life on a show day, but it rarely works out that way. In this case, leading up to the show there was also a much-anticipated outing with my sons to get pizza and then go see the LEGO movie in 3D at our banged-up local cinema. I put on my cleavage-baring halter top under my sweater, and packed a bag with high-heeled boots, my sparkly gold skirt, and makeup and got on the B69 bus with them to the movie. I sang the song some more in my head during previews, and distracted moments. All was going as planned until we exited the theater and one boy of mine (name omitted to protect the innocent) vomited spectacularly and prodigiously (yes I looked that up to double check) on top of the large cardboard 3D glasses deposit box. It only took about 10 minutes to clean up (and the sweet sick one helped dutifully), especially after a theater employee casually dropped off a paper towel roll, but the phantom puke smell is just now leaving my nostrils. I washed my hands, tried to fluff my hat hair, flattened it back down with my hat, handed over the bewildered boys to their uncle as arranged, headed down to the train, wrestled with a broken Metrocard touch screen for my fare, and went to work.
I applied my makeup on a blessedly empty F train, sang my lines some more, and got back to the dressing room in perfect time. Cosmetics were being professionally applied, wigs were flowing, and spirits were high. Meanwhile, I attempted to pull on my hip-hugging skirt without removing my leggings and instead ended up with a mid thigh tangle of undergarments and layers. I tried to throw my shoulders back and feel fabulous instead of worried and insecure, and even forced myself to check my phone as to stop admiring everyone’s glamour.
I wish I could say that my fears were not realized and I nailed my part, but if I had, the song wouldn’t be taunting me still… As it turned out, I was generously introduced and brought on stage by Ari, listened for my cue, sang one line more or less correctly, then garbled the rest of the section. I had it together for the 2nd round but my unconfident body language didn’t quite match the celebratory, latin-funk of the groove. Opportunity for greatness missed, low expectation matched.
The rest of the show was great, with a parade of very talented people on and off the stage. And the Cabbage Patch song went well. For better or worse, that’s a little more in my wheelhouse, and it’s a crowd pleaser. Ari and I bantered and emoted into each other’s eyes, even slowing down for a little melismatic tag at the end “..they’ll be laughter in the Cabbage Patch again…”
It’s nice to be home tonight, back with my boys and the daily small failures of parenting, where imperfection and a decided lack of glamour come with the territory. In Mr. Crump’s absence on tour, I play one of his albums and my small failure of screwing up some lines on Ari’s song is temporarily exorcised from my ear. Next time I’ll nail it, whatever “it” is! Yeah?
PS — if you’d like to join me in wishing Ari a happy birthday by supporting his new record, “Soundtrack to Freedom,” you can check it out here.