The Gift of Singing

For the fifth time that night I rewind the cassette and hit play. “And now, the one you’ve all been waiting for … Color Me Badd with All 4 Love.” The music starts and I thank the stars I was able to catch the song on my clock radio tape recorder. I sit up straight in my bed as the lyrics kick in, swaying to the music and taking a deep breath. “I’m so glad you’re my girl, I’ll do anything for you,” I sing. I’m 11 years old and I’ve never been brave enough to sing in front of anyone. When I’m alone, I feel like I have this untapped well of talent just begging to be unleashed. I close my eyes and pretend I’m singing in front of the whole school, everyone in awe of my sweet voice.

I’m mid-note when my mom opens my bedroom door. “What are you doing in here? Go to bed.” In the dim light cast by my nightlight, I see a lingering smirk on her face as she leaves. I think she’s laughing at me. I imagine her sitting in front of the mirror and combing her hair as she embarrasses me in front of dad; snickering about my crappy voice as they get ready for bed.

That moment in time unfurls and wraps itself around my neck for the next 16 years. Whether I’m in church or at a Christmas party singing carols – my throat won’t open up all the way when I try to sing in public. I pretend I don’t care and sing in a warbling monotone. There’s no joy in it for me.

“You HAVE to sing, dude. Come on!” Cory is practically jabbing me in the chest. We've only met in person once before but that doesn’t really phase him. He’s the ultimate avatar of peer pressure. He also has a singing voice that makes girls blush. Damn him.

“Fine, just … give me a bit. I’m not nearly drunk enough yet.”

He grins and saunters off to the living room to watch the other rabbitcon attendees pound through a Weezer song. Every six months we congregate at Julian's home to shut out the real world and be kids again for a weekend. Knowing the recently released Rock Band would be in full effect, Cory has been building me up toward this moment for months now. I return to the mini-bar for some more liquid courage. My palms are sweaty. Even after all these years, I still feel the sting of being caught out when I was a kid.

The night wears on. Biding my time, I play boardgames and try to keep as far away from the living room as possible. Eventually, people filter out back to the fire pit for the promise of smoores and a break from all the noise. Soon the house is nearly empty and I approach the mic stand like it’s going to bite me. I pick up the controller and start flicking through the song list, trying to find something easy. I glance around nervously -- Cory never said he had to be here when I sang.

A couple bystanders walk in and take up the instruments. The drums are manned. I can feel their growing impatience as I painstakingly go through each song on the list. I listen to the preview of Gone Away by The Offspring and figure it’s as close to yelling as you can get while still calling it singing. I hadn’t heard Sean Sands sing “Rebel Yell” yet -- so I didn’t know better.

The atmosphere in the living room is the opposite of electric. We’re late into the night and everyone is tired. No one knows or cares about how big a deal this is for me. It’s about as perfect a situation as I could hope for. I start the song and take a deep breath as the music ramps up. The lyrics come tumbling across the screen and I suddenly feel backed into a corner. I open my mouth and croak. I cough to cover it up. I try again and this time I manage to make it through a line. And then another. And another. When I get to the chorus I close my eyes and try to push past that choking anxiety and actually put some more of myself into it. I sing the words by heart and I feel that old tightness around my throat start to give way for the first time.

Just like that, song is over. I look around at the bland faces of my tired fellow rockers and feel a surge of excitement. I sounded awful, of course, but I did it. “Let’s do another,” I say with the same confidence I imagine a first time bungee jumper feels after recovering from their first leap off a bridge. Eventually Cory catches me singing too and it’s not a big deal. 16 years of pent up performance anxiety all washed away with some plastic instruments and a little help from my friends.

A few years and a few rabbitcons later, I finally convince myself that I'm ready to clutter my living room with plastic instruments and a mic of my own. Rock Band 3’s release arrives and I run out the door to buy The Beatles Rock Band Limited Edition bundle along with the new game. This is the first set of plastic instruments to enter my house since the original Guitar Hero. Bemused, Karla helps me unpack all the instruments and get everything setup. We settle into a long night of taking turns playing the guitar and singing. It's not something we've done just the two of us before and I revel in singing just for her and our disinterested cats.

Eventually she begs off and slips upstairs to get ready for bed. I flip the disc over to The Beatles and pull up Dig a Pony. The music starts and I smile as I think of that earnest kid sitting in his room and singing his heart out. I grab the mic, close my eyes and pretend I’m singing for him.

Thanks, Harmonix.

Comments

I used to shy away from the mic as well. Then my D&D group got in the habit of playing a bit of Rock Band regularly before the weekly game. I was getting tired drumming (I wasn't sick of it, I was just getting physically worn out) and we were having trouble subbing people in and out fairly, so we set up a formalized rotation: guitar > mic > guitar > drum > out. That reduced downtime from the "who's gonna play what?" process, and it forced everybody to move out of their comfort zones and try new things. Several friends are now enjoying drums when they used to shy away, and I'm enjoying singing in much the same way. I think part of what helped me overcome my vocal inhibitions was knowing that the guy on the drum kit was just as out of his element as I was.

That's fine, Shawn. I'm in the same boat, really but I haven't overcome the singing to my wife and disinterested pets speedbump.

One thing though, how come that fat woman in the article's icon has a club?

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/imagecache/article_image/article_images/man-singing-vector-silhouettes.jpg)

Did she just break that mic stand and the guitar is next?

You just failed my secret ink blot test.

Also, I was more a Bell Biv DeVoe man myself...

You're journey has been in good company, Mr Andrich.

Back when Guitar Hero was first doing the rounds, there was a little game called Singstar. I bought it and figured it would be fun for parties. Eventually, it was. However, for several months, I couldn't convince my wife to give it a go. She was terrified of singing in front of other people. One time, I got home from work early to find her singing on it. As soon as she heard me coming in, the PS2 was turned off, mid-song.

Fast forward to Rock Band's initial release, and the first few Rock Band parties I threw. Folk were familiar with Guitar Hero, so they already knew what the deal with the guitar was. Most gravitated to that, the least threatening of the instruments. A hardy few tried their hand(s) at drums. Most were discouraged and gave up. Barely anyone wanted to sing, my wife included.

Fast forward to today. Now everyone wants to sing, even when there's guitars left unstrummed, drums undrummed and ivories untickled. There's a waiting list to get behind the mic, even with 3 mics running.

As for the wife, terrified of singing in public? She's currently blogging about her recent hobby of turning up alone at karaoke bars as her alter-ego, Mr. E, sporting sunglasses and a comedy mustache.

Hey I had that CMB cassette tape too.

The wife handles most of our RB/BH singing duties. It's not that I am embarrassed really... I'm just a little tone deaf. Seriously, I have failed some songs on easy.

Whereas she sings on Hard and nails 90% or better.

So I stick to hard guitar, and we both get a good challenge, and can complete songs. Just got drums though finally, so I'm looking forward to learning that. Although the few times I tried at friends' I sucked. I think maybe running through the tutorials I can learn it.

Jonman wrote:

...
As for the wife, terrified of singing in public? She's currently blogging about her recent hobby of turning up alone at karaoke bars as her alter-ego, Mr. E, sporting sunglasses and a comedy mustache.

That's funny, but why is she shy? She NAILED So What at the Post-PAX get together at your house. My daughter now refers to that song as "Mrs Jonman's song".

momgamer wrote:
Jonman wrote:

...
As for the wife, terrified of singing in public? She's currently blogging about her recent hobby of turning up alone at karaoke bars as her alter-ego, Mr. E, sporting sunglasses and a comedy mustache.

That's funny, but why is she shy? She NAILED So What at the Post-PAX get together at your house. My daughter now refers to that song as "Mrs Jonman's song". ;)

Well, I think Certis might have hit on some underlying reasons - her past experiences. Also if you read a couple posts, which I have to admit I did, then you'll see she's now doing it more of just an alternate persona for social experimentation. At least that's what I got out of it.

Also, great article. I read it right when it dropped and got distracted half-way to the comment field.

momgamer wrote:
Jonman wrote:

...
As for the wife, terrified of singing in public? She's currently blogging about her recent hobby of turning up alone at karaoke bars as her alter-ego, Mr. E, sporting sunglasses and a comedy mustache.

That's funny, but why is she shy? She NAILED So What at the Post-PAX get together at your house. My daughter now refers to that song as "Mrs Jonman's song". ;)

It's a good question - she's got a great singing voice when she lets go and starts belting one out.

ApplepieChamploo wrote:
burntham77 wrote:

"Dani California" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers

To this day the only song that I can play on expert for guitar and vocals at the same time...

Impressive. Have you tried "Hey Oh" on Expert with guitars and vocals at the same time? Now that would be neat to see. My old roommate and I had trouble with "Hey Oh" with him on Expert guitars and me on Expert vocals.

The Chili Peppers are nutty, I tell ya. Nutty.