All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.
— Ernest Hemmingway
what do you do when you’ve won an Oscar for the song Falling Slowly from the movie Once?
If you’re Glen Hansard, you keep busking on the street.
We interrupt the James and Katherine story to bring you this story by NF.
It’s just an E chord. Pretty basic. But I had figured out some embellishments to get the sound of the opening riff of Mrs. Robinson, the Simon and Garfunkle classic from the 60s movie of the same name. It’s a fun song to play. A catchy chorus that people of a certain age will hum and tap their toes to. So that was going to be my first song. My first song ever singing in public by myself.
Just me and my guitar.
That was last week at the local coffee shop.
I plugged in the guitar and tested the mic. A few soft chords to check my tuning and steady my nerves. And then I was off.
The opening riff was good. The intro was good. I got to the chorus, which in this song occurs before the first verse, and sang as I had practiced so many times at home. I was rocking, baby.
But somewhere along the way I missed a chord. Then I forgot a line. But I kept going. It was a little rough but I got through.
The baristas and two of my friends who were there applauded. There weren’t many other people in the coffee shop and most continued to fiddle on their phones or laptops. But it’s a coffee shop and their inattentiveness is to be expected in that kind of venue.
I moved on to the next song. Another upbeat tune, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, I Need Never Get Old. And a chorus with some high notes that requires some projection. I had practiced and was comfortable with those notes. But that night, I didn’t hit them as solidly as I do when I’m at home by myself. But again, I got through.
And then, believe it or not, I sang some Elvis. A Little Less Conversation. If you know the song (or look it up) you know that it’s yet another upbeat song. But I play it slow and easy at first. Kind of cool and moody. Then when I get to the bridge, I turn up the tempo and the volume and end with energy and enthusiasm. That seemed to go over well, in spite of a few less than smooth chord transitions.
But to be honest, those first three songs felt like a wreck.
I took a break and let my friend, Rich, take his shot. He’s new at this, too. He did about like I did but he’s got a good country-style voice, so you could see the promise, despite the fact that he had a little trouble with his three songs.
My turn again.
I slowed it down. Bob Dylan, Not Dark Yet. Got through without any major problems, though my vocals were not as strong as they should be. Then Amos Lee, What’s Been Going On. Again, ok, but not my best. And finally, Foo Fighters – yes, the Foo Fighters – Times Like These, the acoustic version. And again, this song requires some projection to reach the high notes. And again, I didn’t quite nail it.
Rich gave it another shot and absolutely killed the last two songs he did.
And that was it.
I left feeling pretty bad about the whole thing.
A couple of people recorded my first song and put a clip on Facebook. After hearing how I slogged through Mrs. Robinson, I knew that this had been a huge mistake. I vowed never to do it again. And not just Mrs. Robinson, but I vowed never to sing in public again. I even decided I couldn’t show my face in the coffee shop.
I found out later that Rich had felt the same way.
A few days passed and I discovered Leonard Cohen singing Dance Me to the End of Love. An old guy like me, singing within himself. Not trying to do too much. I began learning to play it.
A week later, I was ready to try again.
This time I chose songs more suitable for me and my limitations. Me and Bobby McGee was first. Bob Dylan, Most of the Time. Amos Lee, What’s Been Going On? I mangled some chords and lyrics but it didn’t feel as bad as the week before. Then Rich did three or four songs and he didn’t miss a lick.
Then my turn again. Bob Dylan, Not Dark Yet. Then the Leonard Cohen song. I missed some lyrics and some chord changes, but overall, the song is too good to do too much damage.
By the time we finished, there was one customer. She applauded politely at the end of every song. Even thanked us for the entertainment.
But here are some truths.
Rich is good because he has a natural singing voice. The more he plays the better he will get.
Joe does not have a natural singing voice, as the video evidence attests. It was fun and I’m glad I did it and I might even give the Leonard Cohen song another shot. But I’m probably done. Yes, cooked like a turkey.
But I’m now in the club of live performers. I did it. I can mark it off the list.
As my good friend Clint Eastwood once told me, a man’s got to know his limitations. But a man also has to have the courage to try.
Remember the movie from a few years back starring Matt Damon? And all of those potatoes.
The movie was based on the book of the same name by Andy Weir. Here’s how it happened.
Andy Weir started writing his story and published it, serial style, on his website.
Then he self-published the complete novel.
Then a publisher purchased the rights and re-released it.
Then they made a movie.
And Andy Weir is rich and famous.
With no illusions of my story having the same outcome, I am nonetheless going to attempt to publish my story, Song of the Lost, serial style, on this site. You should see a tab at the top of the page named Song of the Lost. Everyday I’ll post a new chapter at the top of the page. Then when I post the next chapter, I’ll drop the previous chapter to the bottom of the page. Newcomers can read the chapters in order. Those who follow daily can see the new chapter at the top. That’s the plan, anyway. We’ll see how it works.
And please provide feedback with your virtual red pen. Tell me about typos, grammatical errors, plot holes, or anything that you don’t like. And feel free to tell me if something is working for you. So here we go.
Vronsky followed the conductor to the carriage and at the door to the compartment stopped to allow a lady to leave. With the habitual flair of a worldly man, Vronsky determined from one glance at this lady’s appearance that she belonged to high society. He excused himself and was about to enter his carriage, but felt a need to glance at her once more – not because she was very beautiful, not because of the elegance and modest grace that could be seen in her whole figure, but because there was something especially gentle and tender in the expression of her sweet-looking face as she stepped past him. As he looked back, she also turned her head. He shining grey eyes, which seemed dark because of their thick lashes, rested amiably and attentively on his face, as if she recognized him, and at once wandered over the approaching crowd as if looking for someone. In that brief glance Vronsky had time to notice the restrained animation that played over her face and fluttered between her shining eyes and the barely noticeable smile that curved her red lips. It was as if a surplus of something so overflowed her being that it expressed itself beyond her will, now in the brightness of her glance, now in her smile. She deliberately extinguished the light in her eyes, but it shone against her will in a barely noticeable smile.
The first time we see Anna.
From Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy.
In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, George Saunders says this:
“If you’ve ever wondered, as I have, ‘Given how generally sweet people are, why is the world so messed up*?’ Gogol has an answer: we each have an energetic and unique skaz loop running in our heads, one we believe in fully, not as ‘merely my opinion’ but ‘the way things actually are, for sure’.
The entire drama of life on earth is Skaz-Headed Person #1 steps outside, where he encounters Skaz-Headed Person #2. Both, seeing themselves as the center of the universe, thinking highly of themselves, immediately misunderstand everything. They try to communicate but aren’t any good at it.
Saunders is explaining Nikolai Gogol’s short story, The Nose. The story is absurd. It’s a form of Russian story-telling called skaz, where the narrator of the story becomes part of the story because of his own inept story-telling. Google it. Or better yet, read Saunders’ book.
I came across the passage and thought, yep, that’s how we are in real life. We’re all just skazzes. I find it funny because it’s true.
*Saunders used a description a little cruder than “messed up.” I took editorial liberty to clean it up a tad, though I personally am not offended by the cruder language. They’re just words, after all.