Thoughts of an Author in Training
Growing up my parents switched between a modern pop station and the classic oldies. Riding in the car I would get the mix of “Calender Girl” and Smash Mouth. My father has an exceptional voice which amazed me for his burly, thick fatigue. More often at Christmas he would grace us with his a cappella voice. But in the car we were honored with his vocal chords singing to the radio while I sang along with him in the back seat. I always imagined that I was a good singer, being daddy’s little girl. I even wrote my own songs and preformed them to a back yard audience of woodland creatures.
My mom informed me that I was probably tone deaf.
“What does that mean?” I asked her.
“It means you can’t hear the way your singing,” she said. “You’re off key.”
This might have been a simple matter of fact to my mother when she confessed that she was tone deaf, but the translation was that I couldn’t sing.
The days of wanting to be a pop star were destroyed. I ripped up all my lyrics and only sung if it was in a joking way. Using my voice in a musical tone became an act of animating everyday things. Singing about baking in the kitchen or scrubbing the toilet was always to make people laugh, stretching sounds to be deep or extremely squeaky.
It was a peculiar surprise when studying abroad in Ireland that a friend of mine approached me asking if I would feature in the intro to a song he was producing.
“I don’t sing, sorry,” I said.
“It wouldn’t really be singing,” Marc said. “I just need an intro voice and I like the way yours sounds.”
I was flattered and totally confused. Was my voice special? I’d always known it to be deep and really hated it on play back. It was like listening to some strange twelve-year-old boy fluctuate his voice during puberty.
“I’ll pay you,” he said. “Just bring a friend and come check out the studio.”
I trusted his dark features and mature face. He was a graduate going back to school for his licensure. He was an intelligent fellow with a distinct smile, wrinkles for dimples and a liking for books. He was the first to befriend me in a lecture class with 150 strangers, how could I not help him out? I knew that his musical interests were classic rock which I could handle so I agreed though I felt like he was going to be disappointed.
“Grand,” he said. “I’ll get the lyrics to you tomorrow.”
When he handed me the lyrics they were hand written, scratchy and on a folded piece of paper, like a note passed in between young gossip girls. We had been discussing the prospect over a pint at the Cat and Cage and I almost spit out my beer when I read the lyrics.
So now can you feel me/ I want you to come please me.
“What’s wrong?” he said.
I didn’t know if we were still on the same page. It wasn’t the length of my part that activated my gag reflex, but reading them I felt like I had just signed up to be adding in the soundtrack for a porno. My voice somehow fit Marc’s musical vision, but my vision had gotten graphic.
I tried to remember that this was his work, his project and I didn’t want to offend him with my offense in having these words come out of my mouth. “It’s not your usual work,” I said. “So you want me to just come and sing these two lines?”
“You don’t need to sing,” he said. “Just say the words to the rhythm of the song. It’ll make more sense when you get to the studio.”
Bragging to all the foreigners that I got a gig to be on an Irish track was cool, but only having two lines about sexual pleasure skewed the merit of bragging.
“You alright?” he said.
“Yeah,” I said faking comfort and taking a swig of my Bulmers. “It’s not really what I thought you would be working on,” I said. “I feel a little dirty even just reading the lines. I’ve never said these words in combination before.”
He laughed. It was playful and probably because of my ridiculous discomfort, my prude American attitude towards any act of sex.
“They’re not that bad. Look, just read it in a normal voice. So now can you feel me, I want you to come please me,” he shrugged his shoulder and a few of the older gents at the bar glared in our direction.
It was worse when he said it. Reading it on paper didn’t make me blush.
“Remember what I said about bringing a friend?” he said. “You look nervous but I promise it won’t be a problem, it’ll be fun. I’d really love to have you on the track, alright?” he gave me a squeeze on the shoulder.
“Yes,” I said. “Fun!” I zipped up my coat leaving no inch of exposed skin before heading out, hidden from the rain and my lyrics.
I dragged Shay with me on the bus that Friday night. She was studying abroad from the same university that I was and we naturally became friends both craving social exposure and mischief among the Dublin night life. She’s tall, beautiful with blue eyes and Rapunzel blonde hair extending half her body length. She was always down for a good adventure and unbelievably supportive where other people would have been judgmental.
We took two bus transfers down town to get to where the directions led us. It wasn’t the good part of downtown. It was just on the out skirts of where the mediocre shopping began, the part of the city where the cobblestone hadn’t begun yet, it was still cracked pavement dirty with trash.
“Are you sure this is right?” Shay said.
We were both looking down a dark alley-way. The pavement glistened slightly with the one light that lit up the far back dumpster in the alley. It was cold and had just quit raining. It was always wet everywhere we went was wet and this amplified the sounds of the street, spooking our nerves with the simplest cab driving by in the distance. We walked, linked in arm and stopped at a heavy back door.
In all instinct we should have turned around. The lyrics, the location, they were all red flags, but we were abroad and trying new things was our forte. We knocked partially for the bragging rights and the other part for needing the money. Marc answered the door with smiles and looked around the alley.
Who is he looking for? What are we doing? I could tell that Shay was thinking the same thing but she followed as we steeped in to the middle landing of a tall stairway. We proceed down to the basement and followed a narrow hallway, no exchange of words. There was peculiar art crookedly hung along the wall and we had to step over several pieces of unidentifiable equipment to come to another door. It was all creepy, a circus that was more clown crazy than family friendly.
“After you ladies,” Marc said opening the final door.
His words were being played in my head as the last words before two stupid American girls would be murdered in this horror film.
We stepped through the door and before us was a regular looking studio.
It was a small sound proof room, some boom mics, a microphone stand and chair.
“Welcome,” Marc said patting me and Shay on the shoulder.
My body jumped unannounced to my conscious.
“You alright?” Marc said. “I know that alley is dark and dirty. We just have to come in the back because we share the building. Don’t want to disturb the people upstairs.”
We followed around the corner to the sound room where a man with ecstatic hair and glasses sat behind the sound board. Introductions were made and I sat next to Shay as Marc played the track that he was producing.
It was melodic and catchy. A retro techno feel mixed with keyboards chimes, and kongo sounding drums. The voice on the track bellowed with enthusiasm. Jezz had recorded the words earlier with her beautiful baritone voice and as the song progressed the meaning of the words melted and blended with the playfulness of the song. It wasn’t dirty or grimy, at least not with the backdrop of a melody- it was a regular club tune. In comparison to any mainstream song played in the club, this fit right in, yet it stood out for the retro feel it encouraged.
Being a visual person, someone who takes more meaning from the written word then the audio of music, the lyrics had terrified me but now I just felt prude for having worried at all.
“Are you ready?” Marc said.
With head phones strapped snug to my ears I cleared my throat and waited for instructions.
It took five tries before I could even catch the rhythm between my words and the song. I kept smacking my lips and sighing in between lines. I had two lines, just 13 words, barely 5 seconds of the song and it took me nearly half an hour to get it right. I was never destined to be behind the microphone and Marc’s sound mistro thought so too, but he was patient and mixed in my voice to the song anyways. Shay was given a piece of the action to sing at the end, to close out the track with a silent “come take me baby.”
In the play back I didn’t recognize myself. It wasn’t necessarily a voice I didn’t like and maybe it was the accompaniment of the tune, but I didn’t feel tone deaf. Someone had chosen my voice to bring in the rush of the song. It was hard to take serious at first, but now I wanted everyone to know it was me. Marc was trying to produce a serious track and somehow what I had always imagined to be awkward, was setting the tone for the words to follow. Those 13 words made me feel that I didn’t know my own voice. I had been imagining it all wrong. There was no hope for any musical career, but maybe I wasn’t as destructive as my ears lead me to believe.
It was some weeks later when Marc sent me the final copy. We had heard the song a hundred times in the studio that night, broken in to fragments while they fixed the tiniest details and tempo of the song, but Shay and I couldn’t wait to hear it fluidly and laugh at our parts. The song was picked up by a record company in Spain Marc wrote in an e-mail. I told this to Shay and we instantly felt a charge of fame. We jumped, shaking our arms in the air and dancing down the hallway to our personal fame. The song became an anthem to our strange fortune in Ireland. We played it for strangers and bragged that it was our sweet and gentle voices that caressed the beginning and the end of the song. We claimed an entire song under our talent though we were only accountable for 10 seconds of the final production. On paper our parts were hysterical but accompanied by the musical efforts of a producer, our parts were serious we carried a sense of pride when sharing our song. Somewhere in Portugal the clubs understood the professionalism of the song. People were dancing to our production in serious swagger, two American fools uttering sexual indulgences breaking from the prude nature of sexual taboo.