I've never been scared to be in front of an audience with the band. But that doesn't mean I've never felt the chest-thumping, quick breath fear that can overpower any performance. I've just learned to live in it.
Once I had an assignment for a high school speech class...
I hated that class, not my teacher she was great as were the other kids, but I was just out of place. Having been lifted up two years I was 14 taking a summer class with 17-year-olds giving speeches about my life, politics, and drama readings. As you can imagine it was awkward. I wasn't living their life, I didn't know their music, their movies, their parties... to all my classmates I was still a kid. It's amazing the social gap between high school-ers.
... Anyway, every time I stood in front of the class seeing, what then looked like men and women, adult faces wearing too much make-up and the beginnings of very bad mustaches, I wanted to disappear. To run out the door. To hide underneath my hoodie and stay in the back of the class reading. But you can't do that in high school, because for some reason, the more you hide the more teachers try to get you out of your shell. So instead I had to stand at the podium with the feeling of my lunch crawling higher and higher up my throat, with my hands shaking holding my note-cards, and the words failing to come. Receiving a flood of rolled eyes, smirks, and sarcasm. But this assignment was different.
We had to record ourselves as a Radio DJ, making a commercial segment between songs. So I grabbed a portable tape recorder, sat in my favorite spot: my bedroom had a window on the opposite side of my bed, I could sit look at the sky and no one could see me from the hallway, and I drained myself out in to the microphone. Recording songs off the radio, writing my skit, complete with a commercial break for Fizz Bang Cola.
I got wild, gave my best Wolfman Jack impression:
Heeeeellllloooooooo, San Antooonne! So happy to be in the land of a thousand dances, a thousand chances, and the thousand lovers making gooood romances... hawr hawr...
There was no one watching. No faces to look at. Just me, the recorder, and my imagination. I wasn't thinking about what everyone else would think when I had to play the tape on Monday. I wasn't thinking about the grade. I wasn't really thinking about the assignment, cause I kinda went overboard making twice as long as needed. I was only thinking about the performance. I don't know why this project, why this time I decided to really try, but it felt different. It felt real. It felt comfortable.
There is a moment when a song finishes, no matter how quick the response is, there is a moment while waiting for the audience reaction that can be nerve racking. While the note is ringing out, and the heart beat raises a little. Waiting to see if you get applause or the silent death stare - I don't think people boo anymore. It's not that the audience controls me, I've played plenty of shows when the crowd and I just don't connect, and it doesn't mean we were good or bad, we just either connect or not. Still, in a performance something is given away and it feels so good when people receive it openly. I think that's where the tension comes from. Wanting to be understood. And the moment of uncertainty, that place can be scarier than first stepping out on the stage in the first place.
I was in that moment when my tape stopped. And I, the over-achieving 14-year-old watching the faces of the apathetic summer school 17-ishes and my teacher, waited for the verdict.
Then the teacher laughed, the students laughed, I laughed, some of the kids paying attention even applauded, of course there were others who didn't really care. I was happy with that little bit of respect. But I gained something more than just my highest grade of the class.
I'd put myself out there and earned the response I wanted. They laughed at the jokes, they heard the words, it sounded like a radio program - poorly recorded - but legitimately like a radio program. It was a creative expression fully realized... Ah what a moment... And it was armor. And it was strong.
Making something without purpose and conviction will leave you feeling naked. You are exposed to every flaw of your humanity. Clinically, scientifically naked.
I go on stage believing in every song, in every note. That gives me strength to go into uncertainty. To stand in front of people and sing myself. To write these words and give them to you. I have faith in my creation. In my ideas. I don't get my confidence from some in-born ability - maybe others have that but I do not. I have honesty, and hard work. I have conviction. Living in the fear, is to free yourself from it.
Mother. At Mass
All of the wraps and knots a riddle.
This is the moment. She kept her fingers twisting threads
turning gold, her silken mind. Each thought golden
and each look... as the wick burned down.
What was it to know like she knew?
What was it like to turn a key?
All the answers I could never give.
The skill to unravel.
Understanding when we unravel, we go.