Our optional topic for week two comes from Candii_date, who submitted the first post for week one.
What does the word voices say to you (see what I did there?!)? Looking forward to reading the posts on this one …
I had a voice when I was younger. Not a “This is my point of view and I will be heard, fight the power, Bananarama plastic lunchboxes with bonus ‘Cruel Summer’ thermos for all” kind of voice. A singing voice. And a damn good one, if I do brag so myself.
My father was a very talented singer and guitarist (he played Saturday nights in a cover band at the local Chinese restaurant – two 30 minute sets and all the chicken fried rice he could eat) and my mother’s Aunt used to play live piano as the soundtrack to silent films in the local theatre.
Based on this evidence you can clearly see that I’m part of an international musical dynasty and should probably be in the Pussycat Dolls.
Knowing this, it wasn’t such a surprise when as a youngster I discovered a talent for belting out ‘Knock on Wood’ and happily performed it with my two younger cousins on our front verandah with tinsel curtaining strapped to our heads for that oft-copied silver and red hairdo look that was so ‘in’ at the time. Especially in rural Western Australia circa 1979.
All I can say about the response from the neighbourhood boys was that I feel that I was robbed of my rightful place in the Guinness Book of Records for ‘fastest land speed record while sprinting with four foot long tinsel curtain sticky-taped to forehead.’ But I digress.
In primary school I joined the choir and received my first taste of fame when Mrs Smith the music teacher told my classmates I had one of the most beautiful soprano voices she’d ever heard, and that it was a pleasure to be teaching such a talented young lady.
I threw my Kermit the frog pencil case at Greg Mansell, who was laughing so hard he accidentally farted, the smell of which caused Kaylene Meadows to scream and run to the opposite corner of the classroom where she started crying and dry retching. After experiencing the noxiousness of a 9-year-old boy’s post-lunch fart (Greg would often be seen wolfing down garlic meatball sandwiches) I’d be very surprised if Kaylene didn’t grow up to be a lesbian.
As revenge I called Mrs Smith ‘Mr Smith’ for the rest of the term until my little act of rebellion was halted by a letter safety-pinned to my jumper as I left for the day, requesting a parent-teacher meeting.
Throughout primary school I performed as part of the main choir and a lead soprano for years. We toured the neighbouring towns and entered competitions in the city – where we once came 14th, such was our hunger for glory.
The recognition (mostly from Mrs Orbinski in the school canteen), the constant partying (pretty sure we had sponge cake once) and the early bedtimes (I’d be cranky and start showing off if i didn’t get 10 hours sleep) had their appeal but I craved more.
I wanted the spotlight. And not just the one I tried to create by balancing a large torch between the door frame and a slightly ajar door in my bedroom. It had lasted all of two minutes anyway because Mum walked in to tell me ‘Hart to Hart’ had started on TV and caused the precariously placed torch and the large hardcover Disney annual I’d sat it upon to fall on her head and bare foot.She’s my Mum and I love her but even when assisted by excruciating pain she couldn’t hit a high C to save herself. Even while screaming “JESUS FUCK!!” which surely opened up the diaphragm enough to allow her a pretty good shot at it.
My chance at vocal stardom came in the last year of primary school when a cover band from the city called ‘What A Life’ put on an all ages gig at the local football oval.
They played pop covers and were fronted by a lovely young woman with a giant backcombed hairdo who captivated me with her white blouse, high heels and ra-ra skirt. Why didn’t I have a ra-ra skirt? I looked down angrily at my pastel yellow parachute pants, cursing them for robbing me of the successful musical career that I so clearly deserved.
Halfway through the concert the band announced a competition to find the best singer in Merredin. All we had to do was go to the side of the stage during the break and talk to them for the chance to perform live with ‘What A Life’, Western Australia’s 22nd most popular cover band!
My friend Rebecca Westall turned to me said “You shou-”
But I had already run off.
I was so excited as I bolted toward the front of the crowd I knocked over Narelle Pantaleone’s uncle Joe who I later saw pointing at me and asking his niece if she knew “…who that rude girl was”.I didn’t care. This was my shot at getting out of this half horse town and nobody’s frighteningly moustachioed relative was going to get in my way.
Four of us had made our way to the designated spot where the guitarist and singer stood waiting. One of the boys in my class, who I knew wasn’t as good a singer as me wanted to do ‘Dancing In The Dark’ by Bruce Springsteen. He sang a few lines as the guitarist plucked along on his guitar and it was decided he would go first.
The next candidate, a girl wearing far too much perfume on that didn’t cost anywhere near enough couldn’t choose a song and her friend who only seemed to be there for moral support dragged her away complaining she wanted to go back to pashing Mackenzie Millard and that the band were “..all rank pricks”.
Now we were down to two. I smirked to myself as I totally had this in the bag. I was going to be totally mintox.
No doubt an international record producer had just at this moment arrived in Merredin, a wheat and sheep farming community, in search of the next Boy George.He would of course just happen to be walking past when I performed, discover my undeniable talent and whisk me off to somewhere amazing like Scunthorpe in the UK, where my Aunty Lola lived.
I pictured myself smiling zanily with bright red spiked hair on the cover of ‘Smash Hits’ holding my platinum album. I wondered how many albums I would have to sell to go platinum. Probably 500 or so. Wow. I could be the next Michael Jackson. A world class superstar. Then Tom Bailey from the Thompson Twins would fall in love with me and we’d get married and live next door to Madonna in our 400 bathroom mansion in the centre of Scunthorpe.
The singer from ‘What A Life’, interrupted my plotting by asking me which song I’d like to sing with the band. I knew right away it had to be ‘King For A Day’ by the Thompson Twins. She looked at me blankly.
“Oh, it has to be ‘King For A Day’. It suits my voice perfectly. I can sing it much better than anyone in Merredin and it’s by my favourite band the Thompson Twins and I have their poster on my science folder so I think I should sing it”
“I don’t think I know that one. Can you sing a bit of it?”
Ah. An audition. I’d read about this in Number One magazine. Even Duran Duran had made people audition before deciding on a final line up. I knew how the industry worked. I was twelve, after all and had all of Kim Wilde’s albums on tape.
I sang the chorus as the guitarist and singer leaned in and listened. They looked at each other and shrugged.
“Sorry, we don’t know it. Do you know A-ha? We can play “Take On Me” and I can sing it with you” offered the guitarist, helpfully “It worked really well at our last gig at the Mukinbudin Pub.”
“I don’t know the words to ‘Take On Me!!! You don’t know KING FOR A DAY? HOW CAN YOU NOT KNOW KING FOR A DAY. IT’S NUMBER SEVEN ON ‘COUNTDOWN’!!” I replied, with
several tonnes a pinch of petulance.
“Look, I think I know the song, but the band haven’t learned it yet.” Said the singer. “We have lots you can pick from… we haven’t played ‘Like A Virgin’, or ‘Nutbush City Limits…”
My eyes started to fill with tears. They were ruining my opportunity.
“Hey, don’t get upset, love…” said the guitarist.
Oh great. Was there anyone in the known universe that didn’t think I was a girl?
“Come over here with me and try and teach me the chords and we’ll work something out.”
Well, at least being mistaken for the opposite gender it was working out in my favour for once. And it didn’t seem to hurt Boy George’s career. Or Marilyn’s. I mean… he was going to be huge!
We walked over to the outside of the change rooms. He leaned against the wall and strummed along as I sang the song from start to finish twice.
“Okay, I think we can work with this. It won’t sound exact but we’ll follow you and do the best we can.”
So it was going swimmingly. But of course, being a young gay boy who had spent his singing career being told how wonderful he was, I had push it that little bit further.
“Thank you. I just know I can do this song better than anyone else…. even her!” I said, gesturing over to their singer. “But eventually I want to write my own songs and be really famous. Otherwise I’ll just end up stuck singing at places like… well… here.”
There was a beat as the guitarist’s smile dropped. “One sec.”
He walked over to the singer and talked to her for a minute or so, then came back.
“We’re on in 20 minutes. We’ll announce you and then you come up and sing your song, okay?”
“Okay, thanks! Hey, I hope you didn’t think I was being rude, it’s just that some people sing things better than other people, I mean she’s good as well but I do sing this better than anyone else…”
He gave me a look that I didn’t quite understand and walked away.
True to his word, in 20 minutes time the band were on stage and my Springsteen loving classmate was called up to bleat his way through a mostly off-key version of ‘Dancing in the Dark’.
He didn’t know much more than the chorus so just kept repeating the same parts over and over. I stood there congratulating myself. The title of ‘Merredin’s Best Singer’ was mine and I hadn’t even performed yet.
The band finished and the crowd gave him a wildly enthusiastic cheer.
The singer announced my name and called me up. I ran up the steps and took my place behind the mic. A sea of faces stared at me. I wondered momentarily which one was the international record producer before I spotted Rebecca beaming at me and waving.
I didn’t want to look amateurish so I ignored her. I was sure she understood. This was too important a moment for me to appear anything but completely professional.
The drummer hit his sticks together four times then launched into a furiously fast beat.
I froze completely.
The keyboards kicked in. It was ‘Take On Me’.
Why were they playing ‘Take On Me’? I didn’t know the words to ‘Take On Me’. I didn’t want to take on ‘Take On Me’.
Instead of singing I just stood there petrified. I looked over at Rebecca, who appeared confused. Her head slowly sank into her shoulders and she folded her arms.
I looked over at the guitarist, who was smiling again, but now with smug satisfaction.
I looked over at the singer. She made the international symbol for ‘Come on then – sing something, you oddly androgynous little shit!’
So I did. I sang the words to ‘King For A Day’ by the Thompson Twins. To the tune of ‘Take On Me’.
It was not mintox. It was in fact, the complete opposite of mintox. This performance was about to drain the world of all its mintox-ness.
Rebecca’s facial expression had now changed from confusion to abject horror, as I ran out of room while trying to fit the words I was singing into the music of a completely different, much faster song.
“If I was king for just one day, I would giiiive it all awayIWOULDGIVEITALLAWAYTOBEWITHYOUUUUUUUUU”
“Diamond rings, and all thosethingsTHEYNEVERSPARKLELIKEYOURSMILEEEEEE!”
The singer was laughing now. I was purple with embarrassment. Rebecca had now decided that giving me gentle encouragement would help so she started clapping along. When nobody joined in she decided this was actually a bad idea and developed a sudden interest in her shoes.
After what seemed like forever but was probably less than a minute the singer grabbed the mic from the stand and took over, singing the rest of ‘Take On Me’ to approving cheers – possibly of relief – from the crowd.
Too scared to move, I stayed there with my hands in my pockets until the end of the track. The singer asked for a round of applause for me.
“At least……. “ she paused to look me up and down “…he? gave it a good go”.
I tried to set fire to her with my mind but only managed to make my face even more purple so I decided to flounce off the stage.I didn’t turn back to look but I’m pretty sure I heard the guitarist still laughing to himself.
Bastard. I hope he ended up in a Wa Wa Nee tribute band. And if there was any justice in the world the singer had to give up on music and ended up scrubbing toilets – ironically using a brush fashioned in her 80’s hair likeness.
Four years later my voice broke and I found I couldn’t sing any more. My soprano register had slowly disappeared when I was thirteen but it appeared that the gift of no longer being mistaken for my Mum when I answered the phone meant that I couldn’t hold a note at all.
Not that it mattered. I still ended up with a career working with music, albeit as a DJ. And I’m still fairly certain that all those years ago, ‘What A Life’ and I invented the world’s first mash-up.
(I expect the royalties are still in the mail).