I sang rock’n’roll.
I sang pretty, I sang rough. I didn’t always hit the notes, but I always sold them.
I got full of myself. When I screwed up, it was always because I got outside of it, looked at myself bein’ cool, and started to think how cool I was.
Little stands in the corners of smoky rooms. Outdoor festivals. Parties in Malibu backyards. Driving for days to get to the next dive, or crammed twelve across for 18 hours in an Air Siam L1011. Don’t ask.
The funny thing is, I plowed through it all, showing off, trying to entertain, drinking heavily, making friends, making money, getting ripped off, getting ripped, and laughing at it all. But now there are some songs – a lot of songs, actually – that I can’t sing. After more shows than I can remember, putting it out for people, I find now that I often can’t even sing one good song to myself. I choke up, my voice breaks and I have to stop.
I am my main audience these days, and not a critical one. I always give myself the benefit of the doubt when I’m serenading myself. I can transpose verses, stop in the middle, change keys and start over, and there’s no pressure, it’s all good. I love to listen to me, and I love to play for me.
When I sang for crowds, maybe part of what I was doing was channeling. I was singing and playing great music by the great writers*, and the meaning, the beauty, the pain, the sorrow, the loss, the joy of that music flowed through me and out into those rooms, flooding them with those emotions, that people soaked up and used to their own ends. Dance, laugh, cry, think, hustle, no two alike, but everybody sharing in the flow, making what they could from it. I think there is a lot of power out there, and when you conjure it on a bandstand it needs a place to go.
When I play my guitar these days and sing alone, though, there’s no place for it to go. All that power, all that meaning, all that beauty, all that pain, sorrow, loss and joy strike my soul and lodge in my heart, swelling it to the breaking point. I don’t stop because I think I should, but because I physically cannot go on.
So I listen to the radio instead.
* For the record, I’ve worked with some great songwriters.