When The Hubs and I got married, we both quit our careers and began our life together fresh, new and so very stupid. It was months before he found his way back to the military. It was weeks before I found myself loving a classroom-free life away from IEP meetings and the public school system in general. I became a veterinarian's assistant which cut my earnings literally in half. And in case you're wondering, ten years ago special educators were already not bringing in enough to support themselves and have a car payment.
Luckily, I had a second job. I was a studio rat in the worst part of DC you can imagine. My mother called me often to remind me to lock my doors and to watch my six or something like that. She once worked nearby and knew better than I how ridiculously naive I was being. Sheer luck and the constant presence of a six foot five Jamaican man (fellow musician, Big T and my BFF at the time) were the only reasons I did not land myself in a world of hurt. Plus, I always brought my Sadie. Poor thing would perch herself as high as possible on the backs of the scrappy couches in that place. Even she would flinch as mice skittered across the floor and into their mouseholes.
What am I looking for in this pic, circa 2002? Is it a bird? An airplane? Iron Man?
I am so happy here, I would think to myself without one trace of sarcasm. It was what my dreams were made of: music, microphones, sound booths (shoe closet) and Chinese take-out one block away. I spent every possible free moment in that studio with my favorite people, my fellow lost souls like the (click his name to hear him please) uber talented Big T and Virgil the vagabond rocker. We easily stayed up till 4 a.m. matching up my lyrics and melody to their guitar, piano, and bass tracks. We argued over bridges and drank Red Bull. I would be so unhappy with the first 200 takes, so I'd drive them mad doing scratch vocals again and again and again until we all fell over asleep in our headphones. I mean, really, who would want to leave a place like that?
It must be a caterpillar? A lifeless city squirrel? A dream that never left the sidewalk?
Oh yes, I was very much over my head but nobody else knew it. To the fifty some artists who floated in and out of that joint, I was just another artist. Nobody knew I cleaned up dog poop and held cat paws for a living. Nobody knew I left my teaching career in search of something I loved but was so afraid to go after. No matter what our musical backgrounds, race, or genres, we were all in the same situation by the time we arrived at this door: All leaving something for our love of music. Every last one of us just wanting to be around it. The drums, the balled up napkins, the banged up keyboard, the endless wires snaking around themselves at your ankles, the plastic forks, the beautiful microphones, the bass lines, the head bobs, the jokes, each other, the music. That little studio on Kennedy Street was dirty, filthy, and older than the Smithsonian but to all of us it was a slice of perfect and the heavenliest place on earth.
Once you entered through the wrought iron door, everyone was on the same playing field. Few of them had record labels chasing them down. One became famous. You might have heard of him. His name is Raheem Devaughn. Remember my six foot five BFF, Big T? Well, he produced Raheem's first album. I was there. One time, in fact, they were all in Studio A (walk-in closet) jamming and making some sweet rhythms that lured me to watch from the safefront of the glass in Studio B (an actual bedroom size room). I thought I was invisible. Raheem closed his eyes while his warm silky voice wove through percussion and keys like he was on another level of awesome. Then, the unthinkable happened. Someone, probably Virgil, pushed me into the room with him and shoved a microphone into my hand. I froze. Like a statue. Like a ridiculous white girl statue in a sea of soul and natural rhythm. My voice evaporated from my throat and I dropped the mic to run out of the room the studio, the city as fast as my little Toyota Tercel would drive me.
(*Oh and another artist who became famous after Big T taught her how to play the guitar? India.Arie. I didn't believe him either until I found a scratch vocal CD at the bottom of his van (everything was at the bottom of Big T's van). There was no denying that was her voice and they were practicing together. I was working with someone special and I knew it. Lucky was me.)
Being motivated by fear. It would be my pattern. Another time, a few months later I would be standing in front of 20 people doing my very first solo performance on stage. I would be with the band performing some of my own originals and I was so nervous I got sick in the girls' room right before hitting the stage. It was just a smarmy little restaurant in downtown DC but to me it was Hollywood. The funny thing about watching people on stage is that you always think they can't tell what's going on around them. It's the opposite. When you are the one onstage, what's going on around you is all you can see. You are hyperfocused on the the girl checking her cell phone, the man stirring his drink with his back to you. You only see the details of what everyone else is doing right before you jump off your own personal cliff. Probably a survival thing. So, after a few songs with me glued to the chair, absolutely numb from fear, I got through my very first stage show. The owner came up to the band, whispered something and walked back to the bar. Paul, the drummer at the time, came over to me and said, "He wants us back tomorrow night."
"All of us?" I ask.
"Yes, all of us. Great job, Newbie. Next time, move around. Enjoy yourself, interact. They're on your side."
"Even the ones on the phone?"
"Especially the ones on the phone. Make them hang up."
Ah yes, that's it. Dress up like a street walker and wrinkle your nose, that'll sell records.