Saturday, July 05, 2008

Rock out with your adult male domestic chicken out

I looked out at the crowd in Yamasaki Plaza. A sea of familiar faces looked back at me expectantly. Very shortly, I'd find out if I was going to fail miserably. I looked at my keyboard, its black and white teeth smiling vacantly back at me and wondered how I got into this situation.

I blame Ajax Laundry Detergent.

Well, I guess I need to explain that a little further. One day I was hanging out at my friend Eric's house. Eric had a drum set, and we'd just kind of goof around and try to play along with whatever we were listening to. I was goofing around intermittently with the keyboard he had lying around.

"Brother and Sister" by Erasure came on, and I picked out the intro on the keyboard. Here's the song for reference:

Eric was impressed with how quickly I picked it out, hearing the song for the very first time, and asked how long I'd been playing. I told him I got my first keyboard for my 10th birthday, but I didn't really play very well. This was true; I could pick out melodies by ear, but I had a hell of a time trying to play anything with both hands at the same time.

I tried to tell him it was luck more than anything that I played it, but he didn't buy it. I felt like I was deceiving him somehow. While it was the first time I'd heard the song, the intro was similar to something else I'd listened to a kajillion times: the jingle for Ajax Laundry Detergent.

One of the CDs I listened to constantly was the TeeVee Tunes compilation of classic commercial jingles, and the "stronger than dirt" part of the jingle was similar to the intro of the Erasure song.

Yes, I realize there's an entirely good chance that I was the only 15-year-old in the world who would've made that connection, but let's just ignore that for right now.

Well, this one little thing got blown out of proportion by Eric, who told our friends that I could play anything after listening to it once, and in all honesty, I was not as diligent as I could've been in dispelling this notion.

So when it came time for the Spring Cultural Faire my senior year in high school, a few of my friends decided they'd band together and play some songs. They had a drummer and guitarists, but they needed a keyboardist for a few songs.

"Hey, Sparkman," one of them asked me, "do you think you could learn the intro to 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' in time for the Cultural Faire?" I had put the song on a mixtape I'd made for this particular friend, so I was already familiar with the song.

They just needed me to play the introduction; I didn't need to learn the solo crap in the middle. That wouldn't be a problem, I thought.


"Awesome. You'll be our guest keyboardist," he told me. Another friend of ours, Nick, was going to play on The Doors' "The End."

Being the attention/affection whore that I am, I couldn't pass up a possibility to perform in front of fellow students, so I was looking forward to it.

Not so forward to it that I started to learn it as soon as I got home that day, but I was pretty jazzed about it. We went over to Eric's to practice, and everyone else was hashing out their parts. Someone would ask me how my part was coming along.

"Oh, I'll be ready," I said, which sounded positive, but was also true, considering that I had yet to try figuring it out. This was pre-Interwebs days, so it's not like I could just Google the song and get the music.

Here's part of the song. The part I was in charge of is at the very beginning.

So the weekend before I was to make my guest performance in front of my peers, I decided that I'd stalled long enough. I pulled the album out of the cabinet and put it on the turntable. After a few abortive attempts that had me seriously worried that I wasn't going to figure it out in time, I turned the record player off and tried to play it from what I had stored in my brain.

And all of a sudden, it clicked. I kicked myself after seeing how simple it was. So I spent another few minutes just trying to play it all at once without screwing up.

Within a half-hour of starting, I had it. Now I was able to go over to Eric's to practice. We ran through the song a few times, and we had it down about as good as we were going to. We were prepared.

So on the day of the actual performance, it occurred to me that I didn't know what I was supposed to do once I finished my part. It was only a few seconds long, and this was a long song. Was I supposed to sit there like a tool?

The band, Toast House (I didn't come up with the name, but I wasn't surprised at the story behind it), was introduced, and I realized that this was my moment to not screw up.

I started playing.

Aside from a minor screwup, I did okay. After playing the last note of the intro, I turned off the keyboard and went to sit in the front with the rest of the audience. The rest of the show went just fine, with one of the high points being my friends and I wondering if Richard, our guitarist/singer, was going to drop the F-bomb during his rendition of "The End."

After the performance, people I didn't talk to much would say hi or make a comment about the performance, even though I played only for a few seconds. Considering I was used to getting attention as a target of ridicule--which admittedly was seldom by the time I was a senior in high school, but old habits die hard--it was nice to be noticed for something else.

Thus I ended my rock star career while I was still on the top.