“This is the biggest music venue in the United States,” Louis told me while I was waiting around for soundcheck.
“Bigger than a football stadium?” I was sitting on the edge of the stage and he was walking around to keep his knee from stiffening up. The place was a shed: a covered stage with an area of amphitheater seating and a huge general admission lawn beyond that.
“Stadiums aren’t music venues,” he said. “Capacity here is like thirty-seven, thirty-eight.”
“And we’re doing two nights in a row here?”
“They do love rock and roll here in the heartland.” He paced back and forth in front of me slowly.
“Oh, like they didn’t in New York? We played how many shows there this tour between Jersey and Long Island and MSG? Ten? Eleven?”
He grumbled. “I lost count. Thing is the coastal bigwigs aren’t thinking about places like this when they sign bands. They say that they are. But they don’t know shit about what it’s like here.”
“I’m not sure I can really say what it’s like here, either,” I confessed. “Other than sorta Bavarian.”
“That’s just because of the ski hill. Sheree says the kids are getting into skiing, Lord help us. They couldn’t have picked a more expensive hobby.”
“Especially when you add in the hospital bills,” I deadpanned.
“Oh, don’t you start.” He cracked his back and rolled his neck. “Speaking of which, everything okay with you right now?”
“All manageable,” I said.
Flip came and sat next to me then. He had a bottle of Gatorade in his hand. “How’s it hanging, boss.”
“Loose as a goose, my man,” I told him. “Is it that time?”
I pulled out the bottle of Vitamin F and dispensed one to myself. Flip handed me the Gatorade and I washed it down, then chugged the rest of the bottle for good measure.
Then I had a sugar rush that was actually sort of unpleasant. Things like that made me think I wouldn’t like cocaine.
I wished Ziggy was here to rub my hand. It wasn’t like someone else couldn’t learn to do it. I could rub it myself. But Ziggy. You understand.
“Who’s the lounge act today?” Louis asked.
“Dunno. Yesterday was a day off and I can’t remember back as further than that.” Not really joking, either, you know.
“What if no one has one ready?” Flip asked.
“They’ve never let me down yet,” I said. “I have one or two in my back pocket I can crack out if no one steps up. But I haven’t had to use them.”
“Oh, now, see, I want to know what they are,” Flip said.
“I’ll play them at the goodbye party if I haven’t by then,” I said. “Right now I think no one wants to dare make me play any extra.”
“Yeah.” He sighed. “You need anymore babysitting right now?”
“No, but check the nut and truss on the Ovation. Something was a little buzzy the other night but then by the time the show was over I forgot to tell you.”
“On it.” He hopped up and disappeared backstage.
I went to find the gals and make myself do my vocal exercises.
Have I described these exercises to you? A lot of them are very similar to the warmup exercises but with variations of what I was supposed to do with my tongue, for example. And putting your tongue in different places (stop it, your mind’s in the gutter again) and positions makes the muscles and parts of your throat shape themselves differently. When you make some vowel sounds you stretch some parts more than others. Same with consonants. I’d already done the biomechanics stuff with Fripp’s coach at Guitar Craft about opening my chest and relaxing my shoulders. Priss had me put my hand on my chest or my throat at various points to force me to relax certain muscles when I went up in pitch or changed registers, too.
The part that’s hard to describe is the part I really didn’t understand at first, which is that it wasn’t about making my notes higher or my voice louder–although that could happen. It was about building up the weak spots in my tone so that I could sing all the notes in my range well and not be stuck with a small lower range that was good for lead vocals and a small upper range that was good for backing harmonies. Connecting my head voice to my chest voice was something she talked about a lot.
Of course ever since the joke I’d made in the bus about breastfeeding, Clarice and Fran had been giving me no end of ribbing about my “chest voice.” In women the vocal stuff’s a little different and I won’t even try to explain that.
They were good taskmasters, though. They liked bossing me around and I liked it when they bossed me around. They’d both been through various vocal coaches in their careers so they knew the drill(s), literally.
At Alpine Valley they took me in what was marked as a wheelchair accessible bathroom–therefore not sex segregated–to work on stuff. They’d already scoped it out as the best reverb in the place. Insert joke about the “wettest” sound here.
Wait, we’ve been over that, right? Wet versus dry in sound recordings and production? Remind me to bring it up again next time we’re in the studio if I didn’t already explain that.
Anyway. We were maybe two-thirds of the way through the list of exercises when Clarice said, “So how’s it work, though, if you’re on muscle relaxants?”
“How’s what work?”
“I mean, one of the things you’re trying to do with these exercises is stop tightening up various parts of you when you sing, right? But you’re so relaxed a curling iron couldn’t curl you.”
For some reason this had not occurred to me before that. “That’s true. I dunno. I guess when I get off the pills I’ll find out if I remember how to relax without them?” I was of course too relaxed by the pills at that moment to worry about this. “Please tell me they don’t make me flat, though.”
She waggled her hand. “Sometimes I hear a little dip as it takes you a wee second to calibrate, but then you get to the note. It’s not like when you were drinking too much and you would hang out just on the flat side of true.”
Fran chided her. “I think he picked up that dip from us.”
“Yeah, but we do it to be stylish and colorful. That’s what they pay us for. To be ‘jazzy.'”
“The dip’ll probably go away once I get off the pills,” I said. I hoped. The whole point of the exercises was to give me better control over my voice, not to make it worse. “Hey, teach me a song. You guys haven’t taught me a gospel song in a while.” Let’s face it, exercises can be boring as shit.
“Do you know ‘It’s Me, Oh Lord’?” Fran asked.
“Don’t think so.” I took the opportunity to lean against the sink since we weren’t singing at the moment. “You know all the gospel I know is the watered down summer camp stuff like ‘He’s Got the Whole World In His Hands’ and ‘Amazing Grace.'”
“It’s Me, Oh Lord is a fast one,” she said. “Although if you really want to play with harmonies, a slow one might be better.”
“I don’t mind fast. Harmony is harmony,” I said. “Let’s do it.”
So they taught me “It’s Me, Oh Lord (Standing in the Need of Prayer)” which is a lot peppier and jauntier than anything I can remember them singing in the church I went to as a kid except maybe “Jingle Bells” on Christmas.
So now I had a third song I could pop in as a lounge act if necessary, and only seven shows left to go on the tour. Sweet.
(Funny thing about this song. Joe Perry, the guitarist for Aerosmith, quit the band and did a solo record. He wrote this song about basically letting the music do the talking as a dig at lead signer Steven Tyler. When they all started to sober up and got back together, this was the first single they put out. Aerosmith’s band dynamics make me and Ziggy seem simple by comparison. P.S. This video takes place in Boston at the Orpheum. -d)