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Saturday, December 16, 2006

"Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice"


While importing my music collection into iTunes the other day, I came across one of many early 80's compilation discs I have. Almost every one of these songs has some sort of memory attached to it, and I’m not sure how much of that is due to how wackily unique the music of the early 80's is, or how much of it is that I was still in my formative years in that decade.

As far as one song goes, however, I know why the memory sticks. It is one of the (many) awkward experiences I had as a youth that delineates just how embarrassing life as a teenager can be. The song in question is “Hold Me Now”, by the Thompson Twins, that trio from England that also sang other hits such as "Doctor! Doctor!" and "Love On Your Side".

I think I was in 7th or 8th grade, and anyways it was probably 1983 or so, and it was a weekday after school. I was home, downstairs in the den, kipping after my classes and procrastinating from doing homework. We had this old-timey tape recorder that my sister and I shared, and to this day I can never remember exactly whose recorder it was, but I believe it was actually my sister’s. It was one of those items that, although distinctly owned by one of us, had a sort of de facto common usage by both of us. As long as we were on good terms with each other and the non-owner wouldn’t be a total butthead and break the thing in question, it could be used. Usually, my sister was far more likely to share with me than the other way around.

Anyways, I did treat this tape recorder with respect at all times, so my use of it on this day was a perfectly valid and legal one. But in retrospect I wish that it wasn’t even around that day or else I wouldn’t have this tale of humility and anguish to tell.

For whatever dim-witted reason I had at the time (or there may not have actually been a reason, just dim-wittedness), I decided I wanted to hear how I sounded when I sang. You know how you always hate the sound of your own voice when you experience it? I’m talking about spoken voice here, not even singing – no, we’ll get to that horror show in a minute. But you always think your voice sounds one way and come to kind of like it, but then you hear yourself speak on tape or something and think, ‘What the hell, I sound like a complete twit!’

Okay, so maybe it's just me.

But whatever your opinion of your own voice may be, you might fancy that you aren’t half bad at singing but aren't too sure. Such was my hubris on that fateful autumn day back in 1983.

So, with headphones on (first big mistake), I pushed ‘Play’ on the stereo’s tape deck and the wonderful melodies of the Thompson Twins began to issue forth. Quickly, I pushed 'Record' on my sister’s portable tape recorder, and made sure I leaned in close to its little built-in microphone (second mistake). When the Thompson Twins began to sing, I sang right along with them, and with the headphones on I had no way of judging if I was in tune – an impossibly far-fetched notion for me even without headphones on – and had absolutely no background accompaniment of any kind. So what you got on the recording of me singing was just that – me warbling at an uncomfortably loud volume and horribly off-key, nothing but the cracking voice of a thirteen-year old.

The capper, and my third and most fatal mistake, was that I was chewing on a mouthful of chocolate during the whole thing. So in between lyrics, you could hear me breathing and chewing and snarfing chocolate as I was right on top of the microphone. What the hell was I thinking? Or, more to the point: Why wasn't I thinking?

I’ll tell you what I was thinking: that nobody on God’s green earth was ever, EVER going to find a copy of this tape and be allowed to listen to it. So I felt foolishly safe. This was just a one-off experiment, something for me to listen to by myself and use to critically evaluate my singing talents, or utter lack thereof.

Breathless with excitement, and also from scarfing chocolate and singing a whole Thompson Tunes song at the top of my voice for four minutes, I quickly rewound the recording and played it back.

I think I only made it a few bars in before I recoiled in complete terror. In a panic, I ejected the tape and snatched it out with all due haste. This thing must never see the light of day, I realized. But what happened to the tape after that is a fuzzy blur, as I know it disappeared for a few weeks before it would make a most unwelcome return to my life.

For some reason I either thought that I had thrown the tape out, or that I had hidden it so expertly that even I would never be able to find it again. Well, that worked you see, for I never did find it again; my sister did. And so did her best friend, Lisa. Lisa, the very cute girl that I had a crush on back then.

Yes, one fateful weekend, on one of the occasions when Lisa slept over, they both greeted me in the morning with impish grins and a heady state of glee that immediately had my skin crawling with dread.

I didn't know specifically what it was they were on about, I only knew that it somehow involved me and that it didn't make me look good. One of them (Lisa, I think) then produced the tape recorder from behind her back and then I knew.

Ever seen the classic Hitchcock thriller, "Vertigo"? It's a great film from the 50's that pioneered a cool new camera trick, wherein they zoomed in on the main character as the camera was simultaneously wheeled quickly away. This gave the viewer a highly disconcerting sensation, much like what the character on screen was experiencing, that being the sensation of vertigo. (If you don't know what that is, try standing up really fast from a crouching position. Or watching any episode of "Full House".)

Well, there may be a soundtrack to my life playing somewhere (at this particular moment, it could well have been the theme from "Jaws"), but if there were also cameras trained on me then for certain, at that instant, the 'vertigo' trick was in full effect.

I think my reaction consisted of an unsteady mix of outrage, shock, horror, embarrassment, and mirth. I mean come on, it is quite classic to have your little sis bust you on something so profoundly geeky like that, so a little sense of humor is a must! But I don't think mirth is what came across, probably more something like shame, despair and anger. There was no way I could ever get her back for something like that, for if she made secret tapes of herself singing she was far too clever to leave them out where I might find them. And unless Lisa really went for the type of boy with a singing voice that could make a jackhammer sound soothing, then I had just taken a huge step backward with her in the 'Cool' department.

I think out of mercy (not for me, but for potential future listeners), my sister and her friend destroyed the tape. Or they handed it back to me, so I could destroy it. I honestly don't recall what happened to the tape but I sure as hell hope it had an immediate encounter with a very large magnet.

But if you like, and are feeling particularly masochistic, I'd be happy to reproduce the moment. All I need is a bar of chocolate, some headphones, and a Thompson Twins CD. I'll do it on one condition:

No recording devices allowed in this performance!

4 Comments:

Blogger Beechball * said...

I have SO done that very thing, but it was my brother and I both singing the opening credits song to "Fresh Prince" - In west philadelphia, born and raised, on the playground is where I spend most of my days, chillin' out maxin' relaxin' all cool, while shootin' some bball outside of the school........" Anyways, WE found the tape in the car while we were driving with the rest of my family. Although embarrassing, it was more hilarious than anything. My other brother, though, did make a video tape of him giving dance instructions to "the running man" and whatnot that "mysteriously" disappeared before his wedding 2 years ago, hahahaha I gaurantee he destroyed it! hahaha oh good times!

1:25 PM  
Blogger Beechball * said...

Yay it posted and I dunno why it did/didn't work before! If I don't comment, it's cause it's not working for some ridiculous reason, not because I suck - cause I don't suck, I rock! ;)

1:27 PM  
Blogger Brooksie said...

Hi Lyndsay! Hahaha, so you had a tape like that too. At least your brother went down in flames with you on that one, though! Unlike your other brother's tape of him dancing, did this particular one survive? Also no worries on the posting thing, I'm sure it has something to do with the beta version. Hopefully it will be out of 'beta' and into 'alpha' soon!

6:49 PM  
Blogger Beechball * said...

Yeah, I think we all laughed so hard we decided to keep it after all, although I haven't a clue where it would be. With us all living on our own, it's probably in a box somewhere in one of our basements - I won't miss not listening to it though, that's for sure. lol

7:55 AM  

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