I was at a concert last night where the opening act was just dreadful. The young woman, on stage by herself with an electric guitar, was so nervous that it was hard to figure out how she got the gig.
She kept turning her head away from the mic so her very softly sung lyrics would go missing. Singing her own original songs she still hit dozens of wrong notes on her guitar. She forgot lyrics and lost her place and had a nervous laugh every time something went wrong. It was a mess.
The audience – while they did not boo her – did start checking their phones & heading to the bathroom half way through the first song. I heard one woman say to her husband “she wouldn’t last one minute on the Apollo stage.” I think 30 seconds would be generous.
When she started to tank I automatically tensed up and concentrated on her as if the sheer force of my attention would somehow reduce her humiliation. I know I don’t have magic powers but bad performances and other tense situations sometimes trigger this reflex.
In my previous career, when there was more art than money, I often drove on fumes while concentrating very, very hard so as to will my car home or to the gas station. I’m sure it was luck or a vaguely inaccurate gas gauge, but it always seemed to work.
I doubt my rapt attention and tense muscles last night had any effect on the nervous, under prepared singer but it gave me something to do other than be mortified on her behalf. I only went on stage unprepared once. That was all it took.
That was a hard lesson she learned last night and I sympathize.
I’m sure we can all dredge up a moment or two of deep humiliation at our performance, on stage, at work, in our personal lives. Those times when you know you have massively fucked up and you are the only one to blame. Its an awful experience but with hindsight its possible to see what was learned, what was gained from owning it and making amends.
My hope for that singer is that she adds that lesson to her song book and finds a way to get better at what she does. There is much to be gained from making mistakes, but very little from making the same mistake twice.