The other day I was thinking. I had some free time and I don’t do origami. I was thinking… what made me want to get into this business of singing and performing anyway? Was it the piles of easy money? Was it the respect of the artistic community? Was it something more twisted and dark? I go with the twisted and dark every time.
I remember the exact moment I decided to have music become my life. I was a freshman in college. I was a terrible student in High School. The classes I hated the most were Science and Math. (Even now I capitalize them to show my fear.) Well, apparently the “fun” colleges demand more than straight D’s on report cards to let you attend so I found myself being accepted by the college my brother graduated from. That made me a “legacy.” That means they HAD to take me. I have never been prouder. I packed my bags and my guitar and found myself in…. wait for it… a Math and Science college. I flunked every class I went to. Technically speaking I flunked ONE class cause I didn’t show up to the others. What I DID do with consistency was play and sing in my dorm room. My new best friend Jim (he of the pet duck and endless supply of hash) talked me into going down the street to the girl’s junior college and getting a Tuesday night gig at their coffee house. They had a nice stage and a PA system and fifty or sixty girls on any given Tuesday running around drunk and adventurous. Do you know what that LOOKS like from the stage to a boy of 18 who had never been laid? I don’t either. I sing with my eyes closed.
One Friday night Jim talked me into going to a frat party. I knew I was not staying at this school. Either by MY choice or theirs…. I was toast. Jim was doing fairly well so he pledged a frat and had a steady stream of keg parties on his calendar. One rainy night I joined him and found myself seated on the stairs watching a gorgeous girl dancing in the middle of the party room/basement. She was dressed like an American Indian… fringed mini skirt… long black hair with feathers in it… bow and arrow. Dazzling. She was dancing with one guy after another and I ached to be one of those guys. I was too shy to ask so I simply sat all night long and watched her from the stairs.
Finally my self-loathing got the better of me and I decided to leave. I got as far as the front door and saw that it was pouring outside. I took that as a sign that I was suppose to go back downstairs and ask her to dance! I screwed up my courage (although I still felt pretty certain that my courage was the only thing getting that kind of action that night) and went back down the stairs. I saw her there, out of breath and beautiful, for a tiny window of time actually standing alone. It was almost like the crowd had parted to give this poor boy a clear path to humiliation. I didn’t listen to the voices in my head, I didn’t think about what I was doing… I just walked across the room and asked her to dance.
She said yes.
Just as we stepped out onto the dance floor the jukebox (what was it…1960?) or the dj (as you young people say) or the fucking radio… whatever… started playing a slow song. Every young man in the world knows what I felt right then. Relief that I wasn’t going to have to gyrate in front of a complete stranger and pretend to have rhythm… but I WAS going to have to HOLD her!!! I can hear all you women say… “well isn’t that what you wanted?” At that age I wanted to be within touching distance but not actually touch. I’m not saying I had never slow danced with a girl before… I had. Just not Pocahontas. I played baseball too. It didn’t mean I was ready to hit a major league curve ball.
So I take her in my arms with all the suave charm of Cary Grant. (Not the actor. My guidance counselor unfortunately had the same name as the actor. He, sadly, had a bum leg and enough facial tics to transmit Morse Code with his cheeks.) The song plays. We start our dance. She leans in and places her lips against my ear and whispers… “You’re Gary Burr, aren’t you? I listen to you every Tuesday night at the coffee house. I LOVE you.”
That’s why I got into show business.