I’ve always had a problem with stage fright. I remember a 6th grade audition that was so terrifying I excused myself right in the middle, telling the class I had to run because I was late for my band class.
That same year, my voice changed just before the Christmas performance of the school choir. I was so afraid, I lip synced the whole thing. My dad told me he could make my voice out in the crowd and that I was excellent. That’s when I learned you could lie out of compassion.
The school must have thought I was a budding young Ted Bundy because they assigned a psychologist to bring me out of my shell. I was actually quite popular then, but I guess my attempt to navigate through school unnoticed convinced them I was a loner.
If I wasn’t going to grow up to be a Beatle, I was going to be a scientist. I had a lab in the basement that consisted of a chemistry set my mother got me one Christmas and random animal bones I had found on the railroad tracks. I put them back together into grotesque, previously unknown species. They must have been pretty dry because my dog Sinbad showed no interest in them.
This is the same basement where I learned to let go of material possessions. It flooded once, turning my priceless comic book collection into a beautiful, psychedelic pile of pulp. Sometimes you just have to move on.
My friend Jeff taught me how to make gun powder, so the only thing I ever produced in my lab was a lot of home-made fireworks.
The psychologist found out about my skeletons and made me tour a few of the nearby schools giving lectures. I embedded pieces of bone in clay so it looked like I found them in the field during my work as a paleontologist.
If they were worried I was crawling into a shell, being heckled by a bunch of 6th graders certainly didn’t help.
Years later, when I got in a band, the specter of stage fright reared its ugly head. Every night before we went on, the anticipation of the show almost killed me. I got physically ill. I knew I had to overcome it because show business was in my blood.
I convinced myself the cure was having the perfect show. No flaws! That’s not easy when you’re just learning to write songs. They’re not going to be perfect at first. We practiced our butts off. Even when we were finally gigging regularly we’d practice two weeks for every one show performed.
I was always fighting my personal battle with stage fright. I would deliberately plunge into frightening public displays.
My buddy Dominic wrote an instrumental called Sports Car. I didn’t need to play in it so the band dressed me up in a car costume. During the song I jumped into the crowd and drove through the dancers. It was ridiculous but therapeutic.
The band just finished a big reunion show that really went well. We rehearsed a lot.
A couple of days before the show, we set up at the club where we would perform. During a rehearsal of the second song we were going to perform, I started getting the shakes. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to get through the song. There were a couple of strangers sitting out in the audience, but I wasn't conscious of any kind of fear. Here I was going through the symptoms again. I couldn't figure it out.
It only happened during this one song. The song was This City, and, to be honest, it is a little hard for me to play.
I stepped away from the piano, went back to my guitar, and all was well for the rest of the set.
The night of the big show, when that song came up, it happened again. I was afraid I wouldn’t get through the song but I did.
The rest of the show was no problem. I felt incredibly comfortable with our audience. They were all dear friends.
I broke a string, forcing us to stop, I started a solo in the wrong key and even began to play one song with my guitar in the wrong tuning. These are all things that would have destroyed me in the old days.
On this occasion, I played on and no one even noticed. I really think I have finally conquered my demons.
Photo by Donna Weber-Havey from her phone.