Conversation Pieces XV: The Singer

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By: Wayne Brown


The cigarette smoke seems all but drawn to the stage by the spotlights shining down upon it. I sit here in a blue haze surrounded by the effects of secondary smoke. It’s a necessary hazard of my profession…barroom singer. It seems that it is the one constant in my act no matter where I play…smoke. Of course, one of the reasons that it bothers me very little is because I am a smoker myself and likely most of the smoke that surrounds me is coming off the many cigarettes that I burn down during my time here on the stage. Cigarettes, beer, and music mixed with an occasional shot of tequila…that’s about all I know.


I am not a formally-trained musician. I play the guitar by ear and I know the words to most of the songs one way or another. Hell, I should in that I have been singing them now for the better part of twenty years. What started out as a simple hobby soon became a way to make money and now it seems that it now a profession. It’s all I know how to do in life. You can’t see most folks’ assets and talents but mine are on display up here most every night on the stage for all to critique. Some are envious and most, it would seem, are not even curious unless I happen to be performing their favorite song.


Folks wander up to the stage in most every town when I take a break. They invite me down to sit with them and their girlfriends, buy me beer, and make small talk. It’s the same old questions all the time, “How’d you learn to sing like that, man? Did you take guitar lessons? Will you teach me?” I can almost guess what they’ll say before they open their mouth. Then there are the ones who say things like, “Wow, a man with your talent ought to be in Nashville making records!” That’s about what they know about this business. All over this country tonight in some lonely bar somewhere are a whole lot of men and women who “ought to be in Nashville making records.” The truth of the matter is there is just not enough of Nashville to go around.


Actually, I never cease to be amazed at what folks have to say. As I sit there on the stage with my guitar, a smoke and a beer, singing this song and that one, I look about the room and notice that no one is really paying attention to me. They are lost in running their mouths to each other; creating that din of noise which requires me to have a microphone to be heard over their constant buzz. Sometimes I think to myself that I will just turn it off and see if anyone notices. Then I think about how bad it must be to perform in a stadium in front of fifty thousand people who aren’t paying attention and feel relieved that I am only being ignored by a few.


The irony of all of this is that I took up music in order to get noticed. You laugh, but it is true. Sure I had an ear for it and a knack for being able to learn the guitar. But ultimately, I wanted to perform for people; to hold their attention with my musical style and impress them with my talents. That’s what kept me focused and at it for all the years that it took of my youth to hone my skills. And now, I sit here displaying them to a room of people who seem more oblivious to my presence than anything else. Most of them claim to love music but apparently only as a “background” noise for their other pursuits.


I am a word person. I love lyrics. I am intrigued by how the words mesh together to form a single thought and how the thoughts come together to address a subject all in the span of about two minutes time. The whole story; the message; comes through in the lapse of two to three minutes on most songs. Most people don’t think about that but it is quite a feat that a writer can express his or her thoughts so efficiently and effectively to get them across in that short time span. Hell, some writers aren’t capable of that in the full-length of a book.


Of course I like the music too especially on certain songs the way two or three chords come together to make a given sound like the ticking of a clock on the wall. That given sound meshes with the lyrics to create something so unique that one can listen to it over and over without tiring of it. That is what makes music special to me. It makes me sad to stare out across this room and see that message lost on so many that only classify it as a pacifier…background noise for conversation or sex.


Being a performer is much like being a chef. People don’t think about it that way. I hear them say that they would love so much to be a “performer”. I hear others talk of their love of cooking and how they would love to own a restaurant and cook for people. Clueless…that’s what I call it…clueless. People who cook for people and do it well certainly love what they do but what the public misses about it is their self-discipline in terms of their craft; their attention to detail and the discipline to do things the same way over and over. A song is like that to the singer…every little nuance needs to come about the same way every time if the message is to be effectively delivered in the music. Every chord or note needs to be played and heard if the song is to be delivered in the same manner as the chef delivers a mouth-watering meal. In the end, the process is repetitious yet disciplined. Most folks do not have the stomach for that focus and quickly loss their lust for the sport.


“Hey buddy, can you sing ‘Orange Blossom Special’? That’s my favorite Johnny Cash song! Sing it man!” They yell to me between songs. It is as if the audience knows the list of every song I hate to perform and they ask for every one of them by name. It is tough enough to sing really good songs over and over; night after night but to sing the ones that I don’t care for, well, it just ain’t in me. Life is too short to sing songs you don’t like.


I sing particular songs because of their message or their feel. I avoid others because of the same traits. It’s pretty simple. That varies with every performer and their taste. Some like to sing “Me and Bobby Magee”, but I tired of it long after Janis Joplin worked it over. I no longer hold Bobby’s body close to mine in verse. I like a deeper message in which the audience has to listen to get it which is a joke to contemplate given the fact that the audience is caught up in everything but the music.


Eventually, we get to the end of yet another evening. It’s late and my fingers are just a bit raw and tender from the hours of gripping the guitar strings on the various chords. My voice is taking on a rasp from the smoke and liquor and I am generally dog-ass tired. As I finish my last song and turn to put my guitar away, there’s always the guy who wants to hear just one more or the other guy who does not understand why I am quitting so soon. I think about telling them, but then I bite my tongue and just smile. They didn’t choose this profession for me; I did so it is really is not their fault that I am not too pleased with their performance as an audience.


I store my gear and walk over to the bar for one last beer and a tequila chaser. There’s always one of the regular girls there close by or maybe one behind the bar who dreams of going home with the singer. I have to laugh at myself thinking that at one time I was dreaming of going home with these women as well. But, I’ve been home with most of them at one time or another only to wake up the next day as a lonely barroom singer in the bright sunshine of day. No, I’ll just drink my beer and tequila; pack up my gear and get an early start for the next town. It’s all about the discipline; that’s what keeps you going.



© Copyright WBrown2011. All Rights Reserved.


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Comments 26 comments

moneycop profile image

moneycop 5 years ago from JABALPUR

music drives every heart...ans so here i am also driven...


marellen 5 years ago

Wayne, you painted a sad picture of this singer. Sounds like he is just going through the motions. There are other venues out there for singers. Maybe he should check them out. I have been in bars where someone is singing some people are talking and most are not pay attention. I often wonder how that singer must feel. You certainly gave me a good look.


Hyphenbird profile image

Hyphenbird 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

My husband played guitar and often in bars. This causes me to remember him. You write these conversation pieces so well and I always enjoy them. These people appear to be real with feelings, talents and sorrows. I am eager to read the next one, but not too soon please. I also like to savor stories.


Old Poolman profile image

Old Poolman 5 years ago from Rural Arizona

Wayne I truly admire the way you are able to put yourself in someone's head and write about the way they see the world. This is pure talent, and you do it so well.


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

WB - what an interesting perspective this story tells. Up and awesome WB - your versatility is amazing.


attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 5 years ago from Australia

Hi Wayne, you really do these observation pieces well. Some of my 'so called' mates in my youth used to heckle every performer thinking they were being cool or smart. (i used to dislike these childish antics.) You picked up on so many things that would accompany a barroom performer on their travels and brought that singer to life. People can be so shallow at times, but can i have his autograph please? :)


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@moneycop...Music calls out to me so this piece came rather easily. WB

@marellen...Before I started writing, I wrestled with the guitar and singing...still do. I think entertainers eventually get in ruts and begin to only notice those who do not seem to notice them. It's the downside of performing. WB

@Hypenbird...I have a couple of ideas in the hopper but no details yet. I will give you a bit to just enjoy this one. Thanks so much! WB

@Old Poolman...Music has always been a thing I wondered so about. Most people do not perform it and tend to look to those who do for entertainment yet they really don't pay attention proportional to the love the performer has for it. Thanks, Mike, I appreciate the kind words. WB

@RealHousewife...Aw Gee, Kelly, you know I just get lucky! LOL! Thanks much! WB

@attemptedhumor...I assure that performer feels like a new man already...just that one request for an autograph is enough to lift one right out of the doldrums and renew that career. Thanks for the good words. WB


Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 5 years ago from Great Britain

Hit the buttons right across the board apart from funny.

This was a great, honest picture of life for a singer, songwriter, of the overflow of Nashville. As you say , Nashville just isn´t big enough fr all the talent around.

Sad but still a great piece to read. Loved it. Thank you.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

You nailed this one, Wayne, I could feel what this disillusioned performer was feeling as I read your realistic words. Even began to cough from all that bar room smoke. Voted up, y'know.


Truckstop Sally profile image

Truckstop Sally 5 years ago

Great addition to the series. This could have been an editorial by Bad Blake played by Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart (ya know I'm always looking at dialog) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0349E7kFEM

What a unique window into the world of a bar room singer. At first it seems so glamourous . . . but then you show us the reality.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@Dim Flaxenwick...Thank you so much. I continue to write this series and just as I think there is no other perspective, one more inspiration comes through. WB

@drbj...Thank you Doc! Glad that I could make it real for you. WB

@Truckstop Sally...I loved Jeff Bridges in that role...so realistic! And, so glad to see you on the dialogue trail! LOL! One day you will understand the quest fully! WB


Arlene V. Poma 5 years ago

You wrote this piece, and I was there, sitting in the smoke. When you can take the reader there, you've nailed it. Voted up and awesome from the person with the attention span of a gnat.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@Arlene V. Poma...That is quite a compliment, Arlene. I thank you and I am so glad that I can bring forth that realism in the writing. I wish I could play the guitar to that level! LOL! WB


TimBryce 5 years ago

Wayne - It make me think of a buddy I have up in Oregon who recently retired and is now embarking on a second life as a guitarist, working every weekend. He has a love for it, as it represents something he missed in his youth. As for me, I could do without the scene all of the time.

Good job.

All the Best,

Tim


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 5 years ago

I have heard some of the most talented singers in bars. I hate it when absolutely no one is paying attention. There are better venues for singers. In New York City there are so many clubs that welcome talent. I could almost smell the smoke and hear the chatter in your piece. Up and awesome.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@TimBryce...Yes, that itch needs scratching just like the writing itch...unfortunately I suffer from both conditions. Thanks much! WB

@breakfastpop...Thanks Poppy...maybe we can get this dude a gig down at the Inn! Ha! WB


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

I never did learn to play guitar.When I wanted to learn hardly anyone played. Since that time almost everyone does.I think there is something to be said for singers who start out in such places as bars to small audiences that they can relate to as people rather than a crowd.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@dahoglund...Well, DA...you could do like I did...just buy a guitar and keep it closeby...eventually you learn it by osmosis! LOL! I think you are right...playing bars does put you up close and personal with folks. WB


b. Malin profile image

b. Malin 5 years ago

Wonderful Hub Wayne, I could almost hear the Sadness in your Tone...But also the Love you have for your Music...it seems to be in your blood. I guess it gets old after a few years of Bedding lots of Woman and having empty "one night stands"...But with your Talents as an Artist, I'm sure you've had your share of "Meaningful Relations" as well.


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@b. Malin....Thank you. I wanted to paint a picture of a man dedicated to his craft but somewhat frustrated with his audience. Ten years of single life did give me the opportunity of a few "meaningful relationships" I must say...in fact, that line in the story is more mine than his. Thanks for the great comments. WB


dallas93444 profile image

dallas93444 5 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

As a "wordsmith" you hammered an effective master piece that hooks the emotions with real-world experiences... great story! Flag up and awesome!


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@dallas93444...Thanks for those great words of encouragement. Glad I could come through for you! WB


Harvey Stelman profile image

Harvey Stelman 5 years ago from Illinois

Wayne, This Hub is what Billy Joel sang about in "Piano Man."

I was a singer/Guitarist back in the day. You made me feel like I took a trip back in time, but you never mentioned the women. The UGLIEST guy can perform on stage, and the ladies want to jump in bed with him. I never understood why, but I did seccumb at times.

Advice to make an audiance listen:

1- While singing look people in the eye.

2- Stop in the middle of a song and say while pointing; you in the green dress, what does this song say to you? Maybe tell a joke or story. Ask the audience to have you make up a song, as you play. I did this playing clubs, and as a speaker. the people feel they have to give you attention. They don't want you to call on them and respond with, WHA?

I was booked to open for Elton John and Jethro Tull, you can't use it on a stage like that. I have spoken at national and international meetings, it works very well, if the auience isn't very large.

Keep singin'! H


Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@Harvey Stelman...Interesting, Harvey...lots of experiences there that you need to write about and share with us. Thanks for all the good advice. BTW...like that new avatar pic...I am sucker for dogs! WB


epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

.....well Mister Brown like my old girlfriend you have great numbers - she had 38-24-22 - and you have 6 million plus followers and 4 million plus hubs - lol -

......you can write about anything and always make it come out so beautifully because that is a writer's craft to communicate and take your readers on a journey - and that makes you the consummate storyteller and truly a writer's writer .....

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Wayne Brown profile image

Wayne Brown 5 years ago from Texas Author

@epigramman...Colin please don't let me fall off this pedestal you have raised me up on...it's a long way down! I appreciate your kind words and am humbled by the them. I always try to produce quality in my writing and your comments affirm to me that I am on course. Thanks so much. WB

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