Last Saturday I wound up at a Luau in Farmington. I was happy to drag out my best candidate for the Frank Costanza cabana collection for an evening. Like my leather fringe jacket, a blue pineapple-and-surfboard-covered Hawaiian shirt is tough to bring out on a regular basis.
The offending shirt.
The party consisted primarily of eating Hawaiian Haystacks while listening to the marvelous musical range of the modern ukulele. Then we came to the inevitable "let's teach the guys to hula dance, it will be really funny" portion of the evening. After the requisite foot-dragging, I found myself in a line of seven guys facing about seventy-five of my social peers, watching yet another guy demonstrate some snappy hula moves.
Most of the time I'm a pretty low-key guy. Don't do much at dances, don't make much of a spectacle of myself. But when our instructor stepped aside and turned on the music, I swiveled away, moving my hips in a way most of my friends didn't know I was capable of. When I lost track of the moves, I just made up my own, and did a little 360 for good measure. We finished to tremendous applause, some of which I couldn't help feeling came from pure surprise.
It wasn't surprising to me, though. A few years ago I learned that in such situations, you must, in the words of my good buddy Ben Stoneman, "just wing that mother".
My trusty friend Ben, sporting a stylish tissue accessory.
I didn't hear Ben coin the expression until about a year ago, but I learned its meaning about six years ago on a road trip to my old mission stomping grounds in Chicago. Two years of preaching and teaching hadn't left a lot of opportunity for taking in the sights, so I had driven back out to Illinois to finish my Chicago experience.
The pinnacle of our experience came on a visit to a club called the Blue Chicago, a small place that featured a five-dollar cover charge and a one-drink minimum. The cover charge also paid for admission to a second venue up the street; the one-drink minimum came in the form of an 8oz non-refillable Sprite for $2.99.
Our lust for genuine Chicago blues was obliged by Big Time Sarah and the BTS Express. Sarah was a big black woman that smacked of Etta James; the BTS Express was a seasoned blues quartet dressed in stoic all-business poker faces. And the way they played was worth ten times the admission.
Big Time Sarah and the BTS Express, in all of their understated glory.
I sat back and smiled as I finally saw closure on a desire that had been founded as a kid growing up watching "The Blues Brothers". Then two-thirds of the way through their set, Sarah sauntered up to the microphone and cooed, "we need a couple real men to come up here."
Immediately my buddy Breto slapped my thigh and stood up. Dutifully I followed, grateful to have a friend like Breto around to supercede my natural hesitations. We joined Sarah on the small stage and looked out at the fifty or so patrons scattered throughout the darkened club.
We were told that we would be singing solos, backed by the band. Sarah would provide the lyrics, and we would take turns showing our chops to the half-drunken audience. The chosen number was "Baby, Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On".
Breto took the microphone first and sang his bashful best, eliciting a warm smile from Sarah. Breto is the master of the bashful performance; I'd seen him do it for years. But I knew I couldn't get away with it.
As I took the microphone for my turn I had a bit of an epiphany. I'd always thought I could sing with a real blues drawl, though I'd never really tried it. Most of the time I kind of hold back the more extreme elements of my performance repertoire, usually out of shyness and fear. But I figured that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity--how many times in life would I get to sing with a real blues band?--and besides, most of the people there were too drunk to know what I was doing anyway.
So I winged that mother. I blasted out those lyrics with every ounce of nuance and soul I knew how. I tried to channel Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, and Otis Redding at the same time. Every line had some kind of jump or twist that I prayed wound up in the right place. I think I even sang with my eyes closed. I know I sang like I meant it.
When I finished, the crowd burst into its obligatory round of enthusiastic applause. I handed the microphone back to Sarah, who asked, "do you sing professionally?"
To this day I still don't know if she was joking.
The Wounded Mosquito
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