More Than This, an excerpt from Terminal Monday

“Next up,” Ted continued, “we have a new singer coming to the stage. Put your hands together for Richard, singing More Than This, by Roxy Music.”

Richard shrugged and headed for the stage. He noticed a number of people clapping amiably, but they were clearly waiting to see how well he performed before really welcoming him.

Taking the mic from Ted, he spoke into it as the guitar intro slowly crept up.

“I’m a little rusty, so I decided to start off with a slow one, just to make sure everything still works.” Some of the audience looked puzzled, but a few of them nodded to themselves, clearly writing him off.

He saw that the words hadn’t come up on the screen yet, but he thought he remembered how the words went. He hadn’t listened to the song in a little while, but he’d played it quite a bit years earlier. Then the verse melody opened up, and he took a deep breath and started to sing. The words came out smoothly, and he felt a warm tingle spread through him as he heard his voice filling up that space in his head that his brain was telling him Bryan Ferry’s voice had to fill. He knew his voice wasn’t the same, but he could match the warmth and tone. He already felt his voice straining slightly to keep hitting that lilting falsetto note in the verses, which worried him, because it wasn’t a very hard one. Still, it was a soft enough tune with lots of breathing space. He wished he’d grabbed another sip of his beer before coming up.

The people who had dismissed him were paying attention now. He smiled to himself. It was working. No big surprises like he used to throw new audiences, but he had their attention.

In one corner of the dance floor, a couple who looked to be in their late thirties or early forties were dancing slowly to the song. He smiled, thinking he couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen anyone dance to something he was singing.

Looking over at his table, he noticed both of the girls watching him carefully. Drake knew the song and was clearly singing along in his nasal falsetto, making little hand gestures along with the drum part. Sam was swaying to the music, and Sonya was nodding to herself, clearly counting off everything he did. He wondered if he used to look like that when he was listening to people sing.

As the outro started, he handed the mic off to Ted, who smiled warmly at him. Heading back to his seat before the audience had a chance to register their applause, Ted quickly jumped up after Richard and announced, “Ladies and Gentlemen, give it up for Richard.” The audience cheered warmly, not quite blown away, but at least impressed enough not to feign polite applause.

Richard had the glass in his hand almost before he sat down. The taste was a little thinner than he needed just then, but it was tasty enough to finish. Still, he saw himself ordering the canned Guinness before too long. The girls were suitably impressed, and Drake was grinning. He noticed their happiness for him, but he was still in the middle of that brief buzz, like the calm that comes the minute before the rain starts to fall, that he usually got whenever he’d start performing.

Karaoke was a strange kind of endurance test, quite unlike actual live performance; it wasn’t harder, but it was different, simply because you kept losing and fighting to regain that buzz. You couldn’t ride the wave from the beginning to the end of the night. You didn’t have the slow build of the audience’s mood to work with. It was like climbing uphill both ways, and by the time you really felt like you were hitting your stride, the last singer was announced, and it wasn’t you, which always felt so anticlimactic. You rarely ever reached the top.

© 2011 Lee Edward McIlmoyle

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