Singing with Gloria

You want to be in a band, and you want to be the singer, am I right?
And who can blame you:  I mean, who doesn’t want the ability to create and entertain with nothing more than  internal fleshy tissue and the air within your lungs?

Hell, even Bukowski needed a pencil and the back of the Racing Form.

When you are a kid you connect with that primal instrument first.   You are taught twinkle twikle and lulled to sleep by mammmy’s dulcet tones.

This long before your pubescent groin can discern the sexual  pull of electrified guitar strings.
 Then you saw those photos of Steven Tyler alone up front, and ya thought: that’s the fuckin life.
 Oh, & hey!-there’s  Joe on the floor, guitar slung behind like a spent six shooter, shouting the truth into the mic.
And what’s that?   Punk rock ya say?
Psssh–anyone could do that!
What? Shout into a microphone for 20 minutes, beer in hand, then collect the money??
Skate in right at showtime with your scarf and SM58, while the other kooks have been humping Marshall Cabs and anvil cases since 4pm?
I got this.
But what of the day you got a string of shows together, and even further down this graph, perhaps an actual tour, with dates in a row with one day off a week from next Thursday.
You went and blew that voice  on night one, not that the lack of sleep and all night with the shitty booze helped either, brother!

And now look at ya, sucking on lemons and gulping that ghastly Throat Coat Tea while the other guys are drinking their hangovers away.

You open your mouth to make a tentative protest, but only a raspy croak emerges.
Your thought:
Shoulda stayed with the fuckin’ drums!

You need some help!

In the back of our beloved Bam magazine, that tattered bible of the day,  you’d find the usual hokey ads:
Drummer wanted by punk band:(Drugs OK, Booze mandatory.  Must hate Government) and paid 2 x 2 ad space placed by poor chumps desperate to fill the Troubadour on a Monday night

There would be ads for guitar and voice lessons as well, and the one that caught my eye one day was for Gloria Bennett.


Breaking Through: From Rock to Opera, the Basic Technique of Voice
Her ad listed her credentials: Her past with a NY Opera Company, and boasted past students:  Axl Rose, Exene…… Anthony Kiedis of Red Hot Chili Peppers   Yikes.  Let me in on this.

And so one fine afternoon I discovered my legs walking up 2 flights of stairs to her studio off a particularly grimy section of Santa Monica Boulevard.

This was one of those old workshoppy buildings, all beige stucco turned 20 shades darker by the years of cigar smoke, probably some training mill for the studio contract gals of the 1940’s.
Give the starlet a shot with the acting and voice before she inevitably ended up behind the counter at Philippe’s or turning tricks off Fountain.
You walked those plastered hallways and heard the ancient clack of tap shoes, operatic trills, and, god help us all, the overwrought emoting of method acting.

As heartbreaking as the resigned whimper of a furry creature caught ankle deep in a toothsome trap, these are the desperate sounds of showbusiness.

I had the overwhelming urge to run, back to the street and into the darkened safety of The Firefly.

Oh, I had no illusion that I could suddenly be taught to sing.  The sad truth is that you can only do so much with what your ancestors bequeathed upon you in length of throat and capacity of lungs.  But as we started to ……expand our musical repertoire (sellout) it became clear that my voice was the weak link in the band.  And if I could not learn to sing any better, than by God I would at least learn how to sing badly night after night on tour!

Gloria opened the door and sized me up.  She must’ve been pushing 80 by this time, but still held that stylish aura of a woman who had grown up in the classy days of overcoats and pearls.

She took a look at my hair, the ripped jeans and cowboy boots, and cocked her head with a resigned sigh.  I imagined she had quite enough of the scruffy rockers that filled her waiting room, so far away from the glamor of her youth in New York.  She had once been a promising young star of the Opera world there, a lifetime removed from the desperate ooze of Sunset Strip. Now here she was, trying to teach us desperate hacks how to butcher her beloved art yet again.

She sat down at the piano then , and played the major scale up and down, effortlessly Mee-Mawing along in her crystalline coloratura soprano  voice.   She raised a contoured eyebrow and nodded, and then it was my turn.

Oh, we all know our Do-Re-Mi-etc, don’t we?  Who doesn’t think of Julie Andrews in those Austrian alps, chiming the scales in perfect pitch to her audience of Nazi youth?

But now imagine those very same notes punished, finally the Doh! of High C bleated out, goat-like,  my face reddened by  oxygen deprivation and shame.

She closed the lid of the piano and sat there a moment, pinching at the bridge of her nose.

Then she simply said, no.


No, that was not singing, she explained to me.
What are you doing? Do you think you sing from here? pointing at my throat.
Listen, what about babies, you ever hear them cry?  You don’t see them going hoarse, losing their voice, now do you?

And then she got up and went to the closet and came back with a child’s jump rope.
Here, she said, tying the braided strand around my mid section, you feel that?  That’s your diaphragm.

And then she molded my body like a she was dressing a stubborn mannequin.
Knees slightly bent, hips up, support the diaphragm, she pushed her strong hands at different points of my  body.   When satisfied with my posture she said,  now breathe!   I took a deep breath and then she slapped me on the back,

Not there, not the lungs, down here–tugging at the rope.

I took another breath, this time feeling my belly fill with air, the rope straining at my mid section, and held for a moment.

She once again struck the note on the piano, and I let the air up, through my body, found the note in middle distance between us.  For the first time, really, I heard this foreign sound come out of my body, effortlessly clear and easy.

And for that brief moment,  for the first time, I sang.


To be continued