On Knocking ‘Em Dead

By now I think everyone on the blogosphere has heard the story of Susan Boyle.   It is an amazing moment and I hope she goes on to do more, because this woman has the fire and the talent.

You can tell, when you watch the video, that everyone in the audience and the judges thought this was a joke.  Here’s this dowdy, middle-aged woman with no looks and from a small town and with no creds who claims to want to be great and is going to sing a sentimental song from a musical and, well, shame on them and shame on us, she looked like she was going to croak like a frog.  So many people of like appearance do.  They step up on stage at the karaoke lounge and bellow or whine and it’s terrible and embarrassing and one hopes everyone was drunk enough not to care, but expectations get set.

To be clear, people who look like that ought to have this kind of talent sound like frogs, too, but somehow we don’t characterize them that way.  We keep expecting beautiful people to be beautiful in everything, or at least to have the good taste to not try what they can’t do.

One of the judges said that Susan’s performance was a wake-up call.  Indeed.

I can’t sing.  I know this.  Even though, on occasion, with the right amount of brandy in my belly, I’ve been known to surprise a roomful of people, this is not a talent I have in any reliable measure.  And when I get nervous, it gets worse.

But I can play piano and guitar and from time to time I’ve actually pulled off a minor coup in public performance.  The hindrance is always the nerves combined with my expectations.  I want to be great.

And I know I’m not.

I’m okay with that, though.  As much as I love music, it is not my first love, and playing okay is, well, okay with me.

But it’s the guts to actually overcome self-consciousness enough to do what you know you can.  Susan Boyle has that.  I have no doubt there are many people who go onto those kinds of shows who really do have talent and blow it because, standing there in front of that audience and those judges, the little troll in the back of their brain tells them they can’t.  It is as much a talent and an ability to ignore that little shit as it is to then perform.  To some extent you have not care.

But how do you do that when really you care so much it’s painful?

The only way to shut that troll up is to do this kind of thing at least once.  And then again.  And again.  And so on.

There was a girl in my grade school, a couple years behind me, who was the epitome of wall flower.  She could never manage to keep her hair combed right, her clothes never fit the way they should, and she muttered in class.  I found out later that she got straight A’s all through school, but she as unremarkable as they come.

Because I was bullied through most of grade school, I made a deal with the teacher one year to be allowed to come in and play piano during recess.  I did this for a few months until I got in trouble for playing Never On Sunday (it was a parochial school).  A few others would come in, mostly girls, and listen.  I was not a great player by any stretch of the imagination then, but I was 12 and I could play I wasn’t playing hymns, so it was special.

This girl came in a few times and once she asked if she could try.  There were giggles, but I slid aside and she sat down.

She was 10 and proceeded to play Claire de Lune almost note perfect.  I recognized it because we had a lot of classical records at home, but the others didn’t.  Still, for about three minutes, it was mesmerizing.  Small hands, they nevertheless flew over the keys during the latter sections of the piece.

When she finished, I said “That was terrific!  What else can you play?”  Whereupon she turned a brilliant red and ran from the classroom.  I never heard her play again.

Now I hadn’t thought of her till I saw Susan Boyle.

Never underestimate the power of human potential.  People will surprise you every time.  If they get a chance.  If they get a shot at living a dream.

And we should never, ever laugh at someone’s dream.

Published by Mark Tiedemann