Julie’s Magic Knight 2: Performance
On Monday, July 25th, 2016, at ten minutes to 5, I sat alone with Julie Gold’s magic Knight piano, the piano on which she wrote “From a Distance,” and the heavens opened. A huge storm played out before me, on the other side of Julie’s huge, 17th floor windows. And I wrote a song. A song poured out of me like the rain from the sky, and I didn’t entirely understand what was happening. Maybe it was magic, who knows? I am not the first nor last to get a song out of that piano (it’s still going strong, and will continue for years to come), but I did it, and now I was part of that club. It needed some polishing, my song, there were a few lines missing, but I had done it. And that was part one. A few months later, Julie e-mailed me and several other people who had had time with her piano and said she was putting together her third “A Little Knight Music” show at the Duplex in Greenwich Village on her next birthday. Committing to sitting with her piano had been a leap of faith on my part, and it had worked out after all. Committing to singing my song on stage in front of her accomplished musician friends was something more. Something much, much more. Which is why I did it.
It was a long drawn out process, preparing for this performance, which is why it is a good thing I had months to do it. Actually, there wasn’t a ton to do, but I didn’t want to rush it, and I had plenty of time. My first step was to transcribe the faint pencil markings on lined paper that constituted my song into a word processor on my computer, so I could look at it and shape it, understand it better. Figure out what those missing lines should be. I found a few, but there was still one that was a problem. Ah, but I could get to that later. I e-mailed the song to my brother, who had said he would help me figure out the chords and create a lead sheet. He was also planning to play it with me at the show, but it turned out he had a concert that same night. I went to his apartment one afternoon, and sang my song into my phone, creating a voice memo, while he played, and he found the chords that made sense. I learned a lot about songwriting that day, and decided that, for the most part, if not in this particular instance, I really should have a real composer on my team if I’m going to make songs.
But I still needed someone to play it with me at the show, and if one brother had a conflicting gig that night, that meant the other did too, because they’re in the same band (Maybird). But their girlfriends are not in that band, though they are also musically inclined, and one of them, who I will refer to as K, agreed to play with me. We arranged a time for her to come to my apartment and practice, and meanwhile Julie was finalizing her list of participants for the concert. I started peppering her with questions, so that I had everything straight about what was going to be there equipment-wise and what the process would be. I wanted to make sure I could be as prepared as possible. So I was very happy when K came over and we played the song through several times, ironing out kinks and changing the key (though I was still missing a line), and decided it wasn’t that complicated a song (which I knew), and that we could, in fact, play it on a stage for people. We felt very ok with that prospect, which is a pretty important part of this process. And then she left, and I decided to just change one of the other lines, the one that rhymed with the missing line, so that I could stop trying to figure out that rhyme and go with an easier one. That night I e-mailed K the finished lyrics.
That was this past Sunday. I had all this week to be nervous about my first time singing on a stage in New York City (I have sung under a stage in New York City, and I have been on a stage, performing, but not singing, in New York City, but I had never sung on a stage in New York City). And I wasn’t. Nervous, that is. I liked the song, thought it was ok, but mostly I had faith in K and her abilities, and in Julie and her faith in me, inviting me (several times before I said yes), novice that I am, to spend time with her piano and see if I could do something I wasn’t entirely comfortable doing, but really wanted to. She had believed in me, and she had been right, so she was probably right that I could then perform the song. And I had been to one of these concerts, so I knew what it was like, how supportive the room was. I should have been nervous, but I wasn’t. K came over the afternoon before the performance and we practiced together before we headed downtown to the Duplex.
We arrived around five, and did a sound check, during which K played and I bluffed my way through “Over the Rainbow,” which for all its ubiquity I didn’t know half the lyrics to. Julie didn’t want to hear my original song until the actual performance, but “Over the Rainbow” turned out to be a somewhat appropriate substitute for the sound check, if only I could have gotten the words right. Then K and I dropped her guitar off in the green room and went to get some food and look at some Greenwich Village shops. We got back around 6:30 and went up to the green room, where we found Julie and one of the other performers of the evening, Richie Lopatin, who had a funny but poignant song about sleeping and beds and how these things change over a life. Julie informed me that one of the performers had cancelled last minute, but that’s show business, and the show must go on. She also told the harrowing tale of her computer troubles from earlier in the day, a tale she repeated at the top of the show before going into the formal explanation of the Magic Knight Project. Among those who joined us in the green room were John Forster, who I had met and talked to at the last “Little Knight Music” concert, and Suzzy Roche, who had returned to sing her mouse song that I had loved so much again. I got to hang out in a green room with these people.
K and I went to our seats at a quarter to seven, and I ordered a drink, but I did not get to drink most of it because in the moments before I was to go on stage, as I was turning in my chair to get ready to stand (it was a small, tight audience space), I pulled the table cloth, unaware of what I was doing, with my knees, and my glass fell to the floor, and I don’t know where the fluid went, but fortunately it didn’t get on me. I found the glass and put it back on the table before I was summoned to the stage. Julie gave me a bit of an introduction, and then I had a few introductory words while K retrieved her guitar from backstage. And then we performed the song, and then it was done. My portion, that is. But still, I was there, I did it, I think I did it a little differently than we rehearsed, but we stayed together, and then it was done. People applauded. John Forster patted me on the back and complimented me as I made my way back to my seat. The show went on. My memories of my time on that stage are at once very clear and visceral, and nearly non-existent. You know, like they say, it was a blur, and yet time stood still. I was nervous and shaky, but not too much to enjoy and be enjoyable. It was a very loving room, and as Julie kept saying throughout, that was what it was all about: love.
It was a very intimate show in more ways than one. The size of the room was one way, but also the way that Julie tied everything together, both with her own songs, and also with the force of her personality. Over the course of her life, she had connected with each of us, and we were all connected through her. Speaking of the course of her life, if she ever wanted to write a musical about herself, she’d have the songs. She sang four of her own, all written at her Knight, ending with her classic, “From a Distance.” Of her songs, two were from distant, crucial points in her life, her teenage years, and the day she left her job as a secretary at HBO. And I have heard her sing other songs from other points in her life. She has written the score of her life, but isn’t that what songwriters do? It’s what I did. My song was from the scene in the musical about my life in which I am sitting at Julie’s piano in her apartment and it starts to storm and I write a song. Forster’s song was similar to mine in that sense, and Lopatin’s was about his changing relationship with sleep, and Roche’s was about her feelings about a mouse guest of hers. Everyone’s song was personal, and we got together and shared these personal experiences. And it made me want to do it again and again and again. Thank you, Julie. Happy Birthday.