The last time I was so nervous before a gig, I was 18, playing with IY for an audience of 1,000 people. There can’t possibly have been more than a hundred of you on Tuesday at Rockwood—more wouldn’t have fit—but I spent the two hours before the show trying not to vomit.
Hayden and I have spent the summer trying to become a real band, sort of like how Pinocchio spends the movie trying to become a real boy. We seek bandness, that force that flows through a group of musicians when they’re more than the sum of their parts. We haven’t found it yet, but I guess I thought that if we bombed Tuesday’s show, it would mean we would never find it. This is of course a really stupid thing to think, particularly right before a gig, so I ordered a drink. I hoped it might mute a few thoughts, but I couldn’t finish it. Too nervous.
I stayed nervous as we set up, nervous through soundcheck, nervous right until I started singing. Singing, if you want to be clinical about it, is just pushing air out of your lungs. But the truth is that you push everything out: the way you felt writing the song, the mood you woke up in, your nerves, your love for performing, your general existential uncertainty, your conviction that there is absolutely nothing else you should be doing right now; it’s all in there.
Before the show, you can be terrified. Afterwards, you can think about what went badly and what went well. In between, while singing, there’s just everything that’s ever happened to you blowing out of your body and into the room, and you just watch it come out like it all happened to somebody else.
I wish everybody sang more. Even, maybe especially, the people who say they can’t sing. Sing anyway—in the shower, on the subway, to your boss, to your cat. Sing anyway, and then just try to be nervous about anything.