Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Star Is Born

I’m a rock star. I have now joined the likes of the Beatles, Beyoncé, Michael Jackson, Milli Vanilli and Shakira in lip-syncing a tune—one of my own—for the camera.

Let me start at the beginning.

In January, Jim Ebert, the founder of Cancer Can Rock (CCR), suggested I do a turn for his organization. Jim created CCR a few years ago. He gets musicians who have cancer into a sound studio to record one of their tunes for posterity. Jim got the idea because he was diagnosed with brain cancer fifteen years ago and told at the time that he had a year to live. Obviously, he outlasted the prediction. He’s now cancer-free, but one of the things he considered while undergoing chemo and radiation treatments was how impermanent life was. He wanted to leave something behind for his family and friends…

Since Jim’s a music producer, he is surrounded by singers, musicians, songwriters, and recording engineers and it struck him that a recorded song on a CD would have permanence. If worst comes to worst, the CD will outlive the performer and be something the family can hold onto.

Back to now.  I am at Cue Recording Studios in Falls Church, Virginia, where CCR records. I was here years ago when the band I played with did a CD and had it finalized here. Today, I have a song I wrote when I was first diagnosed with cancer. It is not a happy air; it’s an equal-opportunity-offend-all-deities tune, maybe a little angry because cancer is supposed to happen to other people, not to me.

I sing the song a couple of times and the session musicians do an arrangement that is right out of spaghetti Westerns.  In other words, it’s perfect.  I sing some more. The hours speed by and the song comes together nicely. The clinker notes I hit, all sharps and flats, are fixed. A woman with a stunning voice does some really beautiful backup. My own voice is doubled so I sound, well, rock-starrish. The guitarist does a cool intro and a musical break in the middle. The guy is good! By the time the drummer packs up his gear, we have the beginning of something different and entertaining.

Meanwhile, a two-person video crew is taping all this for CCR’s website (www.cancercanrock.org). We do an interview. Jim asks questions about my situation; we talk for a few minutes on the impact cancer has on one’s life.  We relate well because he’s been through the same thing as me. Truth is, it’s almost impossible to talk about how much cancer can affect every day existence unless it’s to someone who’s in the same boat.

After the interview, the video guys need me to lip-sync a couple of verses of my song.  They’ll synchronize it later with the actual recording.

I have never done this before.

I’ve played and sang with bands, but whenever I did, words actually came out of my mouth. Not so here.  I mouth the opening line of the song, “Jesus my friend, you weren’t here in the end…”  I do it several times while the camera guy finds the angle that will make me look like an international sensation. I am instructed to look poetically to the right. Then I am told to put on a Clint Eastwood stare-at-the-darkening-horizon squint. I’m pretty sure I look like Jerry Lewis trying to look like Clint Eastwood.

Once more. This synching stuff is hard!  I lip-sync, “Buddha you would’ve, if only you could’ve…  I’m pretty sure my mouth looks as if it’s saying something about butter and maybe Gouda cheese. I lip-sync so much my lips get sore. I get a new appreciation for Mariah Carey, who lip-synced Touch My Body on Good Morning America.

Finally, the video producer says, “We’re done.”  With the acting through, we get back to real singing because unbeknownst to me, all the prior vocals were just practice.  I am starting to get a little hoarse.  Sean, who’s working the mixing board, keeps saying, “That was great! Awesome! Now do it just one more time!”  He says that seven times. My delivery is getting better. When we reach the song’s final line, “God bless me!” I really mean it. And then Sean says, “Okay, take a break.”

And that’s that. We listen to what we have. I’m thrilled!  My friend Rich who suggested the CCR gig, comes by and gives a listen. He says, “That came out different from what I thought!”  He’s right, but that’s what makes playing music with others so enjoyable. You can’t tell what you’ll end up with. I didn’t know I had a spaghetti Western tune in my repertoire.

Jim will use his skills to finalize the tune, blending bits and pieces of track to make a complete song.  The video guys will edit their footage and, I pray, not make me look too foolish.  It will all come together within two or three weeks.

Folks, I have arrived!



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