Elmer’s COLUMN: ‘I want you to’ stop singing


I could barely make out the faces in the dark sea of people sitting in front of me. My brow was sweating and my hands were shaking, but still I grabbed the strap of my guitar, swung it round my shoulder, plucked the introductory bass line and began to sing.

What was supposed to follow that bass line were words sung in the style of Rivers Cuomo from Weezer. It was the eighth grade talent show and I was covering Weezer’s “(If you’re wondering if I want you to) I want you to.” This was my first time singing and playing guitar in front of an audience, and I was petrified.

Lucky for me, a friend recorded the performance and I was able to study it when I got home that night. According to my parents and friends, I had done a great job and, according to them, won the crowd over.

As soon as I got home, I undid my tie and eagerly clicked play on the video; what I heard was the musical embodiment of disappointment.

I sounded awful.

I never planned on giving singing a try. It just serendipitously began as I got better at playing guitar and bass. Playing guitar riffs and bass lines became no fun unless accompanied by the vocals of their respective artist. My eighth grade science teacher was the one who first encouraged me to fill the last empty slot in what felt like a star-studded talent show line-up (in retrospect, we were all equally bad).

My first thoughts, upon listening to my performance, where those of disappointment, my second thoughts were those of embarrassment, my third thoughts were those of anger for letting my teacher talk me into performing, but my fourth thoughts were those of excitement and drive.

I sucked, and the first step to turn that around was accepting that I sucked; so, that summer, I used that initial recording to motivate me to improve and gain a fuller understanding of both singing and playing the guitar. Using that recording as an example of what not to do, I began to learn through books bought in Best Buy’s music department (Rest in Peace), YouTube videos and countless hours of practice (who would’ve guessed?). Although my eventual improvement didn’t come with the flick of a switch, it did come sooner than anticipated, due to how quickly I fell in love with casually making music and singing outside of the shower.

Growing up, I never thought music would become such a staple in my life, especially since back in middle school a boy singing was never considered “cool,” but today, music is one of the few things that gives me an outlet for self-expression.

I often wonder what life would be like if terrible-sounding eighth-grade-me had turned off to music completely, but honestly that “road not taken” is hard to imagine, due to the massive impact music has made on my life. Acknowledging my weakness not only allowed me to make peace with one of the most embarrassing moments in my life, but it also gave me the opportunity to fall in love with one of the things that makes me happiest.

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