Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Big Day

I came home to this image late Thursday night. I admit most of it’s my doing, but the little red Post-it -- stuck on by my roommate Larry Leong -- pretty much says it all. That's basically been my reaction to this fan piece every step of the way. RED FLAG! RED FLAG! RED FLAG! inscribed with a big bold WHAT?!

I can't tell you how many times I balked on the idea. Love songs to demons and vampires from a network TV show seven years out of date? What was I thinking? To be honest, I don't know. I told the idea to a couple of people in hopes of getting some validation, which would allow me to make logical sense of the whole scheme. Some snickered. A few nodded quizzically in that "Some people juggle geese"-type of way. Maybe they really were on board. Maybe I was projecting all of my doubts and insecurities onto them. Either way, there was no rationalizing this one. I had to follow my gut.

So there I was Thursday night, scrubbing the chalk marks off my makeshift Buffy T-shirt with Shout Wipes, bleary-eyed from an intense evening of rehearsing and recording, almost too deliriously tired to be nervous about my promised next-day release.

True to my word, immediately following my last blog entry, I picked up my guitar to practice the melody of my song. In that moment, I realized that there was no way I'd ever be able to work out the new chords, let alone play the ones I already had. The not-practicing-for-years had rendered my fingers unable to withstand the steel strings for a sustained period of time, and my chronic repetitive stress injuries (the reason for not practicing to begin with) made my left arm throb beyond belief. So scratch that idea. But now I had to find someone to help me with the music. Would anyone be available on such short notice? And even if they were, could we actually pull it off?

My singer-songwriter friend Myke Wilken valiantly came to the rescue. It worked out well because he had recording equipment in his apartment, which meant we could lay down a guitar track for me to take home and do the video recording separately. (Thank goodness for that because the video was an ordeal in itself! More on that in a bit...) There were several kinks to work out -- getting the timing right on the first verse (which was slightly different than the others), distinguishing the verse accompaniment from the chorus, and the biggest obstacle: the bridge. How could we ever get this done? Where would we even begin? We fumbled; we riffed; we strummed a few chords that shouldn't have touched the song with a 10 foot pole. Myke came up with some wonderful little musical moments which gave the piece more character than I could've imagined. We did indeed come up with a solution for the bridge. (My favorite part is chord he plays on the lyric "blonde," which he learned from his friend but didn’t know the name for. We ended up calling it "H”.) We recorded, recorded, and recorded until we got it right. And six hours later, I had my melody all perfectly packaged in a cute little iPod-friendly file.

I woke up the next day, still slightly tired but giddy with anticipation. After taking a walk (my usual morning ritual), I began the preparations for the video shoot. Anyone who's in film production knows that setting up a shot is far more time-consuming and labor-intensive than the viewer would perceive. And even though this was supposedly a "quick and dirty" operation, a certain amount of prep was necessary in order to get the thing looking and sounding decent. I had to find a place in my apartment where the lighting was good; clear a space to perform, a space to set up a tripod, and enough space to walk between the two; put on some light makeup; and conduct a few test shots for lighting, camera placement, and sound.

From there on out, it was all me taking my mark, pushing play on the iPod, and wailing at the top of my lungs to my neon pink Canon PowerShot, which I imagined to be the sexiest bleach blonde bloodsucker I'd ever seen. The first few takes were all about getting the jitters out, eliminating the extra facial expressions and body movements, and telling the simple truth. Last Monday, I had worked the song in my acting class with James Eckhouse, and he really helped me extract the essence of the story. Once the butterflies settled, the work I'd done with James really started to kick in. After another round of recording, I thought I might have my song. But looking at the playback, I realized it was way too somber and serious. During most of the takes, I didn't even crack a smile! In class, I’d excavated all the layers of the piece -- deep ones, dark ones, angry ones, scary ones. It was a useful exercise, but this was a youtube video. I needed to find the fun. As I'm sure you can see in the final product, a lot of the gritty stuff remains, but there is definitely an element of joy. I kept coming back to the phrase "I want to hate you, but I can't, you renegade vamp." I harbor all this resentment toward him because he is everything I am not supposed to like. But in the end, he melts me. And that, I came to realize, is the essence of the piece.

It's also the essence of my feelings toward the project. I went in fighting myself tooth and nail. I wanted to hate the idea, but I couldn't. And even when I knew I had to follow through, I was consumed by self-doubt. Should I do it? Should I not do it? What if it's too completely ridiculous to comprehend? Well I've got news for you, Karuna -- it IS!!! And you're just going to have to deal. I’ve got to embrace the silly like I embrace the fan girl. This is who I am and how I roll. I've written the thing. I’ve recorded it on video for the world to see. Now, all I have to do is own it.

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