Viva Lost Vegas

You’d think I’d have learned by now, but it’s true that there’s no fool like an old fool. 

I went to LA for a holiday in November 2008 to celebrate my 50th birthday, and here I am in the USA 10 years later with my Green Card. That’s some mini-break. But despite the passing of a decade, I still fall for the c**p.

I learned quickly in LA that nothing is what it seems. Most people you meet are of the Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda kind, always rushing to meetings and busy busy busy, but more in a Chaucer’s Sergeant of the Lawe from the Canterbury Tales kind of way: “Nowher so bisy a man as he ther nas/And yet he semed bisier than he was.” For those not fluent in Middle English: basically, the Sergeant’s full of s**t.

People keep asking me how my recording session last week went. Facebook friends will know that I posted about going into a music studio for the first time and how excited but nervous I was about the prospect. I’m a trained singer but wanted to get a couple of songs professionally done and so asked on Facebook if there was anyone who could help.

I’m not going to name the site because they actually do a lot to help ex-pats and it is no judgment on them for what you are about to read. So much online depends on one taking people and their work at face value, so I’m not going to admonish them for what transpired. I blame nothing but my own naivete.

The person who contacted me – let’s call her the X Woman – told me that she would be able to record me in her studio in Hollywood. My friends will know that if there is one word guaranteed to have me diving into my purse and throwing cash at strangers, it’s the word Hollywood. In fact, it was the sight of those nine letters in the hills that got me here 10 years ago, after the screenwriter Blake Snyder e-mailed me to say “You belong in Hollywood” after reading some of my work. 

Well, that’s a slight exaggeration: it was a one sentence logline, but it was still enough to hurl me onto the Virgin Atlantic Upper Class flight and into the five star Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where I blew three months’ redundancy money in 10 days. Hey ho.

So, you can imagine the joy that rippled through me at the words Hollywood and studio, in the same sentence yegods! Would I want to move to Vegas when I got my residency? Would I be able to stand the heat? How would I cope with the smoking everywhere?

I took a long time choosing and downloading my backing tracks, but they were all too slow and in the wrong key. I selected the best I could – Susan Maughan’s Bobby’s Girl and Cilla Black’s You’re My World. I listened to the originals over and over. I practised them over and over. How hard could this be? “Delta? One way ticket to Vegas, please.”

Having decided, some weeks previous, to audition for The Voice USA and encouraged by my friend Ruth on an apartment-hunting trip to LA, I’d filled in the form late at night. Ruth assured me that she’d be my friend in the wings, telling the viewing audience about my tough life and how many obstacles I had overcome on my “journey”. We rehearsed it quite a few times. Alcohol had been consumed.

I forgot all about it until an e-mail arrived on a Friday saying I had a call on the Saturday afternoon. I phoned Ruth. She had no recollection of any of it. Nevertheless, I booked the flight, the hotel, and was 15 minutes away from the airport until I remembered one crucial thing: I didn’t have any songs. After two drinks at the Planet Hollywood bar at LAX, I was so stressed about messing up my Vegas residency, I caught a cab back to my apartment.

But I decided, instead, to apply online. There are a lot of things on my bucket list before I hit 60 in November. I’ve already achieved one – getting a Green Card – and auditioning for The Voice USA is another.

So, having chosen my songs, I set off for the Hollywood studio to record. I swear I could have got to Canada in half the time it took the Lyft driver to get me there. North Hollywood ain’t Hollywood, let me tell you. En route, I babbled incessantly about my forthcoming recording session and, by the time I arrived, I was in The Zone.

With trepidation, I went up the steps and was greeted by the X Woman and her tiny apartment. Her first words were, “You don’t mind the cat, do you?”

I hate cats. I am allergic to cats. She swept the creature into her arms and held it out towards me as a means of introduction. “I won’t touch it, thanks, I am allergic to them,” I proffered.

“It’s a hypo-allergenic cat,” she said. 

Oh, right. It’s still an effing pussy, I resisted crying out.

She led me into her bedroom. 

“This is my studio,” she said. I looked around for the keyboards, controls, overweight guys called called Brad with headphones on. Nothing. Then she opened a door to the “studio”. A broom cupboard. Actually, not as big as a broom cupboard. A shoe cupboard, housing a microphone and a computer screen. And about 20 degrees hotter than the 78 degree heat outside. I looked up at the scruffy foam hanging from the ceiling. “Is it soundproofed?” I asked. “Oh yes,” said the X Woman. 

Good. No one will be able to hear me scream.

A giraffe with laryngitis could not have sounded worse than the sounds I managed to emit during the next grueling two and a half hours. My voice isn’t in the best condition at the moment, but hearing myself back made me want to cut out my tongue and never produce another sound for as long as I live. I was sweating profusely throughout, suffocating, and no amount of tinkering with her computer six inches from her bed helped the X Woman make me sound remotely… well, bearable.

She thought my problem was support and entered the studio to put her hand on my stomach so that I could push against it. I nearly cracked my skull falling into the screen because I’m a veritable amazon when it comes to strength. Heck, I do boxing training. I can lift grown men.

“I really think this song can work for you,” said the X Woman, about the Cilla number. “You’re singing much better than you did at the beginning.”

No, I wasn’t. Now, the giraffe was making Florence Foster Jenkins sound like Maria Callas.   

I stumbled out of there $150 lighter and headed for a bar to down a pint of Stella. Cilla would have loved the story. 

As for me, I live and learn. 

Or don’t. 

Vegas, you’ll just have to wait a little longer.