Thinking about music this week caused me to recall an outtake from my soon-to-be published book, The 100 Thing Challenge. It reminds me of a truism I’ve discovered the hard way, the humiliating way: if you aren’t good at it, you ain’t gonna get better by buying stuff at the store.
I felt a little too good about a song I wrote extemporaneously one night while tucking in our daughter Bridget, who was nearly three years old at the time. She liked the song. She is my daughter, and she loves me. To her it does not matter what my singing voice sounds like. I knew that, but I should have kept it in mind.
I finger picked a simple G, D, and C.
It’s time to go to bed my girl
Time to lay down your head
We wish the days would last without end
But it’s time instead to dream
It’s time to close your eyes my girl
See what the night may bring
We love the light and the warmth of the sun
But our hearts were made to dream
So dream your dreams tonight
And all things will be alright
And in the morning light, when the sun shines again
Won’t you share your dreams with me?
May your dreams never end
Then I finished tucking in Bridget and thought, “Look, I know I cannot sing. I know I am not a singer songwriter. But what I’ve just done is create a really good song. If I knew Bob Carlisle, this song of mine could get on volume three of the Butterfly Kisses album.” [Wait, what volume is he on now? I wrote this a while ago.]
I imagined work-hardened dads in rural American, who never learned how to be sensitive and who cannot say, “I love you,” to their young daughters, listening to my song and tearing up. I was amazed.
So I bought a whole recording setup. I bought a small portable preamp and two microphones, one for my Breedlove acoustic guitar and one for my own voice. I bought booms to hold the microphones in place. And I bought cords to connect everything to the old Apple laptop computer I owned. I was prepared to be a singer songwriter. I was set.
When all the accessories were ready, I crooned that tender lullaby in the dark of the master bedroom closet, using our hanging clothes to deaden erratic acoustic reflections. Recording in a closet full of clothes is an old makeshift studio trick of singer songwriters, I have heard. I made several takes. It felt good. Singer songwriters call the times they record their songs “sessions.” This session was going well. No one in the house knew what I was doing, but they sure were going to be surprised.
After I was satisfied, I unplugged everything and took my Apple laptop computer to my desk. I got my headphones comfortably positioned over my ears. I moved the cursor where it needed to be and clicked the playback button in Pro Tools to listen to the song.
Now, I was under no impression that I was going to hear a perfect take. Even in the midst of my pride, some humility found a means to temper enthusiasm for my talent. I figured that listening to my songs would be helpful and even inspirational. I judged that, even though “It’s Time for Bed, My Girl” was a damn good song, maybe by hearing recordings of my songs I could learn to sing better and write more profound words. I thought that. But I didn’t believe it. Really my heart was racing and I anticipated being shocked and thinking to myself, “Wow. Wow, David Michael Bruno. I never knew you were capable of this.” I clicked the mouse.
Surely I was not. Not capable of this. Worry and shame rung in my ears when my digital voice croaked back lyrics that sounded simplistic. My eyes shifted to make sure I was alone in the room. Where did the song I wrote go? What is this godawful noise?
Very soon thereafter I sold that small portable preamp and the microphones and the audio cables on eBay. I gave the mic stands to my father-in-law Billy, who is a professional musician, and I never admitted to him what my voice sounded like on a computer. Not long after that, I sold my last singer songwriter accessory, my Breedlove acoustic guitar.
After the 100 Thing Challenge ended, I decided to buy another guitar. Another Breedlove acoustic. But I’ve not recorded myself singing and never will again, God willing.