She is not Ella Fitzgerald, but she might as well be. For the past few years, she’s been my favorite living female singer, and now she’s becoming my favorite new friend. I’m experiencing the transition from fan to friend with wonder and delight. From surreal to real. From wahoo to hohum. One day my kids are screaming at me to turn off her CD in the car because they can’t possibly listen to it for the five hundred, fifty-seventh time this week, and the next day I’m laying on the floor of a stage doing vocal warm ups with her. Freaky, huh?
I guess I should say straight out here that, no, I’m not going to tell you her name. Not because I’m being coy (though I’m not above being coy.) If you’ve heard of her, you probably like her music because she friggin’ rocks so hard with a voice like silk sheets. But I’m not going to tell you her true name in order to respect her privacy. Plus, this story is not really about who she is to you, but who she is to me. She is my musical addiction. Her voice lightens my heart. I hear her music with my hips, my eyes, my smile. Her lyrics wind around my brain like ribbons on a May Pole. She is, quite frankly, all that and more.
But going from the pedestal to the floor is an adjustment indeed. Not in a bad way. Just something I’ve never experienced before. These days when I listen to her music, I can picture her face laughing at something I’ve said. She climbed out of the CD case, and sat down in my family room. One day, I’m dancing to her music in my kitchen, and a moment later she’s rummaging through my tea drawer.
“Do you mind if we work on this song for a while?” she asks, picking up her guitar and settling down in front of my fireplace.
“Sure,” I squeak as casually as I muster while the inside-my-head voice hollers, “Holymarymotherofgod.”
Wait. It gets even better. Yes, even better than having my favorite living female singer make music in my family room. Even better than accompanying her on the tambourine (which was pretty flippin’ incredible, let me tell you.) And even better than singing with her without her ears bleeding from my feeble vocal attempts.
But here’s the thing, the longer I know her, the more I get gifted with these amazing experiences. At the same time, the less amazing the experiences get, the more I know her. Let’s call it “The Diva Dichotomy.”
I’m going to back up for a minute to the day I found out I would meet my favorite living female singer. It was a good day. I had just found out that a local theater company was going to include one of my essays in their next production, and they wanted me (me!!!) to perform it as a monologue. Yeah, it was a capital-G-O-O-D GOOD day. In the “welcome to the company” email, I spot another recipient’s name. It was her name. Could it be???? I knew she lived in my area, so it certainly was possible. It was definitely possible. I may, just may, have screamed extremely loudly and repeatedly in uncontainable joy of working with my favorite living female singer.
Fast forward a few weeks to the first day of rehearsal.
“I’m determined to play it cool,” I gush to my friend in the morning, willing all the gush to gush out before I met her that night.
I think my friend said something like, “Good luck with that.” Dollops of sarcasm with a sprinkle of “I can’t wait to hear about what an ass Pam makes of herself.” Hardly a stranger to the open-mouth-insert-foot position, I didn’t take offense. Hell, no matter what, a good story would come out of it, I figured.
That night, I am the first to get to rehearsal (what a geek!) But she walks in the theater soon after me (could she possibly be as big a geek as me?!) Soon we’re sitting next to each other, chatting amicably.
Diva: “Do you do much theater?”
Me: “I’m an improv comedian, so I perform a lot.”
Diva: “Oh. This is my first real play. I’m a musician.”
Me (cool as a cucumber, casual as jeans and a t-shirt): “Yeah, I’ve heard some of your stuff.”
Because I am not completely insane and because I have hung out with some “celebrities” before (I used to work at CBS News) and because on the rarest of occasions people I don’t know but who know me say hi to me at Trader Joe’s, I am able to set aside my flat out adoration of her and begin to see her as a friend. It helps that she is totally cool and goofy and smart and irreverent in a way that feels comfortably familiar to me. Quickly, the Diva Dichotomy occurs. There is the songstress I listen to on my iPod, and the friend I hang out with. They split into to separate entities, sharing only their name. And, oh yeah, that silky, swell voice.
Remember when I told you that it gets even better? Here it is, at its best so far: Rehearsals blend into rehearsals blend into rehearsals. Way too quickly, it is the last few minutes before our final performance. My friend is sitting playing her guitar as I pass by. She’s strumming the first chords of “Friend of the Devil.”
I laugh, “I’m a big Dead Head. That’s my daughter’s favorite Dead song!”
She plays it, I sing along when she can’t remember the words.
Then she plays “Uncle John’s Band.” When I ask her to play The Beatles’ “Blackbird” (one of the most beautiful songs ever,) she doesn’t hesitate. Everybody else is milling around the room, talking in small clumps, goofing around, stretching, looking over their scripts. My friend and I are alone in a bubble of my fantasy-reality, sitting nearly nose to nose. And she’s singing. Just. To. Me.
I’m sorry. I have to repeat that again for my own benefit. My favorite living singer is singing any song I request. Just. To. Me.
I know, right?!
It was (thank you e.e. cummings) puddlewonderful. But guess what? It wasn’t mind-blowing. Because I didn’t want it to be mind-blowing. I would have to give up knowing her in order to get to mind-blowing. And the fact is, I’d much rather know her than be blown away by her.
Later that night at the cast party, I confess to her the secret of my years-long fandom in a deluge of foolishness. I don’t want to hold on to my fandom anymore. I have to show it to her to let it go.
She takes it well enough. Perhaps it is not her favorite conversation of the night. But to her credit, she shows up to the conversation. She says, “You know, it’ll change the way you hear the music.”
I try to explain The Diva Dichotomy, the split of real and image, but I fumble through it clumsily. I’m talking to my friend about the singer, which sort of makes her turn into the singer and makes me afraid of losing the friend forever. So my lame explanation trickles off to a stop, and I’m left only to shrug. We smile at each other. I fear I’ve spoiled things with my confession. But then she makes a lurid, inside joke about fingers and ladies, and I feel like she is returning my friend to me. Much to my relief. Because that is where I like her best.