HMXHellion is a Producer/Senior Writer at Harmonix and plays guitar in the band VAGIANT. She insists that refusing to do something because it is dangerous is not the same as being afraid of it. This applies to both skydiving and bicycle riding.
When I was a kid, I was scared of almost everything. I was what child psychologists might call a “highly imaginative child,” which is what a normal person would call “totally f’ing bonkerstown.” From the ages of about three through eleven, I was scared all the time. And whenever I got scared, I would send myself into a panic and then (yes, this is true) I would instantly start barfing. For this reason, I was unlikely to attend many sleepover parties, and my older sister (NOT affectionately) called me “Pukey.” Here is a list of just SOME of the many things that terrified me into a stomach-twisting panic as a child: roller coasters, red meat, the movie The Goonies, hide and seek, fish hooks, strangers, almost any urban myths, salamanders, the commercial for the movie C.H.U.D., Lew Zealand (the puppet who threw fish on Sesame Street), the Thriller video, and Santa Claus 1.
The thing is, once I hit puberty, I stopped being scared of stuff almost altogether. There are exceptions, (of course!) but in general I don’t scare all that easy 2. I recently heard the writer Paul Feig on the radio talking about his similar experience with childhood phobias, and the fact that he thinks it tends to result in fearless adulthood. To help make Mr. Feig’s point, here is a list of things that I am NOT afraid of: physical pain, getting in fights, looking like a moron on national television, hangovers, snakes, really weird foreign foods, zebra print stretch pants, and the inevitable robot and/or zombie uprising.
So it was with some surprise that I discovered I had a whole new exciting array of fears when VAGIANT booked our very first live show.We were set to open at the now defunct Abbey Lounge 3 for Breaking Wheel and the Acro-brats, having been invited generously by the latter band. At that point, we knew four songs and were getting by on borrowed amps and riding the occasional bourbon-induced wave of confidence. Once we were within about a month of the show, however, I started becoming increasingly concerned about a variety of possible outcomes. These concerns were not quelled by our band practices.
At one practice, my former guitarist Elena (this was VAGIANT mach 1) decided that it would be cool to chew gum on stage. She had just seen The Konks for the first time, and the bassist Jon tends to chew gum awesomely 4. So somebody gave her some gum, we started playing a song, and about 1/3 of the way through the song, Elena began choking. Like the super gross kind of choking where spittle flies everywhere and you start to look like Brian Dennehy 5 if he were painted purple and having a seizure. Eventually the gum flew out of her mouth… and directly into her hair. So she started trying to get the gum out of her hair, lost her balance, and tripped over a cord on the floor, which caused her amp to fall over on top of her. Normally this would make me laugh really hard 6, but in that moment all I felt was terror – I was convinced we were going to be a complete disaster.
Let me just go ahead and spoil the surprise now and say that we weren’t a complete disaster. We had some issues – every show has issues – but overall it was fine. But I know from personal experience that those of you who are preparing to play your first show might be struggling with some of the same fears I had, and in an attempt to put you at ease, let me present to you a list of some things I was GENUINELY SCARED OF before playing our first show:
BARFING ON STAGE
As I’ve already explained, I have a historically weak stomach, especially where “power of suggestion” is concerned. One time I went out to a show with some friends and, due to certain things beyond my control , I was unable to drive myself home, so I crashed on said friends’ couch. In the morning, I found myself in a less than ideal state (I had the words “call Frank him have key” inexplicably scrawled on my hand and was wearing a dish towel turban on my head) when my friend walked in to wake me up. He took one look at me and whispered the words “forty ounce” – and I instantly puked.
So, I am an excellent candidate for puking on stage as a result of nerves. But I didn’t. I never have! And let me make this very clear: I have NEVER in all my days of attending shows seen ANYONE puke on stage 8. If I didn’t do it, you won’t do it either. Because I am way grosser than you.
PEOPLE HEARING MY LYRICS
Look, I’m not going to go into details here, but the idea of people hearing my lyrics at a show really freaked me the hell out. I was thinking, “Everyone here will know all my innermost thoughts and feelings!” I genuinely considered asking certain people (about whom I had written certain songs) to leave the room before we played. Because, you know, THAT wouldn’t have been obvious.
Here’s the crazy thing about playing live shows that I never realized before I was in a band: no one knows what the hell you are saying. Unless you’re super successful, people will almost certainly not know the words to your songs. Most people who go to see your band live won’t even have your album, and those that do haven’t read the liner notes 9. I am 99% certain that I could replace the lyrics of any of my songs with a shouted chorus of “DON’T TOUCH THAT, THAT’S MY BANANA HAT!” and no one would even notice.
I am even MORE confident this is true because I rarely know the words to my favorite local bands’ songs. Whenever I go to see Bang Camaro, I find myself singing such “lyrics” as “Oooh come on. Your back door is on fire! Oooh come on. I want a ripe papaya-huh!” And I’m not convinced that ALL of those singers know the “actual lyrics” anyway.
So, yeah, if there ARE any lyrics that you’re uncomfortable singing in public, just scream them or mumble them, and no one will be the wiser. And you can always leave them out of the liner notes, just to be safe.
MESSING UP OR EQUIPMENT FAILING
Oh yeah, those things are totally gonna happen. You really just have to roll with it, and frankly, nobody cares. The only way that a mistake can become a disaster is if you react to it by shouting, “JIM! You flowing miso cup 10! You are the WORST ragtime-influenced thrash metal electric oboe player in the ENTIRE tri-state area!!!” Just be prepared (bring an extra guitar in case you break a string, and bring lots of picks, a toolkit, and tape) and make a joke out of it.
NOBODY LIKING US
Here’s another hard-to-believe but true fact: no matter how terrible you are, no matter how many times you ask “um, so how’s everybody doin’ tonight?,” no matter how many patrons are literally plugging their ears with their own feces to avoid hearing your butchered rendition of “Teenagers from Mars,” SOMEBODY will like you.
It might be your mom, it might be your long-suffering significant other, or it might be that weird old guy in the suit jacket and bathing trunks who drinks Midori Sours and dances the Watusi directly in front of the stage. In fact, it will probably be that old guy. Regardless, someone will think that you’ve got talent and gumption and will be waiting for you to get off stage to give you a high five 11. And, of course, you’ve always got each other.
In the end, your first show is going to be a blast. You’ll probably make mistakes, and you’ll probably freak out when you get up there. You’ll probably also end up drinking too much and ill-advisedly texting your ex and then ordering really terrible pizza from the bad pizza joint because it’s the only place open at 3 AM that will deliver to “a parking lot that smells like cornbread, with a blinky sign that has letters and also there’s a station wagon.” Just have fun with it, hug the hell out of your bandmates when you get offstage, and remember: unless there’s a dude with a creepy moustache in attendance who gets off on throwing fish, there’s really nothing to be afraid of.
- Also, there was this video game? I’ve completely blocked the name out but it was on the computer, it waaay predated Resident Evil, and it involved a haunted mansion. This would’ve been in the late ‘80s, probably. I really don’t remember much except that it scared the hell out of me and that scary stuff killed you if you made one wrong move. If you know what game this is or have a guess, let me know.
- I’m still scared of heights, but that’s a TOTALLY rational thing to be scared of, since I would DEFINITELY DIE if I fell off the roof. It’s not the same as being scared of, say, spiders, which are probably not going to hurt you, let alone kill you. Anyone who isn’t scared of heights is a fool (except Jon Bon, who must not be scared of heights since he used to fly over the crowd onto stage on that bitchin’ trapeze and who is inherently radular.) I’m also scared of those giant paper cutter things that teachers have in grade school classrooms. But I rarely vomit out of fear anymore.
- On the topic of the Abbey closing, I think I speak for the majority of mature, grown-up Boston musicians and music fans when I say: “WAAAAHHHHH! NOOOOOO! THIS IS GUTS AND POOP STICKS AND 14 OTHER KINDS OF BAD!!!!!!”
- I don’t really know why he is so good at chewing gum -- I realize that this concept may be lost on many of you. It’s kind of like how Fonzie is good at combing his hair. I believe that everyone has a mundane task which they are uniquely awesome at. I’m not talking about things that you’re good at, like sports or baking, which require an actual skill. I’m talking about day-to-day things that you DO in an awesome way. For example, I am awesome at trying on sunglasses. What useless thing can you do awesomely? Share in the comments section below.
- Also as a child I was scared of Brian Dennehy.
- Oh yeah, because I’m a huge jerk.
- (Such as the tastiness of beer.)
- Except for Sasquatch of Sasquatch and the Sickbillies, but that’s because he sticks his finger down his throat. It’s gross.
- EXCEPT FOR STALKERS. STALKERS RITUALLY READ THE LINER NOTES.
- (Edited for impressionable readers.)
- The only exception is if you play a show in Boston wearing a Yankees cap. Then people will be waiting for you to get offstage to give you a tasty wrap sandwich stuffed with organic arugula and BEATDOWN.