What do they say? There are million stories in the naked city? Here’s mine from Saturday night: Hubs and I went to see The Loser’s Lounge—an amazing musical lineup who perform at Joe’s Pub, one of the most celebrated performance venues in Manhattan. It works like this: The band picks an artist, say, The Jackson Five or Burt Bachrach or Dolly Parton, and then they play that artist’s songs, backing up a cavalcade of singers familiar to the NYC music scene. This show is pure fun and almost always sold out. Hubs and I first saw The Loser’s at their tribute to Neil Diamond a few years back. Imagine a punk rock version of “Kentucky Woman,” a sultry torch rendition of “Red Red Wine,” even a devastatingly and wonderfully campy twist on “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” Loser’s mainstay and backup singer, Tricia Scotti, performed a version of “Holly Holy” that night that shook the rafters and brought the crowd to their feet.
Some shows play out a “Battle of the Bands,” like the night they pitted Peter Gabriel songs against Phil Collins’s catalogue, or Michael Jackson versus Prince. This past Saturday night’s show was one of those: James Taylor vs. Cat Stevens. The Hubs has an almost preternatural soft spot for singer-songwriters. So, off we went—Hubs, his brother, and my sister-in-law. You might think the sensitive stylings of these two songwriting superstars are a bit tame for the The Loser’s Lounge. You’d be wrong. The singers performed some of the best and most original renditions of “Father and Son,” “Fire and Rain,” “Peace Train,” and “Steamroller” I’d ever heard.
Before the show even started, Hubs noticed three slips of paper on the table. “Look,” he said, picking one up. “You can put your name in to sing a song with them tonight.” The program had a space reserved in the second half for “Karaoke”—the band’s invitation for someone from the audience to come up and sing James Taylor’s “Handy Man” with them. All you had to do was enter and they’d pull someone’s name from the bowl. “Fill out your name, baby.” Hubs egged me on.
I’m not going to lie. I’ve wanted to sing with The Loser’s ever since I first saw them, though I’m nowhere near as talented or as experienced as they are. I mean, who wants to follow Paul Stovall?
“I don’t have a pen.” I lied.
“Come on!” he kept at it. “This is your big chance!” My sister-in-law quickly produced a pen, and the Hubs wrote my name on all three slips. If there’s any saving grace, I thought, his handwriting is so bad that no one will be able to read it.
But I was overcome with a tingly “spidey” sense: I knew—I knew—that if he put my name in, I was going to sing with the band. Not because my name would rise to the top, but because a quick scan of the crowd informed me that no one else was going to volunteer. I doubt I’ve been more certain of anything in my life.
Any other time, this might have been acceptable. I’ve been onstage before. I’ve sung in front of people. But on this night—Saturday night—I was nursing a cold and nagging cough, my voice could barely croak “Happy Birthday,” I was dressed in blizzard chic (snowboots, chunky sweater), I had hat head, for chrissakes, oh, and I didn’t really know the song.
“Sure you do,” said the Hubs.
Just before intermission, a bowl was brought out and bandleader Joe McGinty, who’s worked with absolutely everyone, pulled the name of the “Karaoke” performer.
“Uh…Camille…?” He said as he read the slip of paper.
The blood drained from our collective faces. For a nanosec, I wondered if maybe there was another Camille in Joe’s Pub, but, remember, I knew. Before I could give Hubs the “I’ll get you later” stare, a stage manager whisked me backstage where I was met by Tricia Scotti—the “Holly Holy” roller from earlier—and introduced to the other performers. “My husband wrote my name down three times,” I said, half-apologizing to the assembled crew in the dressing room. “There were only four slips of paper in the bowl,” Joe McGinty replied. Clearly, this was meant to be.
I suppose I should have been nervous—and I did have a terrible case of dry mouth—but I thought back to a phone call with a friend earlier in the day. She shared some exciting news about a new creative endeavor, but kept trying to downplay it. “It’s so crazy, really,” she protested. “Don’t stand in your own way,” I’d told her. It was time to follow my own advice and just enjoy this. We had maybe less than 10 minutes to rehearse with an acoustic guitar. The gang quickly found a key to accommodate my head cold and cough. Singer Sean Altman patiently taught me the bridge. Julie Joseph, who’d sang a gorgeous rendition of “Don’t Let me Be Lonely,” said I was a “ringer,” which was much too kind. Everyone who paraded the stage that night was awesome, I just didn’t want to be the weak link.
“So, you’re the one,” said everyone from the servers to the performers as I anxiously waited backstage. “Yep.” I nodded and smiled. “You’ll do great,” they all tried to reassure me. Then it was time when I heard Joe McGinty call out, “Now please welcome to the stage…Camille!”
Here’s something everyone who’s ever nervous about getting up in front of people should know: The audience is with you. They want you to succeed. They’re on your side. And, if you’re lucky, they’ll already have a few cocktails in them.
I got to the mike and cracked a few jokes—one about my husband stuffing the ballot box and, no, that wasn’t a euphemism. I got this, I thought. Then the music started. There wasn’t just a guitar helping me this time, there was a piano, drums, bass, singers, and, holy cow, a string section! I took a deep breath and eyed Tricia, awaiting her cue for my entrance, “Hey, girls, gather ‘round / Listen to what I’m puttin’ down.” The crowd cheered. She doesn’t suck! Truthfully, I could barely hear myself and just prayed that I was hitting the right notes as I swayed in sync with the backup singers. A harsher critic (me) would’ve found everything wrong with the performance. But, no matter, this was a Bucket List moment and I was going to make the most of it.
When we all finished, the audience roared—again, probably because there’s a two-drink minimum. I thanked everyone for all their help and went back to my table and planted a big kiss on the Hubs, so if he catches a cold next week, you’ll know where he got it.
So many nice people came up to me after the show and said nice things, including the other performers and musicians. My head (and heart) swelled. The Hubs, always my biggest fan, seemed to get an bigger kick out of the whole evening—perhaps because possible-future-New-York-Giants-coach Bill Cowher was also in the audience. Who knows when I’ll get another chance to be a Loser, but the point is, for a moment, I stopped standing in my own way. Don’t stand in yours.
They say pics or it didn’t happen. Does video count?
Without question, I had the time of my life and would do it all again. I just want to say thanks to everyone in The Loser’s Lounge, especially Joe McGinty, Tricia Scotti, Connie Petruk, Sean Altman, Eddie Zweiback (I hope you got your pliers back), and stage manager extraordinaire Patty Lenartz. And, as always, thank you, Hubs.