I Sang At Carnegie Hall


"You're a real trouper," Bette the pianist said to me, delivering the most devastating backhanded compliment you can give someone after a performance. It's the equivalent of getting a participation trophy - you're a winner just for showing up!

Here's the thing: I sort of feel like a winner just for showing up. After all, the place I showed up to was Carnegie Hall, one of the most legendary stages in the world. And I got on that stage - the same stage where Tchaikovsky conducted on opening night, the same stage where Billie Holiday and Nina Simone and Benny Goodman and Judy Garland and the fucking Beatles played - and I sang my little heart out. It wasn't good. It wasn't pretty. But I did it.

The answer to "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" is traditionally "Practice, practice, practice," but when it comes to my eternally charmed life the answer was actually "As part of a press event promoting the movie Florence Foster Jenkins." That movie is based on the true story of a lady who couldn't sing but who dreamed of singing at Carnegie Hall anyway, and how she made it happen. The premise of this event was to get non-professional singers up on that same stage and give them their own 'Carnegie Moment.' 

How did I make the cut? Well, I'm a big karaoke guy. I love it. I love live band karaoke. I love singing. If you hang out with me enough, eventually you'll do karaoke with me. And you know what? I'm pretty good at it, and that's because karaoke requires heart more than it requires chops. Also because you usually do it in a very loud room and you're usually drunk.

So anyway, I got flown to New York City for this event and on a hot, muggy morning I took to the stage at Carnegie Hall, the same stage where Bruce Springsteen, whose song I would be singing, had in fact performed. I had the option to come with a backing track or to work with a pianist, and I felt like the pianist would make this the most authentic experience possible. It would be the closest to a real live performance - at least as close as you could get at 10am in an empty Carnegie Hall. Yes, there was no one in the room except for the camera crew.

Some of the people who sang that day - like my pal Jen Yamato of The Daily Beast - were naturals on that stage. Some, like yours truly, kind of profaned a special place. But while I am not a particularly good singer, I truly love singing, and even as I was embarrassed and felt silly on stage I loved being in that place and giving it my all. Which, to be fair, was not enough. 

I haven't even seen Florence Foster Jenkins, so I can't tell you if the movie is any good, but I can tell you that I love its message. I love the idea that everybody should be happy and comfortable doing the things they love to do. You're not owed accolades or a living - just doing it should be good enough. Just getting up and singing is its own reward. 

And now, without further ado, a gift to all the people who hate me and make gifs of Joe Swanburg beating me up: my Carnegie Moment.