The Conan O’Brien studio is even colder than the MTV studios, and I’m terrified that my nipples are pinging through my T-shirt. Everything is much smaller than it looks on TV — the desk where Conan O’Brien sits and the couch next to it, the stage to the right of that, and still farther to the right, the little area for the Max Weinberg Seven. There’s only about twenty feet between the stage and the steeply inclined rows of seats for the studio audience, which right now are empty.
“What happens if I blank out?” I ask Doogey the stage manager, who has a whistle dangling from his neck. I wonder if he ever uses it, and if so, when?
Doogey drums his fingers on the underside of his clipboard. “You get one shot,” he says.
“What if there’s some kind of, like, technical difficulty?”
“Listen. If a bomb goes off then maybe, maybe, we’ll give you another take. But basically, you just play your song and that’s it. Warts and all.”
“Oh,” I say, unable to shake the memory of that time in a summer camp talent show when all I could remember of “Needle and the Damage Done” was the first words to the first verse and the last words to the last verse, which I sang over and over, to an ever-swelling tittering in the audience, so that by the fourth time I sang, “But every junkie’s like a setting sun,” I swore to myself that I’d never get on a stage again. Not to mention: junkies. What did I know about junkies?
When we get back to the “green room,” where we’re supposed to relax, Buck tells me to stop worrying.
“If you screw up, I’ll kick you to the side and sing the bugger myself,” he says.
“Even I know the words to this one,” says Robby.
“Jen,” says Burns, “at this point, I think I could sing that song.”
This is when Kavallah walks in, her blond perm twirled into glorious tendrils, her tight blue jeans cupping her tight heart-shaped ass, her breasts all bounce and curvaciousness, her snug baby-T revealing a navel so small and oddly modest as to invite a fingertip.
“Welcome,” says Buck, standing up. “Welcome to our lair.” He bows.
“How was MTV?” she says.
“Great!” says Robby.
“Great!” says Buck.
“Where’s Randy?” I say.
“Randy says he is soooooo sorry, but he’s up to here,” says Kavallah, putting her hand like a salute to her forehead. “He says he’ll be here by the taping.”
She pulls from her bag a bunch of papers for us to sign, “union stuff” she says, handing out pens.
Buck says he’s not going to sign.
“Buck,” I say.
“You gotta sign it or else you can’t do the show,” says Kavallah.
“I’m not signing something if I don’t know what it is,” says Buck.
“Come on,” says Robby. “I’m sure it’s nothing. Just the usual stuff.”
Buck stands up, stretches. “I’m not signing it,” he says.
My throat begins to swell with emotion, though I’m not sure exactly which emotion it is. Anger? Fear? Irritation? Did I already say fear? I stand up.
“Buck! Why can’t you just —”
“Just what?” says Buck. “Lie down and play dead?”
I can feel the tears in my eyes as I lurch over the coffee table, past Kavallah (who smells lovely — lemony, yellow-y, like a fresh spring morn’) and out into the hallway, where I cry unreasonably hard, especially considering the world is my own personal rock-star oyster.
The steeply inclined seats are filled with people. The lights over our half of the stage are dimmed. Conan is behind his desk, laughing it up with Crystal Bernard, the chick from the TV show Wings. When he says, “We’ll be right back with singer Jennifer Trynin” and holds up my CD for the closeup, my heart gives me one curvilinear THUD, bringing my hand to my chest in an I-knew-I-was-going-to-die-of-a-heart-attack-today sort of way. I figure I have three or four minutes to calm myself down before we’re back from commercial break — but then Doogey gives me the high sign, twirling his hand in the air as if lassoing, because we’re not really broadcasting live, we’re just pretending.
Holding the CD up to the camera again, Conan says, “Here with us tonight is Jennifer Trynin, hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, with her new record, ‘Cockamamie,’ out now on Warner Brothers Records. Please help me welcome Jennifer Trynin!”
Clap clap clap.
Robby starts playing the opening beat, which I can barely hear over my pounding heart and my spinning brain which is reeling through the first words to the song again and again: Maybe we could talk in the shower — Maybe we could talk in the shower — I know the words. I swear I do. And what’s the real likelihood of my having a heart attack within the next three minutes and twenty-six seconds anyway? And even if I do have a heart attack, I’m young, it won’t be fatal. They’ll just stop the tape and pick me up, call an ambulance, administer fluids. They won’t just, like, leave me here to die.
I hear my guitar come in as if by magic (my fingers are here, here, here, now they’re there) and then I start to sing. “Maybe we could talk in the shower” (here here here there) “I bet we’d be gone in an hour” (here here here there) “Maybe we could leave all this behind” (here here here there) “Or we could just stay home” (here here here here) “It’s better than nothing” (there there there here) “It’s better than nothing” (there there there there!) “I’m feelin’ go-od, I’m feelin’ go-od, I’m feelin’ go-od for now!”
I’m trying to calm my beating heart, to stop it from pumping blood through my veins at unfathomable liters per cubic inch, constricting my throat and making my voice bear an unfortunate resemblance to Kermit the Frog’s.
AND DON’T FORGET:
1) Let air completely out of lungs before taking next breath.
2) Relax your mouth.
3) Don’t make those silly faces when playing guitar.
5) Make sure you get the wah off after the bridge and DON’T FORGET THE BRIDGE!
Suddenly, the studio audience erupts with applause and Conan O’Brien is at my side, throwing a substantial shadow over me since he’s about a hundred feet tall.
“Hey, that was great!” he says, shaking my hand, turning back to the audience. “We’ll be right back!” he says. Then he turns to Buck and Robby. “That was great!” he says, and then he just stands there, running his fingers through his hair.
“You know,” I say to Conan O’Brien, because he’s standing right next to me and how many times in my whole life is Conan O’Brien going to be standing right next to me? “I sat at the table next to yours in a restaurant in Connecticut.” This sounded far more interesting in my head than it sounds coming out of my mouth.
“You did?” says Conan O’Brien.
“Yeah,” I say. “You were with a woman.”
“What did she look like?”
“She was lanky. And blond.”
“Oh,” he says. “That’s possible.” He smiles.
“Okay!” yells Doogey, and suddenly Conan’s gone and people’s hands are all over me, lifting my guitar over my head, snaking a wire up the back of my shirt, clipping one of those little black microphones to my collar, and leading me over to The Couch next to Conan’s desk, which Conan is again behind.
AM I GOING TO TALK?
Crystal Bernard is sitting to my right, just a little farther down the couch, and she reaches out and touches my arm. “I think you are so cool!” She doesn’t look real. She looks bloodless and Lilliputian, like a small wax replica of the perfect female specimen. Next to her, I feel like a giant, a different species altogether.
Doogey is twirling his arms in the air and an APPLAUSE sign lights up. Everyone begins clapping. Conan is thanking the guests and when he says my name I can feel myself smiling, nodding my head in a very aw-shucks sort of way. Great. Real rock star. I should be FLIRTING or KAVORTING or at the very least wearing some kind of tummy-revealing little T-shirt to ENTICE THE FOLKS WATCHING AT HOME! Then Conan says good night. People keep clapping. Now I’m feeling stupid. What am I doing up here? I didn’t even really get to talk, not that I have any idea what we really would’ve talked about being that I already mentioned the Connecticut dinner thing. But I can’t bear to be one of those people who just sits on the couch while everyone’s applauding, so I look at Conan and say, “I like your haircut,” and I can see my stupid hands making my stupid Jersey gesticulations at him and it’s like they’re someone else’s hands, because I keep thinking, Stop making stupid Jersey gesticulations at Conan O’Brien! but I can’t, and he says, “My haircut? Does it look different?” and I’m like, “Yeah,” and he’s like, “How?” and I’m like, “You know, up there,” (GESTICULATE GESTICULATE GESTICULATE) and the audience is clapping and the Max Weinberg Seven is playing up a storm.
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