Behind the Microphone by Sue Fagalde Lick

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microphone silhouette with blurry background

The dog knows you’re doing it again. You’re warming up your voice, trading your baggy jeans for tighter ones, and your sneakers for boots. She senses your nerves, silly after all these years, but your guts are a chemistry shop, and you’re not in charge.

Is the guitar getting heavier? Didn’t you used to be able to carry this amp without pain? Do you really want to do this anymore when you could stay home, eat leftover pizza, and watch a video with the dog? Maybe you’re getting too old for this.

It’s hard to go unnoticed when you’re carrying a guitar, when you slip past the invisible boundary onto the stage, platform or designated empty space, plant your mic stand, amp and guitar and start barking “test, test” into the red sock covering the end of your mic. People turn to look. You seem like an ordinary person, someone’s grandma maybe, but here you are testing and tuning. When the sound echoes off the back wall, it’s right. You start the first song.

They turn back to their food and their friends, talking louder to be heard over your music. Dishes rattle, the blender roars. No one is listening. All you need is one person paying attention. Come on, someone. Anyone. Remember when he used to sit at that table over there, singing along, clapping after every song, telling everyone who passed how great you were.

Never mind. A gig’s a gig. You play, you sing. You hug the guitar into the space beneath your breasts and rock from side to side. You have to stand close to the mic. Sometimes your lips or teeth accidentally touch. Sometimes the knuckles of your right hand graze the mic stand. But your voice falls into familiar grooves. Your fingers find their way around the frets while you’re watching the people, thinking about the next song, and wondering what you can sing that will get their attention.

You like how you sound tonight. Your vocal cords, like the wood of the guitar, have aged and mellowed to somewhere between the shallow screech of youth and the pitiful wobble of old age, but you’re not sure how much longer you can pretend to be younger than you are. Do the hat and makeup really help?

Forty-five minutes in, you take your union break, use the restroom, gulp water, and walk among strangers, smiling.

“Sounding good,” the waitress says.


“Can I get you something to eat or drink?”

“Not yet.” It’s on the house, but your body can’t sing and digest at the same time, not anymore. Booze makes your stomach hurt. You miss the buzz of a gin and tonic or a beer.

It feels wrong on the audience side of the stage, plus you worry about someone nabbing your guitar. You go back early, play another set, watch folded dollar bills drop into the old pitcher you use for a tip jar. You nod, hope you get enough for gas and new strings.

Customers leave. New customers come in. The smell of rain pushes through the open door. Drunk college students shout in the corner. Nearby, a couple snuggle and kiss, oblivious. You remember how that feels.

A guy interrupts your song to request “Happy Birthday” for his wife.

You strum a G chord and lead the congregation as the waitress brings cheesecake with a candle. The applause is for the birthday girl, not you.

No one is listening. You could be a radio. Why are you still doing this? Your throat is raw, your fingers hurt, and the smell of fried fish is making you sick. Would anyone notice if you quit?

Wait. That woman over there, drinking alone behind the post. She’s listening. You smile and sing to her. It feels good. Near closing time, she puts on her coat and drops a ten in your tip pitcher. “You have such a beautiful voice. Do you have a CD? I’d love to buy it.”

You finish your song. “Not yet,” you say, thinking you still might make one.

The manager is giving you the sign. You check your watch. Shift complete, you unplug and settle accounts, agree to come back next week because—why not?

Rain soaks your face and hair as you walk down the street to your car. Freed of all its pent-up songs, the guitar feels lighter now.

Meet the Contributor

sue fagalde lickSue Fagalde Lick escaped life as a journalist in Silicon Valley to write and play music on the Oregon Coast. Her books include Stories Grandma Never Told, Childless by Marriage, and the forthcoming memoir No Way Out of This. When not writing, she sings and plays piano, guitar and mandolin wherever people will listen

Image Credit: Flickr Creative Commons/Ian Muttoo

  6 comments for “Behind the Microphone by Sue Fagalde Lick

  1. I just wanted to say I’m absolutely in love with this piece of writing and it’s one of the best pieces of writing I’ve read in a while. I really felt like I was the performer with the guitar. I disagree with the other commenters, I think the CD idea adds a nice, fun detail.

  2. Yes, I agree with the above. Cut the CD. They would not kiss as well if you were not singing. Just remember that.

  3. Love it! I could feel it, I could see it, I could hear it. I’m the lady in the corner, tapping my foot, clapping my hands after every song. Cut the CD.

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