History will never remember the things you almost did. The planes you never boarded, the jobs you didn’t get, the kisses you kept to yourself, these belong only to you. No pictures taken, no stories told, no witnesses. Only false memories generated by your own imagined potential will remain, and no one but you will mourn their passing or mark their anniversaries. These are your private, empty spaces of regret, sometimes pockets and sometimes chasms, never to be filled, and the greatest mercy you can give yourself is to nail some boards over them, mount a poster of your favorite heartthrob, and move on.
But the ghost of one of my almosts keeps knocking, so I hope no one minds if I take it out for a little exorcise.
I almost got to see Richard Cheese in concert.
I became a fan in 2005 with the release of Aperitif for Destruction. I’d been made aware of a few songs from his previous album, I’d Like A Virgin, but not until I experienced his music through the filter of watching my friends enjoy him did I develop an appreciation of my own.
Man Singing Jazz Standards with Large Orchestra is one of my first favorite musical genres, one I discovered thanks to the likes of Harry Connick, Jr. and Robbie Williams, later with the tunes of Michael Buble and an exploration of Frank Sinatra. Richard Cheese combined this aesthetic with the sensibilities of one of my childhood heroes, Weird Al, threw in some risqué subversiveness, and rarely recorded a track longer than two minutes. Each song was designed to have maximum comedic impact with great musical talent, without extraneous padding, and by god he does it well.
He also sings within my vocal range, if at my upper limit. This meant I could absolutely sing along (and well) while driving, a pleasure usually not afforded to me – not with my favorite music, anyway. Singing along with a Richard Cheese album served as my vocal warmup in the days of recording voice-overs with FUNimation. A thirty minute drive to the studio gave me enough time to suck down a cigarette and wash it down with a can of Coke while powering out a few of my favorite tracks before going in to record. Combined with my elation of calling myself a Working Actor (at least for the day), the music cemented my mood firmly in the positive a few times a week for a good two years.
I’m not usually one for going to concerts. Mostly because I can’t stand the crowd, but the biggest hurdle was my job in the service industry. I usually couldn’t make it to a concert without taking a Friday or Saturday night off work, which doubled (or tripled) the cost. There also aren’t many artists I enjoy enough to bother with an entire concert.
But a Richard Cheese album gave little tastes of his live experience. A bonus track here and there provided the opportunity to hear him banter with the audience, a pinhole view of a larger experience I ached to enjoy if he ever came to my town.
In February of last year I was in a professional slump, so I made myself feel better when I purchased a pair of tickets to see Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine at the Chicago House of Blues. I didn’t realize just how badly I wanted to see him until I saw the tour dates and info, up to and including the fact that it was promised to be the last time he’d be in Chicago at least 2015.
The tickets came in the mail – I opened the envelope for a single peek, then kept it next to my computer (where I spend a significant percentage of every day) where I could glance at them warmly from time to time if I ever needed a little pick-me-up. The show was four months away, so I even had time to let it slip onto the back burners of my consciousness while I attended to other things, namely my career.
Holding out for a higher-paying job (or even a living wage) is a nice fantasy, but the truth is no one is likely to pay you as an artist until you’ve proved you’re not in it for the money. No one who pays will hire you if you’re inexperienced, so the only way to get experience is to work for a stipend that’s almost enough to buy a week’s groceries if you don’t buy booze or meat. So I counted myself lucky when, in early March, I was cast in a new play with a young theatre company. It didn’t even pay enough to cover the cost of traveling to rehearsal, so I considered the net financial loss as a post-post-graduate education credit. Perhaps one more line on the resume would lead to greater successes. Eventually.
What I did not realize when I accepted the role was a scheduling conflict – opening night was the night of the Richard Cheese show. When my Lady Love pointed this out to me, my heart sank into my boots. Well, shit – not only did I feel honor bound to remain in my professional obligation and miss the concert, but I’d be out eighty bucks for the tickets. The show was only paying me fifty.
I did a feasibility assessment on my ability to show up late and still catch something worthwhile. Doors opened at HoB at 7:30, and our show, though short, didn’t start until 8. After travel time I figured there was no way I could get to the concert before 10.
I took my story to eBay in the hopes that I could at least recoup my financial loss. I presented the tickets on a seven-day auction that would end at noon the day of the show, challenged bidders to please allow me to live vicariously through them, and promised that any dollar amount above and beyond the face value of the tickets would be directly donated to Richard Cheese himself. A string of gut-checks followed:
The auction had only four bids, the last one being a few hours after the auction began.
The winning bid was $10.50.
When I contacted the winner by email, she responded: “I already bought tickets. So sorry.”
One month after the show, Richard Cheese cancelled the remainder of the tour and, citing health issues, announced his retirement.
The worst bit wouldn’t occur to me for a few months. Since I’m not a frequent concert goer, I had forgotten that “Doors open at 7:30” does not mean the show begins at anything like 7:30. Indeed, a venue the size of the House of Blues would have taken quite a lot of time for people to file in, grab drinks, let those in the VIP section order dinner, etc. And of course there would have been an opening act or two, concerts always have those, plus setup and breakdown time for each one. There’s not much chance Richard Cheese would have been set to take the stage before 10:00.
I totally could have made it by 10:00.
I don’t usually get excited in anticipation of an event, not anymore. More than once, a genuine life changing experience evaporated before potential became actual. My first marriage engagement, lasting more than three years, fell through six months before it would have taken place. My second engagement, about a year in the making, suddenly ended six weeks before the wedding. For eighteen months I took thrice-weekly Russian lessons, and either sold or donated any possession larger than would fit into a suitcase, so that I could move to Moscow for no less than four years, to study and build a career as an actor – only to learn, a month before my departure, that a handshake agreement is only as good as the paper it’s printed on.
These events and various, smaller others are why I reserve enthusiasm, but I made an exception for this this concert, and . . . well. It’s not the most awkward letdown of what had been a surefire thing. But now I’m engaged to be married again, and I keep hearing the mocking words after the last one failed: “Maybe your next engagement will be over just six days before the wedding, and your next one will fail six hours before, and . . .”
Let’s just say I hate countdowns. It hurts too much when the timer never hits zero.