After a while Eunice left the past behind. It wasn’t Nina’s baggage to deal with. No regrets, no resentment, no hurt, no pain and no death. Let it go. Instead of relying on precise thinking as she always had, she followed the Memphis current. Whatever new thought or idea popped in her head, she accepted and went with.
She got into the habit of baking, she dabbled in cookies or muffins and a cake once but it didn’t rise, no matter how many times she opened the oven to see. She left care packages of muffins and scones for Dougie, with personalized notes on how she was faring and wishing him well. They had opposite schedules, with him away days and some overnights, while she had turned into a night owl. He started leaving replies for her, with kooky stick figure drawings.
Eunice would be up till all hours writing songs, or listening to music in her room. Ads in Memphis Magazine piqued her curiosity, she thought of venturing into the array of musical nightlife, jam sessions, recording space offers and the live music venues. Karaoke offered a safe environment.
With a few vodka Fanta cocktails, she got her courage primed to and went to a place called Dru’s Bar on Madison street. With her hair lighter, in Nina clothes with contacts she was amazed how easy it was to blend in.
She enjoyed watching karaoke singers, from a quiet stool at the back. Some sang to make their friends laugh, while others looked to be taken seriously. It was only a matter of time and drinks, before she would be up there showing off. Maybe one night she’d have the courage, to sing one of her own songs. Dru’s instantly became a favorite, with its low frills and nice pizza.
She would start practicing two songs in her attic ‘studio’ during the week, then trek to Dru’s Thursday nights for karaoke. After a third cocktail, she usually had enough nerve to hit the stage. Her song and performances were forgettable but she didn’t care. She was breaking down barriers and gaining the courage to try out her alternate persona.
Being female on her own, she didn’t feel targeted aside from the odd man, trying to strike up conversation which had been flattering over sinister. She found Nina attracted different attention. Without focusing Eunice carried herself different, held her hands different and flirted different as Nina.
In the past, she’d been told she was quite a good singer so it was less a shock and more validation when the DJ said, “although you’re not technically the best, your voice is the most recognizable.”
“Why thank you,” she said, flirting with the goofy wannabe record producer, in case he could do something for her.
“Have you seen the poster at the back? There’s a karaoke contest next week that pays pretty well. I’d like to see you win it!” he said, a twinkle bouncing off his white teeth.
“Mmmh, maybe I will,” Eunice said, with more confidence based on the night’s performance. She had settled into a routine and felt safe going out in Memphis.
Memphis had its share of drug use but it was tame compared to the destructive behavior back home. She’d seen enough disturbing episodes first hand, so had zero temptation to experiment.
Alcohol mixed well with being Nina and she seemed to handle her liquor better than Eunice. Nina was less interested in saving the world and more focused on herself, so when she got attention she wanted more of it. Eunice kept hearing herself mentally tell Nina, to ‘tone it down’ so she didn’t call attention to ‘them.’ We’re still on the lam you know! She was definitely more of a selfish bitch, than Eunice had ever been but it was easier to go with Nina’s flow.
Nina hungered for a singing career and was constantly on the lookout, for men who could make that happen. Nashville and Memphis were still places to get connected and discovered and there were plenty of predatory star makers, hunting for that special it factor. The scene was a breeding ground for musical yin’s in search of yang’s.
One night she went down to the locally owned Memphis Sounds Lounge, a jazz and blues joint on Island Drive. The hotspot took karaoke seriously, calling it audition night. It was frequented by performer types and a sprinkling of wealthier tourists, who often bragged arrogantly once they got tipsy.
Since her first win of $300 at Dru’s, Eunice didn’t think karaoke was worthwhile and not as corny. It helped her get comfortable in front of live audiences and winning competitions helped her gain more experience. Regardless of her chances of blowing away audiences with epic power ballads, she kept rehearsing two new songs a week, using skills she’d learned from Mike Watts a few years earlier.
It was at Memphis Sounds Lounge, after winning a another top prize for her rousing rendition of Black Velvet by Alannah Myles, she first met Matthew Roswell.
“Congratulations Nina! Fantastic song. Drink?” Matthew offered. He had blond loosely curled hair and a sun kissed surfers glow. His dimples more pronounced as his mouth moved in a curved smile.
“Thank you. Where are you from? You remind me of the curly haired guy from that Brooke Shields movie Blue Lagoon,” she said. Damn, Matthew was an aspiring musician, songwriter and explained he was starting to produce other artists. She took it with a grain of salt, since that’s what they all said.
Every second regular on the Memphis bar scene, seemed to be an A&R guy or a music mogul. It was like the cliché that every waitress in L.A, has a 5x7 headshot tucked in her he was easy on the eyes!
uniform to hand out to movie directors, “Why yes Sir, I happen to have my portfolio, right here in my blouse.”
“You called it but I’m the Creature From the Black Lagoon. I’m from Galveston. That was quite a song choice. Have you ever thought of doing C&W?” he asked.
“C and… oh Western. I don’t think I could pull it off. I know the lyrics to Jolene though. Why do you ask?” she asked.
“Well I could hear a serious artiste in your delivery. You know how country songs are epic love songs right? Even the rollicking ones,” he said.
“Yes,” she said.
“I know a country top 40 band looking for a singer. They have a rotation of singers and need another female on their roster. They have a regular gig at the Green Beetle on Main,” he said.
“Really? How cool. I suppose I could think of the country option. I like blues so I could probably improvise to country. Wait. Are you serious?” she asked. As Nina she was bolder, plus a few drinks never seemed to hurt her forwardness.
“If you’re into coming down to rehearsal sometime I can set that up,” he said.
Some things sound so good at the time!
After her third singing contest win, Eunice had confidence to spare. Matthew was cool to hang out with but highly competitive. He wanted to impress her at every turn, which inspired her to try to outwit him. Nina excelled where Eunice dared not. She ended up getting an audition call back and securing the gig, with her soft but unique take on I Love Rock and Roll.
Eunice also sang with the Green Beetle bar band, two nights a week. The regular gig gave her a schedule, that allowed her to quit her karaoke nights.
The Green Beetle band called themselves, The Fix but Cindy Lewis informed her they’d had many names and incarnations, so who knew how long this one will last! Cindy was a backup singer, who took Christine’s part when they covered Fleetwood Mac.
Like many true musicians the Fix guys were somewhat disorganized and had no leadership, so it wasn’t hard to convince them to learn one of her songs.
“Play it for us before we agree Nina. You might be trying to turn us into your backing band! It’s happened before,” drummer Keenan said.
“Very true. Good observation boys!” Cindy teased.
Not wanting to come on too strong, Eunice purposely downplayed singing her own compositions boosted her confidence. She hoped the boys liked the song, so she could introduce a few more later.
With some reservation, they agreed and over time they consented to doing one of her songs per gig.