On a biting, dreary Detroit afternoon, my brother and I made our way downtown for the Brit Floyd concert. I didn’t know it yet, but I was about to learn (again) a very important lesson. There are only two ways to judge talent: a) measure it, or b) see it in action. In short, we must not judge any book by its stiff, hard cover.
I became a Pink Floyd fan later in life. I was all of 13 years old when they released Dark Side of The Moon. My father had passed away a few years before, and between increased responsibilities, sports, and school, Pink Floyd was not on my radar. However, when I did grow to appreciate them, I was impressed with the complexity of their music, poignant lyrics, and their unique sound. I never saw them in concert. I just admired them from a distance. Like others from that great rock and roll era, the members of Pink Floyd are in their 70’s.
Fast forward to last weekend. My brother, Marty, had seen something about Brit Floyd on our local PBS station (don’t we love PBS?) Brit Floyd was a group of musicians dedicated to performing Pink Floyd music to the exacting standards and sound of Pink Floyd. No easy task. If I was interested, Marty thought that we could get tickets. I subscribe to the notion that spending money on experiences is more important than spending money on material things, and before long, I’d paid a small fortune for second row seats to Brit Floyd at Detroit’s historic Music Hall.
I couldn’t believe how close we were to the action. I studied the stage, filled with lights, mics, a circular video screen, and other cool stuff. To our right were three microphones that I figured were for the talented women that always sang back up for Pink Floyd. They weren’t the cake, but they were darned good frosting.
Before long, the tiny, 1,700 seat Music Hall was soon filled with smoke, lasers, shadowy figures, and the mournful opening to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”.
Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky.
Shine on you crazy diamond.…
I was spellbound.
I love to observe talent. I closely examined the handsome man pounding the bass guitar, who also had a beautiful voice. He was laid back yet powerful and confident. My eyes moved to the other fellow who played electric guitar and sang David Gilmour’s parts. Intense and extremely focused, I knew immediately that he was the ring leader (that’s him in the photo above). I wished I could see the main drummer better – those Pink Floyd drums are remarkable. My eyes traveled to the three women, the backup singers. I expected to see the fluid, velvet dance movements I’d noticed from the singers on Pink Floyd concert videos. Pink Floyd backup singers rarely stood still. They were always moving in unison, arms, hips, shoulders swaying. Two of the singers on stage fit that bill. The third stood out like a sore thumb.
She was very young, certainly born well after Pink Floyd made their mark. Her face was beautiful but expressionless, like a statue. Her dark eyes were distant, staring off at a far point just above the audience, walling us off from her heart. Her movements were stiff and slightly robotic. I wondered how she could be part of the band and appear so disengaged, seemingly just going through the vocal and physical motions. Bewildered, I let it go and returned to the music.
The Brit Floyd experience is an assault on the senses. One is dazzled by the lighting, background videos, and multiple talented musicians. I was reminded of how The Pink Floyd words and messages from “way back then” still resonate today. Parents protecting their children in a failed attempt to help them grow up strong. Bad actors that threaten world peace. A society using drugs to remove the burden of pressure and pain.
From time to time, my eyes traveled back to the young woman who puzzled me so. Her expression never changed. At one point, the singer next to her made eye contact with me and smiled, just before she sang in the classic “Mother” from The Wall album, and she nailed it (click here to see her yourself).
CHANGING MY MIND
Then, the Brit Floyd pianist began to play the soothing sounds of The Great Gig in the Sky which I believe is an attempt to vocalize the experience of dying. There is nothing but music and the adlibbing of a female vocalist. No words, just sounds, which is its own remarkable idea.
I realized that the only background singer on stage was that beautiful young woman. She moved away from the mic and stood next to the ringleader guy, who was playing a slide guitar. Eventually, she strolled back to the microphone.
She slowly wrapped her hand around the microphone and began to sing. It took about 2 seconds for the sell-out crowd to realize she was blowing the doors off the place. My jaw dropped. The woman was transformed. She was emoting pain, anger, disbelief, relief, fear – everything one might go through in the process of slipping away in the haze of a drug overdose. It was phenomenal. She was the most alive human being in the room. Words don’t do it justice.
When she finished, the crowd gave her a standing ovation and wouldn’t stop. She smiled, laughed, and bowed. She was no longer cold and unavailable, but a stunning star that owned the stage. For those unforgettable two minutes, she was a thunderstorm of talent. One man yelled, “You’re killing me!” (which was funny in its own right, considering the purpose of the song). If they’d played it again, right then, there would have been no objection. Nobody wanted it to end.
I realized how completely I had misjudged her. I couldn’t possibly measure her talent by looking at her (how often do we make that mistake?) but she showed me – and everyone else in the room – what she was made of. It was wonderful to be wrong, and I’m so pleased that I got to experience her rendition of that song, better than the original (sorry, Pink Floyd). I wish I had a recording so that I could listen to it again.
I thought about her on the drive home. This was only the second Brit Floyd concert of the tour, and it was probably her first tour with them. Perhaps she’d felt nervous or afraid, for there is no more difficult solo in the set. She might warm up and relax as she gained experience, and still be able to kill it when her time came to shine like a crazy diamond. My mind imagined what her audition must have been like. I bet the founding members of Brit Floyd couldn’t believe their ears when she walked in and sang for them.
I personally hate being judged for anything except my talent to do my job: build winning teams. If your team is struggling, I can help. It shouldn’t matter that I’m female, from Michigan, from the USA, or for the fact that I have never formally coached a sports team. I do what I do, and I do it really well. I bet you’ve been misjudged as well. It’s not fun and the person doing the judging loses the opportunity to benefit from your talent or mine.
So, the next time I make the mistake of misjudging a book by its cover, I’m going to remember that talented young woman who didn’t fit my idea of what a Pink Floyd backup singer should look like or dance like. I’ll remember that when she opened her mouth, she killed us all. She was UNSTOPPABLE.
Until then, I’ll see you on the Dark Side of the Moon.
*Special thanks to Marty for taking great photos!