The Other Story


Yeah, let me tell you the story you aren’t going to read when you go to Salon’s piece about the poor Ashlee Simpson’s debacle at Saturday Night Live.

Y’see, the world is full of little-girl-lost stories, the Red Riding Hoods that set out on an unwise but well intentioned course through the dark woods just so we can gasp when the obvious happens, she is eaten by a wolf disguised as someone she can trust. Yes, it’ a tough world for Ashlee Simpson, no doubt.

But look at the language in the story, and you’ll see a real horror show. In talking about her lack of skill, they admit that “MTV captured her first performance ever at The Knitting Factory in L.A., replete with promotional fraudience swooning enthusiastically for the cameras.”

Never mind that a person who had never performed ever in front of a crowd was losing her onstage virginity on MTV, and never mind that the article made that seem unfair to *Ashlee Simpson* instead of unfair to thousands and thousands of performers every day who sing for passionate crowds of people and are ignored (or, say, *EVERY SINGLE ORCHESTRA IN THE WORLD*, *NONE* of which will ever play on any of the “music” channels), never mind the obvious, let me tell you a real horror story.

Six years ago, a girl got up and sang at her junior high school cabaret. She sang “Wind Beneath My Wings”, and her mother cried. Weirdly, it wasn’t just her mother. Everyone was knocked out. She was incredible, somehow she sang with the maturity and clarity that escaped the other kids. It wasn’t showey, it wasn’t perfect, and the girl isn’t gorgeous, so how was anyone to know that when she stood up and sang it would melt the hearts and knees of every person sitting in folding chairs in the junior high school gym.

For the first time in her short life, this awkward little girl did something that garnered her positive attention. Not only did the thing that she sang celebrate her talent, but it also celebrated the history of music. She had discovered her voice, literally and figuratively, and from that moment on she had walked into the world of those-who-give-us-that-which-we-cannot-express-on-our-own. She became an Artist, in league with Mozart and Moliere and McCartney and French Cavemen Who Drew Hunting On Walls. There is an ineffable something that she has. She becomes something completely *other* when she stands in front of a crowd, the notes become a song, the melody has meaning, a single note she sings, wordlessly transports you.

She got leads in the school musicals, she was senior soloist at graduation, she went to college… but somehow her voice was never enough. She was a little bit heavy lidded in the eye, her skin was flawed and she never could figure out make-up, she was a little thin in the bust and a tiny bit heavy in the thighs… she just couldn’t get people to *listen* anymore because now that she was 19, her voice wasn’t the focal point of her performance. Music has become pornography, the audience isn’t listening, they want to fuck someone.

People needed to want to fuck her, and they just didn’t want to fuck her *that much*.

She moved to Los Angeles, believing she could do more for her career if she lost weight, wore a wonder bra, got into the Screen Actor’s Guild. She tried out for American Idol and made the first four cuts but, in the end, her mouth was a little too pouty, her eyes weren’t matched in shape, there was something just not *beautiful* about her. And she wasn’t getting in the unions.

She lost her baby fat in six months in LA, she now had no breasts at all and a small butt and thighs, and she still wasn’t getting work. She made money waiting tables and then spent it all on a voice over audition class that promised her a demo, which she got. She didn’t realize that voice overs are done by only 150 people in the country. She waited tables more and blew her money on headshots with a creepy photographer, who’s portfolio contained fantastic artistic nudes.

She started drinking, gained a little weight, started smoking to lose the weight, but her voice survived. She did open mic nights and afterwards every woman in the place told her she was amazing. Because she wasn’t that beautiful, and women can support other women who aren’t that beautiful. The men liked her performance, but didn’t want to fuck her. So they described her as “talented”, “gifted”, “musical”, the kind of words you use for a child, but never “soulful” or “stunning” or “heart-breaking”, the words you use for a woman. And no A&R; people ever sought her out.

Her headshot photographer calls her with an industry gig. They’re looking for musical types to go to a rock concert and cheer on a young performer. It’s non-union, you get $40 for the gig and you support an up and coming musician. Our girl thinks it’s a pretty good idea. Spread the love. She honestly believes that if she goes and screams for this young girl, it will get paid back to her when her chance comes. She doesn’t know that, at 21, she’s already too old, her chance was never going to come.

She goes and she screams her head off for Ashlee Simpson, and the MTV cameras glimpse her. She’s part of the “fraudience”. Out photographer gets some pictures. In a sweaty tee-shirt, braless and jumping, he sees something of her can actually take pictures of.

Our girl thinks the photographer will be able to help her career. In six months, she’ll have moved from smoking to crystal meth, and she’ll be taking pictures to support the habit. The drugs will ruin her skin, the lifestyle will ruin her voice and the pregnancy she will get at 23 will be easier for her to get rid of than the STD she’ll get at 26. At 28 she’ll stop drugs entirely, find God and a husband. When she’s thirty, she’ll stop even auditioning for community theater, depressed that she is always light years ahead of the ingenue and still always playing the character role. She’ll play Adelaide out in the Valley one last time and she’ll get a rave review, but no-one sees it, no-one ever will. No follow up phone calls, no casting agents.

She’ll retire without telling anyone, even herself.

She will still sing, in church, in her kitchen. And her girlfriends will still tell her she’s amazing, and they will say so knowing that she will never succeed so they can do it with a clear conscience.

And you are telling me that Ashlee Simpson, millionaire, #1 album seller, has it hard? You’re telling me that we should feel bad for little girl lost? She’s Red Riding Hood if Red Riding Hood was *carried* through the woods in a rickshaw, arrived at grandma’s to find a palace where the wolves wait on her hand and foot and as she’s eating dinner she realizes that her 1999 Ch√Ęteau Le Pin Pomerol is a little *too* chilled.

This business is not full of girls you’ve heard of that have fallen apart. The Olson Twin in rehab, the Courtney Loves and Sean Youngs. One, maybe two new basket cases a year, that isn’t this business. This business is thousands and thousands of broken dreams every single month. Every famous woman is standing on the corpses of thousands of women they don’t deserve to be in the audience of.

And if you bought Ashlee Simpson’s album, you are the problem.