A portion of “Blackout” was originally posted as part of T Minus 40, back in September. This is part one of the completed story…
For about 5 minutes, I thought I caused the Northeast Blackout of 2003.
I was sitting at my desk in our West End Avenue apartment working on recording a demo to send to the producers of an upcoming production of “Always, Patsy Cline”. It was August and it was hot as hell in our top floor apartment. I didn’t want to be sweating inside working, but I was trying out a new thing called self discipline and I really wanted to be good at it.
Earlier that year I had walked away from my position managing my stepfather’s recording studio in Times Square. After 6 years of dealing with major record labels, tending to the needs of artists, A&R and engineers and stroking all of the considerable egos at play I was really beginning to sour on the music business. I had all but abandoned my own original project which got me close to obtaining the kind of success and adoration I craved, but also held a mirror up to the sensitivity that would ultimately hold me back as a performer. I left partially because of the changing industry which was a victim of new technology, but also because I was 27 (no spring chicken in the entertainment biz) and I feared that my life’s work would become merely about building up others while I watched jealously from the sidelines in either management or A&R. I was not interested in being the woman behind the scenes, so I went back to my first love, acting. I had no family connections in that world and thought that if I struck out on my own it was inevitable that I would find my way. I could be the master of my own destiny instead of having to work how, when and with whom I was told. I had unknowingly abandoned one impossible situation for another.
I had never attempted to engineer my own recording session before. I grew up in the control room watching, but most of the buttons, knobs and faders were a mystery to me. They didn’t interest me. I wanted to be on the other side of the glass, in my mind that was where the real magic happened. I had always left recording to actual recording engineers, but because I had decided to create my own success, I longed for the self sufficiency that this technical knowledge would bring. Frustrated as I was, I was also determined. Yves, who has always been interested in both the technical and the artistic aspect of the recording game (I don’t think he believes there is a distinction) had given me a quick tutorial before he left the apartment that day, so the task seemed doable. I was going to submit an a capella version of “Crazy”, a song that had been in my repertoire since I first heard it in my grandparents Buick when I was 9 years old. As long as the tech part didn’t get the better of me I would be mailing the demo by morning.
At about 4pm I paused to use the bathroom in between takes. The job was taking longer than I would’ve liked. I had no choice but to get one complete take that I was happy with, since my morning ProTools lesson hadn’t included overdubbing and I wasn’t about to try to figure it out on my own. I was sitting on the toilet listening to play back from down the hall when the music suddenly stopped. The lights were off in the apartment already in an attempt to keep the place as cool as possible. We didn’t have the separation of sound necessary to run the AC and record vocals at the same time.
Uh oh, I screwed up the best take with my crap tech skills, was my first thought. Since my only clue to the power failure was the abrupt cut off of the music.
When I went back out to the living room and saw the the computer screen was dark I chastised myself, What did you do you, dumbass?
Then I answered myself. Um, we did everything right, you were right there the whole time, don’t blame me.
I pressed the power button on the Mac. Nothing. No reassuring Mac start up bing.
I flipped the desk lamp on. Nothing happened. Huh?
I turned to look around the room and noticed the clock on the cable box was out. Weird. Maybe I blew a circuit. Maybe I’ve got too many things plugged into the same outlet? I’m not really sure how all of this works.
I went to the circuit box in our hall closet. None of the circuits had been tripped. Huh, maybe it’s the building’s fault?
I went to the front door of our apartment, opened it and peered out. There were no lights on in the hallway, but I couldn’t remember if they were supposed to be on yet or not, I’d never really paid attention to those things. I walked down the hall to the back elevator. There was no sound. No hum. Nothing. I concluded that the entire building was without power. Maybe too many people were running their AC. It was boiling hot that day.
I had no choice but to abandon my project, which came as somewhat of a relief. At least now I had an excuse to stop torturing myself with my novice digital recording skills. I’ve always had a hard time following through on things that don’t come naturally to me. Wearing the producer’s, engineer’s and artist’s hats was putting undo strain on my nerves. It was distracting me from the real task of performance. It felt terrible. I longed for the days when I had access to the studio and its eager young engineers during downtime and off hours. It was a privilege I was now kicking myself for taking for granted. I decided to head to Equinox, the gym I had joined when I decided to become a full time actor, for some air conditioning and a workout. I was sure they would have the power in my building up and running again by the time I sweated out some of my irritation.
I grabbed my purple Jansport and packed it with gym clothes. I headed down the seven flights to the lobby of our institutional 1950 apartment house which spanned the entire block between 94th and 95th streets. Several of my neighbors were gathered, but I was plugged into my first generation rio MP3 player, so I didn’t slow down to eavesdrop. The problem was likely minor and would be rectified by the time I completed the circuit at the gym.
Out on the street I noticed more people than usual milling about. Most of them were standing next to or sitting in their cars with the windows open. It was a little odd, since alternate side parking regulations had ended hours before. I didn’t think much of it though and headed up 94th to Broadway. When I arrived at the door to Equinox on Broadway at 92nd I noticed that their lights were out too. There was a handwritten sign on the door apologizing, but they were without power and so were closing for the afternoon until service was restored.
This is bigger than I thought. I took out my earbuds and headed back down the hill to West End.
On my walk back home I caught a bit of what was emanating from the car radios that were tuned in on the block. I caught a few phrases from the newscasters on 1010 WINS. Widespread outages. Entire Northeast. Michigan. Ohio. Do not suspect terrorism.
Well, that’s good, I thought.