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“Misery Business” Couldn’t Set Me Free (So I Did It Myself)

Paramore announced that they’re retiring the song from their live shows, it felt like a lost opportunity.

Misery Business Couldnt Set Me Free
"Misery Business" video

I’m a 34-year-old woman who’s seen Paramore over a dozen times, and I’ve never been pulled on stage.

At every single show for as long as I can remember, they’ve chosen at least one fan to join them for their 2007 alternative hit “Misery Business.” It’s one of my favorite parts of their performance. Live, the song always feels like it has new life, partly because of the energy the fan brings to the stage. (Recently, for example, the internet went wild for a shirtless guy with a great voice who seemed to make even Hayley get flustered.)

I’ve seen fans chosen from making signs and jumping up and down. I’ve seen them chosen online, from tweeting at the band beforehand. I’ve seen them chosen from all the way in the back, because Hayley liked their outfit, or from the middle of the crowd, because of their sick dance moves.

Did I ever make signs? Or tweet? Or even raise my hand?

Well, no.

But somehow, I always thought maybe one day I’d find my way up there, and it would be a life-changing experience. I’d leave it better able to pull off checkered pants, brave enough to dye my hair blue, and less self-conscious about expressing emotions in public.

So when Paramore announced that they’re retiring “Misery Business” from their live shows, it felt like a lost opportunity. I found myself mourning this experience I’d never gotten to have. Like some scene from a Bruce Springsteen video, I was supposed to be chosen one day! Not because of any effort on my part, of course, but because it was time. I would forget about any fear of performing in front of people. I would forget that I had been deemed too bad a singer even for fifth grade chorus (and everyone who tried out made fifth grade chorus). I would forget to be self-conscious – Are my glasses slipping off my face? Am I too old to be doing this? What do I do with my arms?

Seriously, I never know what to do with my arms. Other people seem to pump their fists enthusiastically – that looks fun,but also tiring. I could wave them in the air like I just don’t care. But I do care. That’s the problem. I always care.

Once, I ended up on the rail at a Tegan and Sara show, and completely panicked. “I don’t know if I have Front Row Energy!” I shouted to my sister. She just shrugged. She has Front Row Energy. She was already chatting with the girl next to us about how she liked her earrings. Inside, that was me, beyond excited to have what I knew would be the experience of a lifetime. Outside, I wore a stoic expression and nervously looked away the one time I made eye contact with Sara as she performed.

You see how this becomes a “How do we get Van Halen for our triumphant music video/We need a triumphant music video to get Van Halen” type of problem. I always felt lacking in the Front Row Energy that would get me picked to sing “Misery Business,” but I also felt that the experience of singing “Misery Business” live in front of thousands of people would somehow give me that energy. It would be a metamorphosis, where I would start as an awkward and shy caterpillar and emerge a head-banging butterfly.

It’s a lot of pressure to put on a show, on a single song. And as I reflected on the sadness I felt at the idea that I’d never get to do it, I realized it was a lot of pressure to put on myself.

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Look, I’ll probably never be the person who jumps, or dances, or pumps my fists. I’ll be the one standing with my arms crossed, nodding my head, mouthing along to the words—that’s right, I don’t even sing in a crowd! What if the acoustics of the show cause my voice to project into the ear of the people in front of me even louder than the singer’s voice, and I ruin their entire experience? Then they’re eating Waffle House afterward and are like, “Wow, what a great show, yeah but unfortunate about that girl drowning out Hayley’s angelic voice with her donkey bray I bet she didn’t make fifth grade chorus and has been over-compensating ever since.” I’ve realized singing “Misery Business” live is not the thing that will fix this.

My entire life, I’ve always been more of an observer. That’s probably the reason I never made signs or otherwise called attention to myself to get picked to sing with the band. I like watching other people. I like searching my pockets for a pen so the girl next to me can fill in the letters on her PICK ME FOR MIZ BIZ sign a little darker. I like when I see videos pop up on Instagram later and the chosen fan slides into the comments with a “That was me!!!” I like on the rare occasions when Paramore pulls up more than one fan, and they look at each other on the stage, all, “Holy shit, can you believe this?!”

I love when the fans actually take the mic and sing, and dance, and headbang. I don’t care at all what their voices sound like. Sometimes I cry. Okay, I almost always cry.

Truthfully, every time I’ve seen Paramore, I’ve had my wildest dreams come true -- not one of them involving public performance. I don’t need music to change who I am on the outside. I need it for all the things it makes me feel on the inside.

That’s my Front Row Energy.

Alicia Thompson is the author of Psych Major Syndrome and has written for Narratively, Atlas Obscura, Racked, and the Billfold, among other publications. She’s on Twitter @aliciabooks.