When I was 17 one day I went hiking with my then best friend, Leanne. We were walking and talking and before we knew it we were lost. We came to a cross road, the path on the left looked bright, wide and somewhat familiar, the other one looked dark, winding and wet. It was a no brainer to me, I tugged on Leanne’s shirt and gestured her to the left. Leanne said, “What are you doing? Let’s take the other one!” “No Leanne, I think that’s the wrong path.” “So? What’s the worst that could happen?”
Dear madam toastmaster, ladies and gentlemen, have you ever ‘taken the wrong path’ and ended up in the right place? Well I have. That day on the mountain I let Leanne persuade me into taking the ‘wrong’ path. The hike took us two hours longer, but we discovered so many new things on the way, and I got to know my best friend a little better.
Leanne and I both loved music. She was a terrific guitarist and I have been playing the piano since I was four. But beyond that, we couldn’t have been more different. I was a grade A student in high school, a major nerd, and I had very few friends. Leanne on the other hand regularly flunked all her exams, was very into rock music and knew all the coolest kids in town. I never knew why we became friends, but we just did.
One very warm Saturday afternoon I was hanging out at Leanne’s parents place. The radio was on and the song ‘Wannabe’ by Spice Girls came on. I don’t know if you know that song, but it was BIG during my time. Leanne looked up from her magazine, and with her trademark nonchalance, said to me
“Pfft, I think I can do better.”
“Oh yeah, why don’t you do it?”
“Sure. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Two weeks later she called me up, and told me she wanted me to listen to something. I knew what it would be. She started to sing and play the song on her guitar on the phone. When she was finished, I was speechless.
It was terrible. She had created a rock version of Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’ and to put it mildly, it sucked. The worst part is, she wanted to play the song at our high school graduation party. I was on the organising committee of the party and there was no way I was going to let that happen.
“No Leanne, you can’t play it.”
“It’s weird, it’s neither rock nor pop. It’s SPICE GIRLS!”
“So? What’s the worst that could happen?”
“Well, you would embarrass me!”
Silence. And then click.
She never got to play her song, but she did eventually forgive me. However, something changed and we could never go back to the way we once were. After high school we slowly drifted apart, and I never had the courage to apologise to her.
Fast forward 10 years later, I had left Malaysia and was working in Geneva at a research institute. Music was still a very big part of my life and I managed to gather a few good friends and started my own rock band. We were called Miss Proper and the Moving Targets. We have been playing a few small gigs here and there when one year, we were invited to play at a big music festival at CERN.
This was it. It was our first big break and we needed a secret weapon. A song that would make us stand out from the rest of the bands. Guess which song came to my mind. Yes, Spice Girls’ ‘Wannabe’. We decided we were going to play a rock version of that song.
The concert day came and it was rocking. There was a huge crowd and every band was putting on their best performances. There was Queen, Van Halen, Dream Theatre, Guns and Roses, Nirvana, all the classics. And then it was our turn on stage. I was feeling very pumped. Our guitarist, Piotr, shouted into the crowd “Are you ready to rock and roll?”
“Yessssss!!!” The crowd screamed.
Karolina, our singer, belted out the first verse “If you wanna be my lover!”
Silence. Have you ever witnessed a train wreck and felt utterly powerless to do anything? That was how I felt at that moment. The song bombed. The crowd hated us. The worst had happened.
The rest of the evening was a blur. After the whole ordeal was over, I felt like I needed to talk to someone, and I only had one person in mind. I dialed the familiar number on my phone, and Leanne picked up. It has been years since we last spoken so things were painfully awkward. After a few minutes of uncomfortable small talk, I finally plucked up my nerves to tell her what just happened.
“Yes I did! I played Spice Girl at a rock concert and the crowd hated us!”
To my utter disbelief, Leanne started to laugh. She laughed, and laughed, and then somewhat inexplicably, I started laughing with her. And just like that, we are ok again. A wave of relief washed over me and I felt a familiar joy that I haven’t felt in a long, long time. I took the wrong path, but ended up exactly where I want to be.
And then it hit me. It does not matter if I failed to gain the approval of ‘The Crowd’. In that moment, listening to my best friend’s hearty laugh and laughing together with her, I realised that my little Spice Girls experiment, and in fact, any experiment, is ultimately about finding connections. It doesn’t matter if thousands of faceless people hate what you do. As long as at the end of the day, if there is that one person you cared about who thinks you are brilliant, or in my case, supremely idiotic, and is still mad enough to cheer you on or laugh with you, you did not fail. And that, was precisely the thing I failed to do for Leanne, 10 years ago.
So find that person who will be your biggest fan no matter what and hold on to him/her, then go out into the world and give them your best version of ‘Spice Girls’. After all, what is the worst that could happen?