Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sing, Sing a Song

I can't sing.

But I do. All the time. Loud and proud and embarrassingly off-key.

In elementary school, I was relegated by Sister Thomas to the back row of the choir only partly due to my height. Mostly it was due to my lack of ability. In a sea of melodic Little Drummer Boys, I was a "Rum-Pum." I still loathe that song.

I had a Raggedy Ann & Andy portable record player on which I spun a bizarre collection of 45's and albums I scavenged from the recesses of our home. The 45's were mostly leftovers that my Aunt Rosie had passed along to my oldest sister. They included gems from Pat Boone, Chubby Checker and Elvis.

I still know all of the words to "Hot Diggity, Dog Ziggity, Boom - What You Do To Me" and "Dungaree Doll". I can blast out "Witch Doctor" like nobody's business, followed by "I want you, I need you, I -hi-hi-hi, lu-huv you...." in perfect imitation Elvis.

Interspersed among these 1950's gems were later additions, like "In A Gadda DaVida" and "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" and "Love Potion Number 9," likely purchased and then forgotten by older brothers and sisters.

Puberty arrived and I began to listen, obsessively, to Tapestry by Carole King, and Bette Midler's The Divine Miss M, which I found in the treasure trove. Imagine the sight of me, hovering over my little portable record player, singing along to "You've Got a Friend" over, and over, and over. It was not healthy. And then I found The Beatles White Album, which was the perfect antidote.

Soon my paper route money allowed me to expand the collection. I loved Elton John and Abba, Jackson Browne and Pat Benatar, Blondie and Billy Idol. I purchased Dire Straits' debut album at Dick's Record Shop, in Ironton, Ohio. The prices at Hills' Department Store were lower, but the convenience of Dick's couldn't be beat, since I could bike there. I was there every chance I got, analyzing the wall where the Top 40 were displayed in that week's order. Each 45 rpm single cost about a buck.

In junior high and high school, when Father Gabis at St. Joe began the process of pulling together our annual Variety Show, I was tapped for comic relief between acts because, clearly, I wouldn't be singing. For acts requiring a larger chorus, I was allowed to hum. Yes, hum. At some point, my friend Sally convinced me that if I stood next to her (defiantly, because at 5'2" with a good voice, she was front-row worthy) and listened carefully, I could follow her alto.

Sally was an enthusiastic and encouraging vocal coach. Without regard to decorum, she'd break out in the middle of "Endless Love" (the lyrics of which were edited by Fr. Gabis to include Jesus as the object of said Endless Love) to shout: "YOU DID IT! You GOT it! I heard it!"

I beamed. I glowed. I sang! And when Sally was absent from chorus practice, I was sent to the back row, to hum once again.

When I got to college, upgraded but still portable stereo in tow, I discovered that not everyone was a fan of my eclectic collection, which now included both Alabama and Electric Light Orchestra. I spent my money on beer instead of records and relied on the jukebox and DJ's for musical variety. I came up with the cash to see A Flock of Seagulls when they came to campus, though. Oh, I ran, alright!

These were the days before karaoke in bars, so my friends and I sang along with whatever was playing and voted on songs with our quarters. Madonna, Prince, The Talking Heads and U2 appeared in my collection of cassettes - no more albums for me, now that I had a Walkman. Mix tapes were the romantic gesture of the '80's, truly, and I have been unable to part with my collection.

With every move, from dorm to dorm, apartment to apartment to apartment, my collection moved with me. At some point in the early '90's, I finally started buying CD's. Now, with a subscription music service, I don't buy anything. I create my own playlists for every conceivable occasion: birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, pizza night. I even create playlists for the characters in my novel.

My albums, now merged with Hombre's, wait patiently in the basement along with my cassettes and CD's. Like the well-loved Velveteen Rabbit, they are "real" and I can't bring myself to throw them away. Too many memories.

Though lacking in talent, I still sing anything and everything, everywhere: especially when driving. I've amused fellow road warriors for decades with my shameless in-car performances. It's my personal way of spreading the love.

I'm like a walking Wurlitzer. Put on a song and unless it's death metal or rap, there's a reasonably good chance I'll be singing right along. And probably dancing. And most definitely embarrassing my offspring.