September 1st, 2008
In my other life, I was a Broadway star. And I’m pretty sure I loved it. Maybe I met my end when an overzealous Charleston kick took me off stage into the orchestra pit. Or perhaps an ill-mounted light fell on my head. Either way, I didn’t get off that stage willingly. In fact, I bet I was just like Nora Desmond. Aging, in a world of my own, and proudly wearing curtains to the death. Ah, what a life.
In an unfortunate twist of karma, I cannot sing in this life. But that little detail does not stop me from doing it anyway. AND subjecting the public to it. My first memory of singing without regard for humiliation is from the tender age of 7. As I walked home from Queen of the Rosary elementary school, I sang “The Kingdom of Glory” at the top of my lungs all the way into the arms of my proud Catholic mama. I 100% recall the opening lines: “The kingdom of glory comes, the nation rejoices, open the gates before him, lift up your voices!” That, and Immaculate Mary counted as my favorite songs to sing aloud. My mom used to nudge me in church and proudly look on as I shouted the lyrics during Eucharist. And that’s pretty much where her support for my boundless vocal energy ended.
A year later, I sang everything. E-v-e-r-y-thing. I stood on street corners and sang “Love Will Keep Us Together,” and “I’m on the Top of the World” to passerby; I donned galoshes and an umbrella during rainstorms and ran outside, kicking up puddles as I did some “Singing in the Rain.” I even learned all the words to “I Think I’ll go Outside for A Walk Now,” (the summer sun’s calling my name! I hear it now! I just can’t stay inside all day…”) and sang it every chance I got. I performed the entire Sound of Music LP, and also Marie Osmond’s Paper Roses.
Don’t even get me started on the Carpenters. Or Barry Manilow.
As time progressed, my mom wanted to solder my mouth shut. Turns out it was all her fault. Because I remember asking her how I could become a singer, and she told me that singers sing all the time. Sounded good. DONE.
In grade school, I joined chorus at a time when the group accepted anyone and everyone. I was an alto and that’s just because they didn’t know what else to do with me. But what I lacked in any real talent, I made up for in gusto. I loved every single stinking minute of chorus, and I really considered it a waste of fervent singing that I couldn’t carry a tune.
And believe me, I couldn’t. At that point, I harbored no illusions about my dearth of singing talent, but as long as people allowed me to sully their choral orchestrations, I would continue. I even made the lead in my eight grade musical (with about 5 other people and all the numbers were sung by the group…SMART, eighth grade musical lead picker outters. Well played)
I had one duet — a little something called “I Am 16 Going on 17,” which I’d trained my whole life for. Every day, I’d call my partner and best friend, Theresa Reiland, to practice our big break on the phone. And we nailed it! At least that’s what my overblown memories tell me.
Then I hit high school. As I found, older, more mature people don’t mind telling you that you suck. Still, I joined chorus, often suffering withering stares from the uptight, but perfectly tuned, musical director. Soon enough, I took the hint and began limiting my singing to Nugget, the family dog, and my little brothers and sister. In mourning, I took my cassette recorder to the junior high parking lot down the street from my home, and roller skated a perfect lament to “Fame.” It was heartbreaking. Outstretched arms and all. I was Lloyd Dobler before there even WAS a Lloyd Dobler.
Now, I perform for my kids. A little two- and four-year old who know every word to “One,” and “Anything You Can Do.” (Well, not really, we’re still in rehearsals.) We also like to do jazz hands and high kicks together. And by “we,” I of course mean “me.”
So although my own kids obviously have inherited my tone deafness, I do like to think they’ve also absorbed my enthusiasm for doing stuff they’re no good at (like grammar). Because where’s the fun in perfection? Best to not ask me. I wouldn’t know. But at least I’ve got hi—iiigh hopes, and sometimes? That’s more fun.