Commuters Singing Badly

I like to sing.  A lot.  I’m also terrible at it.  Apparently, I’m in good company, which explains the plethora of awful karaoke out there.

I’ve cultivated my love of singing since childhood, where I had ample opportunity in my Orthodox Jewish yeshiva to learn a variety of niggunim, the traditional Hebrew melodies.  Later, I sang in the chorus in public school for six years or so, and then for one year in college before I finally gave it up to focus on other things (writing, mostly).

It’s wonderful that, at least back then, the schools allowed budding warblers to pretend that they might one day end up the next Billy Joel or Madonna (my New York bias is showing here).  These days, many school districts lack funding for anything but the bare basics and have had to cut music programs left and right.  Also, I don’t know what the equivalent of the general chorus or the concert choir would be in the age of rap.  (Do high school music teachers dare to perform Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in the 21st century?)

I think singing appeals to me so much because it is an act of sheer joy.  Warbling is visceral, inherited from the birds, enhanced with human language and stylized with poetry.  It is hard-wired into our genes.

One thing that’s great about singing in church or synagogue is that no one cares how good or bad you are.  It doesn’t matter if you harmonize perfectly, can barely hold on to the melody or sing completely out of tune.  It’s all about participation and community and you get an A for effort.

My singing voice has a catch in it that can be particularly grating to the ear when I start out by accurately hitting a note and then, inexplicably, screechingly launch off a tangent into the stratosphere.  It’s almost as if, even though I’m an old guy now, my voice is still changing like a twelve year old’s.

You can understand why I enjoy singing in relatively private spaces, where I can laugh at myself and not raise any eyebrows.  Outside of religious services, I am reluctant to sing in public for fear of being judged.  “He thinks he’s so good, but he’s terrible!”  I can read the amused or disgusted expressions on faces when my voice cracks, as it always does at some point.

So I start out every day by singing in the shower, while I’m getting dressed for work and in the car tooling down the freeway.  And if I’ve unwittingly allowed a note or two to escape when I have my headphones on at work and I’m really into the music, please don’t tell me about it.  I don’t want to know.

I have certain favorite tunes that I can never sing often enough, many of them Hebrew melodies from the days of my youth (such as “Oseh Shalom,” familiar stalwart of the Friday night synagogue service).  But if my iTunes library is pouring forth from my car speakers, there’s no telling what I might tackle, from Katy Perry to Toby Keith to John Lennon to Taylor Swift.  With my windows rolled up and either the heat or the AC on, depending on the season, I get to have my own private karaoke session, no mike required, all the way down Interstate 5 to downtown Sacramento.  James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” has nothing on me.

This works great most of the time, and it starts my workday on a cheerful note.  But, like any routine that you don’t pay too much attention to, it’s easy to make a mistake and fail to notice until it’s too late.  This happened on my way home from work a couple of weeks ago.

One recent evening, the weather was perfect.  Sunny and 75, just like in the Joe Nichols song.  I had my music on and the window down, as I enjoyed the warm breeze.  What I forgot, however, was that I was bound to have an audience.  Stopped at a traffic light next to a pickup truck, the passenger said “Not bad!,” nodded his head and gave me a thumbs up.  Busted!  Oh God, this was embarrassing.  It would have been bad enough if I had been singing George Strait or The Bee Gees or even Michael Jackson.  But no, he had to catch me while I was belting out an impassioned plea for love along with Linda Davis.  (It’s an oldie, so you’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of her.)

This was a long light, so the man decided to strike up a conversation with me.  He told me his name and asked me mine.  He told me that he does tattoos (not a surprise, as every visible inch of his skin was covered in ink) and asked if I knew anyone who wanted one.  “No, sorry,” I sheepishly responded.  “I just got one,” I lied, feeling stupid and trying to sound legit.  I didn’t bother to mention that the Jewish faith doesn’t approve of tattoos, or that asking an old guy in a corporate white shirt and tie who just got caught singing Linda Davis whether he knows anyone who wants a tattoo is probably barking up the wrong tree.

And from now on, I’ll make sure to keep the windows up while I’m driving.

 

My American Idol

mike

Let me tell you a little about my nephew (exercising uncle’s bragging rights today).  This country boy, a good-looking single guy in his early twenties, shares a small house with a roommate and a menagerie of dogs and cats.  Lately, he has been doing things such as:

  • Helping to dig trenches and lay pipe at his grandmother’s house
  • Babysitting his little niece all week so his sister can attend her college classes
  • Running errands and making deliveries for his mother

I am very proud of his dedication to his extended family, and it should come as no surprise that he has had some good things come into his life recently:

  • Following an extended period of unemployment, he was just hired for an excellent job.
  • He has advanced through the first two rounds of the Tri-Counties Talent Search and will be a contestant in the sing-off finale for a $1000 prize on November 2.
  • One of his dogs recently blessed him with a litter of 7 puppies.

Okay, maybe that last one isn’t such a great thing.  Particularly since one of his other dogs summarily killed two of the puppies in a fit of canine jealousy.  And also since he returned home today to find that mama had pooped everywhere and that the five puppies were covered in it.  When I last left him, he was searching for something gentle enough to be used for shampoo on two-week old puppy fur.

I am particularly impressed by my nephew’s talents as a country singer.  In the first round of the competition, he performed Craig Morgan’s “That’s What I Love About Sunday.”  The three judges loved his voice but quibbled about his outfit.  The crotchety one, reminiscent of Simon Cowell, griped that my nephew “sounded like Sunday but looked like Monday.”  Apparently, he wasn’t supposed to look like a country boy singing a country song.  I suppose he should have worn a suit to show that it was Sunday and he was going to church.  (Who wears a suit to church anymore anyway?)

I wish I had been there to serve up a good ol’ Bronx cheer to that judge.  For the second round of the competition, however, I was there.  There were about 30 singers, some as young as twelve years old, performing in front of the judges.  This shindig took place in the gymnasium of a local church school, with the audience paying a dollar for the privilege of sitting in the bleachers or on hard plastic chairs for four hours or so.

My nephew sat down next to me while I went to the snack stand to get a hot dog for him and popcorn for me.  Several of his friends from high school were there competing; some took photos with him and others just clapped him on the back, shook his hand and wished him good luck.  All of them know how talented Steven is.

He wore a number, just like the contestants on all the TV talent shows.  We had barely settled in when his number was called, the second act of the day.  He had brought a backing track with him, purchased online and burned onto a CD.  As he confidently walked to the stage, I could tell he was a pro.  This dude was ready.

After soliciting suggestions from everyone he knows, my nephew decided on performing Blake Shelton’s “The More I Drink.”  He knocked it out of the park.  It’s hard to remain objective about the talent of a family member, but I tell you, friends, he was good.

The judges agreed with my assessment.  Mr. Simon-Cowell-wannabe had to find something to complain about, and we already know that a singer’s outfit is particularly important to this guy for some perverted reason.  So he faulted my nephew for not wearing a Stetson.

Oh, please.  I suppose he should have laid out the dough for a pair of leather shit-kicking boots, too.  Or perhaps a full equestrian outfit would have better suited this judge’s taste?

The important thing is that my nephew made it through to the finals.  Now he has the task of choosing a song and learning it.  And, apparently, of choosing a wardrobe that will please this yahoo of a judge.

First, he told me that he will wear what he wants and doesn’t give a hoot about what the judges think of his outfit.  Then he said that he didn’t have a cowboy hat in any event.  Finally, he conceded that he could borrow one from a friend.

Now that’s the guy that I know and love.  I’m sure there’s a life lesson in this somewhere.  Maybe it’s that you sometimes have to give a little on the stupid small stuff to get what you really want?  Perhaps it’s that there are times when we have to suffer fools?

Be that as it may, I am proud of my nephew’s accomplishments and I know he will be a force to be reckoned with at the finale.  I look forward to watching him kick some butt.

The only question remaining is where he should go from here.  Personally, I think he has at least three good opportunities to choose from:  The X-Factor, America’s Got Talent or American Idol.

Coming soon to a TV near you.