Thursday, July 27, 2006

Gotta sing! Gotta dance!

I saw a commercial on TV last night: a bunch of Charlton Hestonesque slaves rowing inside the bowels of a giant ship. This mean dude rower boss is chanting: "Row! Row! Row!" All of a sudden these two little M&Ms, who are in one of the rowing rows, start singing: "Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream..." and everyone else chimes in. The rower boss is NOT amused. He cracks his whip a few times, yells, and there is silence. Then... you hear these little M&M voices singing: "Don't rock the boat, don't rock the boat, baby!" And all of the rowing slaves chime in.

That is SOOO me. I am a little M&M, singing (atrociously, admittedly!) and rocking the boat. That is what I have ALWAYS done wherever I have been. Singing (atrociously) and encouraging others to rock the boat, baby. Yeah.

Hell, if I could sing terribly in the Army and nobody shot me, well...... Honest to God, this is how I make it through everywhere in life. I sing songs, I change lyrics to fit the situation, and... the rowers LIKE it.

Or not. To each his own.

But it is not going to make me stop singing.

I am not an M&M, by the way. The commercial was for M&Ms. What caught my attention was the spontaneous singing at a seemingly inopportune time.

I have a tendency to do two things spontaneously: make bad puns and burst out in song. The first habit I “get,” as I love words so much. The second one, I don’t. Because I have absolutely no musical talent whatsoever.

I can’t carry a tune. I can’t read music. (I do know F-A-C-E and Every Good Boy Does Fine, but I honestly can’t tell one note from another by hearing it.) Hell, I can’t even remember lyrics correctly. None of this stops me from singing – albeit usually only a bar or two out loud.

Puns – and I think bad puns are sooo good – come to me naturally. I can’t help myself. It is not even me really. I mean, most of the time they are not even conscious exhortations. There must be some primordial stew of words in my subconscious and something external triggers the sudden release of a play on words. Rarely do I “think” of a pun. Someone else in there is thinking these things up and getting them out – much faster than I could ever think them up, that’s for sure!

Song lyrics burst forth, too. Something will happen or someone will say something, and then all of a sudden a line from a song will pop into my head. And out of my mouth. More often than not, they are from bad pop songs from the 70s. Often I cannot tell you the name of the song or even have the vaguest notion who sang it. It’s like random radio waves from the past are floating around inside my head, and my mouth spews them out at appropriate – or inappropriate – times.

There must be two pools inside my head – one full of words in the bad pun pool, the other full or random song lyrics.

I don’t understand the singing part, I really don’t. I usually don’t get the lyrics right when I sing them, and I am absolutely musically impaired. I would never, ever, ever go on “Name That Tune.” (“Password” would be more my style.) I sing so poorly, you would think I would never open my mouth in public.

During Beast we had to report to this gray granite building and “try out” for the West Point choirs and glee club. It was not an option. It was part of our training schedule, like being issued combat boots or taking a writing placement test. We each had to go into this dark room and sing for some guy who would then decide if we had any singing potential or not. Apparently, it didn’t matter if you wanted to sing in any of these groups or not.

I thought this was ridiculous and a complete waste of time. Especially for me. I knew I couldn’t sing, and I certainly had absolutely no desire to be in any choral group.

I was the one who volunteered to take the History of Music in ninth grade just so I wouldn’t have to be in chorus. And I even had a part in a school musical once where I was supposed to sing badly. It came quite naturally. My only solo EVER in a school musical.

I told the choir man with his little clipboard that I could not sing; this was a waste of both of our time. He said, “Nonsense! Everyone can sing.” He then had me sing a few bars from some song – probably the “Star Spangled Banner.” When I finished, there was a long moment of silence. “Well…,” he said finally, checking something off on his clipboard with a flourish, “we won’t be needing you.”

I thought that was so mean. I told him I couldn’t sing. What did he think – that I was just being modest? Now here he was insulting me.

I sing all the time, usually silently in my head. Where it sounds quite lovely, I have to say.

The only time in my life when I have felt totally uninhibited whilst singing aloud – other than when I was a toddler belting out “Oh, Susanna” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in church because they were the only songs I knew the words to – was when my children were babies. I figured they really wouldn’t be able to tell if I could sing well or not, and they were a captive audience. Sure, they could always cry if they didn’t like my singing, but they always seemed to find it comforting. No matter how badly I mangled either the lyrics or the tune.

I sang them lullabies (“Hush, little baby, don’t you cry…”). I sang old songs my mother had sung to me (“Down in the meadow in an itty, bitty pool, swam three little fishies and their momma fishy, too…”). I sang songs I had learned in elementary school music, classic All-American ditties like “Erie Canal” and “Git along Little Dogies.” I sang Broadway show tunes and songs from movie musicals (“Shall we dance…?”). I LOVE musicals. As long as it was just me and my babies I felt free to sing, sing, sing.

I used to put musical soundtracks on the stereo (my favorite was “The Sound of Music”) and dance around the room with the boys, even when they were only a few months old, and SING! My babies gave me every indication that they enjoyed this immensely, smiling, laughing, and cooing with glee.

They don’t much like me to sing anymore. At all. Period. My older son was in the musical “Annie” at school this past year, and those songs kept going through my head and bursting forth at odd times – like when I was driving my children to school. My older son, in his deep, monotone voice, would inform me that I had gotten the lyrics wrong, while my younger son would simply shove one of his atrocious alternative heavy metals CDs into the CD player and crank up the volume.


I was just singing a song. It’s not like I was planning on trying out for “American Idol” or something.

My children are lucky. Or blessed. They can both sing. Clearly not a trait they inherited from me. My older son, if we coax him long enough, will sing Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” spot on. And I frequently hear my younger son singing songs from chorus in the shower. Usually either patriotic songs, like “It’s a Grand Old Flag,” or Disney classics, like “Bippity Boppity Boo.” He would kill me if he knew I was writing this. He just sounds so carefree and happy when he is singing in the shower. He actually wanted to be in chorus.

To tell the truth, I am kind of hurt by my children’s aversion to my musical outbursts. Yes, I realize they are teenagers now, so they are pretty much averse to anything I say or do. But my memories of singing to them as babies are so precious. And I just plain like to sing. It is just my way of expressing my joi de vivre or singing the blues or rallying the troops. Personally, I think life should be one big musical with people bursting forth in song and dance all the time.

Rock the boat, baby!


Blogger BabelBabe said...

i sing my children all manner of strange songs also, from modern roick to old classics like Ella, to musicals. Primo's fav is Edelweiss.

and I LIKE your puns. hey always wildly impress me, i can't think that fast.

8:39 AM  
Blogger yt said...

LOVE that commercial and yes, I confess to being a private singer. I am equally as apt to burst out in a Della Reese or a Sesame Street classic but my son was the Master of Puns.

10:35 AM  
Blogger Eric said...

It was "My Country Tis of Thee" during my Beast.

The beauty with Army cadences is that anybody, even the most tone-deaf person, can sing them. Which is not to say that they can't be sung well, but that it's perfectly acceptable to substitute loudness and forcefulness for perfect pitch.

1:54 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

Also, as far as your sons, as you know, teenagers are rude, unappreciative and just crazy as a general rule, but if you've done a good job as a parent, with maturity they will become the fiercest defenders and appreciators of their mom.

1:57 PM  

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