I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve sat in my car, the volume turned to 10, belting out one tune after another. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve driven down quiet suburban streets on a warm day with the windows rolled up because the noise level from the speakers would measure a 5.0 on the Richter scale. It’s no wonder I can barely get through any conversation without asking, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you, can you repeat that?” I take my music, my singing and my dancing very seriously. That does not mean, however, that I am a great singer and dancer, it just means that I take them very seriously.
Put on Louis Armstrong and I scat. A little Frank Sinatra, I’m a crooner. Play Aretha and I am woman who’s been wronged with love still on her mind. That’s not my Name by the Ting Tings, a feminist crusader. And don’t get me started on Notorious B.I.G. I’m a teen aged rapper from the streets of Bed-Stuy. The voices of these artists tap into the heart and soul of me. Through their stories, I am transported to another time and place.
Last month my daughter asked me to drop off her uniform at her job. Al Green’s For the Good Times was cranked up and it made me think of the challenge of relationships and loving through the hard times. By the time I arrived at her job, my cheeks were wet with tears. “Are you o.k.?”my very concerned daughter asked as she rushed to my side. When she heard the song playing and discovered the reason for my sobs, she snatched her uniform from the seat and said in a not so concerned voice, “Get help!” In that moment, only Al understood my sorrow.
I come to this place honestly. The music of my parents was a steady presence in my childhood home. We dressed, ate, entertained, got ready for church, to music. My father’s den was and still is a treasure trove of jazz greats. “Listen to this,” my father would say, grabbing anyone passing by, and we’d have to indeed listen, often with feigned interest, as my father sat, foot tapping, eyes closed, lost in the music of Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson or John Coltrane.
What is it about music that makes people lose themselves? Stories often give voice to who you are, or who you wish you were, or who you might have been. Stories help you remember or help you forget. Great music is a really just a great story with a melody attached. No one is thinking about bills and doctor’s appointments, when fingers are snapping. I’ve been to enough clubs, house parties, weddings and local dances to watch in awe at otherwise reserved, rigid and shy folks, completely let loose on the dance floor when their favorite song was played. Watching them, you can see someone else in there. Perhaps someone younger, thinner, childless, single…in a word, Free. In that moment, that music, those lyrics, that drum beat, was telling their story, without a filter or an editor, just their pure truth.
When the kids were young, I spent so much of my time driving them back and forth to school, classes and appointments. On our car rides, in between their kiddie cd’s I was forced to play again and again and again and sing along with, I’d sneak in a song from my favorite radio station. And when a good song came on, maybe it was Get Off by Chic, Run DMC’s Sucker MC’s, Atomic Dog by George Clinton, Le Freak by Chic, or any other blast from the past, that was when they most wanted my attention. “Not now!” I’d yell at the backseat. “I’m seventeen and on my way to a party with my girlfriends!” At first they would object. Their questions and stories they thought were far more important than my fantasy world. But they learned. And they sat quietly until my song and my singing ended. “Now what is it you wanted?” I asked turning the volume down, back in mommy mode. “Never mind,” they’d answer in unison. It took a while, but eventually they learned. I take my music very seriously.