i remember as a young girl sitting in a rocking chair singing a song about a farmer and his family and how they were so poor they didn't have anything- not any clothes. but they had a chicken. i wrote it. that feeling of carefree singing still makes me swoon. i'm one of those people who does not like to be interrupted when listening to heartfelt crooning, and i find it offensive to be cut off as i serenade myself.
maybe because i cherish the human voice in song i am reserved about singing in front of strangers -as in karaoke. in connected groups- my family, a women's circle, in front of jen's wii - or when moved by the spirit- on a beach, while shopping for crackers- i enjoy putting my sound out into space. even more so if others are singing with me.
karaoke, though, as in being in crowded bar with drunk folks is not appealing to me. for a long while this was the only way i had ever witnessed karaoke. but then bobbi came on the scene. she worked with me at the max higbee center and had a complete karaoke system. not the one box units you buy at target- a real system complete with thousands of songs from white snake to sir mix a-lot. not to mention disney songs, ac/dc, elvis and the all the other songs you don't realize you know until you are singing into a light microphone.
so bobbi began karaoke night once a month at the center. the center being a rec center for folks with developmental disabilities. i worked there in college then returned later to run this inspiring bellingham non-profit. karaoke night was the highlight of the event calendar.
if you've never been to the center it will be hard for you to full grasp the karaoke night's splendor. the members of the center range from 13 to 70, from total independent folks who lived on their own, worked full time jobs and had personal lives as complicated as yours to non-verbal folks who did not interaction much with the world around them- who were completed dependent on another person for every thing they needed to survive. singing brought us all together.
some of the memories that stand out most right now.
jill, completely deaf, singing along with some metallic song. she screeched whenever she felt the whim- her eyes reflecting the glowing lyrics- she could read but paid little attention to as she scrunched up her face in a rock star sneer- and her mouth making random noises of varying pitch and sound. she was ecstatic as her friends all watched her mesmerized and cheered wildly when the song ended.
singing doesn't have much to do with ability to talk or hear anyway.
fred, an amazing artist who could draw letters in such detail they looked computer generated, talking through a song. he knew the words but there was no melody, no rhythm, no tone, no emotion in his voice as he sang some popular ballad from the 80s. he concentrated on the screen and stood mostly still- making sure he was getting every word exactly right. when he was done he marched back to his chair as his friends cheered enthusiastically.
sometimes the words are really important.
devin, was tall and lanky and preferred hip hop songs. although he also could be easily swayed to do YMCA, his favorite song was "who let the dogs out?" his favorite part of the song was the barking. usually he got so carried away with his dancing the microphone hung unused at his side. he jumped and trotted and his whole body giggled with the moment. his friends clapped and cheered every time.
dancing is often the best part singing.
the staff members- usually me and two other gals- had some songs we just had to do as trio. we went through phases. "walk like an egyptian" was popular for a while- we even did the hand moves and tried to whistle. and of course, the essential "total eclipse of the heart." we hammed it up big time- we each took on different verses and the crowd went wild. we tried to do the falsetto "bright eyes" part with feeling. i knew that anything i did- even screwing up the entire song miserably- would be instantly loved and cheered on.
there are some feelings you can only experience by having an audience. at max's place the audience is 100% on your side. they are joyful to the point that you no longer doubt your own awesomeness.
maybe because i associate the song with that feeling of love and support, to this day "total eclipse of the heart" gets me singing for hours it is an epic song that goes on forever and most of the lyrics make no sense to me, for example, "we're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks." ok, so i get the metaphor but find it kind of outdated. maybe that's not even what they are saying?
for a long while after i stopped working at max's place, i would drop by on karaoke night. sometimes the other gals who worked there would show up too- like a reunion tour. sometimes i was alone and would recruit other folks to sing with me like pearl.
pearl was a mostly quiet gal who was blind. she agreed to sing "total eclipse of the heart" with me one saturday
as the song went on and on. i just kind of stopped singing so i could listen to pearl sing. there was this tenderness to the way she sang the song- the way people sometimes get lost in a song so completely. it felt odd though because the song is so corny and confusing in a way. it's cryptic and melodramatic. yet as pearl sang the lyrics they seemed strangely appropriate. i was on the verge of tears as this young blind woman who lived at home with her family sang "once upon a time there was light in my life, now there's only love in the dark." i wondered if she was born blind.
sometimes songs tell us about ourselves, our own lives and so we sing them all the louder.
sometimes they tell us about another's live and that's when we really need to listen deeply.