In random conversations lately, just twice this past week, that age old question was raised:
“So…what insturment did YOU play when you were a kid?”
Now, when you stop and think about it, that’s one of those questions that can truly define a person…if not who they are, at least who they were. If you played guitar, you thought you were emulating some rock god you’d recently discovered on this strange channel known as Much Music (even if you were really just using it as an excuse to dance around in your underwear. Well, let’s hope it was YOUR underwear). If you played drums, perhaps your only passion was to make some really loud noise and look cool doing it (and maybe impress a girl or boy in the process.) If you played piano, you were perhaps driven (by your mother, sitting primly in the driver seat) to be a serious musician of sorts, and to be taken very serious like. If you held a fiddle and bow, then perhaps you felt some mysterious pull….a connection to your traditional Celtic roots, passed down from generations and generations (or maybe you just liked the idea of the breezy comfort a kilt might provide). And if you chose the French Horn, then maybe you mistakenly saw it as an easy way to get some good passing grade in music class (because, let’s be honest, a D- is still better than the torturous sound THAT instrument can bring!)
But I didn’t play any of these things. Instead, I was a singer. Of sorts. And my instrument was my voice, and one that I took pretty seriously. And practiced often, driving along in the back of the family car on those long drives to Baddeck to visit my great aunt, and singing along at the top of my lungs, knowing Every Single Word that was played on the radio. And never fear….when we’d inevitably lose reception over Kelly’s Mountain, I’d just keep the tunes coming, uninterrupted, a capella. Now, I won’t pretend I had the raw talent to ever be a “professional” singer (trust me, not even close!), but, truth be told, during those early years, I was good enough and, gosh darn it, cute enough, to get featured in those painful school concert pageant fiascos that only the unconditional love of a mother could stand behind. And a father if he’s forced to go. One year, our choir from Jamieson Elementary was featured on the local “Christmas Daddies” telethon, and being small for my age and wearing glasses much bigger then my incredibly round head (they didn’t call me Charlie Brown for nothing!), with a stubborn cow lick that simply couldn’t be licked no matter how hard I tried, I spent three eternally long minutes in a continuous close up, with a large camera looming in my face and the cameramen barely stifling their laughter in the background as I sang, at the top of my lungs, in my most earnest and over the top way, my very own interpretation of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (And let’s not even talk about my acting skills. I mean, who would’ve guessed the third wise men – not the first, not the second, but the third mind you – would ever take such a lead, starring, show-stopping role in the Christmas play that year? Yeah, I wouldn’t have guessed that either).
As the years past, I kept singing in after school choirs, as well as within the dusty confines of our family home’s basement. There, blessedly, in the privacy of that sacred place, I’d rig up our old portable Electrohome stereo and perch it on top of the noisy freezer (which vibrated and caused the records to skip in rather unfortunate places, during my highest pitch stuff). And then, with my cat Patches as my attentive audience (actually, I had to bribe him with cat treats and the promise of a possible mouse sighting to keep him interested) and a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling as a spotlight, I’d belt out tunes from all my favourites on those scratchy and well loved LPs and 45s, records I’d mostly confiscated from my older sister’s collection: Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You”, Donna Summer’s “MacArthur’s Park” and “On The Radio”, Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and “Never Going Back Again”, The Eagles “I Can’t Tell You Why”, Kiss’ “Beth”, and, most importantly, above all, every last syllable that John Travolta and Olivia Newton John ever uttered on the Grease Soundtrack (That particularly obsession came compliments of my cousin Barb, as she owned the first copy I’d known, and I remember my younger sister and I would literally cry daily to be allowed to go to her house so we could listen, sing along and just LIVE and relive every glorious moment of that particular movie. (Of course, problem was Barb had a new baby, and the baby daddy demanded total SILENCE in the house every time this little bundle of joy was napping, so together, the three of us would be forced to listen to it with the sound turned down really really low, which, sadly, gave me more time to listen closely, study the lyrics, and reimagine them in my own unique and colorful way.)
But alas, as I grew older, the solos of my early singing career days dried up, and with the dreaded onset of puberty and an octave or two of a voice change, I found myself stuck in the background, forced to “harmonize” along with some new and younger (Grade 3ish!) lead. To the defence of my music teacher at the time, this was not the era of GLEE and I was only one of two choir members with male parts (well, I think the other guy was a dude at least), so she likely had not a sweet clue what to make of my interest in music or in performing, and likely secretly wanted me to run off and play dodgeball and make spit balls and underarm fart noises with the rest of the hooligans…er, I mean my peer group.
Lucky for me, along with my love of singing came my love of reading and writing, so I had those to keep me company, and a colorful imagination to run wild with.
It wasn’t until my early twenties that I returned to the um… stage. Truth be told, although the desire still lingered, I was discouraged from doing same through my college years. Being drawn to “musical” people with my good ol’ Cape Breton roots, I came to discover more than a few of these musical genius friends would say “you know, it’s hard to explain but….it’s kind of like you have all the personality of a lead singer, but none of the talent!”
I do vaguely recall, however, one summer evening working at a campground, that a bunch of coworkers and I found ourselves with a night off and a company van at our disposal. And like all good Caper children are want to do, we gamely ventured out to find a place to have a cold beer and a bite, and perhaps hear a a tune, and in doing so stumbled across the Iona Legion, where, lo and behold, it was Karaoke night. That’s right. KARAOKE. In IONA. Now, if you’re asking yourself “where’s Iona?”, go find it on a map, and I’ll sit and wait here a few hours for you to return. Oh, and then slap yourself for wasting time finding IONA on a map! In any event, as it so happened, a beer turned into numerous beer, which then turned into numerous pitchers of beer, which then turned into shooters, shared amongst the half-dozen of us (minus the designated driver of course!) and, although my memory to this day remains quite hazy and non-existent in parts, I do recall a short time later we were or putting on a big time musical extravaganza the likes of which Iona’s probably never seen….and never wants to again! And as an encore (and as it turns out final) performance later that summer, I made my debut with a few friends at Daniel’s Pub in Sydney where I thought, clearly, I was channelling Bryan Adams with my flawless rendition of “Run To You”, but then the reality check arrived when that red headed reality checkin’ she devil friend of mine Sonya came through the door and said “um, dude, I could tell it was you up there….I could hear you screaming that noise two blocks away!” (Yup, way to keep it real Sonya!)
You know….all this reminiscing has me missing the spotlight. Maybe it’s time to get back to the music! I mean, I still sing most days in the shower. And I listen to music and seem to have earphones on constantly, which I sometimes forget as I stroll these city streets and suddenly, passionately, break into song.
Hmmmm. But, on second thought, I think I better to stick to writing these days…..less noise complaints that way 🙂