Facing up to my limitations at a singalong
We graying (or gray) souls have all had one or more of these experiences:
We attend a business meeting and we’re the oldest person there.
We mention “November 22, 1963” in a room full of Gen Xers and are met with a sea of uncomprehending faces.
We read “OMG,” “ICYMI” or another hip digital abbreviation, and we have no idea what it means.
Now I have another log to toss onto this fire. I call it Musical Deserts. I live in a big one. I’m sure I’m not alone.
Recently, I found myself scrambling through the musical desert sands at a late-night singalong.
A man (about 30 years younger than I am) was tinkling the ivories. Perhaps 25 people were gathered around. Nice atmosphere. Nice scene.
Then…the tinkler played a song by Elton John that I had never heard, much less sung. Followed by a Simon and Garfunkel number that I only vaguely recognized.
Followed by some Bruce Springsteen creation that everyone sang at the tops of their lungs. They all knew all the words. I did not know a single one.
I was left to mumble along and try not to be noticed. I managed the first. I doubt that I managed the second.
If only the piano man had trotted out “South Pacific” (I know every word to every song). Or some early Bob Dylan (ditto).
Or an even earlier selection. Something by Bing Crosby, maybe, or that deathless Sinatra number about a man who danced with his wife.
Long and the short of it: My repertoire came to a screeching halt in about 1966, when my adult life was born.
Previously, I had had plenty of time to buy records (remember them?) and to harmonize along. But now, I was 21. Suddenly, I could vote, buy life insurance, order a scotch.
Leisure time instantly took on new meaning. There wasn’t much of it.
Each day, I balanced a demanding career, a book manuscript or two, a girlfriend or two. Then as now, a day contained only 24 hours. Something had to give. Music gave.
Across decades, I hot-wired my musical education by watching the halftime show at the Super Bowl. Whoever they booked each year had to be the hottest thing since sliced bread, right?
But ask me 15 minutes later who he or she was — or to hum the signature song that had just filled my living room — and I would have been stumped.
I can even go back a couple of centuries to prove how musically ancient I am. Would you like me to sing every song from “H.M.S. Pinafore,” the brilliant Gilbert and Sullivan operetta? I could do it when I was 11. I can do it still.
But who would want to hear this? No one, I’m sure.
And how about Christmas carols? Every kid in my era learned them all, even if he or she was not Christian. I can still knock out a mean bass harmony on “Good King Wenceslas” with the best of them.
Aren’t you dying to hear it?
What’s that, you’re not?
Our late-night singalong hit list did click with me a few times. I dredged up most of the words to “River,” by the great Joni Mitchell. I boomed out our swan song, “God Bless America,” with the entire crew. (Some things never change — none of us knew the second verse!)
And then, I got patronized. A woman who had been singing next to me for the better part of an hour said she had really liked my voice.
“Too bad you didn’t get to use it very often,” she said.
It’s mighty dry out here in the musical desert, dear friends.
Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.