If you're like most people, you don't have a memory of a mysterious group of grinning, sun-stroked strangers pounding on your front door, eager to grasp your palm and shake, shake, vigorously shake it until the sweat of their clammy hands has fully transferred to yours, soaking your own digits and making the authentic gold-plated, intricately-shaped trophy they joyously shove at you so difficult to grasp that you drop it on your left pinkie toe, crushing it, but thankfully furnishing you with an amusing anecdote to relate to a world-renowned journalist weeks later during an exclusive interview. Wow: The Best Singer in the World! However, if you do have such a memory, I implore you to, please, continue reading, as the following why-to may still be of some value.
I don't have the accolades to back me up. Why sing? I am driving, alone, and I know all of the words to "Dock of the Bay" or whatever well-known song Clear Channel/iHeartRadio beams at me. I turn it up; I like this song! I've listened carefully for years, out of a shifting mix of boredom and interest, periodically looking for clues: what does this song mean? I’ve listened casually, over light conversation during long car rides, standing under tinny, treble-heavy elevator speakers, wading through the throngs of discount shopping outlets, and on and on, and I've picked up all the words to mostly every tune the sad state of modern American radio provides its listeners. Approximately 450 songs are currently approved for radio play and they are mostly classic rock and Top 40; it's an open secret we all know, consciously or not. How could I not know them all by heart?
I hum along, softly at first, to the degree that I can't truly hear myself, but can feel some sort of vibration in my esophagus. Gradually growing louder, I anticipate the moment at which I break through the lower limits of the human hearing system and I can hear myself; I greet this with an endlessly fluctuating blend of dread and excitement. Sunbeams pound on my windows, filtering out all too few of them, and thrust themselves at my exposed skin with absolutely zero mercy. The skin on the backs of my hands was moister this morning, wasn’t it? I imagine them as scaly green-grey alligator claws at the decade’s end, my steering wheel torn to shreds by their gradual slide into reptilian sharpness.
"Why the sun gotta be so big?" I interrupt myself, questioning this morning's lukewarm coffee, my water bottle, the files sliding around on the passenger seat, my empty aerosol bottle of Neutrogena Ultra Sheer SPF 45. I’m looking for an interruption, though, and I have the self-knowledge to acknowledge this.
No one is here, you fool! Sing the damn song—it's almost the whistling part, and then you will lose your chance to dance. Dance, bitch!
I know what makes me hesitate. I think I’m ready to jump into it, but then those cutting words float to the top of my consciousness, sneeringly declared by a now-obviously insecure girl from some remote vestige of my past, "I hate it when you sing." Scoff! Related memories flood in, one on top of another, like teammate’s hands piling up in sloppy, sweaty overlap for their final end-game chant: every criticism, endlessly passed along joke, and cruel semi-fictional and entirely fictional rumor that my memory will allow me to recall slaps me again on its way skyward. Hooray, team!
The harder one tries to forget something, the more difficult it is to let it fade from one’s mind: I know this. I imagine this as a directly proportional relationship, a smooth red line growing out of a graph’s origin at a 45-degree angle, infinitely. (0, 0) to the moon and beyond; however, I can pinch this line out like I do when I lick my thumb and forefinger and snuff out the candles on my mom’s dining room table. A quick, light pinch and it’s smoldering, gone, dead forever. With the right speed and moisture level, you won’t even feel the heat.
I gaze out of the passenger window at the sky immediately above the ocean; I’m heading south to home. It looks warm, a pleasant blend of pink/orange, and has nothing to do with my ceaseless inner dialogue; I want to crawl inside of it, fly into it, become something else. I imagine her therapist lounging with another therapist on some fieldstone patio, fireside, exchanging bits from her tale and tearing up a little; why does a persistent sense of lack cause people to do such ridiculous things? I imagine the same scenario again, but the therapist has thrown her head back in a fit of laughter, nearly spilling her fourth glass of chardonnay.
Why sing? An African* once chuckled at his audience. “What is wrong with you Americans? You seem to love to claim, ‘Oh, I can’t sing!’ or, ‘I’m a bad singer!’ and on and on. I like to ask people here, ‘Who sings?’ and I always get the same reply: ‘Singers!’ But, that’s fundamentally wrong. People sing! Singing is for everyone!” He laughed, but he was more frustrated than amused.
It is an activity as old as humanity and is probably older than language itself. Singing releases endorphins, exercises muscles that tend to be neglected when only a speaking voice is used, and has countless other benefits that have been documented both formally and informally. Methodical, peer-reviewed articles are a vital component of the scientific method, but, for my purposes here, they are ultimately beside the point. Why should one sing? You should sing, if you wish to, because it will make you feel good, because you don’t need to be an expert, because you know the words. One will always improve with practice and, of course, everyone starts somewhere, even Broken Pinkie Toe. Sing because the sun is setting.
* I can’t remember who said this…I would love to credit them if I can recall. It was either a musician or my college Art Foundations professor, Obiora Udechukwu.