Sunday, August 23, 2009

Let's Keep it That Way, or, Harry Knows the Words, or The Evil That Men Do, Part Four

While in the shower, or alone in the car, you may briefly persuade yourself that, hey, you really can sing. But then you try to hit that high note, and someone offers to call an ambulance. You’re brought back to earth, and decide not to call the record company after all. Alas, some of us remain blissfully ignorant of such limitations.

Have you ever been stuck in a car with someone, like on a family trip or carjacking, who sings along to the radio, but is just not even coming close to the tune? They just keep on going anyway, like they’re under no obligation to get it even half-right? You might even conclude that, in a manner similar to farting, they simply forgot that you were there, and went ahead with it.

Or, god bless them, they may think they’re nailing it, and for your pleasure, they’re saying let me lay my “stylings” on you. Let's call it the Fourth Deadly Sin.

You've seen the episode of “Family Guy” (you don't watch “Family Guy”? You can stop reading now. Well, okay, keep reading, but then go see it, okay?) when Brian starts to hum "Country Road"? :

Stewie: Who sings that song?

Brian: James Taylor.

Stewie: Yeah, let's keep it that way.

I had a friend who would whistle along to songs in a…well, the term “complete monotone” barely conveys his utter disregard for the melody. His standard of excellence was to more or less keep up with the song. His technique was not quite on the level of, oh let’s say Bing Crosby. It was more like calling-the-dog or rooting-for-the-team-at-the-stadium. Well, the dog’s dead, the home team lost, and the song – Led Zeppelin notwithstanding – didn’t remain the same.

And then there are your drunken friends. (And don't tell me you didn't have drunk friends. You either had them or you were them.) Way back when, I attended a Harry Chapin concert with some friends who were big fans of his. I thought he was pretty good, too. It was an outdoor show, with general admission seating, so you had to get there six hours early with a cooler full of beer. I worked that day, and didn’t have to do all the work. They accepted my gratitude by drinking most of the beers. Fair enough.

When I finally got there I tried to get into the spirit of things, but was always at least six beers behind, so, like most of the other five thousand people there, I still wanted to hear, you know, Harry Chapin. But alcohol tends to decrease your musical abilities, while, in an interesting paradox, increasing your estimation of them. By the time the show started, my friends had decided to play the “let’s all sing along at the top of our lungs” game. This game is more popular at bars at 3am, but my brave friends would not let a different setting deter them.

It would be fair to say that I always had a narrow comfort zone at concerts. There were a number of things that could potentially ruin a show for me:

  • Bad sound
  • Bad seats
  • A very tall person sitting in front of me.
  • A person of any height standing up to dance/clap, etc. in front of me. (It appears I’ve been outvoted on this one, and I’ve since relented.)
  • A short show (anything less than three hours)
  • People sitting next to me who sing along

And I’m one of those oddballs who assumes that the band made the record the way they wanted it to be heard – that they didn’t spend hundreds of painstaking hours in the studio, only to say "And here is where I really need some tuneless whistling ". And that their rehearsal strategy isn’t "And if I forget my part, or just don’t feel like singing, an impromptu drunk chorus would really help." However, my friends and I hadn’t the opportunity to discuss my philosophy ahead of time.

So, that night’s version of “Cats in the Cradle” invited a literal and tragic interpretation. And “Taxi” convinced me that she was right in dumping that loser. After about an hour of this, I got fed up, turned to my friends and said with mock reassurance: "Hey guys, Harry knows the words."

I've apparently gone down in "friend history" for this. My behind-my-back-nickname has been "Mother Superior" ever since. They should have called me Stewie.

But on reflection, maybe I haven’t given my friends their due. Maybe they weren’t being drunken louts after all! You know how an Indian shaman would take peyote and see visions? My friends were taking Budweiser and looking ten years into the future: a future without Harry, but with karaoke machines. Somebody would have to sing those songs, they figured.

And then there’s Harry Chapin himself, dying a suspiciously short time after the show. Car accident, you say? Here’s my theory: He’s driving home and pops in a tape he made of that concert, and, well… wouldn’t you?

To this day, when I hear “Well, it was raining hard in Frisco” it’s in friend Tom’s voice, not Harry Chapin’s. Oh, I hear, Harry, too – turning over in his grave.
Now playing: Harry Chapin - Taxi
via FoxyTunes

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