I sing because I can?
Maybe there’s more to it than that.
When I was very little, my parents took pictures of me doing everything. Bathing, playing, and, of course, singing. One of my favorite childhood pictures is of me standing on a “stage” (the sofa) wearing an “evening gown” (my mother’s ecru slip), Mickey Mouse ears, and singing into a “microphone” (upside down Romper Room horse).
My earliest influences were the girl singers, especially the ones on TV shows. In retrospect, none of them were really very good. Especially not Annette Funicello, but I had her album! (Wonder what happened to it – probably worth something now. Then again, probably not.) The first movie I remember seeing was Summer Magic with Hayley Mills. I came home singing the music from the show, which was written by the Sherman Brothers, who became more famous for my next and probably most significant influence:
Mary Poppins. I saw that movie at 7 with my father. My mother didn’t like movies. They made her nervous. I wonder if she might have had adult ADD – but that’s for another musing. Again, I came home singing all the Sherman Brothers tunes, which were far more memorable than those of Summer Magic. Probably because Julie Andrews was a better singer. And it had Dick van Dyke in it, on whom I had a terrible crush.
I got to take piano lessons – group lessons through MPS. I think my parents sprung for piano lessons because some Slovenian kid was taking lessons and my mother always had to compete with the Slovenian families. (Again, that’s for another musing.) We got a piano from Bob Kames Pianos on the South Side – the first piano was a mahogany upright. Beautiful instrument.
Too big and too dark, according to Renate. Back it went and in its place came a walnut spinet. Didn’t matter that it was an inferior piano – it looked better in the room.
Of course, I didn’t know that till years later. All I knew was that I had a piano and I could now pick out tunes and sing songs. All the time. I think it was beneficial that my father worked second shift during my early years because I could come home from school and play all evening.
I discovered I also had a talent for writing and for writing song parodies. (Me and Michael Scott.) So I started to write silly parodies, both prose and song, and sing and act them for my friends and classmates. In fact, for a few years, I thought I’d be a writer. I was writing stories – all of them terribly derivative and probably owing a great deal to The Diary of Anne Frank.
And then when I was 11, I saw another movie that determined my life’s path. By myself, this time. I went to the Southgate Theatre and saw Funny Girl. My parents didn’t come because they hated Barbra Streisand (and she wasn’t even political yet!) and my friends really didn’t have much interest in that movie. Or maybe they weren’t around.
I loved every minute of the movie – except the last 5, which I missed because I decided I could no longer wait to go the bathroom. But the scene that meant the most to me was the scene where Fanny Brice pursues Nicky Arnstein, and she’s on the boat singing “Don’t rain on my parade.” I sat there in the theater, a fat little girl sitting by herself in a back row, with tears running down my face, and all I could think of was “That’s what I want to do. That’s what I have to do.” I left the theater stunned with that realization. (And pissed off because I missed the end of the movie.)
So that’s why I sing.