I have an annoying habit. Actually, I’ve got dozens of annoying habits, but I’m only writing about one of them. If someone says something that reminds me of a song lyric, I sing it. “Aw, that’s cute,” you say. No, it’s not, I’m as tone deaf as a stone. I can’t carry a tune.
♫ Here comes the sun, do do do do, here comes the sun, and I say…
“Dad, that doesn’t sound remotely like the song.”
I don’t think I knew this until I was thirty. If you google Storm of the Century, you’ll find an east coast March blizzard from1993 high in the listings. Today, that storm would have a name: Winter Storm Diego or Winter Storm Jeanette, or Rosa, or Bob, something. Also they wouldn’t call it a snow storm, they’d call it a bomb-cyclone or some such nonsense. But in March 1993, before any storms save hurricanes got names, they called it the Storm of the Century. The south eastern states got whacked, Mount Mitchell in North Carolina got fifty-six inches of snow. Washington, DC expected three feet.
A Saturday night, my girlfriend Stacey and I planned on going to a party. After dinner, I put on jeans, a Gore-Tex coat and a pair of hiking boots, and ran the three miles to Stacey’s house in eight inches of snow. After throwing my clothes in the dryer and drinking beer while wrapped in blankets for thirty minutes, we walked to the party. Competing with the Storm of the Century, the party bombed. Just a few of us showed up—my brother and his girlfriend, a guy from my soccer team with his brother and his girlfriend. We did our best to drink the beer the host purchased.
Leaving the party, the soccer guy said “Hey, you guys want a ride back to Stacey’s house?” He drove a jeep. Plowing through eighteen inch drifts, stereo up loud, the Styx song Come Sail Away came on the radio. We all sang along in loud drunken voices. ♫ I thought that they were angels, but to my surprise, we climbed aboard their starship, we headed for the skies. Stacey kept putting her hand over my mouth.
“What’s your problem, why do you keep doing that?”
“You sound like crap. You’re out of tune.”
So now I know. In the car, by myself, I really let it out. ♫ Down by the ocean it was so dismal, women all standing with a shock on their faces… But around others, I keep my singing voice bottled up. Riding in the car with my family, as everyone sings along with the radio, my Come Sail Away trauma keeps me quiet. In fact, a few weeks ago, when Come Sail Away came on, Sophie sang, I didn’t.
My brain is juke box filled with snippets of song lyrics. When I Win the Lottery by Camper Van Beethoven is the only rock song I can sing all the way through. Everything else is just bits and pieces. Even the songs I’ve loved for almost fifty years, those second and third verses trip me up: ♫ Say, Candy and Ronnie, have you seen them yet? Ooh, they’re so spaced out… But whenever someone inadvertently bumps up against a song lyric in conversation, I can’t help myself.
“To plug in the headlight, you got to get way down inside.” ♫ Waay-yaay down in-sii-ide, woman…
“I shined my boots yesterday.” ♫ Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather, whiplash girl-child in the dark…
“What’s so special about jazz, anyway?” ♫…weddings, parties, anything, and Bongo Jazz a speciality.
There’s a song lyric for just about anything someone says. I sometimes restrain myself, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I sing at least one every day. Susan never comments, except to point out when she doesn’t know the song. I’m not sure I do this around Sophie much, she’s got the best singing voice in the family, Maybe I’m subconsciously embarrassed. But it drives Eli nuts. “Dad, stop it. Just stop.”
Susan points out that Eli and I poke at each other constantly. Yesterday at Target, he literally poked at me, over and over. But often it’s me pushing his buttons, subtly annoying him with my good spirited, innocuous actions like badly singing song lyrics at random times.
I’m not picking fights, when these lyrics arise, I feel compelled to sing them. I feel like the universe will be disappointed if I don’t. But I need to be more aware. I need to sense when I’ve gone too far, when I’m inching out of the calm before the storm. And I need to stop, just stop. ♫ There’s calm in your eye, and I’m gettin’ blown away, to somewhere safer where the feeling stays, I want to love you but I’m getting blown away.
—Bonus points if you can name all the songs.