Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Car Tunes

I caught myself yesterday singing in the car.

I haven't sung in the car in a long, long time.

It seems that as my work-life soured more and more through 2012, one of the habits of mine that just seemed to drop off the table was singing in the car. Buried, I guess, by stress, disappointment, anger, boredom, frustration, and the general malaise that was hanging over my head each workday.

When I was let go in April, there wasn't much to sing about then, either.

Summer/Fall/Early Winter? More stress in the job hunt. Not a lot of tuneful opportunities while alone in the car.

But with the return to employment in December -- plus the good timing of a playlist full of singable Christmas classics -- I started humming along. Then tentatively joining in a chorus or two. Then full-bore vocalization: "Fallllll on your kneeeeeez. Oh heeeear the angel voooooices!"

Felt good. Felt right. Felt like it had been gone from my life for too long a period.

I come from a long line of car-singers. As a kid, our vacations were often long road trips, as the expense of air travel was beyond our budgets back then. We drove to the Appalachians and camped in Kentucky. We drove to Niagara Falls. We drove to Orlando. Five people (three boys and two adults) and a trunk jammed with suitcases and miles and miles of open roadway.

There were no iPods then, no back-seat DVD players. Heck, the car didn't even have air conditioning!

So we sang.

My dad -- from whom I inherited my own musical abilities -- was very musical. He played piano as a child. And in his teens and early 20s was a member of the Navy Chorus. In his civilian life, he sang tenor in our church choir for years and years, and my first foray into choral singing was at his side.

My mother -- who loved music -- was a terrible singer. She had a godawful sense of pitch and made up the words she couldn't remember. But she raised us in a musical household, as she stacked our stereo turntable high with LPs and let them flop forward in succession as she housecleaned. I can easily remember being put down for a nap while the sounds of Hollywood and Broadway musicals played in the living room.

And Mom warbled along, washing windows or defrosting the freezer: "Do, a deer, a female deer; Ray, a drop of golden sun!"

In the car, we had a rather unusual repertoire. Sure, we annoyed each other with 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall and Old McDonald. But my parents brought forward the songs of their youth, and we enjoyed the out-of-date references and awful puns. PC thinking was not prevalent at the time, so no thought was given to lyrics that today's ears would now find offensive.

For instance, Dad learned a few ditties as a Boy Scout, including one called "The Poor Old Slave."

This was a progressively difficult song, as nonsense syllables were added and the speed was increased.

"The poor old slave has gone to rest, we know that he is free/His bones, they lie, disturb them not, way down in Tennessee."

And then that became "The pickety-poor old slickety-slave hase gickety-gone to rickety-rest, we knickety-know that hickety-he is free-oh-free-free."

And so on until only Dad could handle the final verse at breakneck speed.

Mom liked this little ditty:

"There was farmer had a cow/Golly, ain't that queer?
She drank one day from a frozen stream
Her tail stood out like an iron beam
And ever since then, she's been giving ice cream
Golly, ain't that queer?
Some cow... Some cow... Some cow... MOO!"

It had full-on harmonies that Dad was terrific at.

This one must've come from a Bible camp somewhere in their past:

"Young folks, old folks everybody come
Come to the Sunday School and have a lot of fun
Please park your chewing gum and raisins at the door
And we'll tell you Bible stories that you never hear before."

There were dozens of verses to this -- addressing everything from Adam and Eve to Moses -- but Mom and Dad seemed only able to recall a few.

Dad also had one about a billboard that had half washed away in a rainstorm, leaving humorous messages in the tatters that remain:

"Come smoke a Coca Cola/Tomato-ketchup cigarettes//See Lillian Russel wrestle/With a box of Castorettes."

We got a lesson with that one, as to who Lillian Russel was (an actress/singer at the turn of the last century) and what Castorettes were (a laxative).

As we grew up, the roadtrips faded away. Our vacation spot became the Jersey Shore, and the shorter commute didn't really lend itself to singing. And as we all started to drive by ourselves, we were no longer traveling en masse anymore anyway.

But to this day, when I'm alone in the car, if you pull up beside me at a red light, don't be surprised to see my mouth open and my head swinging in time.

I might very well be belting one of those Bible camp verses my parents taught:

"God made Satan
Satan made sin
God made a hot place to put Satan in

Satan didn't like it and he said he wouldn't stay
And he's been actin' like the Devil ever since that day!"

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