I used to write song lyrics on fancy stationary in my best, curliest handwriting and taped them to a wall in my bedroom. The other walls showcased writing on them too. Letters people wrote me. Letters I wrote myself. An entire wall of fortune cookie wisdom I had arranged into a giant flower.
There wasn’t a single space of white in my childhood room. Every inch of space was covered with words mostly written in glittery gel pen.
I played piano too. Not well, but well enough to complement whatever song I was singing, even if that meant a few chords. I spent hours in my room fiddling around with notes. The sheet music usually ended up on the floor, and I’d resolve to whatever sounded the best.
I liked the sound of my voice. Much more in song than in speech. In speech, I felt clunky and brash. I hated it on rewind. In song, I could make my words flower and melt.
I firmly believe language is dead without music.
I’d spend all week creating and memorizing a song, and then I’d serenade my friends. They seemed to like it. They’d nod their heads, lean into it, ask for more.
I started a band with a few other restless types. We called it National Fishing Day. Some inside joke my friend and I came up with while we got high in the forest preserve. She was gangly and sweet, and she played drums. We found ourselves a bass player. This short, turtlish guy who smelled like cigarettes and rocked out to hair metal. We all really needed an outlet. Our weekends became jam sessions in the drummer’s basement somewhere in the woods of rural Illinois.
We were all just learning our crafts. No one was truly good at anything, but we didn’t care. We weren’t going anywhere except for right there, in the now. I wrote two songs. I forget their names. When we performed them together, we flew. There’s nothing better than fumbling around with sound in a basement. When we were all in sync, it was our version of perfect.
That wasn’t the only fumbling happening. My drummer and I started making out on her dingy basement couch. I thought we were just friends fooling around, but our intimacy kind of put a damper on things. She wanted more, and I didn’t want anything more than her friendship and the band. Our poor bassist. We were all devastated when National Fishing Day was no more.
Somewhere along the way I stopped singing all together. Mostly because I grew more self-conscious. My ears would burn, and my entire face would go numb whenever I sang in front of more than a few of my closest friends. This happened when I gave presentations too. It affected the sound of my voice. The older I got, the more it quaked.
Why does age rob us of our childhood loves? There is something wrong here.
I rationalized that I express myself in other ways, so I could let this one go. But why let any of them go?
This weekend I waddled over to this divey karaoke bar. I’ve been here once before. It’s not what you’d expect. This tiny thing with a few tables and musty carpeting. But it’s apparently the place to be. You can’t even move an elbow without bumping into someone. One of the few places in the suburbs that kind of feels like city, but with cheap drinks.
My go-to karaoke is Alanis Morissettte. Pretty basic. I mostly listen to indie music you wouldn’t find on karaoke, but my girl Alanis does just fine. Everyone remembers her. She was a lot of people’s angst filled teen years.
I wanted to sound like myself. So I sang my hardest. I belted it out. I hit all the nuances. Because I like to sing. I’ve always liked to sing. It felt amazing to dust off my favorite instrument.
The bar became a gray blur around me. I couldn’t pinpoint a single face, just the words on the screen. I knew those words well, in a colorful bedroom long ago. Such is the way of karaoke. Nostalgia for the music-hearted.