The drag queen decided she was going to teach me to sing.
Two weeks ago, during my first visit to the Gayborhood I met this fierce lady, name of Carmen Can-Too. We've become close since then. I was in her apartment on a Saturday night with a karaoke machine. We had been hanging out all day so she could take some pictures of me for my online dating profile. We talked and smoked and cried and told each other stories of our life. Before I know it out comes the vodka and the microphone. And we sang. She listened to my offerings and liked my voice, but she said that she had notes for me. And boy did she ever. There was one song in particular she wanted to hear over and over again, until I felt it, remembered the words, and hit all the notes in as sweet and true a voice as possible.
I'm a big guy and I have a really loud deep baritone voice. I talk too loud most of the time. It comes in handy in my job as a professor at Local State University. And I love singing at karaoke, even though most songs are pitched at tenor or above. I had to learn to go higher than I might like. I even have an improbable falsetto. But I always try to sing louder than the music instead of letting the microphone do the work. So she was trying to teach me to go softer and hit the notes in my pitch range more truly. Breathe better.
Her singing instructions were an invitation of another sort. Stop singing the person you think you have to be. Sing the man you really are. Let them hear your true self, your unique savor of the notes and the words. Teach them what you stand for. So I got to hear this song over and over again, until it started to become my own. I've always loved it forever and loved the lyrics, but I never really thought about them very much.
The song is "Rainbow Connection" sung by Kermit the Frog in the original Muppet Movie from 1979. It's cute and sweet as all get-out, and it presents an adorable contrast to my usual fare of punk songs and hip hop.
I sang it over and over again, trying hard to follow her directions, and I found myself crying —voice heaving a bit to fight it — as I thought about what this song was saying. Especially the final verse, which goes:
Have you been fast asleep
And have you heard voices,
I've heard them calling my name,
Is this the sweet sound that calls the young sailors,
The voice might be one and the same.
I've heard it too many times to ignore it
It's something that I'm supposed to be,
It just hit me like a ton of bricks, thinking about the source of those voices and their pesterings all those years. Me lonely and sad for so long, thinking that the night time was the only time I could be true to myself. Going to bed in compulsory straightness but dreaming big Busby Berkeley dreams — only to wake up straight again. Again and again, over and over. For thirty-four years. I learned to dread the sound of my alarm clock, and I never could foresee remit from this fate.
And there was Kermit all along, he and the Muppets reminding me of a truth so simple that it's tragically easy to miss. Be you. Be weird. Be true. Let it all out. Make the outcome even stranger than the premise. My favorite Muppet was always Gonzo the Great. He was so flamboyant and bigger than life, totally a queer character — he had nonconforming desires, he was fierce and totally convinced of his greatness. Though he always failed to achieve his fantasies, he always tried the next time in as weird a fashion as possible. The effort was what made him great.
So I guess the big question I have is that I believed everything else that the Muppets said. So why didn't I hear this part — the part that really mattered to my life — until now?
I try not to regret a youth lost in pursuit of somebody else's life. It was mostly my fault anyways. How can I ruin what's left of whatever with sadness, when there's so much out there to do? I can't. Bitterness would be fatal at this late stage in life.
Carmen Can-Too is one of my best friends, and three weeks ago I hadn't even dared to go out to meet anybody. Life changes and speedily. And it's never too late to be the person you deserve to be.