Ours was a singing household. My little sister Karen and I entered countless talent shows wherever we could find them -- on the schoolyard, on church stages, in elementary school auditoriums. When we performed together, we were harmonizers in the tradition of the Judds -- my sister was the showstopper with the big voice (Wynona); I provided the subtle backup harmonies (Naomi) and played piano accompaniment. We wore matching outfits, mascara and big hair. We modeled ourselves after the Lennon sisters -- Karen was Janet, I was Kathy -- and we inevitably chose for our act the schlockiest songs on pop radio.
My little sister could charm the paint off the wall. At age 3, she brought the house down at T.C. Cherry Elementary School's summer outdoor program when she sang, in full costume, " Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini." That same year, my best friend Lynn Fly and I, in matching pink shifts with purple polka-dot blouses sewn by our mothers, performed a duet of "My Boy Lollipop," slurping giant suckers on the downbeat: My boy lollipop/ slurp, slurp/ You make my heart go giddyup/ slurp, slurp. We were crushed when my sister beat us out for first prize, based on the audience applause-o-meter.
My sister tortured me many-a-morning with endless, heartfelt verses of Bobby Goldsboro's classic "Shake Me I Rattle, Squeeze Me I Cry," a tune she was working up for a major talent show. She brought the house down on a cold November night with her tear-jerking rendition, ending with a sobbing "Please take me home and luh-uh-uv me."
When our family traveled, we sang show tunes like Ethel Merman on amphetamines as we zoomed down the highway. My brother buried his head beneath a pillow in the far back of the station wagon as my sister and I trumped each other on remembered lyrics from Oklahoma, Carousel, My Fair Lady and Disney movies.
Our lowest point was a duet we worked up on the Exodus theme song, an orchestral number that should never have been put to words. I maintained the semblance of a bass drum with my left hand, low on the keys, while my sister faked a Charlton Heston-esque baritone: This land is mine/ God gave this land to me/ Though I am just a man/ When you are by my side/ With the help of God I know I can be strong! You laugh, but it was a hit at the Sunday night Baptist Training Union.
In sixth grade, I shunned my sister and went solo, except for the occasional duet with friends. The Beatles "Help!" demanded two voices, as did most early Beatles tunes. My girlfriend Lajuana Bird and I sang peppy John and Paul harmonies on my bed in the afternoons after school, alternating those cheerful love songs with mournful, otherworldly ballads of the era. Remember the ghostly "Laurie"? Maybe you had to be there.
Most embarrassing musical moment? Summer of 1968, or was it '69? Gary Lewis & the Playboys, "Sealed with a Kiss." My summer boyfriend, Roy, a guitarist, lived in a city an hour away. The telephone, our microphone: Though we've gotta say goodbye, for the summer/ ... I'll send you all my love, every day in a leh-eh-ter/ Sealed with a kiss.
No kidding. It was worse than the most horrific Celine Dion moment.
I still sing all the time, embarrassing my children and myself. I'm sure my office mates curse me for humming tunes that in turn get stuck in their heads. After attending a conference on ranching recently, I couldn't stop singing, "Oh, the farmer and cowboy can be friends ... " from Oklahoma.
It's a sickness, but it gets me through the day, and I suspect I share it with many others out there. Here's a test: How many of you have wished, at least once, to be Julie Andrews, twirling around in that high Swiss meadow, singing to the snowcaps, "The hills are alive, with the sound of music"?
Gotcha. I encourage you to come out of the closet. There's no shame in approaching life as a musical -- so long as it's not South Pacific. I can't take that hap-hap-hap-hap-happy talk.
This column appeared in the March 7-13, 2002 issue.