My first exposure to the arts was as a child of 5, in Choir, at Catholic School. I was a soprano. Without understanding or remembering a word of the Latin I was singing, wholly faking it amongst the larger cacophony, I discovered I could travel with my voice anywhere I desired. Through this I found myself transported into the realm of the Great Mystery. Here was my first experience of the personal “Gods” that have guided me since. It was my first brush with connection.
It couldn’t have happened at a better time because in my sixth year of life, the Dominican nuns started beating me. This simply underscored a home life of abusive incidents (non-physical). I lived my childhood in constant fear and confusion, but of one thing I was never confused; within me was a link with a Creator that was love.
The vehicle of that experience was my voice. It formed the essence of an extension of self into the realm of the Divine. It was personal; I could feel it.
Just as I was leaving Grammar School in Brooklyn and moved to Huntington Long Island, at thirteen years of age my gonads developed and I no longer could go where I wanted to go in my singing. All I was left with was a croak. I was so bereft, I just quit.
Since it corresponded with a sudden necessity to unlearn everything that was taught me about life, morality, adults, kids, Gods, and men and women by the Catholic Church, I truly was on my own.
My childhood taught me that trust was not an option when it came to other human beings. Indeed, during those “Duck and Cover” years of a sure-to-happen-but-not-sure-when nuclear conflagaration , this became Universal. And then, John, Martin and Bobby, and the “movement” of the Sixties devolved into fashion and “me first” so, as a clear reflection of the times, there was nothing left to do but figure it out myself. Unfortunately, my private line to the Boss had been disconnected and I was making it all up as I went along.
For some reason that I have yet to make sense of, the more I sang the easier it was for me to listen.
In retrospect, that’s not a bad metaphor for what was happening with my Spiritual life. It wasn’t that I was disconnected to a Higher Power; that never left me. I just couldn’t speak out loud to it, and therefore rendered myself unable to hear what was being said back. I guess, because of the way I’m wired, I needed that. Somehow, the physical expression of singing grounded me and completed the circuit.
What now I recognize as a clear path pretty much registered to me and anyone who knew me during those decades as a somewhat mindless, if not self-destructive wandering. It lasted until I turned forty, when the sacred Inipi (sweat lodge) appeared in my life.
This is only one of the myriad reasons that I embraced Lakota Spirituality, but it was incredibly integral to finally my picking up the phone and getting an answer. In the Inipi, I sang again.
To myself, I flippantly said I was able to sing there because, just like in Latin choir, I could fumble through the words (which most no one understood anyway), and be hidden by the more experienced voices around me. But I could go full-tilt amidst the crowd, just like I did as a kid, and within that action lived my connection.
It was not about the cohesion of voice, it was about the cohesion of “One mind, One heart” of all within the Inipi. I re-connected with my own voice. But it was reserved for sacred ceremony because there I had no fear of judgment — by anyone.
It wasn’t for another ten years that I ended up singing popular songs again. I was living at Lost Valley Educational Center, In Dexter, Oregon, with a population of about 1,000. The ONLY entertainment in the town, other than a couple small restaurants was a bar.
It was the kind of place (true incident) where you’d find a local, wired to the hilt, sitting in his pick-up truck with a loaded Uzi on his lap, debating with himself whether to wipe out his girlfriend inside for breaking his nose for molesting her sixteen year-old daughter or just finish the eight-ball and go home.
But inside was Karaoke. My inspiration was the incredible soulfulness of the local women, beaten up by life and other people and things, yet singing through the pain, and through it, becoming beautiful once more.
Again in my life, I saw the miracle of connection at work, for the songs they chose were songs that moved them…if only for the length of the song. So I started picking songs I loved to sing as a kid — lotsa Beatles — and went up and sang. Just like Latin and Lakota, I have no memory for words, so prompts streaming across the screen freed me from thinking…and judging.
At first, I couldn’t stand my own voice, but the crowd, usually too drunk to really notice yet reptilian enough to clap at the end of each tune, reinforced me. I persisted. One song a week led to a few songs a night and eventually six songs a night at three different places in the Eugene area each week. Tapping in to a lifetime of pop and rock songs that I loved but had never sung aloud, I would usually sing five untried songs for every repeat.
Through this consistent practice, essentially a self-driven voice class, I kept banging in to the walls of the limitations of my range and learned to walk around them in the moment. In the process, I discovered I needed neither to be surrounded by other voices to establish a connection, nor conform with the “norm” to have an experience of One mind, One heart. What lived inside me was the most unique voice in the world; my own.
Apparently, as a natural consequence of singing, I began listening. As a natural consequence of listening, I began writing my own songs. There was only one step left, and that was to bring others into the experience; to offer those moments of discovery to help build One mind, One heart. I began performing my original music.
In that way, Karaoke took its place amongst the pantheon of my Gods.