I cannot stop myself. When certain songs are played on the radio while I am driving, I have to sing along. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen is one of those songs. “Renegade” by Styx is one of those songs. “American Pie” by Don McLean is one of those songs. “Hey Jude” by the Beatles is one of those songs. Even if the station cheats and shortens “Hey Jude,” I continue singing until I have completed all fifteen refrains.
It doesn’t matter where I am or where I am going. I have to sing those songs. This spring I was driving to deliver an hour-long lecture, but “American Pie” came on the radio, and I had to join Don McLean from the first line to the last chorus. Even if I have a job interview later in the day and want to make the best impression possible, I will sing along with “Renegade” or “Hey Jude” at the risk of ruining my voice for the rest of the day.
When I was in college, one of us in the dorm could put on the soundtrack to “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” and a group of us would gather, singing all the songs of all the singers. The opening complaint of Judas, the conversations involving Mary and Jesus and Judas, the entry into Jerusalem, the prayer in Gethsemane—we knew them all, every word, every note. I don’t know if that’s good or bad; I just know that we were that way back then.
I’m changing the subject here, but on the Fourth of July my daughter needed a ride to the airport. She needed to be there at four in the morning. I set my alarm to wake up at 3:15 and tried to go to bed at 10 p.m. I was restless and had trouble falling asleep, probably concerned that I would not hear the alarm and awaken in time. When I did fall asleep I had a string of odd and unpleasant dreams. I woke myself from one dream, shouting, “Who’s there? Who’s there?” I had been dreaming that my father and I were at his trailer, and we could see that someone had entered the trailer even though the door was locked. A clothespin on the door was some sort of clue. I managed to open the door and look into the living room which was empty. A large walk-in coat closet was to my right, and I thought the intruder was hiding there. That is why I shouted… and awoke. By the way, in real life my father does not live in a trailer.
Driving to the airport, then, was a mixture of fatigue and stress. The city streets look different at such a time than they look, not only during the daytime, but even at nine or ten at night. To make matters worse, we drove in and out of showers. The highway to the airport was not well lit, and the paint on the pavement was faded. Driving took much concentration, so I focused all my attention on what I was doing. I got her to the airport, she grabbed her stuff and entered the terminal, and on my way back to the highway, I turned on the radio.
After the last few seconds of a commercial, I heard a familiar voice sing familiar words. “A long, long time ago.” I was right there with him, “I can still remember how that music used to make me smile.” I did not sing loud and vigorously. I still needed to concentrate on driving, dark roads badly painted, water on the windshield and on the road, and other traffic (including a truck behind me with its bright lights shining off my mirrors). Besides, I did not want to call attention to myself on the highway at four in the morning of a national holiday—I didn’t feel like taking the time for a sobriety check. Softly, and with a skipped line here or there as I navigated a curse, I made my way back home.
Even as I type this now, the urge to continue singing “American Pie” is nearly irresistible. In fact, I know of only one way to break the pattern of “…and I knew if I had my chance, I could make those people dance….” My freedom comes from four simple words: “A three hour tour. A three hour tour.” J.